2018 Tony Awards predictions: Toughest 4 musical categories made easy

Plenty of attention is paid to the top races and acting categories at the Tony Awards. But if you are looking to do well in our prediction contest, you will also have to make smart decisions in the below-the-line categories as well. The four design categories often trip up Tony pundits, especially when there is no one show predicted to sweep. There is no single such juggernaut this season, which means upsets and surprises are likely. To provide some help with these tough categories, take a look at the analysis below before you make any final predictions.

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David Zinn recently picked up a Drama Desk award for his colorful set of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The built out proscenium elements are eye popping and memorable. However, it could easily be overshadowed by work being done on a grander scale. No one did grand this year like Michael Yeargan with “My Fair Lady.” The street scenes showcase brilliant use of forced perspective, and Higgins’ massive rotating study provides a moment of awe. Larger than life work often prevails here, making him the one to beat. But a possible upset lies in Dane Laffrey’s inventive use of space and found objects in “Once on This Island.” The design doesn’t scream “big,” but he fully transformed every inch of the intimate Circle in the Square, complete with a sand covered stage and a waterway. It’s the most memorable stage environment of the season making this first time nominee a major wildcard in the race.

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Three of Catherine Zuber’s six Tony wins come from her work on Lincoln Center Theater musicals. She will likely continue that trend by picking up another Tony for the LCT produced “My Fair Lady.” She just picked up a Drama Desk award for her efforts. Her closest competition is Clint Ramos for “Once on This Island.” His use of found materials was inventive, and proved essential to selling the musical’s conceit of a fable set in post-disaster Haiti. It would be an unconventional costume win, since period work tends to hold favor, but Ramos has already pulled off a win for unconventional costumes with “Eclipsed.” There is a small chance David Zinn could sneak in for his colorful clothes in “SpongeBob SquarePants,” but this category feels like a battle between the revivals.

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By far the most competitive of any design race this year, all five contenders have a legitimate shot at winning. Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhower were responsible for chaotic storm sequences and a thrilling shadow play in “Once on This Island.” They also picked up the Drama Desk. The only Broadway show among the nominees in their category was Brian MacDevitt for “Carousel.” “SpongeBob SquarePants” has the support of nine experts which gives it a major edge in our odds. Kevin Adams work definitely helps bring the candy coated cartoon to life.

Despite “SpongeBob” leading the odds, I have a hunch that the ultimate winner will be a show that has a signature moment created from the lighting design which will stick in the minds of voters. After all, most of them have little expertise in this particular craft. In that case, the winner is either Donald Holder of “My Fair Lady” or Tyler Micoleau of “The Band’s Visit.” Watching the opening street scene “wake up” in “My Fair Lady” as light flows across the stage is a gorgeous first impression, and I still can’t shake Eliza’s private moment by the dim study light during ‘I Could Have Danced All Night.’ Ultimately I’m banking on Micoleau’s stunning tableaux during ‘Omar Sharif’ to cement the win for “The Band’s Visit.” Katrina Lenk’s shadow being cast across the warm-hued set as she becomes lost in memory remains one of the most striking visuals of the season. And it’s thanks in large part to Micoleau’s design.

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Sound design is always tricky to predict given the lack of history and stats. To complicate matters even more, only a small panel of experts will vote on the category this year. But “SpongeBob SquarePants” is the only show with a dedicated foley artist (Mike Dobson), and he is nominated alongside the sound designer (Walter Trarbach). The fact that cartoon stomps, squishes, and crashing pratfalls are performed live each night and timed to the motions of the actors is impressive enough for a win. Still, if voters are too in love with “The Band’s Visit,” they could reward the Best Musical frontrunner here and shun the commercialism of SpongeBob. And one should never count out a show playing in Circle in the Square, as the unconventional playing space creates a bevy of challenges for sound designers to overcome. So all hope is not lost for “Once on This Island.”

Be sure to make your Tony predictions today so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on June 10. And join in the fun debate over the 2018 Tonys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our theater forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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