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Tony Predictions: Big Questions and Safe Bets

Predicting award winners is always a fool’s errand, but in the case of the 2019 Tony Awards, it feels even more foolish than usual.

With few clear frontrunners in the night’s biggest races, some Broadway regulars believe that when all the votes are tallied, many winners will be decided by unusually narrow margins. That’s been borne out by an unscientific survey of Tony voters, whose responses are all over the map. Taking all that into account — plus the knowledge that this year, Tony administrators are carefully keeping track of which voters saw which shows, and disqualifying votes from those who haven’t seen every contender in a category — here are our predictions for what’s coming this Sunday, paired with our guesses for who just might surge ahead. Looking for sure things? You’ll find those at the end of the list.

BIG QUESTIONS

NEW MUSICAL
Best Bet:Hadestown
Biggest Competition:Tootsie
For a while there, it felt like the artsy, lush “Hadestown,” an unconventional retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, had been anointed by critical fiat rather than an actual sense of voting trends. But over the last week, conversations with voters do indeed seem to give the advantage to that one. But only by a nose: There’s plenty of support out there for “Tootsie,” an old-fashioned crowdpleaser with big laughs, and a show that, as a more traditionally commercial contender, could well snatch the crown. Some observers theorize that as “Hadestown” and “Tootsie” duke it out, sentimental favorite “The Prom” could rise to the top, but discussions with voters make that seem more like a good underdog story than a real likelihood.

NEW PLAY
Best Bet:
The Ferryman
Biggest Competition:What the Constitution Means to Me
In this category, most of Broadway feels that the smart money is on “The Ferryman,” Jez Butterworth’s deftly structured, masterfully staged family drama set in Ireland during the Troubles, and many voters say they’ve ticked their ballot for the show. Competitor “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Heidi Schreck’s brainy, moving mash-up of personal memoir and constitutional scholarship, would look like a long shot — except for the fact that a notable number of voters can be heard saying something along the lines of, “‘Ferryman’ will win, but I voted for ‘Constitution.'” That suggests this one might be a real horse race.

REVIVAL OF PLAY
Best Bet: “The Boys in the Band”
Biggest Competition: “The Waverly Gallery”
Even in a year characterized by uncertainty, survey responses for this one were particularly varied. But the 50th anniversary revival of Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band,” with a starry cast led by Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto, looks like the winner here, despite a solid push from the well-received revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery” with Elaine May. Still, don’t count “Waverly” out — or “All My Sons,” the Roundabout revival of the Arthur Miller play with Annette Bening and Tracy Letts.

LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Best Bet: 
Santino Fontana, “Tootsie”
Biggest Competition: Derrick Baskin, “Ain’t Too Proud”
The gender-switching lead role of “Tootsie” is a demanding one, and Fontana pulls it off with such apparent ease that most votes stand poised to go his way. There are other contenders — Brooks Ashmanskas (“The Prom”), for instance, is an industry favorite — but the alternative most often mentioned to this pollster was Derrick Baskin, the veteran performer playing Otis Williams in Temptations bio-musical “Ain’t Too Proud.”

LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Best Bet: Bryan Cranston, “Network”
Biggest Competition: Jeff Daniels, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Voters didn’t love director Ivo Van Hove’s stage version of “Network,” but most of them swooned over Tony-winner Cranston’s transformative performance as the film’s iconically unhinged newsman. Daniels, the category’s other main contender, is highly respected on Broadway, and he hasn’t yet picked up a Tony, but his turn as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” doesn’t seem to have garnered the same support.

DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL
Best Bet: Rachel Chavkin, “Hadestown”
Biggest Competition: Daniel Fish, “Oklahoma!”
Chavkin, nominated a few years back for “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” looks likely to take home the trophy this year for work that saw her skillfully shepherd “Hadestown” from a small, in-the-round staging to a Broadway-scale proscenium. If she has competition, it’s from Fish, who’s the driving creative force behind the tradition-defying revival of “Oklahoma!”

DIRECTOR OF A PLAY
Best Bet: Sam Mendes, “The Ferryman”
Biggest Competition: Bartlett Sher, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Mendes started out in theater (“Cabaret”) before moving on to movie fame with “American Beauty” and the Bond franchise, and his staging of “Ferryman” manages to conjure both intimacy and escalating tension with a sprawling cast of 21 that includes children, an infant and actual livestock. It’s the most overtly impressive act of direction in this category, and voters seem ready to reward it — although Sher’s delicate work on “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the hit adaptation that got snubbed in the race for best play, has its proponents, too.

SURE THINGS

REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
“Oklahoma!”
Not everybody loves Fish’s intimate, edgy take on “Oklahoma!,” but they do respect its ambitious effort to reveal the shadows that have lurked all along in a sunny American classic. Besides, thanks to an unusually sparse season for revivals, there’s only one other show in this category, the Roundabout Theatre Company’s “Kiss Me, Kate,” which earned a so-so response from critics and voters alike.

LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Elaine May, “The Waverly Gallery”
May, who hadn’t performed on Broadway since 1966, made her return this season in a heartbreaker of a role. In “The Waverly Gallery,” she created a careful, discomfiting depiction of mental decline that seems to have earned the vote of most balloters. The names of other candidates, including Schreck and Laura Donnelly (“The Ferryman”), also get mentioned, but none often enough to look like real competition.

LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Stephanie J. Block, “The Cher Show”
A longtime Broadway trooper, Block radiates Cher-sized star power in this bio-musical, and balloters are eager to anoint her.

ORIGINAL SCORE
Anaïs Mitchell, “Hadestown”
Even people who aren’t fans of “Hadestown” overall respond to indie musician Mitchell’s precise lyrics and meticulously composed, often rousing tunes. She looks like a lock for this one, over last year’s Tony-winning songwriter David Yazek (“The Band’s Visit”) and “Prom” team Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin.

BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Robert Horn, “Tootsie”
Since “Tootsie” is an old-fashioned musical comedy, Horn penned a book that’s a Neil Simon-esque vehicle for set-ups and punchlines and zingers. What’s astonishing is how many of those jokes land. Horn’s work has gotten a lot of laughs out of a lot of voters, and he looks sure to be rewarded for it.

The 73rd Annual Tony Awards will air June 9 on CBS, in a ceremony hosted by James Corden and broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall.

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