The pool of people who vote for the Tony Awards is a small one — and this year, it’s probably even smaller.
As Broadway gears up for its big night June 12, the industry’s annual prognostications factor in the knowledge that this season’s COVID spike in schedule disruptions and actor absences made it even harder than usual to catch every nominated production and performance, especially for voters who live out of town. According to the Tony regulations, if you miss a show, you can’t vote in any of the categories in which it’s nominated — which means that, of the 650 total Tony voters, fewer than ever could be checking all the boxes on the ballot.
Most voters will tell you that they assiduously follow the guidelines on which categories they can and can’t vote in, and many of them are probably even telling the truth. But there are ways around the backstops in place to prevent illegal voting on the online Tony portal, and you have to assume that some percentage will break the rules to weigh in on their favorites.
How all that shifts voting trends, however, is tough to calculate. In theory, knocking out a number of out-of-towners could diminish the strength of the road vote, that fabled group of tour presenters and producers who supposedly have much more populist leanings than the highfalutin locals. But whether such a trend materializes — not to mention whether a road bloc with monolithic taste even exists — remains up in the air.
With all that in mind, and based on a highly unscientific combination of polling, gossip and instinct, here are seven predictions for the night’s biggest awards.
1. “A Strange Loop” will take Best Musical. Probably.
“Strange Loop” is this year’s buzz-magnet, the frontrunner with all the rave reviews, press attention and fan enthusiasm. Chances are that Michael R. Jackson‘s Pulitzer-winner will take home Tony night’s top prize, too. But even with all the (hyperlocal) hype, many view the edgy, unfiltered “Strange Loop” as a challenge to sell to audiences anywhere outside of the theater district. That cracks open the door for a potential upset from a more clear-cut crowdpleaser — in this case, probably “MJ,” the Michael Jackson musical that’s kept a low profile in the press but still built up a lot of goodwill in the industry. (Even if “MJ” misses best musical, the dance-heavy show is near certain to take the choreography award for Christopher Wheeldon.) Voters like “Six” a lot, too, but that show’s greatest reward may come in the consistently robust grosses it’s been posting on Broadway since it officially opened in the fall.
2. “The Lehman Trilogy” is a lock for Best Play.
If you’re looking for a sure thing on Sunday, bet on “The Lehman Trilogy.” In a category crowded with worthy contenders, it’s the one that voters consistently named their top choice, admired as much (if not more) for its elegant, carefully conceived production as its centuries-spanning script. That “Lehman” love also makes the play’s director, Sam Mendes, the likeliest winner in the play director category.
3. Love for “Company” has cooled, but it’ll probably still take the prize for Musical Revival — and a few more, to boot.
With its gender-flipped lead character, “Company” attracted a lot of hype when it opened in the fall, especially in the wake of composer Stephen Sondheim’s death. In the intervening months, reception in the industry has proven more mixed, but even so, “Company” looks like the one to beat — although there’s real affection out there for the now-closed revival of “Caroline, or Change” and even for the critically panned mega-seller “The Music Man,” which could lay the groundwork for an upset.
On the other hand, the chances for surprise are slim in the race for featured actress in a musical: The win looks sure to go to Patti LuPone, the iconic Broadway star making her mark on the iconic “Company” tune, “Ladies Who Lunch.” Her co-star, Matt Doyle, is most frequently mentioned as the choice for featured actor in a musical, although Jared Grimes (“Funny Girl”) and John-Andrew Morrison (“Strange Loop”) also got voters’ attention. And “Company” director Marianne Elliott stands poised to win the director of a musical award for the show’s audacious concept.
4. In a tough category, “Take Me Out” takes the lead.
With a cast including Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jesse Williams, the starry drama “Take Me Out” is most often cited as the show to beat in the play revival category. But competition is fierce, with both “How I Learned to Drive” and “Trouble in Mind” also commanding respect as outstanding productions of shows getting long-overdue Broadway spotlights. Both of those (and “Drive” in particular) look to have a real shot at the prize, too.
5. Among musicals, the award for lead actor has a clearer frontrunner than one for actress.
In a category of Broadway regulars that includes Billy Crystal (“Mr. Saturday Night”) and Hugh Jackman (“Music Man”), the real contenders for the lead actor trophy are two tyros: Jaquel Spivey (“A Strange Loop”) and Myles Frost (“MJ”). Frost impressed many voters with his uncanny portrait of Michael Jackson and his moves, but more seem to give the final nod to Spivey, the young performer wowing audiences in the demanding central role of “Strange Loop.”
Lead actress, meanwhile, is one of the toughest categories to call. The race seems to boil down to Joaquina Kalukango, who scored universal raves amid all the downbeat reviews of “Paradise Square,” and Sharon D. Clarke, whose galvanizing performance in “Caroline, or Change” was a must-see in the fall. As an American actor in a show that’s still currently running, Kalukango could have a slight edge. But British actor Clarke made a strong impression — and so did Mare Winningham (“Girl From the North Country”), who also has support. Besides all that, Sutton Foster recently took home the Drama League performance award, proving there’s plenty of affection out there for her, too.
6. In the acting categories for plays, it’s all best guesses and no certainties.
Among the non-musicals, both lead actor and lead actress are toss-ups. In a lead actress category packed with formidable competitors, LaChanze (“Trouble in Mind”) and Mary-Louise Parker (“How I Learned to Drive”) seem to have the lead, while the seven-strong category for lead actor — including the entirely of the three-man cast of “Lehman” — feels like it could go in any direction. One “Lehman” actor, Simon Russell Beale, has a lot of support, but it seems possible the entire “Lehman” triad might cancel each other out, in which case Parker’s co-star David Morse could rise to the top for “Drive.” Ruben Santiago-Hudson (“Lackawanna Blues”) has his admirers too.
Among featured performer categories (which also include several castmates competing against each other), Uzo Aduba (“Clyde’s) is the name that most often comes up for actress and Ferguson (“Take Me Out”) is the one that edges ahead for actor.
7. The award for Best Book of a Musical is in the bag, but there could be a horse race for Best Score.
“Strange Loop” creator Jackson is well-liked, and no matter what happens in the Best Musical race, he’s sure to win the award for book. Score seems like it’s his to lose, too — although there are signs that the prize might just go instead to the widely appreciated pop tunes of “Six.”
The Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City June 12 on Paramount+ and CBS.