In some ways, the 2016 Tony Awards nominations shook out exactly as expected, with “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pop-culture phenomenon, dominating the conversation. But the May 3 announcement still provided plenty of plot twists for the theater industry to chatter over. Here are the nine biggest snubs and surprises:
1. SNUB: Audra McDonald and the Tony Winners of “Shuffle Along”
It seems like every time Audra McDonald — the winningest actress in the history of the Tony Awards — shows up on a Broadway stage, she gets a nomination (and, more often than not, walks away with the award). But not this time. Six-time winner McDonald wasn’t even nominated for her well-received turn in “Shuffle Along” — nor, for that matter, were her two fellow Tony-winning co-stars, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter. Instead the show’s acting nominations went to lesser-known names giving headturning performances: Adrienne Warren (in what many consider a breakout) and Brandon Victor Dixon.
2. SURPRISE: “Bright Star”
It’s been an impossible season to try to open a new musical not named “Hamilton,” and “Bright Star,” the tuner by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, is among those having a tough time attracting attention. The show received mixed reviews, and descriptions like “gentle” and “sweet” probably aren’t selling many tickets. But the musical got an unexpected boost from the Tony nominations, scoring a total of five, including one in the coveted race for best new musical. (The category, usually limited to four productions, expanded to five this year, as is an annual possibility following a 2014 rules change.)
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3. SNUB: Jennifer Hudson in “The Color Purple”
She’s already got that Oscar, but she won’t have a chance at a Tony Award this year. Hudson, the biggest name in the revival of “The Color Purple,” didn’t score a nomination after earning generally appreciative notices from the critics. The show itself, however, wasn’t overlooked: The production is a real contender in the highly competitive musical revival race, while director John Doyle snagged a nomination and co-stars Cynthia Erivo and Danielle Brooks (“The Color Purple”) each notched an acting nod.
4. SURPRISE: Jennifer Simard in “Disaster”
Who? Casual Broadway observers probably haven’t heard of Simard, much less the musical comedy, “Disaster!,” in which she stars. But Simard has been a stage trouper for years, with Broadway credits including “Sister Act,” “Shrek the Musical” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” And as the critics noted, the actress, playing a nun with a gambling problem, steals every scene in which she appears in “Disaster!”
5. SNUB: “On Your Feet!” and “American Psycho”
A bio-musical about Gloria and Emilio Estefan, “On Your Feet!” was one of the high-profile openings of the fall, well-received by the press and anchored by a performance by Ana Villafane. The show also has a clear appeal to the Latino audiences who often overlook Broadway, and the Tonys like to reward a show that has the potential to win over new theater fans. But in an ultra-competitive season for new musicals, “On Your Feet!” managed only one nomination, for Trujillo’s choreography. Meanwhile, “American Psycho,” with music by Tony winner Duncan Sheik (“Spring Awakening”), divided critics but has its fans — and even the folks who didn’t much like the show expressed admiration for Benjamin Walker’s performance in the lead role. “Psycho,” however, came away with just two nods: one for set (Es Devlin and Finn Ross) and one for lights (Justin Townsend).
6. SURPRISE: Sophie Okonedo in “The Crucible”
It’s not as if the Tonys didn’t already love British actress Okonedo — she won in 2014 for “A Raisin in the Sun” — and Broadway watchers agree that she’s great in “The Crucible.” But in the awards-season hubbub, talk about her performance had largely gotten lost in a lead actress competition that includes big Hollywood names like Jessica Lange (“Long Day’s Journey Into Night”), Lupita Nyong’o (“Eclipsed”) and Michelle Williams (“Blackbird”). Her inclusion on the list ranks as what most in the industry will see as a well-deserved surprise.
7. SNUB: Notable actors in ensemble casts
Okonedo’s co-star, Ben Whishaw, is already much-admired for his stage work, and earned strong notices for his cast-against-type role in “The Crucible.” He seemed like a potential contender, as did a handful of his cohorts in the large cast, including two-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) and Ciaran Hinds. None of them made the cut (although stage veteran Bill Camp did). Over at “The Humans,” the six-person cast won praise for its seamless work, with Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Sarah Steele and Cassie Beck all looking like strong possibilities. But only Birney and Houdyshell nabbed noms, with Houdyshell competing for featured actress with two cast members from “Eclipsed,” Pascale Armand and Saycon Sengbloh, and two from “Noises Off,” Megan Hilty and Andrea Martin.
8. SURPRISE: “Noises Off”
Those two nominations for featured actress were part of an unexpectedly strong tally for “Noises Off,” which also muscled into the play revival category (this year expanded to five, like the new musical race) and earned additional nods for featured actor (David Furr) and costumes (Michael Krass). The show earned a slew of good notices from the critics and grew into a tidy little hit for the Roundabout Theater Company, but the production, which opened in January and finished its limited run in March, tended to get overshadowed in the awards discussion by the chatter around more recent openers.
9. SNUB: Casey Nicholaw’s choreography in “Tuck Everlasting”
Like “Bright Star,” “Tuck Everlasting” has had trouble gaining traction in the shadow of “Hamilton,” and reviews were mostly muted. But many in the industry showed real affection for the wordless, dance-storytelling finale in “Tuck,” and a choreography nomination would have given Nicholaw, Broadway’s go-to musical guy (“The Book of Mormon,” “Aladdin,” “Something Rotten!”), another shot at his first win in that category. (He’s been nominated five times as a choreographer, but never won; he picked up a directing award for “Mormon.”) In a competitive field this year, he was edged out by strong contenders including Andy Blankenbuehler (“Hamilton”), Savion Glover (“Shuffle Along”), Hofesh Shechter (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Sergio Trujillo (“On Your Feet!”). “Tuck Everlasting” itself got only a single nomination for costume design (Gregg Barnes).
The 70th annual Tony Awards will be broadcast live from the Beacon Theater on CBS, in a June 12 ceremony emceed by “The Late Late Show” host (and Tony winner) James Corden.