When you take a step back from the Broadway year, the critic may feel a few things observing their field of curling Playbills: amazement at how much that that they have seen, sadness at the lack of original plays, and excitement at recalling the array of performances and pleasures sometimes lost to the blur of deadlines.
On Sunday night, the culmination of that year takes place, the Tony Awards. CBS will broadcast it, starting at 8pm hosted by Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, and all eyes will be on big, well-known, and publicized productions, like Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and Mean Girls.
But not all Broadway productions come furnished with familiar brand names and stars like Denzel Washington and Andrew Garfield. There are other performers, plays, and musicals that will hopefully reap the love they deserve. There are some categories with clear winners, and some categories that will be fascinating jousts.
Below is your Daily Beast scorecard for the night, and what I, and my colleague Kevin Fallon, think of this year's competitors. Happy Tonys!
– Tim Teeman
The Children, by Lucy Kirkwood
Farinelli and The King, by Claire van Kampen
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two, by Jack Thorne
Junk, by Ayad Akhtar
Latin History for Morons, by John Leguizamo
Tim: Sorry, I have no idea what Junk is doing there, apart from making up the numbers. A loud, over-produced play with a dead-end macho posture. Preceding it in the same space at Lincoln Center was the phenomenal Oslo, which made it even more painful.
Kevin: Agreed. Honestly, with the exception of what we will soon rave about as the clear winner, I feel like this is a pretty weak year for this category.
Tim: Yes, we know what’s coming. But I will extend this a bit because as well as the large and brilliant elephant and deserving winner in the room, I want to give shoutouts to The Children, which was the best-written and performed play people probably never heard or saw of. Set in a cottage with a trio of nervy people after some kind of apocalyptic event, I loved every witty, savage moment.
Similarly, I loved John Leguizamo with chalk in his hair and fire in his political and cultural heart giving us some Latin and personal history. The guttering candles of Farinelli and The King were very pretty too, but Mark Rylance’s magnetism couldn’t really lift it somewhere special. Fabulous singing by Iestyn Davies, though.
Kevin: True, The Children (like everything in this category) found itself dwarfed this season by It Which Will Soon Be Named. There are few theatrical experiences quite like Leguizamo’s one-man shows, and there couldn’t be a better time given our country’s political climate for Latin History for Morons to be on stage, but it was hardly his strongest work. And congrats to Farinelli for making good on its “we brought Mark Rylance to the stage again, now give us a Tony nod” gambit. But can we talk about Harry Potter now?????
Tim: Sure. Let’s talk about Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, the best damn mass market, spectacular, original play (albeit from a pop-cultural juggernaut) on Broadway.
As I wrote at the time, I went as a HP virgin (books and films), and went with our colleague and boss Katie Baker, a superfan. I was as reticent as I had been at SpongeBob. But both were terrific. In HP, the magic, the effects, the acting, the story—time travel plus a parent/child set of knots—all worked wonderfully. And movingly.
Kevin: This production had no business being this good. They could’ve had an actor holding a wand on an empty stage farting and tourists would have auctioned off their first born to see it so long as it had “Harry Potter” in the title. So then why did I coo in awe at the magic tricks like a child in wonder?
Why did I cry at the exquisite father-son scenes? Why did I tense in terror at the perfectly structured and horrifying—and shockingly dark!—climax? TIM, I LOVED IT! Readers, run, don’t walk... to the bodega to buy lottery tickets. And then, should you win the jackpot, get yourselves Harry Potter tickets stat!
The Band's Visit
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Kevin: The four words I don’t think I ever imagined saying: Give SpongeBob the Tony!
Tim: So, one of my favorite evenings out this Tonys year was to see SpongeBob. I went with you Kevin, who knew the cartoon. I did not. I feared noisy children and childish material. But as my review made clear: this was a riot, and brilliant, beautifully performed, sung, designed, and produced.
Kevin: And surprisingly timely! Who would have figured SpongeBob to be the wokest character on Broadway?
Tim: Yes, it had a nice bit of adult depth to it. The children were so well-behaved around us too. Frozen was a puzzling dud, with static performances and staging. I mean, putting your hand on the side of a stage and watching it techno-freeze. Is that all you got Elsa? And the clothes removal to reveal more stunning clothes at the peak “Let It Go” moment, which was satisfying in the way that getting to the top of a boring mountain is, was done more stunningly by Bucks Fizz in 1981, with “Making Your Mind Up.” (What, you’ve never seen it?)
Kevin: Mean Girls is a hoot—Fey’s book is, I think, funnier than the movie, even—with some truly fetch performances, but the score is, sadly, a mess. Still it’s impressive that it arrived on Broadway with the film’s legacy untarnished.
Tim: Mean Girls was a lot of fun, with two performances standing out—Kate Rockwell and Grey Henson. But it was also a musical on autopilot. And so, I wouldn’t be an unhappy critic if SpongeBob wins, it deserves all the love, awards and otherwise, it can garner, but my pick is The Band’s Visit. This, as I said at the time, is a special thing on Broadway. Not a brand. Not something from a big somewhere else. Just itself. I found it beautiful and haunting, and I could watch the cast do it all over again, any night of the week. And more musicals—independent of mind and form—should be on Broadway.
Kevin: The Band’s Visit is lovely, but, at least when I saw it, far too intimate a story and small a production—from the scale to how it registered emotionally for me—to warrant the title Best Musical. This all would imply that SpongeBob is a de facto choice, but that discounts the intelligence with which it bridges the dizzying dazzle of the production used to appease children and the smart, engaging, and shockingly timely story.
The pastiche score from the crazy roster of rock star composers is ambitious and uneven, but the way each calls on a different genre right to the edge of parody is more of I wanted the music in Mean Girls to be. Plus, as you said, our SpongeBob theater date was so nice!
Best Revival of a Play
Angels in America
Edward Albee's Three Tall Women
Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
Tim: This, for me, is a clear winner with a very respectable runner-up. It has to be Angels in America. The National Theatre production was immaculate, with fine performances and intelligent staging. It’s seven plus hours, and you don’t feel it. Indeed, for me, you want it to envelope you more. I love its rawness, its flights of fancy, its digressions and realism and magic—and its heart. And then, there was Three Tall Women, another lovely night out with you, Kevin...
Kevin: Our night with Aunt Jackie! To have seven hours of Angels in America and a play in which Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf, and Allison Pill have a row with each other for 90 minutes in the same season was such a gift to the gays that I’m crying rainbow tears just thinking about it again.
Does Angels in America take this in a cake walk? Yes, it is a towering achievement in every way. Would Three Tall Women be, by leagues, the winner here in any other season? Totally. What an embarrassment of riches.
Tim: Travesties would also be giving it a run for its money. This s a difficult play by Tom Stoppard—brainy, dense; also silly and fun—which is rooted in Tom Hollander’s startlingly good performance. Lobby Hero, about the shenanigans of a corrupt cop and slacker in an NYC apartment block other critics loved and I thought was a pretty airless dud, despite the presence of Chris Evans. Brian Tyree Henry is the standout performer there.
As for The Iceman Cometh, oh he did, and lumbering very slowly. This Eugene O’Neill epic is made for Denzel Washington, and he delivers the big, meaty O’Neill sturm and drang, but my goodness, you are glad to see the outdoors and sunlight at the end.
Kevin: This category is undoubtedly stronger than Best Play, with Angels, Three Tall Women, and Travesties all formidable productions. Even Lobby Hero and Iceman boasted strong enough performances to atone for their productions respective sins.
But when Angels wins this category and Harry Potter wins Best Play, it will be a testament to grandeur and the necessary ambition of theatre, in terms of emotion, scale, cultural impact, and vision. By no means are we equating a Hogwarts spinoff to the singular work of Tony Kushner, but I feel heartened by the message that art and bombast can coexist, given how rightfully fearful we routinely are that Broadway will soon be a parade of jukebox musicals and rock concerts.
Tim: Indeed—and, apart from the Cher musical—it will not be welcome. Oh wait, Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, one of the best shows on stage this year (and he will win a Special Tony on Sunday), is an exception too. This is a special show.
Best Revival of a Musical
My Fair Lady
Once On This Island
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
Tim: Or, as I like to put it, the ‘why the hell are they are programming this at the time of #MeToo in 2018?’ category.
Kevin: Tim, it is dumbfounding.
Tim: I loved the music of My Fair Lady, really loved it. It’s the most beautifully played and sung music this season on Broadway. Lauren Ambrose: I could sigh all day my admiration of her. The same for Joshua Henry in Carousel.
I was pretty alone in not being charmed by Once on This Island, and questioning its take on race and love. But really, you don’t have to be particularly woke to sit and watch Carousel and My Fair Lady right now, the stories within them, and just think, “Hang on. Anyone want/need a rewrite pen?”
Kevin: The thing that could be said about all three of these revivals is: How much problematic content are you willing to forgive in order to bask in some lovely singing? My Fair Lady makes out best in this. The score has always been the best part of Once on This Island, and the refreshingly inclusive cast made magic with it; those numbers were stunning. But Ti-Moun’s fate, and the justification for it, is jaw-dropping.
As for Carousel: Henry’s rendition of “Soliloquy,” Renee Fleming belting to the rafters, and those sweeping chorus-boy-filled production numbers all made my heart leap out of my chest. And the tone-deafness of the domestic abuse plot, particularly its wonky handling in Act II, nearly made my ass leave the theatre.
Tim: To audiences’ credit, I audibly was not alone in wondering what the hell was going on. In both My Fair Lady, when Higgins’ abuse of Eliza is being spat out in the most ugly fashion, and in Carousel, when Julie (Jessie Mueller) is being abused by Billy (Henry), and when Billy steadfastly refuses to change or even apologize, there was a lot of tutting and even one “Fuck this.”
With both Carousel and My Fair Lady, you just let the music take over. Or you’d be on stage with a placard, and a raft of numbers for various therapeutic organizations. My winner: My Fair Lady, for its sheer lushness, and Lauren Ambrose!
Kevin: My Fair Lady wins, and then the creative teams of all three productions are swiftly ushered into group sensitivity training.
Best Book of a Musical
The Band's Visit, Itamar Moses
Frozen, Jennifer Lee
Mean Girls, Tina Fey
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical, Kyle Jarrow
Tim: Oh crikey, it’s another Band’s Visit versus SpongeBob square-off, Kevin! I am, of course, discounting (not rudely but with a definitive swipe), Frozen and Mean Girls.
Kevin: This is a really competitive category I think! Do I even need to sing the praises of SpongeBob again? Fine, I will! Forget all those fancy-ass rock stars who did the score. It’s the book that makes this should-be disaster actually brilliant. There is something undoubtedly special about Moses’ book for The Band’s Visit. But then Tina Fey! Will they seriously not give it to Tina Fey?!?!
Tim: The book of Mean Girls is OK, but it’s a pretty faithful compression of the film. The droll tone, and dry archness is all there. I get it. But there isn’t much invention. And Frozen lives up to its title. The story just stands still, with everyone repeating themselves.
The stories of Band’s Visit and SpongeBob take us somewhere, and take us somewhere unexpected and unexpectedly. My winner, just because I love its pace and originality is BV. But I’d be a happy soul if SpongeBob wins. I kind of want them to have a joint party on the night.
Kevin: SpongeBob forever and always <3. However, I will say, as a Mean Girls film obsessive (hardly the only one), that I was struck but how much Fey was able to add to the already near-flawless screenplay that, in contrast to most movie-musical adaptations, didn’t seem superfluous but actually made the story richer, the characters sharper, and the production funnier. But again, get this Tony to the trophy shelf in a pineapple under the sea.
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Angels in America, Adrian Sutton
The Band's Visit, David Yazbek
Frozen, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Mean Girls, Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical, Music & Lyrics: Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper & Rob Hyman, John Legend, Panic! at the Disco, Plain White T's, They Might Be Giants, T.I., and Domani & Lil'C
Tim: There was music in Angels, yes there was! And here, I will break rank. I do love The Band’s Visit. I want it to win every award it can, because it both deserves to and because of the wider message it sends about ART and Broadway. BUT the SpongeBob score, all those amazing artists… it is phenomenal. The songs are funny, witty, stirring, silly. And it’s a big sauce of pleasure from beginning to end.
Kevin: I’ll keep it short: The Best Score of the year was Imogen Heap’s work for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was ridiculously disqualified from contention, so this category is, to me, irrelevant—though if that Musical Theatre 101 thesis that is Mean Girls score wins I will scream.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Tom Hollander, Travesties
Jamie Parker, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Mark Rylance, Farinelli and The King
Denzel Washington, Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
Tim: THIS is a juicy category, Kevin. I enjoyed both Mark Rylance and Denzel Washington’s performances—and DW’s starpower may well win over Tony voters—but they weren’t the best performances.
Kevin: Not at all. Jamie Parker is a great Harry Potter, making the role both his own and a believable evolution from what Daniel Radcliffe did in the film. And for all the magic and spectacle, it’s two particular scenes with no special effects, just spare emotion delivered by Parker, that still linger with me months after seeing the plays. And Hollander centers what could’ve been a far dizzier Travesties than it already was. But it’s Andrew Garfield, right? He’s got to win.
Tim: For me, it is Garfield. His performance was loopy, magnetic, intelligent, soulful. And I’m a pushover for a man in a Gloria Swanson turban. I agree totally about Hollander and Parker, but the richness of the acting, the various weathers that Garfield has to give us over seven hours, is just an amazing feat of his craft. The other two give wonderful performances, but giving us a lovely 5 notes to his soaring 25.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Glenda Jackson, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women
Condola Rashad, Saint Joan
Lauren Ridloff, Children of a Lesser God
Amy Schumer, Meteor Shower
Tim: Can I keep this one short? Glenda Jackson. Just... Glenda Jackson.
Kevin: If the Tony Awards telecast doesn’t open on Sunday with the hosts just walking to the microphone and screaming “GLENDA JACKSON,” just to get it all over with, the night will have been a colossal waste of all our time.
Tim: Jackson’s performance as the embittered, vinegary matriarch A in Albee’s play gave us both such pleasure that night, didn’t it?! Then I met her for a hugely entertaining interview. Ridloff gave a stunning Broadway premiere performance in an under-loved show. I wasn’t as keen on Rashad as a too-meek Joan, and Schumer was fun, and thanks for that. BUT GLENDA!!!! Obviously, I cannot wait for her speech—if she shows up.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Harry Hadden-Paton, My Fair Lady
Joshua Henry, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel
Tony Shalhoub, The Band's Visit
Ethan Slater, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Tim: GREAT category. Honestly, I enjoyed all these men in such a ranging group of roles.
Kevin: You know what I’m going to say, Tim. Who lives in a pineapple under the sea and athletically carried a difficult show with surprising agility and character work that did not imitate but in fact humanized a cartoon sponge and by the way was really cute, too.
I’ll concede that Joshua Henry’s singing voice nearly gave me an orgasm at the end of Act I in Carousel, and Harry Hadden-Paton is a great Henry Higgins when, really, there almost never is a great Henry Higgins! And who doesn’t love Tony Shalhoub? But give it to SpongeBob!
Tim: For me, Joshua Henry. I didn’t orgasm, but I did worry about the structural safety of the theatre at the end of Act I of Carousel. Henry’s magnificent voice raised the rafters, then smashed them. I wonder if his unsympathetic character might get in the way of the Tony? I loved Ethan Slater too, but I was most impressed by Hadden-Paton, Henry, and Shalhoub’s command of their music; and Henry's most of all.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Lauren Ambrose, My Fair Lady
Hailey Kilgore, Once On This Island
LaChanze, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Katrina Lenk, The Band's Visit
Taylor Louderman, Mean Girls
Jessie Mueller, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
Tim: I’ll say that it’s Lauren Ambrose, all the way, for me. Her Eliza in My Fair Lady sings like a lark gliding over the fields. And her character's ending is a radical and welcome one for the character (and one which harkens back to the original Pygmalion). Katrina Lenk is a strong and also slinky heroine in BV.
Kevin: It speaks to the poor direction of a musical when Jessie Mueller is cast as your leading lady and she barely makes an impression at all. She’s a supernova, but in Carousel I felt like she was set to dim.
Hailey Kilgore is a revelation in the same Once on This Island role that launched fellow nominee LaChanze’s career, which is a fun fact that almost makes it worth it for LaChanze to be nominated for the disco disaster of Summer.
And Taylor Louderman maybe had the most difficult job in Mean Girls and, I thought, made bold choices that (mostly) paid off. Lenk is hypnotizing, but suffers from my issue with The Band’s Visit in all of these categories. It’s not a big enough performance to compete with what Ambrose is doing in My Fair Lady.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Anthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Michael Cera, Lobby Hero
Brian Tyree Henry, Lobby Hero
Nathan Lane, Angels in America
David Morse, Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
Tim: Kevin and I, without commercials, are entering the 4th hour of this, with no wine or Doritos. So, this is tough.
Kevin: Though anyone reading my maniacal screaming about SpongeBob would be excused for assuming I’m drunk.
Tim: Boyle is excellent in HP, silly and funny, and also loyal and earnest—and there is a slightly sexual romantic charge to his friendship with Albus. I really enjoyed watching him. Kind of Carol Burnett-made-young-man.
Kevin: This is a category that could have easily just been populated by the entire supporting male cast of Angels in America. In some ways, I’m still annoyed that it pretty much isn’t. Boyle probably delivered my favorite non-Angels featured turn of the season, but, with due respect to the rest of the category—which, um, includes Michael Cera?!—Nathan Lane might as well arrive Sunday night with a bag labeled “this is for my Tony.”
Tim: Yep, Nathan Lane’s spitting, roiling, vengeful, vulnerable, evil, desperate Roy Cohn has to win. Brian Tyree Henry was a wonderful, lively anchor in Lobby Hero—but Lane and his fireworks win.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Susan Brown, Angels in America
Noma Dumezweni, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Deborah Findlay, The Children
Denise Gough, Angels in America
Laurie Metcalf, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women
Tim: Ouch, judges. OUCH. This is another wonderful array of choices: very different roles, very different plays. Denise Gough for Angels is my choice, for making the mad and maddening Harper intelligible, and also a character to root for—whether in ethereal snowbound dreamscape, or stark reality. I loved Susan Brown in the same play (and we should say the actors play multiple characters in Angels, which is as much a treat for us as must be demanding for them).
Kevin: Gough is performing acting miracles over on the Angels in America stage. But there was no moment more thrilling for me this year than Laurie Metcalf standing on the lip of the John Golden Theatre stage—a shuffle more forward and she’d be on the front row’s lap—delivering her big monologue in the second half of Albee’s play. There are no tricks or tics or pageantry. Just masterpiece-level acting.
Tim: The others all gave wonderful performances too; Findlay as a careworn radical in The Children; Noma Dumezweni as a severe and also naughty Hermione in HP; and Metcalf meeting Glenda at just the right level. But it’s Gough, and all that inner and outer character and spirit for me.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Norbert Leo Butz, My Fair Lady
Alexander Gemignani, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
Grey Henson, Mean Girls
Gavin Lee, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Ari'el Stachel, The Band's Visit
Tim: For me, this is Grey vs Gavin vs Ari’el. Thank goodness for Henson in Mean Girls. His gay teen character has not only all the smarts, but also all the best moves, and part of his character is letting us know—fourth wall be gone—that he has the best moves that he wants us to appreciate.
Gavin Lee as Squidward Q. Tentacles in SpongeBob is pretty fabulous, tap-dancing with four legs in his big number, probably my favorite number in the show. Stachel is a beautiful singer, and swoonsome. I’m going Henson, because I’m trying to remember who surprised me most, and made me smile the most. It was him.
Kevin: For me this is a battle of the tap-dancing hams. Gavin Lee’s big production number is a ton of fun, but, despite playing maybe the best character from the SpongeBob cartoons, he barely makes an impression in the rest of the show. So I’d give this to Henson, who gives the kind of joyful, gay-as-hell, put-on-a-show-dammit performance in Mean Girls that isn’t just a delight to watch, but which inspires young kids to think, “I want to do that, too!”
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Ariana DeBose, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Renée Fleming, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
Lindsay Mendez, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
Ashley Park, Mean Girls
Diana Rigg, My Fair Lady
Tim: This one’s very easy for me, despite being a Diana Rigg devotee. DeBose and her co-stars of the Donna Summer musical do their best, despite the material around them. It’s Renée Fleming… Not just for “You’ll never walk alone,” but also for looking so delighted by the prospect of that endless clam bake.
Kevin: Things are about to get interesting, Tim, because Renée Fleming is the actor in this category that I would not have nominated at all! You’ve got Kate Rockwell, Barrett Wilbert Weed, and Kate Rockwell all snubbed for Mean Girls, and Lea Salonga and Kenita R. Miller doubling the emotion and heartbreak in Once on This Island that Fleming barely musters while performing one of the most emotional songs in musical theatre history in “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” This is a Tony nomination just for showing up. Boo to that!
Tim: As I said (and wrote), Kate Rockwell is my star. She was robbed in this category. She’s my favorite, and my winner in another inner Tonys. So, I’m sticking with Renée, even if—as a Brit—we’re more used to that song being sung by thousands of Liverpool soccer fans belting it out on the terraces of Anfield.
Kevin: My vote goes to Fleming’s far more deserving co-star, Lindsay Mendez. In every way that Jessie Mueller failed to make an impression and that Joshua Henry’s storyline had me cringing, Mendez seized every wonderful moment she was on stage and injected the production with the heart and empathy that it confusingly was devoid of any time she wasn’t on stage.
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Miriam Buether, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women
Jonathan Fensom, Farinelli and The King
Christine Jones, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Santo Loquasto, Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
Ian MacNeil and Edward Pierce, Angels in America
Tim: It should be Harry Potter, right? It’s so ingenious and beautiful, and simple, and it works so well with all the illusions. But I loved the plushness of Three Tall Women, and the bare inventions and flights of daring of Angels. Farinelli was its own wonderland, and Iceman suitably Stygian. For me, the boxes, warrens, and stark rooms and vistas, including Heaven and the angels’ lair, of Angels win out.
Kevin: I want to live on the Three Tall Women set. The Harry Potter set was more a feat of effects than design. While I wasn’t totally sold on the concept of the Angels in America Part 1 set design—it was a little gimmicky to me—the expansion to, literally, the heavens as Part 2 wore on dazzled me completely.
Tim: I worry about vacuuming the Three Tall Women set. It just feels like you’d need a lot of product. All that carpet, all those mirrors.
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Dane Laffrey, Once On This Island
Scott Pask, The Band's Visit
Scott Pask, Finn Ross & Adam Young, Mean Girls
Michael Yeargan, My Fair Lady
David Zinn, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Tim: Michael Yeargan’s atmospheric, snow-globey London made me miss the homeland a lot. Mean Girls featured the best projections and snazzy set changes on Broadway this year. But David Zinn, you got me. Those tumbling rocks got me. I loved being beneath the sea with SpongeBob and his friends, and to feel like the whole set in front of me was like the best children’s game, or live animation.
Kevin: Agree with you wholeheartedly on SpongeBob (shocker!), which, for all the ways in which it was this massive kaleidoscopic explosion of cartoon-esque set pieces that verged on sensory overload, actually showed restraint—in that there wasn’t one piece of the set that seemed built for the sake of impressing. Every wonderfully colorful and whimsical piece served the story.
Best Costume Design of a Play
Jonathan Fensom, Farinelli and The King
Nicky Gillibrand, Angels in America
Katrina Lindsay, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Ann Roth, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women
Ann Roth, Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
Tim: For me, Nicky Gillibrand (Angels) vs. Ann Roth (Three Tall Women). I have a thing for long day coats… Angels wins it. They were all pirates of a kind.
Kevin: The costuming of the angel and her gloriously dingy mechanical wings was masterful. This goes to Gillibrand’s Angels in America work.
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregg Barnes, Mean Girls
Clint Ramos, Once On This Island
Ann Roth, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
David Zinn, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Catherine Zuber, My Fair Lady
Kevin: The clever costuming of the cartoon characters in SpongeBob—how do you make a sponge, a crab, a whale, and a starfish make sense on human performers—bowled me over, but the My Fair Lady costumes were gorgeous, and voters will be hard-pressed to resist voting for period pageantry.
Tim: SpongeBob!!! I did love Zuber’s costuming of Eliza in My Fair Lady, particularly that shimmering dress she wears post-makeover. But the anarchy and invention of SpongeBob should win.
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Paule Constable, Angels in America
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
Paul Russell, Farinelli and The King
Ben Stanton, Junk
Tim: It’s Potter versus Angels. The lighting is integral to both, and stunning in both. The winner will be Harry Potter because the lighting coheres and makes possible all the visual trickery that is so stunning. But my winner will be Angels—from day to night, to dream worlds to real worlds, to nightmares, and dreams, and death, and then life again, and snow and a wide open daytime in Middle America… somehow Paule Constable helps take us to all those places.
Kevin: I will be thinking about the lighting trick meant to cue time travel in the Harry Potter plays until my dying days. Give it a Tony just for that.
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Kevin Adams, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Once On This Island
Donald Holder, My Fair Lady
Brian MacDevitt, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
Tyler Micoleau, The Band's Visit
Kevin: Kevin Adams brought a cartoon to life. Once more, for the cheap seats: Give it SpongeBob!
Tim: Yes, SpongeBob, but with a shoutout to Donald Holder, whose lighting of My Fair Lady helped me cheer Eliza along London’s streets day and night.
Best Sound Design of a Play
Adam Cork, Travesties
Ian Dickinson for Autograph, Angels in America
Gareth Fry, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Tom Gibbons, 1984
Dan Moses Schreier, Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
Kevin: The sound design for 1984 signalled just the perfect amount of dystopian nightmarishness to trigger bodily reactions from the audience, with some members vomiting and fainting in their seats because of it. The Harry Potter plays were a technical achievement on every level, but all I’m saying is that no one was rushed to the hospital because of the sound of a wand whoosh.
Tim: Yes, poor you if you’d had supper before seeing 1984. For some reason, the sound in Angels stays with me as much as 1984. But the invention of Tom Gibbons’ sound design should win, I agree. Also, give a bloody Tony to a production we haven’t heard of.
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Kai Harada, The Band's Visit
Peter Hylenski, Once On This Island
Scott Lehrer, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
Brian Ronan, Mean Girls
Walter Trarbach and Mike Dobson, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Kevin: The suction cup sound effects when Squidward was walking in SpongeBob. I’m still laughing about it!
Tim: It has to be SpongeBob. I just remember looking at you, and for every trick and squelch and bit of silliness and audio-winking to the audience, I looked at you Kevin and our eyes were dancing and we were giggling.
Best Direction of a Play
Marianne Elliott, Angels in America
Joe Mantello, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women
Patrick Marber, Travesties
John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
George C. Wolfe, Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
Tim: This is absolutely Marianne Elliott’s. I know audiences are rightfully seduced by Tiffany’s command of Harry Potter. Mantello made Three Tall Women not just understandable, but also a work of light comedy and profound tragedy. All this in a room with a giant bed, and with a set that truly reveals itself right at the end.
Kevin: Tiffany, Mantello, and Elliott are the Holy Trinity as far as I’m concerned with what they managed to do with three entirely different, maybe even impossibly difficult plays to stage.
Tiffany literally made magic happen. Mantello made beautiful sense of Albee’s most baffling work. But Elliott wrangled all the emotions and passions tied to decades of an LGBT movement and the wild themes of a self-described fantasia into a production that brought new life to what was already one of the most vital works of our time.
Tim: Elliott, with Angels, showed us the heart of a masterpiece. She made those characters work as characters we’d want to spend more than seven hours with. We never got tired of them. We never got tired of what we were looking at. And we absolutely knew and felt that she understood the heart of what this piece is, and means, when it comes to a slice of LGBT history—and the importance of not just showing it right, but showing it with daring, just as many of those brilliant people no longer with us had within themselves.
Best Direction of a Musical
Michael Arden, Once On This Island
David Cromer, The Band's Visit
Tina Landau, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Casey Nicholaw, Mean Girls
Bartlett Sher, My Fair Lady
Tim: I loved Bartlett Sher’s smooth, sanguine command of My Fair Lady, but Tina Landau is unbeatable for SpongeBob. There is activity, life, and wit on every part of that stage.
Kevin: Bartlett Sher did his gorgeous, sweeping thing once again with My Fair Lady, but it’s all about Tina Landau’s wildly inventive SpongeBob work for me.
Christopher Gattelli, My Fair Lady
Christopher Gattelli, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Steven Hoggett, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Casey Nicholaw, Mean Girls
Justin Peck, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
Kevin: Those wand-bearine, cape-tossing Harry Potter dance scenes were an unexpected surprise in that show. But for whatever quibbles we have with the rest of the production of Carousel, Justin Peck’s choreography, at one point staging its spritely troupe of male dancers into a sailing ship, deserved a standing ovation after each big number—and now a Tony, too.
Tim: This is a lovely category, composed of all worthy winners for very different dancing. As much as I would give it to Christopher Gattelli for two finely judged pieces, I agree with you Kevin. Peck gave us that ‘wow’ moment, and that ‘wow’ moment kept getting more ‘wow.’
John Clancy, Mean Girls
Tom Kitt, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Annmarie Milazzo & Michael Starobin, Once On This Island
Jamshied Sharifi, The Band's Visit
Jonathan Tunick, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel
Tim: Here my winner is Jamshied Sharifi. The music, the feel and sound of it, of The Band’s Visit has stayed with me. I loved Carousel, and Jonathan Tunick may well win because the orchestration made me shiver it was so insistent and beautiful. But The Band’s Visit is about a band, it's a true original, and so I hope it pulls off a surprise.
Kevin: Echo what we said about choreography here. There are many flaws with this Carousel production, but the music was borderline ecclesiastical. There is quite simply nothing like a Rodgers & Hammerstein’s score when it’s done with this much romance and care. Jonathan Tunick takes this one.