2020 Tony Awards nominations preview: 4 musicals battle for top honors at the virtual ceremony

With the 2020 Tony Awards going virtual this fall, all eyes are on the prospective nominees. Just four musicals were able to open before the newly announced February eligibility cutoff, so these tuners could wind up with massive nomination tallies. In order to help you sift through the possible outcomes before nominations are announced, I’ve offered my best insights to each of the musical categories below.

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

Best Musical

With four eligible musicals there will only be three nomination slots in the top category this year. “Moulin Rouge!” is a big fat hit, and its sumptuous escapism makes it the frontrunner for now. “Jagged Little Pill” will make the cut for its heart. “Tina: The Tina Turner” musical should find a spot as a pure crowd pleaser. That leaves “The Lightning Thief” as the one tuner left behind. The show is aimed squarely at kids, and as we have seen in the past, Tony voters usually don’t go for shows aimed at young theatergoers (just ask “Be More Chill”). So they will keep poor Percy Jackson at the kids table.

Director of a Musical

This lineup will mirror the Best Musical race. Alex Timbers (“Moulin Rouge!”), Diane Paulus (“Jagged Little Pill”) and Phyllida Lloyd (“Tina”) will all make the cut. Stephen Brackett (“The Lightning Thief”) will have to wait a bit longer for his first Tony nomination. I expect Book of a Musical and the four design categories will also omit “The Lightning Thief” from their nomination slots.


This category has enough contenders for four nominees, but just one will be a musical. As the only tuner with an original score, this is one of the best chances for “The Lightning Thief” to scratch up a nomination.

Plays will take the remaining spots. Paul Englishby deserves a mention for highlighting dramatic and magical moments in “The Inheritance.” “Slave Play” contained the most obvious use of music, so composer Lindsay Jones should make the cut. The last spot is a toss up. This could be the only chance “The Rose Tattoo” has for a nomination thanks to a beautiful composition from Jason Michael Webb. But I have a hunch he will be edged out by Daniel Kluger for “The Sound Inside,” a play which scored much better notices overall. As for the music heavy “A Christmas Carol”? Official Tony rules state that a show must contain at least 50% original music, and the play’s reliance on holiday classics would seem to disqualify it from this category.

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

Lead Actress in a Musical

Adrienne Warren leads the pack for her awe inspiring turn as Tina Turner in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” Broadway veteran Elizabeth Stanley will pick up her first-ever nomination for playing a woman battling addiction. And Karen Olivo (a past winner for playing Anita in “West Side Story”) will be nominated for bringing down the house with Katy Perry’s “Firework” in “Moulin Rouge!” That leaves Kristin Stokes of “The Lightning Thief” as the one woman left out. Stokes actually has one of the best songs in this Percy Jackson musical, but the part is really a featured one and producers should have kept her in that race.

Lead Actor in a Musical

There’s just two men eligible for this category: Aaron Tviet (“Moulin Rouge!”) and Chris McCarrell (“The Lightning Thief”). With so few contenders, the voting process is altered. Nominators will vote on a “yes/no” ballot for both Tveit and McCarrell, with each performer scoring a nomination only if they receive a simple majority of “yes” votes. We could have a two nominee category if they both make it, the elimination of this category if neither receives a majority of support, or one man could win by default in the nominating process if he receives a majority but the other contender does not.

Featured Actress in a Musical

Lauren Patten (“Jagged Little Pill”) is the easiest call to make here. Her rendition of “You Oughta Know” stops the show with a thunderous standing ovation night. Her co-star Kathryn Gallagher will likely join her in this category thanks to her heart breaking song “Predator,” the one original tune Alanis Morissette wrote for this musical. It’s a toss up as to who will fill the remaining two slots.

I think Robyn Hurder will take advantage of the open field for a surprise nomination. She doesn’t have a solo song in “Moulin Rouge!” but she’s a fierce dancer who gets some of the best choreography in the show. The Tonys have nominated dance performances on a few rare occasions, and Hurder could be the latest to join their ranks. The last slot could go to Jalynn Steele, who was hysterical in “The Lightning Thief,” or Celia Rose Gooding who has a large role in “Jagged Little Pill.” But watch out for Myra Lucretia Taylor from “Tina.” The actress has a non-singing role, but she share’s a devastating scene with Adrienne Warren as Tina Turner’s ailing mother.

Featured Actor in a Musical

It finally feels like Danny Burstein’s year. The beloved Broadway actor has been nominated six times without a win, and his boisterous role as Zidler in “Moulin Rouge!” is bound to land him a nomination. In order to win, Burstein will have to bypass his co-star Sahr Ngaujah (a past nominee for “Fela!”) in the role of Toulouse. Ngaujah’s entertaining physical performance will also land him a nomination.

Daniel J. Watts (“Tina”) stands a great chance of being recognized for playing the destructive Ike Turner, and Sean Allan Krill (“Jagged Little Pill”) should earn a spot for his emotionally fraught performance. That leaves one slot. It might go to Derek Klena (“Jagged Little Pill”) who sings his face off, but if “Moulin Rouge!” dominates with voters then Tam Mutu or Ricky Rojas could be swept along for the ride. But the most deserving candidate is Ryan Knowles from “The Lightning Thief,” for deftly alternating between several roles. His use of an uproarious Paul Lynde impression to play the god Hades should be enough to score him a spot in this race.

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