There were no surprises when the Tony Award nominations were announced on May 1. As expected, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” zapped the Best Play competition; the revival of “Angels in America” flew high with the most nominations—11—for any play in Tony history; the musical “The Band’s Visit” struck a chord with the nominating committee; and Glenda Jackson added a nod for lead actress in “Three Tall Women” to a résumé already crowned by two Oscar wins. But will these and other nominees find themselves in the winner’s circle on June 10, Tony night? Read on for the biased opinions of a longtime theatergoer.
First, let’s talk about “Harry Potter” and its lock on the Best Play gong. Of the five nominees, it’s the only game left in town. “The Children,” “Farinelli and the King,” “Junk” and “Latin History for Morons”—worthy competitors—closed months ago, and Tony voters, many of whom are from out of town, are obliged to see all nominees before casting their ballots. Then, there’s profitability. “Harry Potter,” the play, like the books and movies before it, is a money-spinner. The ka-ching of more than $2 million in box office receipts every week cannot be ignored. Artistically, it’s also a winner. The staging, illusions and special effects are beyond anything ever seen on Broadway. “Harry Potter” is undeniably magical, but should it win the Tony?
If you’re a fan, and there are millions of you, the answer is obvious. But there are also millions who have not succumbed to the wizard’s mystique in any form. What about them? Here’s a caveat, if you’re not wild about Harry or are a Potter virgin: The two-part play by Jack Thorne (based on an original new story by Thorne, John Tiffany and J.K. Rowling), with a combined running time of just under five and a half hours, is a major commitment. The plot is so convoluted, prior knowledge of characters and situations is essential for full enjoyment. Sure, program notes help fill in the gaps for the uninitiated, but who wants to spend precious minutes during intermissions plowing through four pages of program notes to twig what’s going on when there’s all that Potter merch to peruse and purchase in the lobby? Frankly, after seeing both parts and reading the script, I'm still not sure who the cursed child in the title is. The ambitious production and consummate acting make this a winner, not the text, which hangs on the unoriginal premise that the grownup Harry Potter has a difficult relationship with his teenage son, Albus.
The two parts of “Angels in America”—“Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika”—won back-to-back Tonys for Best Play in 1993 and 1994. Twenty-five years later, the revival of Tony Kushner’s masterwork about the early days of the AIDS epidemic is set for further Tony glory. “Angels,” like “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” is a major commitment—you can see both parts in one day (matinee and evening) or on alternate nights—but the seven and a half hours fly by. The most intellectually stimulating and viscerally entertaining show on Broadway is not to be missed, even if it were not to take home the Tony for Best Revival of a Play (which it will). Also, look for “Angels” stars Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane to take home Tonys: Garfield for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for his daring, full-throttle portrayal of a gay man in extremis (audiences have never seen Garfield like this) and Lane for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play. As real-life lawyer Roy Cohn, Lane digs deep into his awesome bag of tricks—the take-no-prisoners voice, rat-a-tat delivery and spot-on timing—but in etching a distasteful character, Lane somehow finds humanity within the villainy and vanity. It’s a revelatory performance from America‘s finest, most versatile stage actor, and it should bring Lane his third Tony.
Tony loves a good new musical, and “The Band’s Visit” is better than good: It’s the best there is, with a solid story about contemporary Israelis and Egyptians getting along. The gorgeous songs float by “on a jasmine-scented wind,” as one of the lyrics so exquisitely puts it. Moreover, the show’s quiet dignity is contained within an economical and intermissionless 90 minutes. It will deservedly win an armful (it’s nominated for a total of 11 Tonys). But I have to confess that my guilty pleasure of the season is fellow Best Musical nominee “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Good-humored, goofy, gaudy—I love it. As I do Ethan Slater, who conjures up a living breathing human being in a cartoon sponge. Slater’s the real McCoy, a bona fide triple threat (actor, singer, dancer), who is Broadway’s discovery of the year. He has my vote for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical.
Tony also loves a good musical revival. Unfortunately, the 2017-2018 season was a thin one for this category. Only three shows are up for Best Revival of a Musical: “Carousel,” “Once on This Island” and “My Fair Lady.” “Carousel” is disappointingly humdrum, while “Once on This Island” has charm to spare and an inspired staging in the round that cannot disguise a thin story. That leaves “My Fair Lady” as the fairest of the bunch, and fairest it is. The original production won the Tony for Best Musical of 1957. Sixty-odd years later, and the show is as bright as a penny and as sharp as a needle. It sings, especially on the great stage of Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, where it has been rewarded with sumptuous, eye-popping sets and costumes. The leads, Lauren Ambrose as Eliza Doolittle and Harry Hadden-Paton as Professor Henry Higgins, are super sexy and deserve their Tony nominations.
As to the Tony for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, the award must go to Glenda Jackson in “Three Tall Women.” This is the performance, male or female, of the year. Twenty-three years away from film and theater, while she served as a member of the British Parliament, have only enhanced Jackson’s magnetism. As a crotchety, disagreeable, proud and defiant 90-year-old terror facing senility and death head-on, she commands the stage and holds the audience in the palm of her hand. Come June 10, she’ll be holding the Tony, too.
Gallery: More of Our Favorites for Tony Awards Glory