2022 Tony Awards nominations surprises: Supersized Best Actor category, Jesse Williams, ‘Paradise Square’ …

In a Broadway season so crowded with exceptional productions – 34 musicals, plays, and revivals opened during the 2021-2022 eligibility window – it is no surprise that the 29 Tony Awards nominators caught theatre enthusiasts off guard with some of their choices. Below we catalog the biggest 2022 Tony Awards nominations surprises.

Among the plays, the biggest jaw-dropper was the sheer number of contenders in the Best Actor category. The extraordinarily tight race was slated to have only five nominees, but razor thin margins between the top vote-getters led to that race being expanded to a lucky seven fellows: Simon Russell Beal, Adam Godley, and Adrian Lester who comprise the entire main cast of “The Lehman Trilogy,” David Morse from “How I Learned to Drive,” Sam Rockwell from “American Buffalo,” Ruben Santiago-Hudson for his one-man show “Lackawanna Blues,” and David Threlfall from “Hangmen.”

SEE the complete list of 2022 Tony Awards nominees

The late-breaking new comedy “POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive” also outperformed our expectations with three bids. Although some of our savviest experts and editors slotted in either performer Rachel Dratch or Julie White in Featured Actress, few thought that both would break through. That race also has one more slot than expected. In addition to Dratch and White, Kara Young (“Clyde’s”) nabbed a bid, too.

The nominators clearly had a hard time deciding in the Featured Actor category, too, which was also expanded to six slots. Half of those nominations went to cast members of the ensemble show “Take Me Out.” While Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Michael Oberholtzer were predicted to land bids, Jesse Williams also came along for the ride. Williams’ role had previously earned a nomination for Daniel Sunjata in 2003 for the original production.

SEE 2022 Tony Awards nominations: ‘A Strange Loop’ leads with 11, ‘The Lehman Trilogy’ at 8

From the musicals, few expected “Paradise Square” to perform as well as it ultimately did, especially in the Featured Actor category. Sidney DuPont and A.J. Shively both broke into the race over the likes of Claybourne Elder (“Company”), past Tony-winner Jefferson Mays (“The Music Man”), and David Paymer (“Mr. Saturday Night”), who reprises on stage the role that landed him an Oscar nomination.

Tied with “Paradise Square” for the second biggest nominations haul is “MJ The Musical,” which also over-performed. In addition to its Best Musical nomination, “MJ” landed in all four design categories, which include scenic, costume, lighting, and sound designs. The musical, which is about a particularly challenging moment in the career of pop superstar Michael Jackson, also netted a nomination in the competitive Best Director category for Christopher Wheeldon.

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