Picking the Tony Awards winners: It should be a big night for 'Dear Evan Hansen'

By Peter Marks
Washington Post
Posted6/11/2017 7:29 AM
  • Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones in "Dear Evan Hansen."

    Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones in "Dear Evan Hansen." Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Dear Peter Marks: Today is going to be an amazing day, and here's why. Because today, all you have to do is be yourself. A journalist.

Whose task is far more challenging than anything Evan Hansen might be going through. You have the sacred duty today to lay out who you think will win all the Tonys Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall.

Don't worry if everybody thinks your choices are wrong. They can't be wrong if you are true to yourself. Well, actually they can be all wro -- oh, let's not have this argument again, OK? Where were you? Oh, right, the being a Tony pundit thing.

So, here goes.

Best Musical

The nominees: "Come From Away," "Dear Evan Hansen," "Groundhog Day," "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812."

"Natasha" is a triumph of innovative staging. The flawed "Groundhog Day" is one rewrite away from a finished work. It comes down to the two shows with Washington pedigrees, both of which I feel great affection for. They're both exciting, superbly staged and have powerful emotional cores. "Come From Away" is a heartbreaking production about an extraordinary incident; "Dear Evan Hansen" is an extraordinary production about a heartbreaking incident. In the end, the more award-worthy achievement is the show that wrecked me more.

My choice: "Dear Evan Hansen"

Who I think will win: "Dear Evan Hansen"

Best Play

The nominees: "A Doll's House Part 2," "Indecent," "Oslo," "Sweat."

This is a hot contest among four deserving playwrights, all on Broadway for the first time, and one of whom, Lynn Nottage, won the Pulitzer Prize for her entry, "Sweat." Paula Vogel's "Indecent" is breathtakingly rendered, if dramatically a bit scattered; "Sweat" is incredibly timely but relies too heavily on old formulas. So I'm torn, and seriously, between two gems: Lucas Hnath's "A Doll's House, Part 2" and J.T. Rogers's "Oslo." What a great problem to have! You could fit two performances of Hnath's play -- a sequel to Henrik Ibsen's work -- into the running time of "Oslo," which recounts the secret negotiations orchestrated by a Norwegian couple to forge an Israeli-Palestinian accord. And yet both plays are fleet, funny, riveting, gorgeously acted. In terms of a personal favorite, I give the slightest of edges to the play with the more sprawling canvas. But I'd be happy to see "A Doll's House, Part 2" win, too.

My choice: "Oslo."

Who I think will win: "A Doll's House, Part 2"

The one, the only, Bette Midler, in "Hello, Dolly!"
The one, the only, Bette Midler, in "Hello, Dolly!" - Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes
Best Revival of a Musical

The nominees: "Falsettos," "Hello, Dolly!, "Miss Saigon."

Put on your Sunday clothes. It's "Dolly" in a (cake)walk.

My choice: "Hello, Dolly!"

Who I think will win: "Hello, Dolly!"

Best Revival of a Play

The nominees: "Jitney, "Present Laughter," "Six Degrees of Separation," "The Little Foxes."

"Jitney," by August Wilson and "The Little Foxes," by Lillian Hellman, are the standouts in this category. Both had impeccable ensembles, but director Ruben Santiago-Hudson's "Jitney" was the more profound experience for me, revealing a depth and vitality in the play I hadn't seen before.

My choice: "Jitney"

Who I think will win: "Jitney."

Best Actor in a Musical

The nominees: Ben Pla-

Oh come on! Are you kidding me? It's Ben Platt, for 100 percent certain, for his magnificent work in "Dear Evan Hansen." Sorry Andy (Karl), David (Hyde Pierce), Christian (Borle) and Josh (Groban), this is Ben's year, for a turn that will go down as one of the great performances by a leading man in Broadway history. What "Epiphany" is for Sweeney Todd, and "Soliloquy" is for Billy Bigelow in "Carousel," the mighty song "Words Fail" is for Evan -- and the fierce young actor who is playing him with a passionate abandon. Ben, we in the not-so-cheap seats salute you.

My choice: Ben Platt

Who I think will win: Yeah, you heard me.

Best Actress in a Musical

The nominees: Bette Midler, "Hello, Dolly!"; Patti LuPone, "War Paint,"; Christine Ebersole, "War Paint"; Denee Benton, "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812"; Eva Noblezada, "Miss Saigon."

If you're a gambling person, then place all your Bettes on the hilariously flamboyant star who plays Dolly Gallagher Levi in director Jerry Zaks's exuberant revival. Her chief competition here is provided by the double-barreled artillery of "War Paint's" LuPone and Ebersole, either of whom would win in another season. This year, there's no stopping Midler.

My choice: Bette Midler

Who I think will win: Bette Midler

Best Actor in a Play

The nominees: Kevin Kline, "Present Laughter"; Jefferson Mays, "Oslo"; Dennis Arndt, "Heisenberg"; Chris Cooper, "A Doll's House, Part 2"; Corey Hawkins, "Six Degrees of Separation."

The theater world's oddsmakers have their money on Kline, who's giving a fine performance in the so-so revival of a Noel Coward comedy. So I'm going out on a limb for two actors I loved more this season: Mays, as a would-be international peacemaker, and Cooper, whose portrayal of a chastened Torvald Helmer is a minimalist masterstroke.

My choice: Chris Cooper

Who I think will win: Jefferson Mays

Best Actress in a Play

The nominees: Laurie Metcalf, "A Doll's House, Part 2"; Jennifer Ehle, "Oslo"; Cate Blanchett, "The Present"; Sally Field, "The Glass Menagerie"; Laura Linney, "The Little Foxes."

There's some support for Linney, who's never won a Tony, and snared a Drama Desk award this week for her commendable portrayal of manipulative Regina Giddens. But Ehle, playing a wry back-channel catalyst for peace in "Oslo," and Metcalf, as a Nora Helmer 15 years older and no less feisty than in the Ibsen original, are the big guns here. In the end, I'd give it to Metcalf, who's got firepower to spare.

My choice: Laurie Metcalf

Who I think will win: Laurie Metcalf

Best Direction of a Musical

The nominees: Christopher Ashley, "Come From Away"; Rachel Chavkin, "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812"; Michael Greif, "Dear Evan Hansen"; Matthew Warchus, "Groundhog Day"; Jerry Zaks, "Hello, Dolly!"

This is another highly competitive category; I could make a case for any one of them, with the exception of Warchus, who I don't think solved the significant problems of "Groundhog Day." But Greif, who's been nominated before and never won, deserves the statuette for his impeccable shepherding of a truly daring and original musical.

My choice: Michael Greif

Who I think will win: Michael Greif

Best Direction of a Play

The nominees: Sam Gold, "A Doll's House, Part 2"; Ruben Santiago-Hudson, "Jitney"; Bartlett Sher, "Oslo"; Daniel Sullivan, "The Little Foxes"; Rebecca Taichman, "Indecent."

The work in each case is unassailable. I'll throw a dart at the board and say that Santiago-Hudson's smashing resuscitation of what had been, for me, one of August Wilson's lesser plays should be singled out. Although everyone in this category did outstanding work.

My choice: Ruben Santiago-Hudson

Who I think will win: Bartlett Sher

The featured acting categories

For best featured actress in a musical, it's Rachel Bay Jones all the way, as Evan's mom in "Dear Evan Hansen." (Though not giving Jennifer Laura Thompson a nomination for her portrayal of another mother grieving the death of her son in "Evan Hansen" was a misjudgment on the Tony nominators' part).

My choices for best featured actor in a musical: Mike Faist, as the aforementioned son who takes his own life in "Dear Evan Hansen." For best featured actress in a play: Condola Rashad, as Nora's grown-up daughter in "A Doll's House, Part 2." And for best featured actor in a play: Nathan Lane in "The Front Page" -- by far the funniest turn on Broadway this season.

Best Book and Score of a Musical

If the names of "Dear Evan Hansen's" book writer, Steven Levenson, and composer-lyricists, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, aren't in the envelopes, watch for me to dash out of the Tony Awards press room and into the Music Hall and belt out "Words Fail" myself.

The design categories

The Tonys for set design of a musical and play should, by rights, go to Mimi Lien, of "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," and Michael Yeargan for "Oslo." (Though the set of "Dear Evan Hansen," should have earned a nod for David Korins and by extension, projections designer Peter Nigrini.)

For costumes, my Tony choices would be Catherine Zuber for "War Paint" and Jane Greenwood for "The Little Foxes." Lighting awards should go to Japhy Weideman of "Dear Evan Hansen" and Christopher Akerlind for "Indecent." Kelly Devine's choreography should win for "Come From Away" and Alex Lacamoire is my choice for best orchestrations, for "Dear Evan Hansen."

P.S. Kevin Spacey hosts the three-hour awards ceremony, which will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday on CBS.

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