Tony Awards Best Musical battle: ‘Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812’ v. ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

At last year’s Tony Awards, it was pretty much a done deal for “Hamilton” to sweep ever since it announced a Broadway transfer from the Public Theatre in the spring of 2015. This year, the Tony race for Best Musical is thankfully up for grabs. At this point, the strongest contenders are a pair of critical juggernauts that transferred from off-Broadway and are currently doing great business at the box office: “Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” But there are seven shows waiting in the wings that will debut in the closing weeks of the season. 

After three prior productions, “Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812” (based on Volume 2, Part 5 of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”) finally made its Broadway debut last November, opening to rave reviews. It’s currently grossing over a million bucks a week (thanks to the draw of two-time Grammy nominee Josh Groban in his Broadway debut). This tuner tells the story of Natasha (Denee Benton of Lifetime’s “UnREAL”), a young girl who forms a relationship with the attractive rebel Anatole (Lucas Steele) while her betrothed Andrey (Nicholas Belton) is off fighting. Andrey’s best friend Pierre (Groban) remains on high alert as the new romance blossoms.

“Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812” could reap as many as 14 Tony nominations including Best Musical as well as for leads Groban and Benton and featured players Steele, Brittain Ashford (who plays Natasha’s cousin, Sonya) and Amber Gray (who plays Anatole’s sister, Helene). Behind the scenes expect bids for helmer Rachel Chavkin (off-Broadway’s “The Royale”), triple threat Dave Malloy (“Ghost Quartet”) who composed the score, wrote the book and did the orchestrations, choreographer Sam Pinkleton (who recently worked on “Heisenberg”), costume designer Paloma Young (“Peter & the Starcatcher”), lighting designer Bradley King (who previously served as an assistant lighting designer on Broadway productions of “LoveMusik” and “Xanadu”) and scenic designer Mimi Lien (who previously assisted set designer George Tsypin on “The Little Mermaid” and “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”).

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After a successful run at the Second Stage Theatre off-Broadway last spring, the original musical “Dear Evan Hansen” transferred to Broadway last December where it’s racked up a $10 million advance due, in no small part, to the past Tony nominees composers Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (“A Christmas Story”) who are up for two Oscars for “La La Land.”

Their musical tells the story of teenager Evan Hansen (played by 23-year-old Ben Platt of the “Pitch Perfect” series), who all his life felt invisible. But when a tragic event shocks the community and thrusts him into the center of a rapidly evolving controversy, Evan is given the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to be somebody else.

“Dear Evan Hansen” should net at least nine nominations including Best Musical and for leading man Platt and featured actress Rachel Bay Jones (who plays Evan’s single mother, Heidi). Also expect recognition for director Michael Greif (“Rent”, “Next to Normal”), orchestrator Alex Lacamoire (“In the Heights”, “Hamilton”), lighting designer Japhy Weideman (“The Visit”, “Bright Star”) and scenic designer David Korins (“Hamilton”).

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However, neither of these is eligible for the precursors handed out by the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk as they contended for their earlier off-Broadway runs. Therefore, one of the following tuners that is still to open could gain momentum from these early awards. Listed in order of their opening nights, these seven shows are:

“Come From Away” (opening March 12)
Based on the true story of when the isolated community of Gander, Newfoundland played host to the world after 9/11. The musical is created by the husband & wife team of David Hein & Irene Sankoff, and is directed by two-time Tony nominee Christopher Ashley (“The Rocky Horror Show” [2001], “Memphis” [2010]).

“Amelie” (opening April 3) 
A musical adaptation of the 2001 Academy Award nominated French film of the same name. The musical stars Tony nominee Phillipa Soo (“Hamilton” [2016]), features a book by three-time Tony nominee Craig Lucas (“Prelude to a Kiss”, “The Light in the Piazza”, and “An American in Paris”) a score by Daniel Messe (from the band, Hem) and Nathan Tysen (“Tuck Everlasting”), and is directed by Tony winner Pam MacKinnon (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” [2013]).

“War Paint” (opening April 6)
Based on the remarkable true story of cosmetics titans Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, who defined beauty standards for the first half of the last century. The musical stars a pair of two-time Tony champs Patti LuPone (“Evita” [1980], “Gypsy” [2008])  and Christine Ebersole (“42nd Street” [2001], “Grey Gardens” [2007]), and is from the Tony-nominated creative team behind “Grey Gardens”.

“Groundhog Day” (opening April 17)
A musicalization of the 1993 Harold Ramis film of the same name. The musical stars two-time Tony nominee Andy Karl (“Rocky” [2014], “On the Twentieth Century” [2015]), features a score by Tony contender Tim Minchin (“Matilda” [2013]), and is directed by Tony champ Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage” [2009]).

“Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” (opening April 23)
This retelling of Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel has been reworked from its West End version. This production stars two-time Tony champ Christian Borle (“Peter & the Starcatcher” [2012], “Something Rotten!” [2015]), features a score by the Tony-winning Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”)  and is directed by three-time Tony champ Jack O’Brien (“Hairspray” [2003], “Henry IV” [2004], and “The Coast of Utopia” [2007]).

“Anastasia” (opening April 24)
Loosely based on the 1997 animated film musical that of course was inspired by the legend of the Grand Duchess Anastasia. This musical reunites the Tony-winning writing team behind “Ragtime” — book writer Terrence McNally, composer Stephen Flaherty, and lyricist Lynn Ahrens. The production is directed by Tony winner Darko Tresnjak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” [2014]).

“Bandstand” (opening April 26)
A completely original musical that was a smash hit at the Papermill Playhouse back in the fall of 2015. The musical is directed & choreographed by two-time Tony Winner Andy Blankenbuehler (“In the Heights” [2008], “Hamilton” [2016]), and stars Corey Cott (“Gigi”), two-Time Tony contender Laura Osnes (“Bonnie & Clyde” [2012], “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” [2013]) and Tony winner Beth Leavel (“The Drowsy Chaperone” [2006]).


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