Will the Pulitzer-winning A Strange Loop sweep the board—and will its star Jaquel Spivey, in his first professional role, win over Hugh Jackman and Billy Crystal? Will The Lehman Trilogy, and its revolving glass cube of money-focused philosophizing, prevail over Clyde’s and Hangmen? Will Six: The Musical and MJ find love for their pulsating performances?
Entering the final week before Sunday night’s ceremony, hosted by history-making Oscar and Golden Globe winner Ariana DeBose, there is much excitement and mystery around who will walk away victorious at the 75th Tony Awards, celebrating the first year of theater’s post-pandemic return to Broadway.
There are around 831 eligible voters—and still ballots to be completed and votes totted up. The Daily Beast spoke to three voters anonymously about who and what they were voting for, and what buzz and gossip they had heard from fellow voters.
(left to right): Jason Veasey (Thought 5), James Jackson, Jr. (Thought 2), Jaquel Spivey (Usher), L Morgan Lee (Thought 1), Antwayn Hopper (Thought 6) in “A Strange Loop.”
Marc J. Franklin
A Strange Loop, Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer-winning musical about a Black queer artist interrogating his own life and art, leads the field with 11 nominations and remains the most talked-about show in our sample of voters. But, as reflected in conversations below, many of the categories remain competitive, with a feeling, as one voter put it, that “we want to celebrate theater. There’s no sense of “Oh, why are they nominated?’ this year. Each nomination feels right. The people I know are voting proudly and positively this year.” In key categories, multiple nominees from one production have apparently muddied voting intentions further.
The voters also want this year’s Tony Awards to reflect the hard work and passion of those who have brought shows and audiences back to Broadway, to reflect efforts to increase diversity and diverse representations on and off stage, to—brutally–sell tickets, because audience numbers and grosses have a way to go before reaching pre-pandemic levels. The Daily Beast has reviewed all the nominated shows—all linked to below.
Now, on with the dish…
Voter 1: This is a hard one. This is my dilemma. I think I am one of the few people who didn’t gel with The Lehman Trilogy (Stefano Massini’s stylish and epic play about the history of the famous bank). All the elements were there and were amazing, they just didn’t go together—for me or the person I went with—as a whole play. The end of The Minutes didn’t work for me; there was no need for it [The Daily Beast will not spoil the ending of Tracy Letts’ play about a smalltown council meeting]. Also, its political and cultural references felt old and tired, now looking at what Republican-led legislatures are doing to LGBTQ people and trans kids. If it was more relevant to now I might have gone along with it.
Skeleton Crew (about a group of embattled Detroit factory workers) was wonderful, but I am going to vote for Hangmen (set in 1960s Britain, a comedy about a pub landlord and former hangman facing a slippery new villain). Every element—acting, story, set—was amazing and extraordinary, and I love the dark, warped humor of playwright Martin McDonagh.
(l to r): Adam Godley, Simon Russell Beale, and Adrian Lester in “The Lehman Trilogy.”
Voter 2: I am probably going to go with The Lehman Trilogy. I think all the elements combined to elevate what was on the page—a great script, great set design with those amazing cubes the characters were in, and great acting all came together to be more than the sum of its parts. I bet that will be the winner, and I am hearing that from others. It’s a gut feeling, no data.
I could see Clyde’s (about a group of restaurant workers under the tyrannical leadership of Uzo Aduba) and Hangmen potentially being spoilers. Everyone loves Lynn (Nottage, who wrote Clyde’s), and in a year when we are trying to diversify audiences, voters may go for it. I don’t think it will be The Minutes or Skeleton Crew. Hangmen has an author who is very well-liked, and a producer (Elizabeth I. McCann) who very sadly passed away before it opened.
Voter 3: I am pretty emphatically voting for The Lehman Trilogy, and I am hearing the same from other voters. I loved all the plays. Clyde’s left me floating on air, but The Lehman Trilogy was the one I am hungry to read and see again. It didn’t take a strong opinion about itself and it was really elegant. As a voter when it comes to plays I am always thinking of the written word, more so than the production; with musicals I am always thinking of the production, more than the music and book. I know that’s not the criteria, but I don’t think I am alone in that.
Voter 1: This has been one of the profoundest Broadway seasons I have ever been part of. The plays and musicals, especially the musicals, are important, relevant, thought-provoking, and very exciting. I am voting for A Strange Loop. It’s raw, and I think it is such a brave thing to bring to Broadway. My other favorite was Girl from the North Country (which reimagines 20 Bob Dylan songs in a 1930s story of intersecting lives), it was lovely. And MJ (a musical about Michael Jackson’s life, with a lot of music and dancing and minus any controversies) was amazing too.
Paradise Square (a story of how race and politics combusted in New York City during the Civil War) had a great story, there was just too much in it. Mr. Saturday Night (Billy Crystal’s comedy about a comic trying to revive his career) was sweet. SIX: The Musical (the much-praised musical re-animating the six wives of Henry VIII) is wonderful, but it doesn’t fit into the same category of relevance and importance as A Strange Loop.
Adrianna Hicks (Catherine of Aragon, center) with (l – r) Brittney Mack (Anna of Cleves), Andrea Macasaet (Anne Boleyn), Anna Uzele (Catherine Parr), & Samantha Pauly (Katherine Howard) in “SIX: The Musical.”
I don’t often vote for things that actually win, but I am getting the vibe from other voters that this is going to happen for A Strange Loop. The bulk of voters are producers. They vote for things they can take on the road and make a future business out of.
I don’t know if they feel that about A Strange Loop, I think A Strange Loop can and will travel—perhaps not to the bigger houses, but who knows. MJ is going to be a big tour hit. And SIX too. If those producers want to vote with their commercial hearts, that’s where they’ll go. The category this year is a clash between the commercial and cultural and political. It will be fascinating to see how it works out. For me, A Strange Loop should win.
Voter 2: I think this is a toss-up between A Strange Loop and SIX. A Strange Loop has the Pulitzer and a successful off-Broadway run going for it. Theater lovers love it. SIX has great reviews and many productions already—its commercial longevity is something A Strange Loop doesn’t have. I am going for A Strange Loop. It’s unlike anything I have ever seen on Broadway. It’s very personal and specific. I love the story of it.
Voter 3: I didn’t see one of the shows, so cannot vote in the category.
Best Revival of a Play
Voter 1: This one is hard for me. I got angry leaving Take Me Out (Richard Greenberg’s gay baseball drama), for colored girls… (Ntozake Shange’s acclaimed “choreopoem” about a group of Black women’s lives), and How I Learned to Drive (Paula Vogel’s play about abuse and memory), because they all deal with such relevant issues that we as a society still haven’t dealt with. It’s very upsetting.
I had never seen for colored girls… It was beautifully produced, the technical elements and acting were gorgeous, and Camille A. Brown’s direction was excellent. From what I have heard, Take Me Out’s going to win. It’s so popular with voters. People love the company. I was so disappointed by How I Learned to Drive. There was no danger. I wasn’t compelled.
Voter 2: I am voting for How I Learned to Drive, and from what I’m hearing I think Take Me Out, For Colored Girls, and Trouble in Mind (Alice Childress’ contemporary-echoing 1955 play about racism and theater, which finally debuted on Broadway over 60 years later) have good chances. This is a very competitive category, although I do not think voters will recognize American Buffalo (David Mamet’s classic play about chicanery in a junk shop). But I sense a lot of love for Paula Vogel and the team who did Drive 25 years ago off-Broadway, and a lot of love for colored girls… This show has always been a text people study. Here is a great reimagined version of it.
Take Me Out has great performances, its story is still relevant sadly, and the same is true for Trouble in Mind. If you had told me Trouble in Mind had been written last year and I didn’t know any better, I would have believed you.
(left to right) David Morse (Peck) and Mary Louise Parker (Li’l Bit) in “How I Learned to Drive.”
Voter 3: I am voting for How I Learned to Drive. I had never seen it. Leading with the text, Paula Vogel has crafted a phenomenal play, and Mark Brokaw did a wonderful job directing it. Mary-Louise Parker did a wonderful job too. I also loved for colored girls…, but can’t stop thinking about How I Learned to Drive. It’s such a cliché to say something takes you on a journey, but it really does. I had an experience unlike any other seeing that play.
This is going to be a competitive category. The voters I am talking to are talking about all these plays. I seem to be in a minority with How I Learned to Drive. Other voters are talking about how Take Me Out doesn’t feel aged to them in good and bad ways; and people are talking about how magnificent for colored girls… is as a production.
Best Revival of a Musical
Voter 1: For me, this one’s easy: Company (Stephen Sondheim’s musical about maturity, immaturity, tangled relationships, and desires). I loved how it looked at intimacy and who we are to each other. I liked the Bobby (Katrina Lenk) character gender change, and I know others didn’t. It, and other things (director) Marianne Elliott did made it a different piece, with all the same words and music, but from a totally different point of view. What’s better theater than that?
Caroline, or Change (Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner’s 1963-set musical about a Black maid and the white Jewish family she works for in Louisiana) was wonderful, but didn’t feel it did something different. I loved The Music Man (Meredith Wilson’s classic musical about conman Harold Hill, reborn on Broadway with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster). I know it’s old-fashioned and wussy, but it was delightful and great fun. It didn’t feel relevant, but I had a good time.
Voter 2: I think Company, because I think it’s the best production out of the three, and affection for Stephen Sondheim in the year of his passing will all but assure that production wins. I love Caroline as a show, but it was not my favorite production; The Music Man is so commercial and successful, people may choose not to recognize it. I think a lot of people are feeling the same way about awarding Company—it’s a vote for a wonderful production, a vote for Sondheim, and a vote for his body of work.
Voter 3: It’s not The Music Man for me. It’s not my thing. I thought they did a fine job, but Daniel Fish’s revival of Oklahoma! (first staged in 2018 at St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn before moving to Broadway) is always in my mind. In light of how brilliant that was, when I go and see shows like The Music Man I wonder how it is contributing to our industry. Sure, it’s contributing financially, it’s introducing a lot of people to live theater. I love that. But Oklahoma! broke me, and raised my expectations.
The Broadway cast of “Company.”
I am deciding between Caroline and Company. I loved Caroline, loved how they produced it, those performers, and I was on the edge of my seat watching it. I also loved Company, and who doesn’t love Sondheim? It’s probably Caroline for me; it’s a more challenging story to tell, and they did it so well. For my fellow nominators, it’s not clear, although I hear more talk about Company in this category than anything else.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Simon Russell Beale, The Lehman Trilogy
Adam Godley, The Lehman Trilogy
Adrian Lester, The Lehman Trilogy
David Morse, How I Learned to Drive
Sam Rockwell, American Buffalo
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lackawanna Blues
David Threlfall, Hangmen
Voter 1: This is one of the hardest categories. If it was just one Lehman Trilogy actor, I would vote for that actor, but three of them—yikes! David Threlfall stands out for me as the landlord in Hangmen; David Morse as the abuser in How I Learned to Drive and Sam Rockwell as one of the Buffalo guys were fine, but I had seen the plays before.
I might vote for Ruben Santiago-Hudson. I loved what he did in Lackawanna Blues, playing 20 characters (recalling the early years of his life being raised by the formidable and wonderful Miss Rachel; Santiago-Hudson wrote, performed, and directed the show). He had a subtlety of voice and body. I worry he was so subtle it may be lost on other voters. I have heard other people say the Lehman guys cancel each other out. There is no clear winner here yet. This is a really tough and unknowable category.
Voter 2: I bet Ruben Santiago-Hudson will get this one. I think the Lehman Trilogy guys will cancel each other out. David Morse has a strong shot. But any time one person does a show, people see that as a feat of strength and stamina and want to reward that. Also, Ruben is one of only two people of color nominated, and people want to honor that, and it was a great performance. I think it will either be David or Ruben.
“This is a really competitive category, there’s no clear front-runner, and so many voters are happy about that.”
— Voter 3
Voter 3: For me, it’s Adam Godley in The Lehman Trilogy. I still can’t stop thinking about that performance. it was just monumental. A lot of the other voters are saying they don’t know who to choose out of the three actors from that play, and that they cancel each other out. I can’t stop thinking about Adam, and the moment he does the twist on top of a desk. With an actor in one of these categories, often your vote goes to a moment when the planets align and a perfect moment is made. That one haunts me.
This is a really competitive category, there’s no clear front-runner, and so many voters are happy about that. It feels like a true celebration of talent. There’s no sense of “how dare they be included” for anyone—except around David Mamet for American Buffalo (who said in April teachers were “inclined to pedophilia”).
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Gabby Beans, The Skin of Our Teeth
LaChanze, Trouble in Mind
Ruth Negga, Macbeth
Deirdre O’Connell, Dana H.
Mary-Louise Parker, How I Learned to Drive
Voter 1: This one’s easy for me: it’s Deirdre O’Connell. She’s just so extraordinary, and such a tour de force (playing the real-life victim of a brutal kidnapping) in Dana H, mouthing the words of the real victim—the mother of playwright Lucas Hnath. But from what I am hearing, this is a very competitive category. I think LaChanze (who played actor Wiletta Mayer in Trouble in Mind) has a chance. Both she and Deirdre are loved within the community too. I think this is one of the most emotionally hard choices of all the categories.
Gabby Beans as Sabina in “The Skin of Our Teeth.”
Voter 2: I do think Mary-Louise Parker (as abuse survivor Li’l Bit in How I Learned to Drive) will get this one, and probably should. It’s a real tour de force performance, with the added history of her doing it 25 years since she did it first. She is one of our greatest stage actresses. Deirdre, LaChanze, and Gabby Beans are all great in different ways, but I think it’s Mary-Louise Parker’s to lose.
Voter 3: I haven’t seen Macbeth, so I can’t vote. But all I have heard other voters talk about is Gabby Beans, and her amazing performance (as the maid, and later temptress) in The Skin of Our Teeth (Thornton Wilder’s epic, bonkers play about apocalypse, dinosaurs-as-pets, and survival). I saw Dana H. three times, loved it and Deirdre’s performance was so brilliant and unusual, and part of the reason I and others saw it multiple times was to watch her mouth the words of someone else so compellingly. “Can you believe what she did?” people say. But Gabby is the standout.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Billy Crystal, Mr. Saturday Night
Myles Frost, MJ
Hugh Jackman, The Music Man
Rob McClure, Mrs. Doubtfire
Jaquel Spivey, A Strange Loop
Voter 1: Jaquel Spivey. It would have gone to Myles Frost until I saw Strange Loop, which was astonishing, bewitching, and heartfelt. The fact that he has to play that every day, 8 shows a week, live, in that character, is amazing. I think Myles has a chance. It would be a more competitive category if MJ had made Myles go there around Jackson and the pedophilia claims. But the musical ignores all the dark stuff about Jackson, and so Myles doesn’t explore the depths of character that Strange Loop demands of Jaquel. This is why I am voting for Jaquel, and I think others are too.
Voter 2: I think this will be either Jaquel Spivey or Myles Frost. Jaquel’s is a wonderful performance, and I and other voters love that this is his first professional job, making it on Broadway. Not to diminish Myles, or his capabilities, but he is kind of just imitating someone we know versus Jaquel creating and embodying a character. Talking to other voters I think Jaquel will win. There’s a lot of buzz around him. I think Hugh Jackman and Billy Crystal are wonderful in their roles but not outstanding. Jaquel and Myles are outstanding.
(l to r): James Jackson Jr. (Thought 2), Jason Veasey (Thought 5), John-Michael Lyles (Thought 3), Jaquel Spivey (Usher), L Morgan Lee (Thought 1), John-Andrew Morrison (Thought 4), Antwayn Hopper (Thought 6) in “A Strange Loop.”
Marc J. Franklin
Voter 3: It’s Jaquel Spivey! I know other people are right there with me on that one. I could have watched a whole other act of that show, and a lot of that has to do with him. It was just so raw, and he is working his ass off in it, and there is so much humanity in it. It just feels like it’s written for his nervous system. He’s ripping that performance from every corner of his body and giving it to the audience. It doesn’t feel put on in the ways other performances can feel. From everyone I talk to, it’s Jaquel all the way.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Sharon D Clarke, Caroline, or Change
Carmen Cusack, Flying Over Sunset
Sutton Foster, The Music Man
Joaquina Kalukango, Paradise Square
Mare Winningham, Girl from the North Country
Voter 1: Sharon D Clarke (as the maid Caroline, in Caroline, or Change) was going to be my vote. I love Sutton Foster (librarian Marian Paroo in The Music Man). Carmen Cusack (as Clare Booth Luce in Flying Over Sunset) was wonderful. Mare Winningham (as Elizabeth Laine in Girl from the North Country) was wonderful.
But when Joaquina Kalukango (Nelly O’Brien) sang “Let it Burn” in Paradise Square, I leaned over to the friend I was with and said, “She just won the Tony.” It was extraordinary. And she was great in everything that led up to it. They also just let her sing it, and if there had been other moments like that, it may have been a better musical. There’s too much going on in it. She wins for that song and the character she built up before it. Every other voter I know walked out said the same thing: “She just won the Tony.”
“Paradise Square” with Joaquina Kalukango, in scarlet, center.
Voter 2: Oh, this is a tough one. Maybe it’s Sharon D Clarke. It’s a beloved show, and I thought she bought a lot of heart and soul to it. I loved Girl from the North Country, but I am in a minority‚ I don’t think Mare Winningham is in the running. Joaquina Kalukango’s number is amazing, but given the history of that show and controversial producer, I’m not sure it will get many honors. I don’t think people loved Flying over Sunset, but they love Carmen Cusack. Sutton Foster is wonderful, but I don’t think she elevated the role beyond what was there. So my vote, and I think others’, will go to Sharon.
Voter 3: I can’t vote because I did not see one of the shows, but Joaquina Kalukango is the nominee I am hearing all the buzz about, for sure—and it was the only show this year where I participated in a mid-show standing ovation after she sang it. Her voice is incredible. People aren’t really talking about Flying Over Sunset at all. I said to the person I was with, “Dramaturgically speaking, it’s clear the people who made this have done drugs before. It’s clear they did their research.”
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Alfie Allen, Hangmen
Chuck Cooper, Trouble in Mind
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Take Me Out
Ron Cephas Jones, Clyde’s
Michael Oberholtzer, Take Me Out
Jesse Williams, Take Me Out
Voter 1: I have not figured out what I want to do. The three men from Take Me Out may cancel themselves out like the Lehman guys. It’s hard to pick between them. It’s between them and Alfie Allen (as the cocky interloper Mooney in Hangmen) for me, but this is a hard category—and for the other voters I have talked to.
Voter 2: Oh god, this is tough. Alfie Allen was wonderful. Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s is a great performance in Take Me Out (as money manager Mason Marzac), but my choice is Michael Oberholtzer (as Shane Mungitt) in Take Me Out for the raw emotion he shows and everything he leaves out there on stage as the bigoted baseball player. But this category is so competitive, it could be any of them.
Michael Oberholzer, left, in “Take Me Out.”
Voter 3: I am choosing between Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ron Cephas Jones (as masterful sandwich crafter Montrellous) in Clyde’s. I have seen Jesse in a number of things, but his performance in Take Me Out is multi-dimensional and layered; the same for Ron’s role in Clyde’s. I am leaning towards Ron, but from talking to other voters, the Take Me Out fellas are favorites, but may ultimately cancel each other out.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Uzo Aduba, Clyde’s
Rachel Dratch, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Kenita R. Miller, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Phylicia Rashad, Skeleton Crew
Julie White, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Kara Young, Clyde’s
Voter 1: There has been a lot of buzz around Kara Young (as Letitia in Clyde’s) in the last few days, especially after that New York Times story about her dad and their story, and him serving at the nominees’ lunch at the Rainbow Room; it’s such a beautiful story about family and love. That might end up getting her votes.
But for me this is between Phylicia Rashad (as Faye in Skeleton Crew) and Kenita R. Miller (as Lady in Red in For Colored Girls); both were terrific in their shows, and I can’t decide. Uzo Aduba (as Clyde in Clyde’s) was excellent, but her character was just a little too relentless, with no let-up; and POTUS (Selina Fillinger’s farce about a group of women trying to save a male president from himself) was too outrageous and over-the-top for me.
Phylcia Rashad in “Skeleton Crew.”
Voter 2: I think Kenita R. Miller will win this one, and I will be voting for her I think. Her character’s monologue in that show about abuse and the death of her children was such an emotional moment, and many of the voters I know are talking about it.
People are also talking about Kara Young. I was in the room when it was revealed her dad was there. You could hear a pin drop. It didn’t feel planned, and it was beautiful. Voters tend not to recognize comedy as much as drama, so Julie White (Harriet in POTUS) and Rachel Dratch (Stephanie in POTUS) may not be in contention.
Voter 3: This is between Kara Young, Phylicia Rashad, and Kenita R. Miller for me, and it is a tough decision. Kenita’s monologue stays with you, and I can’t yet shake it. Phylicia did an amazing job, and Kara I really liked. I left Clyde’s wanting a sandwich, and immediately followed Kara on Instagram. I didn’t love POTUS as many others do. I am trying to confront any prejudices about comedy not being as worthy as drama, but—as I hold myself accountable—I do feel POTUS didn’t compare to the other shows in this category.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Matt Doyle, Company
Sidney DuPont, Paradise Square
Jared Grimes, Funny Girl
John-Andrew Morrison, A Strange Loop
A.J. Shively, Paradise Square
Voter 1: I was all set to vote for Matt Doyle, for his rendition of “Getting Married Today” as Jamie in Company, then I saw A Strange Loop, and John-Andrew Morrison made me weep playing Usher’s mom and singing “Periodically” to him. It’s just touching and lovely and gentle. So, I’m torn, and I’m hearing the same from other voters.
Voter 2: I think this will be Matt Doyle. I think anybody who can get through that song is typically appreciated and honored. I think other voters will feel the same way.
Voter 3: I didn’t see one of the shows, so cannot vote, but the only person I have heard people talking about is Matt Doyle.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Jeannette Bayardelle, Girl from the North Country
Shoshana Bean, Mr. Saturday Night
Jayne Houdyshell, The Music Man
L Morgan Lee, A Strange Loop
Patti LuPone, Company
Jennifer Simard, Company
Voter 1: I liked L Morgan Lee’s performance as Thought 1, but didn’t find it as differentiated as some of the other “Thoughts” in A Strange Loop, like John-Andrew. Patti LuPone is Patti LuPone. Her Joanne’s “Ladies Who Lunch” was terrific. And Jennifer Simard as Sarah was terrific in those opening scenes. Let’s put Jayne Houdyshell (as Mrs. Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, the mayor’s wife, in The Music Man) aside. She’s fun, she’s great, but I’m not going to vote for her. Shoshana Bean (as Susan Young in Mr. Saturday Night) is wonderful, but I don’t think that role makes her a winner.
“Oh god, this is a tough one too. L Morgan Lee was great, and would be a historic win. Patti LuPone was Patti LuPone, and all that comes with that.”
— Voter 2
That leaves me with Jeannette Bayardelle (Mrs. Neilsen in Girl from the North Country) in a subtle, gentle, quiet, odd role. I think some people will vote for L Morgan Lee because she’s excellent, and because she is making history— she is the first openly transgender actress to receive a Tony Award nomination. As much as I love Patti, I don’t think Company was one of her best things. I am leaning towards L Morgan Lee.
Voter 2: Oh god, this is a tough one too. L Morgan Lee was great, and would be a historic win. Patti LuPone was Patti LuPone, and all that comes with that. I love Jennifer Simard; she is hilarious in everything she does. I adore Shoshana Bean, but Mr. Saturday Night doesn’t give her too many moments to shine. Mr. Saturday Night wasn’t about the music, it was about the comedy and drama.
I don’t think any of the performances were memorable in Girl from the North Country; it was about storytelling and music. Jayne Houdyshell was great in The Music Man, but she has better and juicier roles in the past and more ahead of her. I haven’t heard people talking about Jennifer. I think this one is between Patti and L Morgan Lee, and a lot of people are excited about the history-making nature of that nomination.
Voter 3: I haven’t seen one of these, so won’t be voting. The people I know are talking about Jennifer Simard, and are excited for her, and there’s been buzz around Shoshana Bean too.
Deirdre O’Connell in “Dana H.”
Best Direction of a Play
Lileana Blain-Cruz, The Skin of Our Teeth
Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Sam Mendes, The Lehman Trilogy
Neil Pepe, American Buffalo
Les Waters, Dana H.
Voter 1: Sam Mendes is going to get it. But, crazily enough, I am voting for Lileana Blain-Cruz for The Skin of Our Teeth. I was charmed. I loved the production values and casting, I love where she went with it. We did the first monologue in high school all the time. I didn’t even realize the rest of the play existed. She won’t win, but I love it. My other choice would be Camille A. Brown. Other voters are telling me they are voting for Sam Mendes.
Voter 2: Another tough one. I think this one is between Sam Mendes and Camille A. Brown for me. Camille really made for colored girls… her own without changing the text. The Lehman Trilogy on the page sounds like a dry Wikipedia article, but between the set design, directing, and acting, Sam Mendes made it riveting. Directing is something often people don’t see; these two shows show direction at its overt best.
I don’t think there is anything unique about American Buffalo’s direction. There is a ton of direction in Dana H., but voters might remember Deirdre sitting on the chair mouthing words, so I am not sure the brilliant direction will be recognized; Skin has brilliant direction, but a lot of people didn’t see the show or enjoy the show. I am hearing Camille A. Brown talked about more than anyone else.
Voter 3: I will be voting for Les Waters for Dana H., because this was a planets-aligning piece of work: the play, the curation of the interviews we heard with the real Dana H., it all just locked in for me. I thought Lileana Blain-Cruz did an amazing job, and a lot of people are talking about her. A lot of people feel what I feel about Dana H. about Sam Mendes and The Lehman Trilogy. It’s a great category of great work.
Myles Frost, center, and cast in “MJ the Musical.”
Best Direction of a Musical
Stephen Brackett, A Strange Loop
Marianne Elliott, Company
Conor McPherson, Girl from the North Country
Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage, SIX: The Musical
Christopher Wheeldon, MJ
Voter 1: SIX is wonderful but not as good as the others in concept. I have to vote for Christopher Wheeldon for MJ, because he made what could be a concert into a for-real touching play with amazing dance. “Man in the Mirror” at the end was so moving. But I am hearing people speaking about Marianne Elliott and Company, and Stephen Brackett in A Strange Loop, which people just love, and Christopher too!
Voter 2: I loved Girl from the North Country. I love a good character study that doesn’t need a convoluted plot, but think Marianne Elliott’s complete reinvention—not only with the gender switches, but the staging—made Company completely unique and showed her well-executed, original vision for the show. A Strange Loop is getting so much buzz. So is SIX—but SIX is so commercial; does that help or hurt it? My choice is between Conor McPherson and Marianne Elliott. But it could also be SIX or A Strange Loop. It’s an exciting, very open category.
Voter 3: I won’t vote because I haven’t seen one of the shows. I hear most buzz about Stephen Brackett, but I have also heard some voters feeling weird about not voting for SIX, and wanting SIX to be recognized for something, for how good it is. Directing would be a category to make those thoughts and feelings known. I still think Stephen Brackett will win.
Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Warren Carlyle, The Music Man
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, SIX: The Musical
Bill T. Jones, Paradise Square
Christopher Wheeldon, MJ
Voter 1: I am voting for Warren Carlyle for The Music Man. His work was just fun and lovely. The way he used the company and all the talent of that company was just delightful. Other voters I have spoken to say Christopher Wheeldon will win—he, of course, directed MJ as well as choreographed it.
Voter 2: Camille A. Brown had a clear vision, and also directed for colored girls… Warren Carlyle’s choreography for The Music Man was very wonderful and traditional, while SIX’s choreography was wonderful and non-traditional. Paradise Square is not a contender. MJ recreated Michael Jackson classics that voters may like. My vote might go to MJ for its big, impressive ensemble dance numbers. It’s very difficult to make that look as good as they did. I can also see for colored girls… winning here. It’s a competitive category.
Voter 3: For me, it’s a toss-up between Bill T. Jones for Paradise Square and Christopher Wheeldon for MJ. The choreography in Paradise Square was one of the best things about the show. But MJ was amazing; I still think about the “Thriller ballet” they do. It’s a bingo board of what you remember of Michael Jackson, so you’re thinking, “When will they do the moonwalk?” I want to read more about how MJ’s choreography was conceived. From other voters, I am hearing it’s a choice between those two as well.
David Cullen, Company
Tom Curran, SIX: The Musical
Simon Hale, Girl from the North Country
Jason Michael Webb and David Holcenberg, MJ
Charlie Rosen, A Strange Loop
Anonymous 1: I genuinely have no strong feelings about this category.
Anonymous 2: Oh gosh, I think for me the sound of Girl from the North Country by Simon Hale was such a departure from the source material; just for doing the work, that one is the winner for me. The buzz is that it’s between Jason Michael Webb and David Holcenberg for MJ and Charlie Rosen for A Strange Loop; MJ for making pop music work in a musical theater vocabulary, and Strange Loop because there is so much love for it.
Anonymous 3: I have heard people marveling at the music of MJ, and its general sound design.
Best Book of a Musical
Girl From The North Country, Conor McPherson
MJ, Lynn Nottage
Mr. Saturday Night, Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel
Paradise Square, Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas & Larry Kirwan
A Strange Loop, Michael R. Jackson
Voter 1: It’s between Michael R. Jackson for A Strange Loop and Conor McPherson for Girl from the North Country. A Strange Loop won the Pulitzer, but the characters of the “thoughts” did not make it as good a book as they do a musical. I liked the sweep of the story in Girl from the North Country more.
“Everyone is talking about ‘A Strange Loop,’ everyone across the board loves it.”
— Voter 3
Voter 2: I think it will be 100 percent A Strange Loop, and I’m pretty sure other voters will think the same. The fact Michael R. Jackson won the Pulitzer, that he’s a beloved member of the theater community, that he was struggling and writing for years, and that the book is so moving and brilliant, telling the story it does about a young Black queer artist is a lot going for it—and frankly, I don’t know if the writing was great in any of others. I have only heard people talking about A Strange Loop.
Voter 3: Everyone is talking about A Strange Loop, everyone across the board loves it. They’re also talking about Mr. Saturday Night funnily enough. A lot of other people are questioning the wisdom of the book of Paradise Square, which raised a lot of questions about race, identity, and class, and seemed to say the solutions of Paradise Square back then applied to our present day. People I have spoken to found that a little confusing.
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theater
Flying Over Sunset Music: Tom Kitt Lyrics: Michael Korie
Mr. Saturday Night Music: Jason Robert Brown Lyrics: Amanda Green
Paradise Square Music: Jason Howland; Lyrics: Nathan Tysen & Masi Asare
SIX: The Musical Music and Lyrics: Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss
A Strange Loop Music & Lyrics: Michael R. Jackson
Voter 1: I have no strong feelings here.
Voter 2: I think this is a toss-up between A Strange Loop and SIX. Both have broken through into the pop culture world, SIX a little more. I’m voting for A Strange Loop, but I can see it going either way.
Voter 3: I have to decide between SIX and A Strange Loop. A Strange Loop stands out as something no one has ever done, but I don’t think the music itself is a clear standout. SIX is edging out in front for me. I think of SIX, whose opening night was going to be the night Broadway shut down before the pandemic; because of that, and before I saw it, I became familiar with the music of SIX before I saw it on stage. And still, when you talk to people, they want SIX to receive recognition somehow.
Alfie Allen and Gaby French in “Hangmen.”
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Beowulf Boritt, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Michael Carnahan and Nicholas Hussong, Skeleton Crew
Es Devlin, The Lehman Trilogy
Anna Fleischle, Hangmen
Scott Pask, American Buffalo
Adam Rigg, The Skin of Our Teeth
Voter 1: Adam Rigg for The Skin of Our Teeth, 100 percent. The sets are amazing. Everything, even down to the on-stage storms and cabanas for heaven’s sake, was so detailed and rich. But, talking to other voters, I think Es Devlin for The Lehman Trilogy will win it.
Voter 2: Oh, that will be Anna Fleischle for Hangmen for sure. The set transition when the stage lifts up in the first scene is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in theater. The night I saw it there was an audible gasp in the theater. I think they have it for sure.
“That was incredible: the houses, the Atlantic City boardwalk and slide. That’s amazing work, and I really want a go on that slide.”
— Voter 3
Voter 3: I and other voters I have spoken to are torn between The Lehman Trilogy and The Skin of Our Teeth. Like so many people, I already knew Thornton Wilder’s play—what theater major didn’t have to read it at school? I have some idea who the hell the characters are, and what the story is. I had imagined what it would look like, and could never have imagined what Adam Rigg created. That was incredible: the houses, the Atlantic City boardwalk and slide. That’s amazing work, and I really want a go on that slide.
The Lehman Trilogy’s cubes were incredible in another way. Think about the characters writing over the see-through walls in marker pen. It’s like having a work of art, and saying, “I’m going to write on it.” The other sets were brilliant too, particularly Hangmen. People are leaning generally more towards Lehman, but I just think of Skin of Our Teeth, and think about how much money they spent on it—more than I will earn in my lifetime.
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Beowulf Boritt and 59 Productions, Flying Over Sunset
Bunny Christie, Company
Arnulfo Maldonado, A Strange Loop
Derek McLane and Peter Nigrini, MJ
Allen Moyer, Paradise Square
Voter 1: Flying Over Sunset. The richness—the patio set, gorgeous glass windows on the side. Beowulf Boritt did a great job there. From what people are saying, I think MJ has a very good chance of getting it.
Voter 2: I think it will be Bunny Christie for Company, it was so impressive—the way the pieces were moving. That’s really been the only one I have been hearing buzz about. Flying Over Sunset had good projections, but I don’t think it will win.
Voter 3: It’s Company for me. Look, if your set design and the way it functions holds a show 20 minutes on a regular basis you can’t ignore that. When Katrina Lenk as Bobby walked out of a little cube and walked downstage, the scale alone and consideration of what she as a human looked like was incredibly done.
I know a lot of people hate the Company “letters.” I don’t. I felt the set design was artful and tied together a pretty big show. It shows how important design can be to a show—supporting the storytelling and ensuring a vision reaches the audience in a way that is clear and accessible.
Other voters I know are not talking about the sets for Paradise Square, MJ, and A Strange Loop. As for Flying Over Sunset, all that money spent on pulsating fronds and a full-size drug store could have been spent on a whole new play from an emerging writer. There’s no denying it was incredible, but if I had $10 million I would have made it look incredible.
Best Costume Design of a Play
Montana Levi Blanco, The Skin of Our Teeth
Sarafina Bush, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Emilio Sosa, Trouble in Mind
Jane Greenwood, Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite
Jennifer Moeller, Clyde’s
Voter 1: I am voting for Montana Levi Blanco for The Skin of Our Teeth or Sarafina Bush for for colored girls… But I think the wonderful and much-respected and loved Jane Greenwood may win as a kind of lifetime achievement award for her Plaza Suite costumes.
Voter 2: This is a tough one. I think maybe Plaza Suite, because it features three different time periods, and it showcases Sarah Jessica Parker in wonderful costumes—and she is known for fashion. Plaza Suite will win its only nomination for her, I think.
Voter 3: I didn’t see Plaza Suite, but if I was voting, it would be for The Skin of Our Teeth whose costumes help tell the story of human creation and history… They supported and added to the surreal universe that that play lives in. It’s a clear frontrunner.
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Fly Davis, Caroline, or Change
Toni-Leslie James, Paradise Square
William Ivey Long, Diana The Musical
Santo Loquasto, The Music Man
Gabriella Slade, SIX: The Musical
Paul Tazewell, MJ
Voter 1: I went with Gabriella Slade for SIX. Those costumes were gorgeously visualized, fascinating. Inventive, and so well done. William Ivey Long’s costumes for Diana were pretty spectacular, but the sexual abuse allegations made against him do play on voters’ minds and may impact his chances. They’re on my mind.
Voter 2: Diana or maybe Santo Loquasto for The Music Man. You can see the work that went into them for both. William Ivey Long’s troubles may come into play here. I don’t know if voters will look past it. I have been to some functions where some people don’t know about the allegations, so it’s hard to say how they will affect his chances. If it wasn’t for the allegations, Diana would be my choice, for the number of costumes, their design, and the quick changes. SIX’s costumes were unique and wonderful, but it was just six dresses the entire time. Voters like to see a lot of variety and costume changes.
Voter 3: I’m going to be voting for Santo Loquasto for The Music Man—every time people come out, I was like, ‘You’re wearing a $25,000 hat! There’s something to be said for the spectacle of huge numbers of people wearing different outfits in different scenes. But SIX! Come on! Those costumes by Gabriella Slade are amazing, and other voters are talking about them in a big way. I haven’t heard them talking about the Diana costumes, and the William Ivey Long scandal made it easier to ignore the costumes. I think people are going for The Music Man or SIX.
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Joshua Carr, Hangmen
Jiyoun Chang, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Jon Clark, The Lehman Trilogy
Jane Cox, Macbeth
Yi Zhao, The Skin of Our Teeth
Voter 1: I went with Jiyoun Chang for for colored girls…; the lighting was gorgeous and inventive, and really helped show the women. I don’t think it’s going to win, from what I’ve heard I think this will go to Jon Clark for The Lehman Trilogy.
Voter 2: Oh god, this is a tough one. Hangmen had beautiful lighting by Joshua Carr. I think The Lehman Trilogy has technically the best lighting. It’s a very difficult set to light, with a false roof, and a lot of side lighting. As a nerd, I am voting for The Lehman Trilogy, but I think other voters may go for Hangmen, which has atmospheric haze and beams of light.
Voter 3: I didn’t see one of the plays, so won’t be voting, and thank God because I think this is a hard one. I think The Skin of Our Teeth (Yi Zhao) and For Colored Girls were both lovely. There’s no real buzz here. Sorry, people do not stand around 42nd Street talking about lighting design, it’s not one of those things where people go, “Let’s get cocktails, and talk lighting design,” but people I have spoken to loved Skin of Our Teeth just like me.
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Neil Austin, Company
Tim Deiling, SIX: The Musical
Donald Holder, Paradise Square
Natasha Katz, MJ
Bradley King, Flying Over Sunset
Jen Schriever, A Strange Loop
Voter 1: I think that this is going to be between Natasha Katz for MJ and Bradley King for Flying Over Sunset, which might sweep all its categories. It was gorgeous to look at. But I am going with MJ: all the elements of MJ were really cohesive and made that production spectacular. Lighting mirrors is hard, and Natasha Katz did it.
Voter 2: I think Tim Deiling for SIX gets this one. It felt like I was in the middle of a rock concert. It had the most in-yer-face lighting in a good way. Fellow voters are talking about SIX because the lighting is so visible and changing colors. I think people remember that.
Voter 3: I think SIX is going to get it, and I’m voting for SIX. I’ve heard a couple of people talking about MJ. But SIX was tight, clean, and a lot of that is owed to the lighting design.
Best Sound Design of a Play
Justin Ellington, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Mikhail Fiksel, Dana H.
Palmer Hefferan, The Skin of Our Teeth
Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey, The Lehman Trilogy
Mikaal Sulaiman, Macbeth
Voter 1: Mikhail Fiksel for Dana H.! How did they do that?! The show is about sound. You have to deal with the tapes, and then synch them up with Deirdre O’Connell playing the person. It was brilliant. I think other voters might go the bigger, more logical stuff—Lehman? I don’t know. The only thing that struck me about Macbeth was the poor guy who every single scene had something extremely tortuous happening to him.
Voter 2: Dana H.—all those sound effects were astonishing. The show literally starts with Deirdre O’Connell being handed an ear monitor. Sound is the whole conceit of the show. We never really get that in theater; normally shows are just trying to amplify things. The sound was good n other shows, but nothing approaches the ambition and achievement of Dana H.
Voter 3: Dana H. Sure, I am someone really invested in Dana H., but other people walked away going “Holy cow, that sound design!” I want it to win, and sense a lot of other voters agreeing.
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Simon Baker, Girl from the North Country
Paul Gatehouse, SIX: The Musical
Ian Dickinson for Autograph, Company
Drew Levy, A Strange Loop
Gareth Owen, MJ
Voter 1: I went with Gareth Owen for MJ. The whole sound cohesion of that show was great. I am hearing the same from other voters.
Voter 2: I am a sound nerd, and am going for MJ. It uses new technology that knows where an actor is on stage in three dimensions at any moment. It’s a first for Broadway. In the sound design world, the voters know this too, and the historic, specialized nature of the use of this technology makes me think it will be the winner.
Voter 3: People walked away from MJ saying they felt that music in every fiber of their being. I adored A Strange Loop, and want it to win, but some voters I talked to said they could not hear the show that well at the beginning. It may have been an off-show that night they saw it.
“I would love some kind of acknowledgment made to everyone who made theater happen again: the frontline workers, the COVID officers in theaters, the additional swings and understudies.”
— Voter 2
What do you want the Tony Awards show itself to celebrate and focus on?
Voter 1: On the night, I think the awards will be all over the place. That’s why this year is so exciting—no one production will sweep it. I am so excited that Ariana DeBose is our host. She’s wonderful, and she comes from our world. She’s been on the show in the ensemble as a chorus member. She comes from that part of theater. She was not a star, she is now. I’m just thrilled.
Voter 2: I would love some kind of acknowledgment made to everyone who made theater happen again: the frontline workers, the COVID officers in theaters, the additional swings and understudies. From a buzz standpoint, I want it to be a marketing machine to sell tickets to Broadway. I also want the show to be a celebration of theater—being in the room with people who love making theater and share that with people at home.
Right now, we’re selling tickets at 2009/2010 levels, and that isn’t bad, because in the last few years we kept breaking our own records. We need to learn how to do theater safely and encourage more and more people to come. We need new policies backstage to keep workers safe, and better insurance coverage—and in the short term, if we can’t assure people of all of that, we need to do the best we can to keep audiences and workers as safe and protected as possible.
Voter 3: The way people are talking about A Strange Loop might mean it does a kind of clean sweep—not as much as Hamilton, but pretty big. The Lehman Trilogy has a lot of fans among voters. It’s exciting to see more diversity in the nominees, and we could and should have even more.
Generally, people are very proud of being in the industry this year, finding a way through COVID. Being there, being at the awards this year, feels like an honor in itself. The show should convey that, as well as the changes around diversity and identities theater is trying to change and confront about itself. It should celebrate theater itself makes its most special moments—the wonderful moments when all the elements come together.
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