With big pop culture brand-names like “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Harry Potter,” “Frozen,” and “Mean Girls” among the major contenders at the 72nd annual Tony Awards Sunday, there should be plenty of familiarity for audiences watching from home, even for those who haven’t seen the shows. Josh Groban and fellow pop singer-songwriter-turned-Broadway baby Sara Bareilles co-host this year’s ceremony, broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall on CBS. The night’s tightest contests are shaping up as showdowns between “Angels in America” and “Three Tall Women” for best revival of a play, Katrina Lenk and Lauren Ambrose for leading actress in a musical, and Ethan Slater, Josh Henry, and Tony Shalhoub for leading actor in a musical. Here’s our breakdown of the races in the major categories, along with our predictions.
Will win: “The Band’s Visit”
Should win: “The Band’s Visit”
Also nominated: “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Mean Girls,” “Frozen”
The spectacularly imaginative “SpongeBob,” based on the popular stoner-friendly cartoon, boasts wildly inventive costumes and sets by David Zinn that breathe fresh, anarchic life into what could have been a cheap theme-park-style show. The stage adaptation of Disney’s blockbuster “Frozen” features fantastic performances from lead actresses Caissie Levy and Patti Murin and an earth-shaking rendition of ubiquitous earworm “Let It Go,” but it doesn’t go much beyond its cartoon trappings. Tina Fey’s revamp of her 2004 film “Mean Girls” is sardonic, irreverent, and whip-smart in telling its story of a high school newbie navigating the pitfalls of popularity and teenage cliques. Fey should win the Tony for her clever book, but best musical will likely go to critical darling “The Band’s Visit.” This delicate, intimate chamber piece paints a wry yet poignant portrait of an Egyptian band stranded for a night in an Israeli desert village. Yet thanks to an eclectic score by David Yazbek and inspired direction by David Cromer, loneliness, ennui, and briefly forged connections make for a ravishing state of affairs.
Will win: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I and II”
Should win: “The Children”
Also nominated: “Junk,” “Farinelli and the King,” “Latin History for Morons”
“Disgraced” playwright Ayad Akhtar’s “Junk,” centered on the Michael Milken junk-bond era of 1980s Wall Street, was an incisive anatomizing of the American culture of debt, vulture capitalism, and amoral wealth worship. British author Lucy Kirkwood’s three-hander, “The Children,” isn’t just a terrifying eco-thriller about a Fukushima-like nuclear disaster, it’s a thought-provoking examination of human selfishness and sacrifice — and our responsibility to subsequent generations and the Earth itself. Still, the power of Kirkwood’s play can’t overcome the eye-popping theatrical wizardry, ingenious illusions, and spine-tingling thrills of “Harry Potter,” imaginatively brought to life by director John Tiffany.
Best Revival of a Musical
Will win: “My Fair Lady”
Should win: “My Fair Lady”
Also nominated: “Carousel,” “Once on This Island”
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Caribbean-flavored musical fable, “Once on This Island,” about star-crossed lovers from different class and racial backgrounds, has been given a rapturous, immersive staging that includes a sand-covered beach, a small lagoon, and even a live goat. The 1945 musical “Carousel,” set in a fishing village on the coast of Maine, is beloved by Rodgers and Hammerstein aficionados, but its revival is viewed as problematic in the #MeToo era because of its treatment of domestic abuse. Whereas Bart Sher’s potent, ravishing remount of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” feels like a timely critique in this era of female empowerment. With a luminous Lauren Ambrose as Eliza Doolittle, the Lincoln Center production underscores the play’s skewering of class and gender privilege and the treatment of women. Moreover, Sher has reimagined the ending (with no added dialogue) to give the awakened Eliza a renewed agency and independence from Professor Higgins.
Best Revival of a Play
Will win: “Angels in America”
Should win: “Angels in America”
Also nominated: “Three Tall Women,” “The Iceman Cometh,” “Lobby Hero,” “Travesties”
Kenneth Lonergan’s penetrating “Lobby Hero” finds its characters, including Sudbury native Chris Evans as a corrupt cop who casually abuses his power, grappling with difficult moral quandaries. George C. Wolfe’s production of “The Iceman Cometh” elevates the black humor and raucous storytelling of Eugene O’Neill’s epic tale of the broken, pipe-dreaming barflies inhabiting Harry Hope’s last-chance saloon. Edward Albee’s 1991 drama “Three Tall Women” marked the playwright’s theatrical comeback after years of critical rejection. Based on his own adoptive mother with whom he had a troubled relationship, it also stands as his most personal work. While Albee’s remarkable play could spring the upset, bank on Tony Kushner’s two-part landmark “Angels in America,” set in Reagan-era New York at the height of the AIDS plague. Its themes of dislocation, disease, and stasis vs. change feel especially trenchant at a time when it seems like the whole world is coming apart once again.
Best Actress in a Play
Will win: Glenda Jackson, “Three Tall Women”
Should win: Glenda Jackson, “Three Tall Women”
Also nominated: Condola Rashad, “Saint Joan”; Lauren Ridloff, “Children of a Lesser God”; Amy Schumer, “Meteor Shower”
There’s no surer bet at the Tonys this year than the 82-year-old Ms. Jackson, the formidable two-time Oscar winner who gave up acting to become a member of Parliament in 1992. She returned to the English stage, triumphantly, in 2016 to play the aging monarch in “King Lear” and is now back on Broadway for the first time in more than 30 years. As a fierce patrician woman on the brink of death, Jackson brings titanic power and mischievous wit to a complex character who is by turns determined yet broken, confused yet certain, angry yet ready to accept her fate.
Best Actor in a Play
Will win: Andrew Garfield, “Angels in America”
Should win: Andrew Garfield, “Angels in America”
Also nominated: Denzel Washington, “The Iceman Cometh”; Jamie Parker, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”; Mark Rylance, “Farinelli and the King”; Tom Hollander, “Travesties”
Two big-name movie stars are the frontrunners here. Washington, already a Tony winner for “Fences,” plays the charismatic salesman Hickey, whose tales are as legendary as his booze-fueled benders. Now sobered up, Hickey is trying to convince his fellow barflies to stop clinging to their pipe dreams, and Washington imbues his character with searing delusion, guilt-ridden desperation, and a hint of menace. But Garfield seems to have the momentum. The actor’s near-operatic turn as Prior Walter, a gay man grappling with AIDS and abandonment by his boyfriend in his darkest hour, captures the fear, rage, bitterness, despair, and arch wit of the character, along with a growing sense of clarity about a world spinning out of control.
Best Actress in a Musical
Will win: Katrina Lenk, “The Band’s Visit”
Should win: Lauren Ambrose, “My Fair Lady”
Also nominated: Jessie Mueller, “Carousel”; Taylor Louderman, “Mean Girls”; LaChanze, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”; Hailey Kilgore, “Once on This Island”
This race is shaping up as a showdown between Lenk and Ambrose. As a cafe owner wasting away in her backwater town, Lenk delivers an enchanting, star-making turn that blends wry humor and alluring charm, as she connects over shared heartbreak and lost dreams with Tony Shalhoub’s Egyptian band leader. But Ambrose makes for an unforgettable Eliza. The remarkable actress, best known for playing temperamental Claire Fisher on “Six Feet Under,” isn’t seen nearly enough on the New York stage. She has a radiant voice and traces with careful precision her character’s emotional and intellectual awakening. The effect is utterly magical.
Best Actor in a Musical
Will win: Joshua Henry, “Carousel”
Should win: Tony Shalhoub, “The Band’s Visit”
Also nominated: Ethan Slater, “SpongeBob SquarePants”; Harry Hadden-Paton, “My Fair Lady”
This is Shalhoub’s fourth Tony nomination (with no wins), so it may be time to reward him, especially for his richly underplayed work in “The Band’s Visit.” But this appears to be a two-horse race, with Henry and Slater neck-and-neck down the stretch. The bendy, plasticine Slater is the winsome and whimsical heart and soul of “SpongeBob,” as he morphs his body into the beloved cartoon character. As carnival barker Billy Bigelow, three-time Tony nominee Henry is burdened with the backlash against the musical’s sexual politics and his character’s domestic abuse. Despite that, Henry’s electrifying performance as an angry, troubled soul — including a powerful, heart-stirring rendition of the epic “Soliloquy” that brings down the house — should lead to his first Tony.On CBS, Sunday at 8 p.m.
72nd annual Tony AwardsChristopher Wallenberg can be reached at email@example.com.