AwardsWatch’s theater correspondent Dan Bayer looks at the field and thinks Leopoldstadt, Topdog/Underdog, Kimberly Akimbo and non-binary performers will end up as top winners
The 2022-2023 Broadway season began in grand fashion last June with the transfer of the City Center Encores! production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods to Broadway’s St. James Theater and saw a grand total of 17 new plays, 9 new musicals, and 6 revivals each of plays and musicals.
The season saw the closing of the longest-running show in the history of Broadway (The Phantom of the Opera), the first play written by a Native American produced on Broadway (The Thanksgiving Play), and the first revival of Stephen Sondheim’s landmark Sweeney Todd with a full 26-piece orchestra since the original production in 1979. We saw a colorblind, all-female revival of 1776 that was savaged not just by critics but by its own cast. We saw Jessica Chastain literally leave the building as Nora in a minimalist new adaptation of A Doll’s House and we watched the 63 year-old Victoria Clark transform into a 16 year-old girl trapped inside a 72 year-old body in Kimberly Akimbo. We also saw the Tony Awards themselves make history by nominating the first gender non-binary/non-conforming performers for the theater world’s highest honor: J. Harrison Ghee in the Leading Actor in a Musical category, and Alex Newell in the Featured Actor in a Musical category.
The Tony Awards will make history of a different sort by hosting their 76th annual ceremony at the United Palace Theater in Manhattan’s uptown Washington Heights neighborhood. While the show was almost canceled due to the ongoing writers strike – the Writers Guild of America twice denied the American Theatre Wing’s request for a waiver to announce the broadcast – the WGA has graciously agreed to not picket the event should it be held, and Oscar winner Ariana DeBose is still scheduled to host. While it remains to be seen who, if anyone, DeBose thinks did the thing this year, we do know who the nominating committee thinks did.
A lot of the categories are tantalizingly close, so let’s get right down to it and see who we think will have an extra piece of hardware to place on their mantel come Sunday night.
- Ain’t No Mo’
- Between Riverside and Crazy
- Cost of Living
- Fat Ham
Could Win: James Ijames’s Fat Ham was the talk of the town when it played Off Broadway at the Public Theater last year, and its Pulitzer Prize win undoubtedly gave it momentum for this Broadway run.
Will Win: Tom Stoppard is the Tonys’ most-awarded playwright: Only Neil Simon has more nominations with 10 to Stoppard’s 8, but Stoppard is alone with 4 wins in this category. He’s also said that this will be his last play, and its deeply personal nature and themes of legacy make it feel like a career-capper. Given the play’s strong reception and its status as the last play of our greatest living dramatist, it feels inevitable that Leopoldstadt will win this.
Best Revival of a Play
- A Doll’s House
- The Piano Lesson
- The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window
Could Win: A Doll’s House has been on people’s lips the most in recent days, as everybody has an opinion on how Jamie Lloyd staged the ending, how good Jessica Chastain is… and the spare, bare-bones staging, which has everyone divided. I suspect that the divisive nature of Lloyd’s staging will keep it from winning here, but wouldn’t be surprised if that criticism turns out to be coming from a small but very vocal minority.
Will Win: While closed shows tend to have a rough go of it at the Tonys, that’s usually more true for musicals than plays, which typically have limited runs as opposed to the open-ended runs of most musicals. Both The Boys in the Band and Jitney – plays that hadn’t previously been on Broadway – managed to win here, and the acclaimed revival of Suzan Lori-Parks’s Topdog/Underdog, a Pulitzer Prize winner that lost the Tony for Best Play back in 2002, feels like it could fall into that same category.
Best Direction of a Play
- Saheem Ali (Fat Ham)
- Jo Bonney (Cost of Living)
- Jamie Lloyd (A Doll’s House)
- Patrick Marber (Leopoldstadt)
- Stevie Walker-Webb (Ain’t No Mo’)
- Max Webster (Life of Pi)
Could Win: The big question here is whether or not Max Webster can win when Life of Pi missed out on all other above the line nominations (namely Lead Actor and Best Play, both of which it won Olivier Awards for). The show stopping technical elements of that show bring to mind two former British transfers that won in this category: War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but both of those also won Best Play. While it’s not a death sentence, I’m thinking that the show missing out on a nomination for Best Play is a sign of weakness for Webster’s chances, but if voters respond to Life of Pi better than the nominating committee did, it could happen.
Will Win: Patrick Marber directed the likely Best Play winner, and normally it would be foolish to bet against that, but the talk of the town during the voting period has been Jamie Lloyd’s coup de théâtre ending of his minimalist staging of A Doll’s House. The larger pool of nominees could potentially help him here, as he would need a smaller percentage of votes in order to win, and I think that just might allow him to seal the deal.
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
- Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Topdog/Underdog)
- Corey Hawkins (Topdog/Underdog)
- Sean Hayes (Good Night, Oscar)
- Stephen McKinley Henderson (Between Riverside and Crazy)
- Wendell Pierce (Death of a Salesman)
Could Win: Willy Loman is one of the great roles, but not every actor who has played him has won the Tony. Being in a closed play doesn’t mean anything for plays if you’re a legend and if it’s a relatively open field, and both Pierce and Stephen McKinley Henderson could do that for their lauded early-season performances.
Will Win: The performance on everyone’s lips right now, though, is Sean Hayes’s Oscar Levant. The play itself hasn’t been as well-received as those of his competitors, but Hayes’s virtuosic piano playing finale is going to be the last thing every voter sees, and it’s going to be very hard to argue against.
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
- Jessica Chastain (A Doll’s House)
- Jodie Comer (Prima Facie)
- Jessica Hecht (Summer, 1976)
- Audra McDonald (Ohio State Murders)
Could Win: In any other season, Juilliard alum Jessica Chastain would be a shoo-in for her scalpel-sharp rendition of Nora in Amy Herzog’s new adaptation of A Doll’s House.
Will Win: Unfortunately for her, she has to go up against Jodie Comer’s stunning one-woman turn as a barrister who defends men accused of sexual assault who gets assaulted herself. Nothing can stop Comer from winning this Tony, not even the particles from the Canadian wildfires that have made Manhattan’s air so unhealthy this week that the actress had to stop a performance because she couldn’t breathe.
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
- Jordan E. Cooper (Ain’t No Mo’)
- Samuel L. Jackson (The Piano Lesson)
- Arian Moayed (A Doll’s House)
- Brandon Uranowitz (Leopoldstadt)
- David Zayas (Cost of Living)
Could Win: Ain’t No Mo’ surprised on nomination morning, tying for the most nominations (six) of any play. Jordan E. Cooper, who also wrote Ain’t No Mo’ could shock here if the voters loved the play as much as the nominating committee did.
Will Win: Really though, this is four-time Tony nominee Brandon Uranowitz’s time to finally become a winner. As the sole member of the cast of Best Play frontrunner Leopoldstadt to be nominated, he comes in with an advantage, but the fact that he’s been on a very good run with the Tonys recently is the icing on the cake.
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
- Nikki Crawford (Fat Ham)
- Crystal Lucas-Perry (Ain’t No Mo’)
- Miriam Silverman (The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window)
- Katy Sullivan (Cost of Living)
- Kara Young (Cost of Living)
Could Win: Miriam Silverman’s role in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window has gotten a nomination every time the play has been on Broadway, and Alice Ghostley won for the original production.
Will Win: Fat Ham, one of the most-loved plays of the season, only managed one acting nomination, and like Brandon Uranowitz, Nikki Crawford will likely find herself standing for the entirety of their ensemble. Her raucous comic energy was cited as a scene-stealing highlight in every review of the play, and that’s exactly what you want in order to win in the Featured categories.
Best Costume Design of a Play
- Nick Barnes, Finn Caldwell, and Tim Hatley (Life of Pi)
- Dominique Fawn Hill (Fat Ham)
- Brigitte Reiffenstuel (Leopoldstadt)
- Emilio Sosa (Ain’t No Mo’)
- Emilio Sosa (Good Night, Oscar)
Could and Will Win: Reiffenstuel’s period duds would likely win this in any other year, but with Life of Pi’s jaw-dropping puppets being considered in this category, it’s nearly impossible to see anything else winning this award.
Best Lighting Design of a Play
- Neil Austin (Leopoldstadt)
- Natasha Chivers (Prima Facie)
- Jon Clark (A Doll’s House)
- Bradley King (Fat Ham)
- Tim Lutkin (Life of Pi)
- Jen Schriever (Death of a Salesman)
- Ben Stanton (A Christmas Carol)
Could Win: It’s easy to assume that Life of Pi will cruise to a sweep of the technical categories, but Neil Austin’s expressive work on Leopoldstadt (a win would make him the sole most awarded person in this category) and Jon Clark’s striking design for A Doll’s House could give it a run for its money here.
Will Win: That said, no lighting designer did more to transform the space this year than Tim Lutkin, and that stands out even more in this ludicrously large category.
Best Scenic Design of a Play
- Miriam Buether (Prima Facie)
- Andrzej Goulding and Tim Hatley (Life of Pi)
- Rachel Hauck (Good Night, Oscar)
- Richard Hudson (Leopoldstadt)
- Dane Laffrey and Lucy Mackinnon (A Christmas Carol)
Could Win: Hudson’s imposing, almost Gothic set for Leopoldstadt will give the life raft of Life of Pi a run for its money.
Will Win: Given that the puppet designs are being considered costumes, there’s actually not a ton of scenic design in Life of Pi, which could hurt it, but the overall impact of the show’s look will likely lift it to a win here.
Best Sound Design of a Play
- Jonathan Deans and Taylor Williams (Ain’t No Mo’)
- Carolyn Downing (Life of Pi)
- Joshua D. Reid (A Christmas Carol)
- Ben Ringham and Max Ringham (A Doll’s House)
- Ben Ringham and Max Ringham (Prima Facie)
Could Win: If there’s one tech category that Life of Pi has a better chance of losing than winning, it’s this one. The Ringhams’ impeccable work on Prima Facie, making Jodie Comer’s voice crystal clear no matter what else is going on, could snatch this right from the tiger’s maw.
Will Win: While that’s certainly possible, it still feels like Life of Pi is destined to be a tech sweeper.
- & Juliet
- Kimberly Akimbo
- New York, New York
- Some Like It Hot
Could Win: It’s a tale as old as time: A big, flashy, toe-tapping crowd-pleaser up against a smaller, more idiosyncratic, “writerly” musical. While it used to be that the splashier show would win (Spamalot, Thoroughly Modern Millie), in recent years this category has trended in the opposite direction, favoring the smaller shows (Once, Fun Home, The Band’s Visit). So even though Some Like It Hot received the most nominations of the year – the only production to score double-digit noms, in fact – it’s still likely to end up losing the big prize.
Will Win: It’s not a done deal for Kimberly Akimbo: The last show to win Best Musical as a non-nomination leader with less than 10 nominations was Dear Evan Hansen, a phenomenon unlike anything in the running this year. However, the glowing reviews and emotional audience reactions (try to find someone who wasn’t moved to tears) seem to have garnered the show the same passion it received during its Off Broadway run, and passion is the thing that wins votes.
Best Revival of a Musical
- Into the Woods
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Could and Will Win: Had it been currently running, nothing could have beaten Into the Woods. Lear deBessonet’s minimalist City Center Encores! transfer was the talk of the season, with theater fans across the New York area scrambling to see each exciting, legendary new cast member. The production had the type of buzz you just don’t see on Broadway these days, even launching a tour with most of the Broadway cast (if not all the originals), a rarity for Encores! productions. There isn’t really a precedent for this, and if voters weren’t so reticent to award closed musicals, it would be a shoo-in. But if not that… then what? Bartlett Sher’s Camelot didn’t excite anyone, and while the buzz for Sweeney Todd was deafening before it opened, the reactions to it have been more mixed than you would expect for such a landmark revival. Tony winner Thomas Kail being left out of the Director lineup feels like a razor to that show’s throat. This leaves Parade, another Encores! transfer directed by Michael Arden, who did receive a Best Director nomination. Parade has been very well-received, especially for its up-and-coming Tony nominated leads, Micaela Diamond and previous Tony winner Ben Platt. While it’s done better at the box office than Into the Woods, consistently playing to 90% or fuller houses and making over $1M a week, the buzz level hasn’t been quite at the level it was for last fall’s hit. So which will it be? Conventional wisdom says to go with the currently running show (and the cast of Parade has been doing promotion everywhere), but I’m going out on a limb and predicting that Into the Woods won’t go quietly into its last midnight, waltzing away with the award on the strength of its strong early-season passion.
Best Direction of a Musical
- Michael Arden (Parade)
- Lear deBessonet (Into the Woods)
- Casey Nicholaw (Some Like It Hot)
- Jack O’Brien (Shucked)
- Jessica Stone (Kimberly Akimbo)
Could Win: One of the most up-in-the-air categories, it really feels like any of the nominees could win (except probably poor Jack O’Brien). Nicholaw is one of Broadway’s favorite sons, but he only has one Tony to his name, for The Book of Mormon. Some Like It Hot was far and away the nominating committee’s favorite show this season, with 13 nominations to the nearest competition’s 9; it could finally be his time again. Jessica Stone’s direction superbly balances the tonal swings of Kimberly Akimbo’s book to create something entertaining and ultimately moving. Michael Arden is fast becoming the heir to Bartlett Sher’s throne, earning three Tony nominations for Best Direction in a row, all for revivals: 2016’s Spring Awakening, 2018’s Once On This Island, and now for Parade. If it’s anyone’s “time,” it’s his.
Will Win: But if anyone could put a stop to that, it’s Lear deBessonet. The hand-picked successor to Jack Virtel as the Artistic Director for City Center Encores!, one of the most prestigious positions in the theatrical world, deBessonet is well-known and well-liked in New York, and her production of Into the Woods was a highlight of the theatrical season, the show to see in the fall and early winter months. Her minimalist staging charmed audiences, and she managed to bring surprising new depths to a show everyone thought they knew backwards and forwards. It makes sense for them to reward the theatrical event of the season, but if recency bias proves too strong, look for Arden or Stone to stake their claim here.
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
- Christian Borle (Some Like It Hot)
- J. Harrison Ghee (Some Like It Hot)
- Josh Groban (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
- Brian d’Arcy James (Into the Woods)
- Ben Platt (Parade)
- Colton Ryan (New York, New York)
Could Win: Ben Platt’s performance as Leo Frank in Parade has been one of the season’s most acclaimed performances, and in any other season would probably win.
Will Win: One of the major stories of this season has been the rise of gender non-binary performers, and J. Harrison Ghee’s true triple threat performance in Some Like It Hot feels undeniable as a winner here. They sing beautifully, act well, and dance fantastically, and their performance is the big takeaway from the show, whereas in Parade the big standout for many is Platt’s costar Micaela Diamond.
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
- Annaleigh Ashford (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
- Sara Bareilles (Into the Woods)
- Victoria Clark (Kimberly Akimbo)
- Lorna Courtney (& Juliet)
- Micaela Diamond (Parade)
Could and Will Win: While Ashford and Diamond have outside chances to surprise, Victoria Clark has had this award on lock since Kimberly Akimbo premiered Off Broadway in 2021 and the rapturous reviews came pouring in. Playing a teenager with a disease that causes her to rapidly age, Clark’s virtuosic performance has been described as magical by numerous reviews, quickly ascending to legendary status. It’s one of those performances that people fall over themselves to throw awards at, and by all reports she’s deserving.
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
- Kevin Cahoon (Shucked)
- Justin Cooley (Kimberly Akimbo)
- Kevin Del Aguila (Some Like It Hot)
- Jordan Donica (Camelot)
- Alex Newell (Shucked)
Could Win: 19 year-old Justin Cooley’s splashy New York Times profile is the sort of thing that can win you a Tony in a crowded field, and giving an acclaimed performance opposite a legendary actress in a Best Musical frontrunner doesn’t hurt.
Will Win: No single number from any musical this season has gotten nearly as much press and praise as Alex Newell’s showstopping “Independently Owned” from Shucked – just witness the actor’s performance on The Voice during the voting period. It’s exactly the type of scene-stealing performance that wins Tony Awards in this category all the time… but how will Tony voters at large feel about awarding a gender non-conforming performer playing a cis woman in this category? If they feel like the nomination was enough, or if they don’t feel the need to award Shucked, Newell could easily lose to Cooley, but for now, this looks like Newell’s to lose.
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
- Julia Lester (Into the Woods)
- Ruthie Ann Miles (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
- Bonnie Milligan (Kimberly Akimbo)
- NaTasha Yvette Williams (Some Like It Hot)
- Betsy Wolfe (& Juliet)
Could Win: Betsy Wolfe has built quite a following in recent years, and her spunky, sympathetic performance as Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway in & Juliet is the heart of that show.
Will Win: Bonnie Milligan has also built up a lot of goodwill in recent years, narrowly missing out on a Tony nomination for her hilarious performance in Head Over Heels. In Kimberly Akimbo, she has the perfect vehicle for her talents as the title character’s grifting aunt, and all signs seem to be pointing towards a win for her.
- Steven Hoggett (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
- Casey Nicholaw (Some Like It Hot)
- Susan Stroman (New York, New York)
- Jennifer Weber (& Juliet)
- Jennifer Weber (KPOP)
Could Win: The one thing that everyone comes away from New York, New York talking about is the one number where they tap dance on the scaffolding, a feat of both scenic design and choreography that is quintessentially Susan Stroman.
Will Win: Casey Nicholaw has now been nominated for 13 Tony Awards and has only won one, for directing The Book of Mormon. Given how much they loved Some Like It Hot and the fact that he’s probably not winning for Direction of a Musical, this award will likely be his consolation prize, his first Tony for choreography.
Best Costume Design of a Musical
- Gregg Barnes (Some Like It Hot)
- Sophia Choi and Clint Ramos (KPOP)
- Susan Hilferty (Parade)
- Jennifer Moeller (Camelot)
- Paloma Young (& Juliet)
- Donna Zakowska (New York, New York)
Could Win: Paloma Young’s fun, funky spin on Ye Olde English clothes for & Juliet perfectly captures the spirit of the production.
Will Win: Gregg Barnes’s sparkly art deco duds for Some Like It Hot are just one of that show’s gorgeous design elements, and the show is the nomination leader.
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
- Ken Billington (New York, New York)
- Lap Chi Chu (Camelot)
- Heather Gilbert (Parade)
- Howard Hudson (& Juliet)
- Natasha Katz (Some Like It Hot)
- Natasha Katz (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
Could Win: New York, New York is the big heavy tech player on the musical slide of things, and if the show has a good night, Ken Billington could easily get swept up in the love.
Will Win: Natasha Katz is a legendary lighting designer with a combined 6 Tony Awards for Lighting Design, evenly split between plays and musicals. Her jaw-dropping lighting for Sweeney Todd has elicited gasps from audiences. A win here would cement her status as the greatest, making her the most-awarded person in this category.
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
- Beowulf Borritt (New York, New York)
- Mimi Lien (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
- Michael Yeargan and 59 Productions (Camelot)
- Scott Pask (Shucked)
- Scott Pask (Some Like It Hot)
Could Win: Scott Pask’s gleaming set for Some Like It Hot is fabulously gorgeous and looks exactly like what you’d expect a top-tier period-set Broadway musical production to look like.
Will Win: Beowulf Borritt’s set is the main talking point of the otherwise tepidly received New York, New York, and becoming a talking point is exactly how you win Tonys.
Best Sound Design of a Musical
- Kai Harada (New York, New York)
- Scott Lehrer and Alex Neumann (Into the Woods)
- Gareth Owen (& Juliet)
- John Shivers (Shucked)
- Nevin Steinberg (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
Could Win: Into the Woods could get recognized here for the herculean task of making sure the whole cast was heard over the fifteen-piece onstage orchestra, as could New York, New York, which has sparked debate over whether the actors playing musicians are actually playing their own instruments or not.
Will Win: Recently, this award tends to go to the most pop-radio adjacent show (MJ, Moulin Rouge!, Beautiful), which this year would be & Juliet. If the voters want to spread the wealth, this is the perfect place to reward one of the most-nominated shows of the year.
- John Clancy (Kimberly Akimbo)
- Bryan Carter and Charlie Rosen (Some Like It Hot)
- Sam Davis and Daryl Waters (New York, New York)
- Dominic Fallacaro and Bill Sherman (& Juliet)
- Jason Howland (Shucked)
Could and Will Win: The winner of Best Score almost always wins in this category, and when it doesn’t, the winner is always a revival (John Doyle’s Sweeney Todd) or a new musical with pre-existing music (An American in Paris, Once). The last time the winner of this category lost Best Original Score was in 2002, when Urinetown won Score but Thoroughly Modern Millie won Orchestrations. Since no revivals were nominated in this category this year, the smart thing to do is to bet on the Best Score winner to win this category, too. The question is, which will it be: The authentic country-western stylings of Shucked? The brassy big band sound of Some Like It Hot? Or the intimate, modern Broadway sounds of Kimberly Akimbo? Well…
Best Original Score
- Almost Famous (music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Tom Kitt and Cameron Crowe)
- Kimberly Akimbo (music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire)
- KPOP (music and lyrics by Helen Park and Max Vernon)
- Shucked (music and lyrics by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally)
- Some Like It Hot (music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
Could and Will Win: In a tight race for Best Musical, look to this category to determine which show has the lead: The winner of Best Musical almost always wins here – last year’s win for Six was one of very few exceptions that prove this rule – even in super-close years like 2013 (Kinky Boots vs. Matilda). Love for Shaiman and Wittman and the show’s box office could put Some Like It Hot over the top, but if you look at the box office numbers closer, you’ll find that Kimberly may have been grossing less, but it’s played to higher capacity (usually above 90%) than Hot every week. It’s a close call, but Kimberly will likely skate to victory here.
Best Book of a Musical
- Robert Horn (Shucked)
- David Lindsay-Abaire (Kimberly Akimbo)
- Matthew López and Amber Ruffin (Some Like It Hot)
- David West Read (& Juliet)
- David Thompson and Sharon Washington (New York, New York)
Could and Will Win: It’s possible that voters go for the corny puns of Shucked here, and what a statement it would be to reward the one completely original musical in this category! But this still boils down to the two Best Musical frontrunners: Kimberly Akimbo and Some Like It Hot. López and Ruffin’s new spin on Billy Wilder’s classic film threads the needle near-perfectly, and Lindsay-Abaire’s adaptation of his own play works like a dream. The Tonys don’t like to split Book and Score if they don’t have to, but they did last year, with hit British import Six taking Score and Best Musical winner A Strange Loop taking Book. This is another close call, but if Kimberly is indeed winning Best Musical, I think it wins here, too.
The 76th annual Tony Awards, hosted by Ariana DeBose, will air on Sunday, June 11 at 8pm ET, on CBS and streaming on Paramount+. The Tony Awards: Act One, a 90-minute pre-show of live and exclusive content, will air on the free streaming service Pluto TV that same night beginning at 6:30 PM ET.