I suspect we’ll be seeing more than one silly and misleading “frozen out” reference in coverage of this year’s Tony Awards nominations – starting with that one – but the absence of Frozen in the leading actress categories (Patti Murin and Caissie Levy), and director (Michael Grandage) from the 2018 nominations roster has gotta be a sting for Disney, even with major consolations like nods for Best musical, book and original score.
Though critical praise for Frozen was hardly unanimous, I’d have thought Levy’s performance of “Let It Go” would have provided safe passage. Same for Murin’s charming, barely-leaves-the-stage performance as the underdog Princess Anna, and I’d have nominated either over…But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s a closer, first-reaction look at some of the categories. Just my opinions, of course, and I might very well be fine-tuning and re-thinking right up until the trophies are handed out June 10.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Tom Hollander, Travesties
Jamie Parker, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Mark Rylance, Farinelli and The King
Denzel Washington, Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh
I can’t begrudge any of the selections here, even if I was a bit less dazzled than other critics by both Garfield as Angel‘s Prior Walter and Washington’s tragic salesman Hickey. I thought both performances occasionally toppled into the self-aware, particularly Washington’s. Still, a strong category, with Hollander, in a career best, the one to beat unless Potter fever takes the night. The Lobby Hero producers were lucky to have Michael Cera in the featured actor category, though he belongs here.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Glenda Jackson, Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women
Condola Rashad, Saint Joan
Lauren Ridloff, Children of a Lesser God
Amy Schumer, Meteor Shower
Schumer’s the only slight surprise here, and Ridloff was easily the best thing about the dated Children of a Lesser God. Not much left to say, since this one belongs to Glenda Jackson.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Harry Hadden-Paton, My Fair Lady
Joshua Henry, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel
Tony Shalhoub, The Band’s Visit
Ethan Slater, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
No weak links here. Both Henry and Hadden-Paton took chances with these roles, playing characters so out of step with the current #MeToo moment that they easily could have come off as either mustache-twirling villains or sugar-coated lies. They did neither, and their shows were the better for it.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Lauren Ambrose, My Fair Lady
Hailey Kilgore, Once On This Island
LaChanze, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit
Taylor Louderman, Mean Girls
Jessie Mueller, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel
I wondered whether Ambrose’s tough interpretation of My Fair Lady‘s Eliza Doolittle might turn off the sentimentalists and keep her out of this category. I’m glad it didn’t. LaChanze’s inclusion here is all about her amazing voice – far and away the best part of Summer – but her acting chops weren’t much better than this weak jukebox musical demanded. Frozen‘s Murin deserved a spot on this list.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Anthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Michael Cera, Lobby Hero
Brian Tyree Henry, Lobby Hero
Nathan Lane, Angels in America
David Morse, Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh
Very happy to see Brian Tyree Henry recognized for Lobby Hero – he could so easily have gotten lost in the well-acted play’s star wattage (Chris Evans could have made this list with no complaints from me). A deeper dip into both the Angels and Potter casts would have been justifiable, but Lane and Boyle were the obvious and correct choices. One of this year’s most competitive categories – the only excuse for not seeing Travesties‘ exuberant Dadaist Seth Numrich here.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Susan Brown, Angels in America
Noma Dumezweni, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Deborah Findlay, The Children
Denise Gough, Angels in America
Laurie Metcalf, Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women
Alison Pill, as Three Tall Women‘s third among equals, was more than fine in the role, but with Metcalf and Jackson sharing her stage, the absence here isn’t a shock. Gough was the no-brainer from Angels – her grounded interpretation of the hallucinating Harper was fresh and welcome – but good to see Brown’s sympathetic turn as the play’s steely Mother Pitt recognized too. Findlay gave a critically lauded performance in The Children, but Dumezweni lands a heroic performance in a play full of them. She could be the one here.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Norbert Leo Butz, My Fair Lady
Alexander Gemignani, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel
Grey Henson, Mean Girls
Gavin Lee, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Ari’el Stachel, The Band’s Visit
Butz is a Broadway favorite and adds huge zest to My Fair Lady as Eliza’s no-good dad, and Henson steals more than a few scenes in Mean Girls as the “too gay to function” Damian. Stachel’s performance is a quieter one than the others here, but don’t rule him out.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Ariana DeBose, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Renée Fleming, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel
Lindsay Mendez, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel
Ashley Park, Mean Girls
Diana Rigg, My Fair Lady
DeBose, Park and Mendez have some real stand-out moments in their respective shows, each taking great advantage of their shots, and Dame Diana Rigg, though in a lesser role than her competition, is, well, Dame Diana Rigg. But Fleming has “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and that soaring Rodgers & Hammerstein anthem could be tough to beat.
Best Direction of a Play
Marianne Elliott, Angels in America
Joe Mantello, Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women
Patrick Marber, Travesties
John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
George C. Wolfe, Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh
Imagine a category so competitive that George C. Wolfe seems the longest shot. All did some fantastic work here, but at this stage of the game, I’d lean towards the wildly inventive Tiffany. Or Mantello, Elliott or Marber. One of those years.
Best Direction of a Musical
Michael Arden, Once On This Island
David Cromer, The Band’s Visit
Tina Landau, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Casey Nicholaw, Mean Girls
Bartlett Sher, My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady has the sweep, SpongeBob the surprise, Mean Girls the glitz and Once On This Island the charm. That leaves The Band’s Visit, and that’s not a bad place to be at all.
Farinelli and The King
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two;
Latin History for Morons
The Band’s Visit
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
SpongeBob‘s already defied the odds, so who’s to say? But the critically acclaimed The Band’s Visit seems likelier.
Best Revival of a Play
Angels in America
Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women
Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh
For a near-perfect blend of scope, ambition and execution, Angels.
Best Revival of a Musical
My Fair Lady
Once On This Island
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel
Never rule out an opulent Lincoln Center production like My Fair Lady, and Carousel is maybe the best musical of the last century. But all things considered, this could be the year for the vivid Once On This Island.