The Daily Californian arts staff predicts winners of the 73rd Tony Awards

Illustration of scenes from shows nominated in the 2019 Tonys
Samantha Patten/Staff

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For those who live outside of New York or who are unable to spend hundreds of dollars to see a production, the Tony Awards may seem out of reach and, frankly, irrelevant. Maybe you’ve heard a few songs from that musical about the kid who gets a computer implanted in his brain in order to “Be More Chill.” Or perhaps you’ve heard the news of Glenda Jackson’s norm-bending performance as a female King Lear. But the Tonys — unlike major awards events like the Oscars and the Emmys, in which viewers can easily engage with content from the comfort of local movie theaters or their own homes — by and large maintain a high barrier to entry for invested audiences. So, The Daily Californian made it just a little easier for you to engage with the event when it streams nationwide Sunday. Check out our picks for some of the most prominent award categories (with the categories of best leading actor and actress combined into one, as well as best featured actor and actress) for a crash course on whom and what you might consider rooting for this weekend.

— Ryan Tuozzolo

Best musical: “Hadestown”

  • “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations”
  • “Beetlejuice”
  • “Hadestown”
  • “The Prom”
  • “Tootsie”

Nominated for 14 Tonys, the most of any production this year, “Hadestown” deserves to win not only because it is a creative, well-executed musical, but also because it would bring justice to the adaptation-dependent Broadway industry. While last year’s nominees in this category were all theatrical adaptations of film or television, “Hadestown” is a refreshing original musical hit for both critics and audiences, the likes of which haven’t been seen since 2016’s “Dear Evan Hansen.” It’s a reminder to Broadway that you don’t need to adapt from the screen to create a successful musical. A steampunk retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, “Hadestown” is an artistic masterpiece 13 years in the making, conceived as a local theater project in 2006. With hauntingly beautiful musical numbers, stellar performances from its cast and inadvertent commentary eerily relevant to today’s political climate — although written in 2010, the first act’s finale song is titled “Why We Build the Wall” — “Hadestown” has been compared to its category predecessors “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” The musical’s closest competitor is “Tootsie,” the hilarious, clever comedy based on the 1982 film. “Tootsie” does have more name recognition with the everyday viewer — however, a “Hadestown” win would serve as a redemption for the original Broadway musical.

— Julie Lim

Best play: “The Ferryman”

  • “Choir Boy”
  • “The Ferryman”
  • “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus”
  • “Ink”
  • “What the Constitution Means to Me”

This year’s nominees for best play make for a particularly showy set. Amid piles of corpses and gaudy costumes, “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus” builds upon the foundations of one of the most renowned authors ever. And Rupert Goold’s “Ink” pokes at the national bruising of a faltering free press — and does so magnificently, amid sapphire smoke and towering mounds of cabinets. Each of these selections speaks unflinchingly, and often blatantly, to a greater social phenomenon and point of contestation. Of those nominated, Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman,” centered around the tale of a single rural Irish family in 1981, is the smallest in scale in some ways. Yet it is also the nominee that most acutely speaks to certain truths of the human experience, excavating within the setting of the nationalist Irish conflict, termed the Troubles, foundational queries of personal, social and communal identity. It’s a story that will continue to capture hearts and inspire minds for generations to come, and for that, it deserves this particular prestige.

— Ryan Tuozzolo

Best original score: “Hadestown” 

Not only is “Hadestown” one of seven Broadway musicals entirely written by women, its writer Anaïs Mitchell is the only woman to write the music, lyrics and book of a Broadway musical (or, as they say, Lin-Manuel Miranda it) in the past decade. Mitchell’s sung-through musical takes viewers through the tragic yet hopeful tale of Orpheus and Eurydice in a series of hand-clapping jazz bops, ethereal love ballads and enchanting melodies unlike anything else on Broadway. While this musical’s folk album is almost a guarantee for best score, the more classic sumptuous Broadway spectacle “Tootsie” can be seen as a runner-up: It won this year’s Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music, a category “Hadestown” was ineligible for because of its off-Broadway debut a few years back.

— Julie Lim

Lead actor or actress in a play: Elaine May, “The Waverly Gallery”

Before starring in “The Waverly Gallery,” May last appeared on Broadway nearly 60 years ago in 1960’s “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May.” In the interim, May’s knack for commanding the stage and her audience hasn’t dimmed — though this time around, the actress and improv superstar may inspire a few tears along with the hearty chuckles that she is known to bring about. In “The Waverly Gallery,” May, now in her 80s, assumes the role of Gladys Green, a woman caught in the gradual decline of Alzheimer’s disease. As a viewer, watching Gladys succumb to the throes of dementia is painful to say the least. It’s an inevitably haunting and poignant role for an actor of May’s age to tackle. Yet she does so with eloquence and grace, not to mention levity. May’s Gladys is both deeply lovable and terrifying in her delicately masked fragility — yet May’s performance needs no facade to assert its excellence.

— Ryan Tuozzolo

Lead actor or actress in a musical: Santino Fontana, “Tootsie”

Taking the helm from Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-nominated performance as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, Fontana shines as the star of “Tootsie.” Playing a struggling actor and the female persona he creates to snag a role, Fontana delivers a quadruple-threat performance, boiling down acting, singing, comic timing and dancing to a science — not to mention that he does most of it in heels. Fontana is a lock for best actor in a musical. However, if there were a runner-up in this category, it would be Brooks Ashmanskas playing a washed-up Broadway actor in the underdog musical “The Prom.”

— Julie Lim


Best featured actor or actress in a play: Celia Keenan-Bolger, “To Kill a Mockingbird”   

A 41-year-old woman playing an 8-year-old may be considered unconventional casting on the part of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but this category is Keenan-Bolger’s to lose. Winning both the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for her turn as Scout, the young daughter of attorney Atticus Finch who learns the realities of racism over one fateful summer, Keenan-Bolger has been lauded by critics. Best featured actress in a play is the only award category the adaptation has been consistently winning. Although not nominated for a Drama Desk Award, Flanagan’s role as Aunt Maggie Far Away in “The Ferryman” is the second-best prediction for this category, especially considering that “The Ferryman” is the front-runner for best play and “To Kill a Mockingbird” doesn’t even have a nomination.

— Julie Lim

Best featured actor or actress in a musical: Jeremy Pope, “Ain’t Too Proud”

Receiving a nomination for a single Tony in a given season marks an outstanding theatrical achievement for an individual; earning two is almost unheard of. Yet that’s just what Pope has done (becoming the sixth person and the first Black man to ever do so) in this year’s rounds for his performances in “Choir Boy” and “Ain’t Too Proud.” In the latter, Pope depicts Eddie Kendricks, the famous falsetto and co-founder of the Temptations. Not only does Pope hit those tantalizing high notes, but he also plays a performer who, behind the stage lights and showy moves, is human. Pope brings the legacy of a prominent Black musician to the Broadway stage, a historically overwhelmingly white space. He provides not only visibility but excellence, making him an outstanding selection for this category.

— Ryan Tuozzolo

Best choreography: “Hadestown” 

What’s remarkable about the choreography in “Hadestown” is not the extent of a plié nor the dip of a cambré but, much as in “Hamilton,” the intimacy of character with which each sway or shimmy is imbued. From the quiet precision of the elderly André De Shields’ sidestep to the almost stumbling gait of Amber Gray’s swagger, choreographer David Neumann has worked with each actor to craft movements that read naturally for both their characters and themselves. The production finds its footing in constant motion — between the seasons, between the world of the living and that of the dead, and between love and loss. Neumann integrates this foundational movement into the narrative so seamlessly that it doesn’t feel out of place for Persephone to waltz or for Orpheus to prance. And it’s the job and mark of a great choreographer to make such outlandish movements feel right.

— Ryan Tuozzolo

Ryan Tuozzolo is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].
Contact Julie Lim at [email protected].