Hinting at Who Is Bound for Tonys Glory
Posted June 7, 2018 5:35 p.m. EDT
“The Band’s Visit” can add a happy tune to its song list. Harry Potter can cast a celebratory spell. And “Angels” can rejoice.
Our annual survey of Tony Awards voters suggests that, after a season some found frustratingly unoriginal, a handful of shows have emerged as clear industry favorites, including “The Band’s Visit,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” and “Angels in America.”
We talked to 110 of the 842 voters during the past few days; they were granted anonymity because the balloting process is secret. Their ballots are due at noon Friday, and the ceremony, a presentation of the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League, begins at 8 p.m. Sunday, broadcast on CBS from Radio City Music Hall.
Without further ado, here’s what we learned:
— In the Big Race, a Little Show Is Winning
Best new musical is the one Tony category that generally has a significant box office impact. And the winner this year is likely to be the show that needs it the most: “The Band’s Visit.”
Nearly 80 percent of the voters we surveyed said they were voting for the musical, which is adapted from a fictional 2007 Israeli film about an Egyptian police orchestra that unexpectedly spends a night in a Jewish desert town. A gentle show about longing for connection, the musical has been selling solidly, but not amazingly, at the box office.
The musical wowed critics, and its admirers were rapturous. “I would vote for it 10 times if I could,” one voter said. Another opined, “It’s interesting, it’s new, it’s fresh — it’s the thing we all want when we go to the theater, to be surprised.”
The also-rans in this category are all far-better-known titles — “Mean Girls,” “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” and “Frozen.” Both “Frozen” and “Mean Girls” have been selling strongly at the box office; “SpongeBob” has been underperforming.
Several voters said they went with “The Band’s Visit,” at least in part, as a protest against the commercialism of the other entrants. “The Band’s Visit,” one voter said, is “an adult musical exploring grown up themes, unlike the other nominees.”
Others said they weren’t sure what the fuss was about: “What a terrible year for musicals. This was the least worst choice.” Another said, “Had it been any other season with compelling competition, my vote would have possibly gone elsewhere.”
A few voters even said they were boycotting the category. As one put it, “I didn’t vote for best musical because there isn’t one.”
— Harry Potter and the Multiple Statuettes
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is the costliest play Broadway has ever seen, it got excellent reviews, and it’s selling strongly. And in a season short on conversation-starting dramas, about two-thirds of our voters said they went for “Cursed Child,” the only nominee still running, as the best play.
The two-part production, written by Jack Thorne, was universally praised for its stagecraft. And it appeared to benefit from low expectations on the part of some theater industry veterans who had doubted whether a play based on a series of wildly popular children’s books about a boy wizard would make quality drama.
“I expected to hate it,” one voter said. “And then I loved it.” Another voter called it “truly an all-around spectacle of storytelling and presentation.”
Of course, “Cursed Child,” which originated in London, is not for everyone; some, especially those unfamiliar with the books or films, said they found it difficult to follow.
Muggles were largely divided between two other British plays, “The Children” and “Farinelli and the King,” with the two American contenders, “Junk” and “Latin History for Morons,” lagging behind.
— A Dead Heat Among Musical Revivals
There were only three musical revivals this season, but all three — “Carousel,” “My Fair Lady” and “Once on This Island” — got good reviews and have enthusiastic partisans, leaving that race too close to call.
In our survey, 39 percent of voters supported “My Fair Lady,” 35 percent favored “Once on This Island,” and 25 percent chose “Carousel.” Given that our survey is not a scientific poll, those percentages are too close to make a prediction with any confidence; anything could happen.
Among plays, the outcome seems clearer. Voters were enthusiastic about both “Angels in America,” by Tony Kushner, which was a Broadway sensation in 1993 and 1994, and “Three Tall Women,” by Edward Albee, which had never previously run on Broadway.
But about 60 percent of the voters we surveyed chose “Angels” as the best, and about 27 percent went for “Three Tall Women.” The other contenders were “The Iceman Cometh,” “Lobby Hero” and “Travesties.”
Many voters went out of their way to tell us how much they loved “Angels” as a feat of playwriting. “Greatest American play ever written,” one voter said. “He’s a present day Shakespeare,” another said of Kushner. And a third voter explained: “'Angels in America’ is just one of those plays for which you have to bow down and give full respect. It’s the winner.”
— Lead Actresses Look Like Sure Bets
Glenda Jackson could win by acclamation.
Nine out of 10 voters said they were going to vote for her performance as the imperious matriarch in “Three Tall Women,” and they weren’t shy about why:
“Transcendent.” “Just absolutely, absolutely thrilling.” “An old pro at the height of her abilities.” “I feel lucky to have seen this.”
Jackson, who is 82 and took a long detour from acting to serve in the British Parliament, has been nominated four times previously for a Tony Award; she has never won.
Voters also loved Katrina Lenk as the sultry cafe owner at the heart of “The Band’s Visit.” This is Lenk’s first Tony nomination, but many voters were also impressed with her performance last season in “Indecent,” and 65 percent of those we surveyed voted to give her a Tony.
“There was so much emotion inside her, and she moved me,” one voter said. “A nuanced elegant performance,” another noted. And a third: “Exotic and sexy and funny and enigmatic. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her?”
— Andrew Garfield Is the Favorite
Andrew Garfield’s raw performance as Prior Walter, the prophetic AIDS-afflicted sufferer at the heart of “Angels in America,” moved many voters, and he seems sure to win a Tony for best leading actor in a play as a result.
Two-thirds of those we surveyed said they were voting for Garfield.
“Simply astonishing,” one voter said of Garfield. And another: “He made the character sympathetic, obnoxious, charming, annoying and most of all — sexy — all at the same time.”
Last year the surest shot for a Tony for best leading actor in a musical was Ben Platt in “Dear Evan Hansen,” but this time around, that category is far too close to call.
Tony Shalhoub of “The Band’s Visit” led slightly over Joshua Henry of “Carousel,” with Ethan Slater, the title star of “SpongeBob SquarePants” swimming just behind.
Any of them could win. Tune in Sunday.