2019 Tony Awards predictions: Toughest 4 play categories made easy

Predicting the outcome of the design categories at the Tony Awards proves a challenge every year. But if you want to perform well in our prediction contest, you’ll need to ace these tough below-the-line races. Here is a rundown of how the competition is shaking out in each of the four design awards for the plays.

Scenic Design
Usually there is some enormous rotating set in contention that becomes the obvious winner. Not so this year, as this scenic design trophy is truly anyone’s for the taking. Rob Howell is being widely predicted to win for “The Ferryman.” That show is the likely Best Play winner, so Howell could come along for the ride with his intricately detailed Irish farmhouse with its exaggerated ceiling. He is a past Tony winner on the musical side for “Matilda,” so voters are familiar with him. “The Ferryman” only has one true set change in its three hour plus running time, however. That makes me think an upset is looming.

Jan Versweyveld would make a fine choice for bringing the bustling newsroom of “Network” to life. The longtime collaborator of director Ivo van Hove was nominated in this category for “A View From the Bridge” and continues to push boundaries with a highly stylized design approach. Of course, “highly stylized” could also describe Santo Loquasto’s pile of corpses in “Gary.” Still, I’m inclined to believe that Bunny Christie can stage an upset for “Ink.” Piles of discarded news desks pepper the stage, bleeding black ink down their sides. It’s a graveyard for print journalism and a highly theatrical design concept that brings out the themes of the play.

SEE 2019 Tony Awards predictions: Toughest 4 musical categories made easy

Lighting Design
Another wide open category. Jennifer Tipton’s space defining work in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is gorgeous and nuanced, but nuance rarely wins awards. Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhower had plenty of fun in “Gary,” but other design elements like costumes and sound are more dominant in that production. That leaves “The Ferryman,” “Ink” and “Network” in a close fight to the finish.

“Ink” probably has the most lighting and designer Neil Austin just won this category last year for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” “Network” has the brightest lighting. Jan Versweyveld could win points for having to light the show as both a stage production and for the on-camera scenes. “The Ferryman” uses lighting to craft a day/night cycle and to add an eerie sensibility to the mystical elements that descend on the story. It may not be the most constant or overt use of lighting design, but Peter Mumford crafts highly memorable images. His work reminds me of Natasha Katz’s surprise win for “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” The safe bet would be “Ink,” but if you’re looking for an upset go with “The Ferryman.”

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Costume Design
Grand gowns from period pieces often win, but the only nominee which fits that bill this season is Toni-Leslie James detailed garments for “Bernhardt/Hamlet.” She already picked up the Drama Desk Award, but she was the only Broadway nominee in that category, so she had a leg up against lesser seen Off-Broadway nominees. Now she will find herself on the flip-side of that equation, as “Bernhardt/Hamlet” finished its limited run in November and I doubt every voter caught it.

Instead, expect double nominee Ann Roth to pick up her second career Tony win for “Gary.” Roth must have had a blast transforming Nathan Lane and Kristine Nielsen into the crusty, dusty servants. The wardrobe is an asset in selling the wild style of the script. Given that Roth only had three characters to dress, there is the chance “The Ferryman” could scoop up this award as well. But the kooky work in “Gary” is too unique to ignore.

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Sound Design
If “Choir Boy” was still open, this would be an easy call for sound designer Fitz Patton. Plays with music have won before such as “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” and “Peter and the Starcatcher.” It’s difficult to gauge how many of the voters saw and remember “”Choir Boy.” Complicating matters further is the fact that the sound categories are voted on by a panel of roughly 30 experts instead of the entire voting body. Your guess is as good as any.

With all those factors in mind, I fear “Choir Boy” will be shut out by either “The Ferryman” or “Network.” Eric Sleichim manages a vast array of sound to make the newsroom of “Network” buzz. Plus he had the added work of piping in audio from the scenes occurring outside the venue. On the other hand, Nick Powell uses sound to terrify his audiences in “The Ferryman.” The evocative sounds of banshee wails haunt every audience member long after they leave. The sound work isn’t quite as obvious and constant as in “Network” which could give Sleichim a slight edge in a tough race.

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 winners are announced on June 9. And join in the fun debate over the 2019 Tonys taking place right now in our theater forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

 

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