Every few years, there is a musical that breaks through into the mainstream. Last year, “Hamilton” broke through to phenomenon levels, and frankly, that might be an understatement. On the surface, the 2017 Tony awards are not as exciting as last years. However, that’s certainly not been the case. This year’s nominees in the musical categories are not only every bit as strong as last year’s, but they also push the boundaries of what a musical can achieve. In fact, the 4 nominees are in Best Musical are all unique, so let’s start breaking them down.
The musical that’s likely to make the most waves will be the highly praised revival of “Hello Dolly,” starring the incredible Bette Midler. Speaking of Midler, she is heads and above the lock of the night. With the win, Midler will join a Carol Channing as the actresses to win a Tony for playing Dolly Levi. However, don’t be surprised if Midler pulls some of her co-stars into the fold as well. Gavin Creel feels like he could upset in Featured Actor, and it’s hard to count out David Hyde Pierce. It took 4 acting nominations and is littered throughout the tech categories. It’s also a lock for Revival, so the floor here is 2 wins. It’s more likely to end up in the 3-5 range, so it could be a big night for the revival.
“Dear Evan Hansen”
In the same vein as previous musical hit “Next to Normal,” “Dear Evan Hansen” is a highly emotional and personal show about dealing with depression and grief. The show received considerable praise and was rewarded with 9 nominations. Ben Platt was universally praised for his performance as the titular Evan Hansen. He portrays a young man gets mixed up in the suicide of a classmate. Even if you only listen to the soundtrack, Platt delivers a heartfelt and emotional performance.
Despite the grim subject matter, the music trends toward a pop-rock sensibility. The songwriting duo behind the show is Pasek & Paul, who both wrote the lyrics for “La La Land” won Oscars for “City of Stars” last year. Director Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”) maximized the show’s potential. 3 acting nominations, as well as book and score nominations, give “Dear Evan Hansen” the pedigree of a show that takes home the top prize.
“Groundhog Day” is likely the weakest of the original musicals nominated for the top prize. There’s a chance that it goes home without a single win. At the same time, Andy Karl has received a huge boost from the show. As Phil Connors, the role originated by Bill Murray, Karl excels. He puts himself in the position as a spoiler to Platt. While the scenic design is impressive, the other shows are so glitzy it’ll likely struggle to make the cut there. The adaptation also grabbed nominations for score, book, and direction, so it is absolutely a beloved show. Unfortunately, the strength of this year makes a win unlikely. On it’s best day, “Groundhog Day” becomes 2017’s version “Catch Me If You Can,” winning for lead actor but getting left out of the other categories.
“Come From Away”
“Come From Away” is an interesting ensemble piece that could only grab a single nomination in the acting categories. However, like the other Best Musical contenders, “Come From Away” scored book and score nominations. The show is absolutely an uplifting tale that was a crowd pleaser. The story follows the story of Operation Yellow Ribbon, when 38 planes were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, during 9/11. The residents of the town cared for the passengers of the plane and was one of the positive stories of community on a dark day. Another musical that embraces a genre approach to its music, “Come From Away” features heavy country and folk music influences. It’s a neat show and is the crowd pleaser in this year’s race.
“Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812”
Perhaps the biggest enigma among the nominees is “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” which could easily snatch up the director and tech categories. The nomination leader for 2017 is up for 12 awards, yet this surprised most pundits. The show is innovative, with an incredibly immersive to boot with on stage seating available. The emersion factor, as well as the period setting, helped the show stand out. Considering its based on War and Peace it is Russian in its despair, yet surprisingly engaging.
Adding Josh Groban to the cast in its lead role was a strong move. Groban delivered with a nomination for Lead Actor. Again, genre plays into the race again, as “Great Comet” utilizes an electro-folk sound. Dave Malloy, who wrote the book and score for the show, describes the show as “electro-pop opera” which helps to differentiate it from the others in the field. The show is unique, and will certainly take home some of the tech awards at bare minimum.
Finally, “Falsettos” is the last show to make waves. The revival has an all-star cast but might suffer from a very short run. The nomination committee was required to see it because of their agreement to see all shows. The problem is, with a run from October to early January, it’s possible many voters didn’t get to see the show. That’s certainly not ideal, but there’s still plenty of reason for team “Falsettos” to be excited. The show still got 5 nominations, including 4 acting nominations. The strongest contender is likely Andrew Rannells, who is overdue after losing for “The Book of Mormon” in 2011. The Tonys may want to make up that loss, but he’s got internal competition Brandon Uranowitz. The revival nomination was nice, and even though it’s easily 2nd place, there’s little chance it pulls off the gargantuan upset over “Dolly” in the category.
Again, this year is an extremely strong year, despite any top tier show in the league of “Hamilton” or “Book of Mormon.” Even so, this year’s Tonys is one of the strongest from a sheer talent standpoint. It’ll be interesting to see some of these shows perform live during the telecast, and don’t be surprised if you get “If I Could Tell Her” stuck in your head for weeks. It’s should be a great show, and if the big shows get their primetime spots, it’ll be well worth the watch.