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Breaking Down the 2017 Tony Nominations — The Musicals

By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, May 4, 2017

Ah, the Tonys. When the annual nominations come out, it’s like Christmas morning for show queens. For some fans, it’s that super-cool new gadget you’ve been dying for. For others, it’s an ugly sweater or a package of socks.

No sooner had the nominations been announced on Tuesday, May 2nd, than the cheering and kvetching began on the Internet. Heavy on the kvetching.

Sure, it’s disappointing when our favorite shows, performers, or creative artists get snubbed. But let’s not forget that, in addition to five musical revivals, Broadway saw thirteen new musicals this season. That’s an amazing number, and one that Broadway hasn’t seen in many a season. Sure, quite a few of those shows were pretty darned awful (Paramour, anyone?), but quality is always the exception.

Here’s my decidedly subjective take on some of this year’s nominations for musicals, including what I consider to be the most interesting omissions in each category. Stay tuned for my take on the nominations for the plays. (Or as I call them, the non-musicals.)

Best Musical

  • Come From Away
  • Dear Evan Hansen
  • Groundhog Day
  • Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Amélie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bandstand, Anastasia, A Bronx Tale, War Paint

TAKEAWAY: For the most part, the Tony nominators got this one right. Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, and The Great Comet are clearly the standouts this season. However, I’m a bit befuddled by all the love for Groundhog Day — it received a total of seven nominations. The show left me cold, and it received decidedly mixed reviews. What’s really interesting here are the shows that didn’t get a nod, especially since this category is one of those that can have up to five nominees. Clearly there wasn’t a lot of love among the nominators for Amélie, A Bronx Tale, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, none of which received any nominations at all. The last two are selling reasonably well and should be able to survive, but watch for a closing notice on Amélie very soon.

Cast of ‘Come From Away;’ photo: Matthew Murphy.

Best Revival of a Musical

  • Falsettos
  • Hello, Dolly!
  • Miss Saigon

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Sunset Boulevard, Cats, Sunday in the Park With George

TAKEAWAY: Again, it’s the omissions that are interesting here. The producers of Sunday in the Park removed the show from the running, basically because the limited run was selling so well, they didn’t want to give away all those tickets for the Tony voters. But poor Sir Andrew. Both Cats and Sunset Boulevard were completely ignored, in this and all categories. Now, Cats is Cats and will pretty much always be Cats. But Sunset Boulevard was a perfectly respectable production. (How’s that for faint praise?) I could easily have seen this category going to four nominees and include Sunset, but clearly the Tony nominators felt otherwise.

Best Actor in a Musical

  • Christian Borle, Falsettos
  • Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
  • David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
  • Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
  • Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Jon Jon Briones, Miss Saigon; Corey Cott, Bandstand; Bobby Conte Thornton, A Bronx Tale

TAKEAWAY: A genuinely terrific field of performers and performances here. My only quibble with the nominees is that I found Josh Groban a bit stiff and uneasy in The Great Comet. His voice is glorious, of course, but he couldn’t seem to stop shuffling his feet, which even if it was a character choice, was off-putting. The big hullabaloo on the Interwebs has been about Jon Jon Briones not receiving a nod, but I could have replaced Groban here with either Corey Cott (making the best of a bad show, IMHO) or Bobby Conte Thornton, who singlehandedly improved the effectiveness of A Bronx Tale when he took over the central role for Broadway.

Bobby Conte Thornton in ‘A Bronx Tale The Musical;’ photo: Joan Marcus.

Best Actress in a Musical

  • Denée Benton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
  • Christine Ebersole, War Paint
  • Patti LuPone, War Paint
  • Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
  • Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Christy Altomare, Anastasia; Laura Osnes, Bandstand

TAKEAWAY: I mean, talk about your divas, right? All amazing performers doing wonderful work. The legendary LuPone, Midler, and Ebersole sort of speak for themselves. And Denée Benton is a sparkling delight as Natasha. I’m sort of disappointed that Laura Osnes didn’t get a nod, because I’ve never seen her give a lackluster performance, but the nominators seemed to have a thing against Bandstand as a show. (As do I.) Christy Altomere is lovely, and in general I wish Anastasia had gotten a bit more recognition.

(l. to r.) Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone in ‘War Paint;’ photo: Joan Marcus

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

  • Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
  • Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
  • Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
  • Jenn Colella, Come From Away
  • Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Astrid Van Wieren, Come From Away; Amber Gray, The Great Comet; Grace McLean, The Great Comet; Jennifer Laura Thompson, Dear Evan Hansen

TAKEAWAY: This category could easily have gone to a dozen or more nominees, if the rules had allowed it. Every single one of the nominees here was amazing, and has a history of similarly stunning performances. But it’s a real shame that Amber Gray and Grace McLean from The Great Comet didn’t make the cut for their indelible work in that show. Jennifer Laura Thompson showed in Dear Even Hansen that she’s not just the dizzy comic wonder we’ve all come to love. She has serious acting chops, too. And Astrid Van Wieren simply won my heart in a wide variety of roles in Come From Away.

Jenn Colella and the cast of ‘Come From Away;’ photo: Matthew Murphy.

Best Featured Actor in a Musical

  • Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
  • Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
  • Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
  • Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
  • Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Ramin Karimloo, Anastasia; John Bolton, Anastasia

TAKEAWAY: Another truly outstanding slate of performers. It was quite a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, to see Mike Faist on the list. Faist is terrific in Dear Evan Hansen, it’s just that he’s not really a known quantity, and there wasn’t much buzz about his getting the nom. I’m rather surprised John Bolton didn’t make the cut, as he’s splendid in Anastasia. And Ramin Karimloo took a part that wasn’t working when the show was in Hartford and really brought the character to life. But then, the nominators seemed to shun Anastasia in general.

Best Score

  • Come From Away, David Hein and Irene Sankoff
  • Dear Evan Hansen, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • Groundhog Day, Tim Minchin
  • Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Anastasia; Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, War Paint; Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, A Bronx Tale

TAKEAWAY: It’s doggone, cryin’ shame that Ahrens and Flaherty didn’t get the nod here for Anastasia. It’s a gorgeous score, and a wonderful comeback for the pair after…(shudder)…Rocky. Likewise, I could easily have seen Scott Frankel and Michael Korie get the nod for War Paint. Heck, War Paint deserved a nomination for the stunning song “Pink” alone. Either of these scores is infinitely preferable to the tuneless, formless mess that Tim Minchin perpetrated for Groundhog Day. I remain a big fan of Matilda, so I was predisposed to liking Minchin’s work here, but the result is utterly lacking in color and appeal. And it’s a bit surprising that Alan Menken and Glenn Slater weren’t nominated for A Bronx Tale, as both men are Broadway stalwarts.

Best Book of a Musical

  • Come From Away, David Hein and Irene Sankoff
  • Dear Evan Hansen, Steven Levenson
  • Groundhog Day, Danny Rubin
  • Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Terrence McNally, Anastasia; Doug Wright, War Paint

TAKEAWAY: This one really isn’t a surprise, as the Tony nominators appeared to be in lockstep regarding these four shows. Usually there’s a bit more variation in the categories of Best Score, Best Book, and Best Musical. Often a show that was otherwise ignored will get a nod for Best Score, as happened with The Bridges of Madison County. But here, it’s hard to argue with the choices. Both Anastasia and War Paint received significant criticism about their respective books, despite the considerable pedigrees of both Terrence McNally and Doug Wright. And, despite my distaste for Groundhog Day, the book was a damned sight better than the score.

Best Direction of a Musical

  • Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
  • Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
  • Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen
  • Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day
  • Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Michael Greif, War Paint; Darko Tresnjak, Anastasia

TAKEAWAY: Again, lockstep, except for the unsurprising inclusion of Jerry Zaks for Hello, Dolly. Lots of great work here, especially from Ashley, Greif, and Chavkin. It’s also interesting to note that both Jerry Zaks and Michael Greif directed additional shows this season: Zaks on A Bronx Tale, and Greif on War Paint. But the Tony nominators didn’t really like those shows, now did they?

Cast of ‘Bandstand;’ photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Best Choreography

  • Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
  • Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day
  • Kelly Devine, Come From Away
  • Denis Jones, Holiday Inn
  • Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

SIGNIFICANT OMISSIONS: Sergio Trujillo, A Bronx Tale; Joshua Bergasse, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

TAKEAWAY: Andy Blankenbuehler and Denis Jones are sort of lucky that Dear Evan Hansen doesn’t have much dance to speak of, otherwise one of them might have been left out in this category. Not that these gentlemen haven’t done a fine job on both of their shows. Jones in particular did some absolute stellar work for Holiday Inn, particularly in “Chasing the Blues Away.” I could easily have seen Sergio Trujillo getting recognized for his vibrant work in A Bronx Tale. Josh Bergasse is one of the most promising new choreographers in the business, but the Tony voters rightly ignored the dismal mess that is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory entirely.


Cover: Josh Groban and the cast of ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812;’ photo: Chad Batka.


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