With a crowded field of contenders and no clear frontrunner, Broadway’s busy 2016-17 season was packed with potential for the Tony nominations. But with so much competition for so few slots, there were bound to be disappointments — not to mention a few impromptu celebrations. Who surprised? Who got snubbed? Here are nine big ones.
SURPRISE: “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”
Dave Malloy’s quirky electropop opera had long been expected to do well with the nominations — just not so well that it would rack up a dozen noms, outpacing obvious favorites “Hello, Dolly!” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” The show’s nominations for new musical and score seemed assured, as did directing and design nods, but a nom for book wasn’t a shoo-in, and it wasn’t clear how many of the cast members would make the cut in acting categories. Even topliner Josh Groban wasn’t a sure thing, since his title role of Pierre is an odd, retiring one, playing a major part in the proceedings (and singing a couple of big, notable songs) but lurking in the background for a lot of the show. Despite all that, the idiosyncratic show took the lead — thereby lending the musical a promotional boost that could help at the box office once its big-draw star, Groban, finishes off his stint in the show in July.
SNUB: “War Paint”
The compelling real-life story of dueling cosmetics titans, “War Paint” comes from a formidable team: songwriters Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, whose “Grey Gardens” was a Tony contender in 2007; Pulitzer and Tony-winning playwright Doug Wright (“I Am My Own Wife,” “Grey Gardens”) and “Dear Evan Hansen” director Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”). In another, less crowded season, the show would have vied for a lot more awards. But this year, with the best musical category sticking at four (rather than a possible five), “War Paint” was left out of the big race, as well as competitions for score and book (which went to the new musical nominees). “War Paint” claimed the two noms of which it was assured — acting nods for Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole — plus design slots for set (David Korins) and costumes (Catherine Zuber).
SURPRISE: Denée Benton and Eva Noblezada
Both Benton (“Great Comet”) and Noblezada (“Miss Saigon”) had been tipped as possibilities for the lead actress race alongside sure-things LuPone, Ebersole,and Bette Midler (“Hello, Dolly!”). But the thinking in the industry was that at least one of the two open slots, if not both, would go to faves from previous seasons, Laura Osnes (“Bandstand”) and Phillipa Soo (“Amelie”). Instead, nominators chose two newcomers, making headturning Broadway debuts, to round out the race.
SNUB: “Sunset Boulevard”
The biggest award contender for the current revival of “Sunset Boulevard,” Glenn Close, wasn’t even eligible, since she’s reprising a role for which she’s already won a Tony. But the strong-selling staging was also left out of the mix for musical revival when nominators opted to reduce the category from four to three titles. The production was shut out of the nominations entirely.
SURPRISE: Cast sweeps
It’s no secret that the four-actor ensemble of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” is uniformly strong, with Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, and Condola Rashad each giving distinct, memorable performances in Lucas Hnath’s best play nominee. Still, it’s a pleasant surprise to see all four of them snag nominations. Ditto the most prominent players in the now-closed “Falsettos” revival, with Christian Borle up for lead actor and Andrew Rannells, Stephanie J. Block, and Brandon Uranowitz in the mix in feature races.
SNUB: Allison Janney, Mark Ruffalo, and Gideon Glick
Janney, who was a well-liked stage actor before she was an Emmy winner, is a favorite in the theater community, and she’s perfectly cast in “Six Degrees of Separation,” playing the role originated by Stockard Channing. She seemed a shoo-in for an acting nod. Among lead actors, Ruffalo, as the central character in “The Price,” and Glick, playing the charming wallflower who is the protagonist of play “Significant Other,” seemed likely to be celebrating this morning, too. But neither they nor Janney made the cut in formidable fields. The slots for lead actress in a play, for instance, went to five other notable names: Cate Blanchett, Sally Field, Jennifer Ehle, Laura Linney, and Metcalf.
SURPRISE: Dennis Arndt for “Heisenberg”
Simon Stephens’ quirky play “Heisenberg” was almost a stealth candidate this season: The Broadway production opened way back in the fall, and it was transfer of a show that many in the industry had seen back when it played Off Broadway. Still, both its actors, Tony winner Mary-Louise Parker and Arndt, earned raves in the tale of an unlikely May-December sorta-romance. Nominators made a point of remembering Arndt, the veteran actor who made his Broadway debut in the Manhattan Theater Club production.
When a five-nominee race for best musical seemed a possibility, “Anastasia” looked like a real contender for that fifth slot. It’s shaped up into a strong earner at the box office, drawing on an unexpectedly broad fanbase, and it comes from a team of Broadway veterans including songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime”), playwright Terrence McNally (“Love! Valour! Compassion!”), and director Darko Tresnjak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”). Lead actress Christy Altomare also seemed to have a shot at lead actress. But nominators made other picks, and the show emerged with two noms, one for featured actress Mary Beth Peil and the other for costume designer Linda Cho.
SNUB: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
It’s not that “Charlie” had been expected to do well with the nominators in a season jam-packed with new musicals. But it nonetheless seems significant that the high-profile and large-scale musical, a big bet by Warner Bros. Theater Ventures, was shut out completely. (Its lead actor, Borle, did get a nomination — but did it for his performance in another show, “Falsettos.”) On the other hand, “Charlie” probably doesn’t need the awards season love. The title alone is one of the strongest around, and the musical’s box office has only grown in the weeks since it’s started performances.
The 71st Tony Awards will be handed out in a June 11 ceremony emceed by Kevin Spacey at Radio City Music Hall.