I have just seen all the nominees for Best Play and Best Musical. My thoughts.
First of all, as everyone knows, the Tonys only represent Broadway, so they only represent a small portion of all the shows running in New York. The most interesting works don't begin their lives on Broadway. They have either begun life in one of the Off-Broadway non-profit theatres or at a regional non-profit theatre. The trip to Broadway is often a long one. COME FROM AWAY began in Canada and was further developed in runs at the La Jolla Playhouse and the Seattle Repertory Theatre before moving onto 45th Street.
This season a particularly strong group of plays moved from Off-Broadway or the regional theatres to Broadway. My pick is A DOLL'S HOUSE, PART 2, though I think SWEAT will win the Tony because it speaks directly to the historical moment. All four nominations (all reviewed elsewhere on this blog), are strong. I found OSLO absorbing if a bit overlong, the characters too genial and self-congratulatory. I'm glad I saw it in the smaller Newhouse theatre rather than in the ungainly theatre upstairs. SWEAT is gripping in places but I felt that the characters preached and explained themselves too much. There was a bit too much docudrama under the drama. INDECENT is a fascinating historical drama, but Rebecca Taichman's direction is as important to the overall work as Vogel's script. Lucas Hnath's sequel to the Ibsen classic is taut, funny and powerful. It's Ibsen with a sense of humor; Shaw with more dramatic economy. I loved its intersection of past and present. I have seen three brilliant Hnath plays in the past eighteen months. He is one of our most prodigiously gifted playwrights. All four Tony-nominated plays are superbly directed and acted. I saw SWEAT, OSLO and INDECENT in small Off-Broadway venues, so I can't speak to how they translate to larger theatres. All four plays show up on tdf, so if you are a tdf member you can catch them all at a reasonable price.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN probably will win Best Musical (COME FROM AWAY may be a dark horse surprise winner). It deserves to win. It has the strongest score of any of the nominees (not saying much this season), and a touching, character-driven book by Steven Levenson. It's another intimate musical and a lovely one. All the other shows raise a big question--can you have a strong musical without a strong score? The scores to the other shows range from forgettable to irritating (NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET). COMET and GROUNDHOG DAY are all about the production, not the script or score. I've never seen environmental theatre on the scale of COMET. It's impressive in its own way, but turning bits of WAR AND PEACE into a grotesque, simple-minded, heartless cartoon didn't excite me. GROUNDHOG DAY was another heartless exercise. I didn't see Andy Karl, whom I admire as a comic performer, but it would be difficult to do much more than keep out of the way of all that moving real estate. Tim Minchin's lyrics are clever. I can't say I remember anything about the music. My runner up to DEAR EVAN HANSEN would have to be COME FROM AWAY. Another forgettable score but a delightful show about community and we really need to celebrate and aspire to community in these angry times.
As to performances....I haven't seen Bette yet or Patti and Christine, so I'll wait a few days to comment on those. Of course Ben Platt is extraordinary and should win hands down for his performance in DEAR EVAN HANSEN. This is a year of shows with ensemble casts. The Tony's need awards for Best Ensemble Performance in a Play and Musical. COME FROM AWAY, INDECENT, OSLO, SWEAT And, yes, I agree that Gideon Glick was robbed of a Tony nomination he well deserved.