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Prediction: The Big Tony Awards Showdown Will Be Between Hadestown and Tootsie

And other forecasts based on the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk nominations.

Hadestown and Tootsie go into Tony nominations week in very strong positions.
(© Matthew Murphy)

This week, both the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk announced nominations for their awards, with Broadway musicals Tootsie and Hadestown grabbing multiple nominations in both cases. This coming Tuesday, April 30, nominations will be revealed for the biggest prizes of all: the Tony Awards.

The nominators for these different awards approach the theater from very different perspectives: The Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk are entirely made up of theater journalists (full disclosure: I am a Drama Desk nominator). The 48-member Tony nominating committee comprises artists and producers. Nevertheless, the former two awards can give us a sense of which way the wind is blowing on Broadway as we head into Tony time.

This Story of the Week will break down the biggest takeaways from the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk nominations — and what they portend for the forthcoming Tony nominations.

Hadestown is the most-nominated show for the Outer Critics Circle Awards in 2019.
(© Matthew Murphy)

What did we learn from the Outer Critics Circle nominations?
Hadestown and Tootsie had the most Outer Critics Circle nominations (12 and 10 respectively). The two shows appear in eight categories together, and a sweep for either seems unlikely: The gorgeously tuneful Hadestown is the odds-on favorite for Outstanding New Score, while Tootsie has the funniest new book of a musical in years. So there will be plenty of love to go around this year in the various categories.

Both Tootsie and Hadestown are nominated for the big category of Outstanding New Broadway Musical, and that race seems totally unpredictable this year. The shows are just so different: Tootsie is a laugh-out-loud comedy based on a 1982 Dustin Hoffman movie, and Hadestown is a high-concept retelling of a Greek myth. The victor in this category will tell us a lot more about the sensibilities of the Outer Critics Circle membership than it will either of these two shows.

And then there are the other nominees in the Outstanding New Musical category: The Go-Go's musical Head Over Heels is included, although it closed months ago, so its chances of winning are slim to none. Teen favorite Be More Chill is running and nominated, but I doubt that the youthful members of the Outer Critics Circle will push it over the finish line. The Prom, a feel-good musical about an Indiana lesbian who wants to attend her high school prom, has been playing since October. It has a scrappy quality that suggests it could run a successful underdog campaign for the OCCs, the Drama Desks, and (provided it is nominated) the Tonys.

The Broadway revival of Oklahoma! received the most Drama Desk nods in 2019.
(© Little Fang Photo)

What about the Drama Desk?
The extraordinary Broadway revival of Oklahoma! topped the list for the Drama Desk, with 12 nominations. Tootsie had 11 nominations, followed by the real Cinderella story this year: Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future. A futuristic folk musical that ran for six weeks last fall in Ars Nova's tiny off-off-Broadway theater, Rags received nine Drama Desk nominations. While a large chunk of the Desk's voting membership likely missed it this season, Rags clearly punches above its weight, and I would love to see it return.

Hadestown received a respectable seven nominations, and would have received more had the Drama Desk not already considered the show for its off-Broadway run in the 2016-17 season. That means Anaïs Mitchell's music, lyrics, and book were ineligible for an award this year. Hadestown was ineligible for Outstanding Musical for that same reason (it was already nominated in that category in 2017, against the off-Broadway run of The Band's Visit and the eventual winner, Broadway's Come From Away). Still, considering that only new elements of Hadestown were looked at by the nominators, seven is a big number that bodes well for a healthy haul of Tony nominations.

Last year, the Drama Desk exclusively nominated off-Broadway plays in its Outstanding Play category. Broadway has returned to the category this year with two nominees: The Ferryman and What the Constitution Means to Me. These two shows are the only two in the category still running, so it's a safe bet to assume that the competition will be between them (although the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fairview, which is also nominated, will be returning to the off-Broadway stage in June).

Andrew R. Butler and Stacey Sargeant starred in Butler's Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future. Both are nominated for Drama Desk Awards.
(© Ben Arons Photography)

Like the Outer Critics Circle (but unlike the Tonys), the Drama Desk considers all of the theater in New York: Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway. That means that little shows like Rags compete against giant Broadway musicals like Tootsie. The edge inevitably goes to the Broadway shows, which have open-ended runs and can invite voters to return in the coming month to jog their memories. Six months on from Rags, even those who did attend might have trouble recalling individual performances and design elements.

Still, there is something thrilling about a field of nominees this diverse: The Broadway shows that win Drama Desk Awards this year can take them home knowing that they competed against the very best that New York has to offer.

What does this mean for the Tony Awards?
The Tony Awards are limited to Broadway, which means that the field of eligible shows is far smaller: There are 34 Broadway productions the Tony nominating committee will consider in the coming days. The strength of Tootsie and Hadestown in both the OCC and Drama Desk lists suggests a trend that is likely to continue next week — but don't discount The Prom and Be More Chill, both of which were nominated in the top categories for the OCC and Drama Desk Awards and have a good shot at landing in the Best Musical category for the Tonys.

The Cher Show was not nominated for Outstanding Musical for the Outer Critics Circle or Drama Desk Awards.
(© Joan Marcus)

The Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk declined to nominate this season's two big jukebox musicals, The Cher Show and Ain't Too Proud, for their Outstanding Musical Awards. The Tony nominators may choose to go a different direction and include one or both in their Best Musical category: For all that these shows lack in honesty and dramatic coherence, they are presenting some of the most popular American music of the last century to houses full of appreciative fans.

Beetlejuice, the dark new musical comedy at the Winter Garden, was mostly relegated to performance and design categories in this week's nominations (although Scott Brown and Anthony King's hilarious book did receive a DD nod). It's clear that while the OCC and DD nominators appreciated elements of "Beetlejuice'', they didn't see it as a contender for Outstanding Musical. Perhaps the Tony nominators will feel differently…but I wouldn't bet on it.

Whichever shows end up in the final category for Best Musical at the Tonys, it seems almost certain that they will have to compete against the two heavy hitters of this season: Tootsie and Hadestown. In my review, I referred to Hadestown as "the snob hit" of this season, meaning that it is going to most appeal to Tony voters who are looking for something more serious and formally challenging. This design-heavy show featuring an incredibly difficult score is likely to leave them very happy (at least, as happy as one can be after seeing a musical tragedy). But Tootsie arrives like a breath of fresh air for anyone looking for a good old-fashioned musical comedy. Considering how these shows appeal to very different constituencies, this could end up being the most competitive awards season in years.