2020 Tony Award nominations preview: A slew of critically acclaimed plays take aim at top Broadway honors

The 2020 Tony Awards may represent a shortened Broadway season, but there is a wealth of contenders to consider for the play categories. Fall and winter on the rialto was full of non-musical dramas, which will make for plenty of tense races at this year’s ceremony. Nominations will be announced October 15 with a virtual ceremony sometime later this fall. To help you predict which productions and performers might come out on top this year,  take a read of the potential nominees for the play categories below.

SEE 2020 Tony Awards: Every eligible contender from the shortened 2019-2020 Broadway season

Best Play

There are 10 eligible dramas from the 2019-2020 season, which should give us five nomination slots. The two biggest conversation starters of the fall were “The Inheritance” by Matthew Lopez and “Slave Play” by Jeremy O. Harris. Both should easily land a spot. I’m also betting that Adam Rapp grabs a slot for “The Sound Inside.” He’s won acclaim for years Off-Broadway, and nominators will be eager to highlight his Broadway debut.

The final two slots could go several ways. I think the love for Tracy Letts will help propel “Linda Vista” to a nomination, even if some audiences found the main character too unlikeable. “Sea Wall/A Life,” two short plays from Simon Stephens and Nick Payne, respectively, is a possibility. But voters may opt out of rewarding one acts. “A Christmas Carol” was praised for the new adaptation by Jack Thorne and it’s engrossing visuals, but a holiday themed play has never competed in this category. “My Name is Lucy Barton” and “The Height of the Storm” seem to be remembered for star performances more than their script, and this category has increasingly been tied to the writer in recent years. So I think “Grand Horizons” by Bess Wohl will fill out the category. The play depicts marriage issues in an aging relationship in a way that isn’t often seen.

Revival of a Play

With just four contenders, this will be a three nominee category. “Betrayal” was a box office hit thanks to the star power of Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Cox. “A Soldier’s Play” features powerhouse performances and feels more “important” than the other revivals. “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” didn’t get the audience turnout it deserved, but the production should still make the cut thanks to two dynamite performances and the desire to honor the late Terrence McNally. That means “The Rose Tattoo,” which received a chilly reception, will get left out in the cold.

Director of a Play

The three perceived frontrunners for Best Play should easily get their directors nominated. Stephen Daldry had the most massive undertaking of the bunch with “The Inheritance,” Robert O’Hara helped chart the wild tonal shifts of “Slave Play,” and David Cromer crafted an almost uncomfortable sense of intimacy with “The Sound Inside.” They all should look out for “A Christmas Carol” director Matthew Warchus. Even if the play fails to make the top category, the massive cast and sprawling set he had to wrangle make Warchus a huge threat here. I suspect Kenny Leon will take the remaining spot for “A Soldier’s Play,” but there are several directors nipping at his heels. Leigh Silverman (“Grand Horizons”), Jamie Lloyd (“Betrayal”), and Arin Arbus (“Frankie and Johnny”) are all poised to make a surprise.

SEE 2020 Tony Awards: The show will go on virtually this fall

Lead Actress in a Play

Mary-Louise Parker gave a career defining performance in “The Sound Inside” and leads the pack here. She faces tough competition from Laura Linney, who is looking for her first Tony win with the solo show “My Name is Lucy Barton,” and Joaquina Kalukango, who became a critical darling for a brutally raw performance in “Slave Play.”

The final slot is a close call between Audra McDonald (“Frankie and Johnny”), Zawe Ashton (“Betrayal”), and Eileen Atkins (“The Height of the Storm”). In a close race, I’m leaning towards all time Tony Awards champ McDonald in a baity Terrence McNally role.

Lead Actor in a Play

This is a race without a clear frontrunner. “The Inheritance” has three eligible lead actors, and the big question is how many of them will get in? Andrew Burnap seems like the safest bet thanks to his explosive and tragic role, and Olivier winner Kyle Soller should also make the cut for his sympathetic performance. Samuel H. Levine played two characters which allowed him to show range. However, the role feels like it belongs in the Featured Actor race, which could push him out of contention. “Betrayal” presents a similar prediction conundrum with both Charlie Cox and Tom Hiddelston contending in this category. If only one can make it, I give a slight edge to Hiddelston. Both men were widely praised however, and nominators might just check off both names.

One contender who won’t have to worry about splitting support with costars is Ian Barford. Even if his character makes dubious choices in the play, Barford should easily land a nomination for his towering performance. If any of these contenders falter, Jake Gyllenhaal (“Seawall/A Life”), Jonathan Pryce (“The Height of the Storm”), and Michael Shannon (“Frankie and Johnny”) would make worthy nominees.

Featured Actress in a Play

Lois Smith is the early favorite here. The stage legend has never won a Tony Award, and this small but mighty role gave her the perfect opportunity to show why she’s long been treasured by New York audiences. But plenty of women had roles with more stage time than Smith this season, and could provide stiff competition. Chief among those actresses is Sally Murphy, excellent in “Linda Vista” at portraying hopeful highs and heartbreaking lows of a doomed romance. Annie McNamara should also score here for “Slave Play,” thanks to her comedic moments dealing with white guilt and a wild sex scene.

There are four major contenders, from two plays, looking to fill the remaining two slots. In “A Christmas Carol,” Tony winners Andrea Martin and LaChanze embody the Ghost of Christmas Past and Ghost of Christmas Present, respectively. It’s usually a bad idea to bet against these women when it comes to Tony nominations, but I’m going out on a limb for two performances from “Grand Horizons.” Ashley Park is quickly proving to be one of the most versatile Broadway performers and should snatch a nomination for her scene stealing work. And most pundits thought Jane Alexander would be placed in Lead Actress for this role, but now that she’s in Featured she might just have the largest role of the bunch.

Featured Actor in a Play

The expected showdown here is David Alan Grier (“A Soldier’s Play”) vs. Paul Hilton (“The Inheritance”). I have no idea who will win that close race, but safe to say I’d be shocked if either actor missed a nomination. Of course, the four men of “Slave Play” might have something to say about the race. But their chances at winning may come down to just how many of them are nominated. I’m betting that Paul Alexander Nolan (who shares the brutal final act with Joaquina Kalukango) and Ato Blankson-Wood (who is asked to do plenty of emotional heavy lifting) make the cut. James Cusati-Moyer and Sullivan Jones are certainly in the running, but it’s difficult to score four nominations in a single category.

Who takes the last slot? John Benjamin Hickey (“The Inheritance”) would make a great choice, but his role is fairly subdued for most of the play. If voters are looking for more of a scene chewer they might opt for Michael Urie or James Cromwell of “Grand Horizons” or Will Hochman for “The Sound Inside.”

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