Tony Awards nominations are always tricky to predict, but this year’s shortlist of Broadway’s best and brightest proves even more challenging to wrangle thanks to the coronavirus-shortened season, eligibility confusion, changed numbers of slots per category, and even questions about whether the two-person Actor in a Musical category will get nixed. Despite these unique hurdles, conventional Tony wisdom will still help to foresee some unexpected nominations. Below, see a list of just a handful of potential upsets that could shock theatre fans when the shortlists are announced.
A “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” surge
The Tony nominating committee often favors spring productions, leaving a lot of summer and fall works underrepresented in the nominations. Though this season got unfortunately shortchanged due to COVID-19, some of those shows from the very start of the season now have a chance at recognition, like the beautiful revival of Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” Audra McDonald, the winningest actress in Tony history, looks like a shoo-in for her ninth career nomination and so does the production itself in Best Revival, but it otherwise isn’t gaining a lot of traction with many Tony prognosticators. Predicting “Frankie and Johnny” for just those two bids might prove short-sighted.
Not only did “Frankie and Johnny” receive favorable reviews, but this particular production has special resonance, too. Not only was the limited engagement produced by McNally’s husband Tom Kirdahy to commemorate the playwright’s 80th birthday, but it now sadly marks the last Broadway mounting of a McNally work during his lifetime, as he sadly passed away due to COVID-19 complications in March. If the nominating committee feels particularly moved by the production, it could easily see additional bids in Actor for Michael Shannon, Direction for Arin Arbus, and Lighting Design for Natasha Katz. Though a packed category, Shannon feels like a very strong contender for a nomination, and it would be terrific to see Arbus break into a category that may otherwise be dominated by male directors.
Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins “Storm” the Lead Acting categories
Back in 2016, playwright Florian Zeller’s Broadway debut landed two Tony nominations, one for Best Play and one for Lead Actor for Frank Langella, who went on to pick up the trophy. Although Zeller’s “The Height of the Storm” this season didn’t win over critics and will most likely miss out on a Play nomination, the material lent itself to extraordinary performances from two of our most notable stage performers, Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins. Even critics who didn’t love the play praised the theatre veterans for their takes on a work about the ravages of dementia on a long-married Parisian couple; similar material helped Langella score that “Father” win.
Atkins has the harder journey to a nomination because the number of eligible performers limits the Actress line-up to just four slots, but Pryce also faces an uphill battle vying against 11 other leading performances. I wouldn’t underestimate either of them, though, especially with their track histories: Pryce has two Tony nominations and just as many wins, and Atkins has scored a bid for four out of her six appearances on Broadway.
Will Hochman (“The Sound Inside”) nabs a Featured Actor in a Play slot
Like Michael Shannon, Will Hochman could benefit from starring in a two-hander opposite one of our greatest stage actors, Mary-Louise Parker. While Parker has a nomination all but guaranteed for her career-best performance, Hochman stands on shakier ground, in part because he has 25 peers up for just five slots. With “The Sound Inside” looking strong for at least three major nominations––Best Play, Actress for Parker, and Direction for David Cromer––he might actually be within striking distance of a bid. Moreover, the recognition would be incredibly deserved: Hochman landed the top slot on my own nominations wish list for his incredibly complex take on a young, gruff character, and critics also applauded his turn, with Jesse Green (New York Times) writing, “Believable both as an 18-year-old and an artist, Hochman––and this is saying a lot––is a worthy partner to Parker onstage.”
“A Christmas Carol” sneaks into some musical categories
Though it may seem obvious to predict the Best Musical frontrunners throughout all of the musical categories––there are only four eligible this season, after all––a play with music may steal some of their harmonious thunder in one or two categories. Back in January, the Tony administration committee deemed “A Christmas Carol” eligible in both Best Orchestrations and Best Choreography for Tony-nominee Christopher Nightingale (“Matilda The Musical”) and Lizzi Gee, respectively. Don’t be at all surprised if this visual and auditory marvel of a production lands one or both of those potential nominations, especially since it will perform extremely well in the design categories on the play side. If it does nab either of those bids, it might not necessarily be at the expense of this season’s tuners, as a two- or three-way tie for the last spot would result in an additional slot in the line-up.