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Who Will Win a 2020 Tony Award (in 2021)? Our Critics Make Their Predictions

Two critics discuss the strangest Tony Awards of their lives.

This Sunday, September 26, will be the long-delayed presentation of the 2020 Tony Awards. Originally slated for June 2020, the awards cover the 2019-20 Broadway season, which was cut short in March 2020 by the Covid-19 theater shutdown. While many in the Broadway community see the awards (which will be streamed in their entirety only on Paramount ) as an opportunity for a relaunch, at least one of our critics thinks the winners should have been announced months ago. Regardless, they both have opinions about who will win (and who should win). You can read their thoughts below:

Celia Rose Gooding, Derek Klena, Elizabeth Stanley, Sean Allan Krill star in Jagged Little Pill, one of the three musicals nominated for the 2020 Best Musical Tony Award.
(© Matthew Murphy)

David Gordon: So, another Tony Awards is inexplicably here.

Zachary Stewart: Shall we start with Best Musical?

David: Best Musical it is. The nominees are Jagged Little Pill, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, three selections that in the full version of the 2020 season might not have even made the list. There's a lot of that this season.

Zach: Absolutely. The most glaring example of that is our unchallenged contender for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical — but more on him in a bit. Of these three musicals, my choice is Moulin Rouge! It's exciting, sexy, beautifully designed, and just plain fun. It's what you want from a night out on Broadway. I think the Tony voters will agree.

David: I'm with you. Moulin Rouge! felt like the most fun Bar Mitzvah party I've ever been to, a high-energy spectacle that's just way more enjoyable than the other two shows. It doesn't help that Jagged Little Pill is just an overlong wokeness factory that gets wrong more than it gets right. And Tina is just a vehicle for its leading lady, whom we will discuss later.

Jeremy O. Harris's Slave Play, which starred Annie McNamara and Sullivan Jones, is a favorite to win a 2020 Tony Award for Best Play.
(© Matthew Murphy)

David: On to Best Play, where the choices are The Inheritance, Slave Play, The Sound Inside, Sea Wall/A Life, and Grand Horizons.

Zach: I think Slave Play is the one to beat. It was a sensation on Broadway, and the ever-provocative Jeremy O. Harris promises to deliver a memorable speech if he wins. But my heart is with The Inheritance. Matthew Lopez's depiction of how a plague has impacted the lives and choices of generations of gay men brought me to tears. It's a story that feels even more resonant after the last 18 months.

David: In the halcyon days of 2019, I thought the victor would be The Inheritance, which the West End buzz was touting as the spiritual successor to Angels in America. But that show massively fizzled out here, and the buzz was overtaken by ‘'Slave Play'', the rare play these days that worked its way into the cultural lexicon. My particular vote would go to The Sound Inside, which I truly loved and still think about. Though for Adam Rapp, like playwright Bess Wohl of Grand Horizons, the nomination is the win.

Zach: I also appreciated The Sound Inside, but so much of that had to do with Director David Cromer and the way he manipulates light onstage. Speaking of, the Best Director of a Play Category: It's Cromer for The Sound Inside, Stephen Daldry for The Inheritance, Kenny Leon for A Soldier's Play, Jamie Lloyd for Betrayal, and Robert O'Hara for Slave Play.

Mary-Louise Parker and Will Hochman starred in Adam Rapp's The Sound Inside, directed by David Cromer, at Studio 54.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

David: Any of these fellas deserve it. I'd pick Cromer (you'll sense a pattern as we go forward), but I think it'll be Robert O'Hara, for creating the wonderfully disorienting universe of Slave Play. There's a world in which Jamie Lloyd wins for Betrayal. People loved that production. I did, too: It was the best 90-minute nap I've ever had.

Zach: Ha! Broadway is this town's most expensive sleep aid. But I was riveted throughout the whole six hours of The Inheritance, a wonderfully written play that has the potential to be deadly under an indulgent director. Stephen Daldry wasn't that. He made that play fly by cutting out all of the dead air and staging in a manner that was simple yet effective (something I think Lloyd tried but failed to do). I think Tony voters will recognize him for it.

David: Speaking of pacing, for the Director in a Musical category: It's Alex Timbers for Moulin Rouge!, Diane Paulus for Jagged Little Pill, and Phyllida Lloyd for Tina. I predict that Timbers will take home his first Tony.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is likely to take home several design Tonys, as well as a Best Direction Tony for Alex Timbers.
(© Matthew Murphy)

Zach: Agreed. Moulin Rouge! represents the apex of Timbers' maximalist aesthetic, which he has been delighting New York audiences with since his early days with Les Freres Corbusier. He'll win, and he'll deserve it.

David: So will the entirety of his creative team: set designer Derek McLane, costume designer Catherine Zuber, lighting designer Justin Townsend, sound designer Peter Hylenski, choreographer Sonya Tayeh, and orchestrators Justin Levine, Katie Kresek, Charlie Rosen, and Matt Stine, who had the unenviable task of making dozens of 30-second song snippets sound like a full, cohesive score and did so with aplomb.

Zach: It will be a design sweep for Moulin Rouge! If I had the power, I would also nominate the show's lawyers for a special Tony for being able to secure the rights for all of those songs to be mashed together. An impressive achievement all around. Shall we talk actors?

David: Oh yes! Let's start with the easiest category. Best Actor in a Musical: Aaron Tveit or no one.

Aaron Tveit, who plays Christian in Moulin Rouge!, is the only actor nominated in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical category this year.
(© Matthew Murphy)

Zach: The Moulin Rouge! leading man is in a seemingly plum but totally awkward position. Either he wins 60 percent of the vote, or no one wins a Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. I think he'll get it. The voters can't be that cruel.

David: Yeah, I don't think anyone would want to see the awkwardness that would ensue if he doesn't. I do feel bad for the writers who have to find a tactful way of creating a preparatory line for "And the Tony does not go to Aaron Tveit," and the presenter who may get stuck delivering it.

Zach: Oh, just give it to Anthony Hopkins.

David: They should absolutely save the category for last.

Zach: Let's talk Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical. The nominees are Karen Olivo for Moulin Rouge!, Elizabeth Stanley for Jagged Little Pill, and Adrienne Warren for Tina.

Adrienne Warren (center) plays Tina Turner in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.
(© Manuel Harlan)

David: Two very good performances, and Adrienne Warren, who's in a league of her own. She's my only sure thing.

Zach: I agree. It's like she's channeling Tina from that stage. She'll win in a walk. What about Leading Actor in a Play? The nominees are Ian Barford for Linda Vista, Andrew Burnap for The Inheritance, Jake Gyllenhaal for Sea Wall/A Life, Tom Hiddleston for Betrayal, Tom Sturridge for Sea Wall/A Life, and Blair Underwood for A Soldier's Play.

David: My preference is for Ian Barford or Blair Underwood, but I think it's going to be either of the megastars: Gyllenhaal or Hiddleston. Couldn't even hazard a guess, though.

Zach: It almost feels like the nominators couldn't include Sturridge without Gyllenhaal (or vice versa). I think Burnap has a shot for his terrifying portrayal of Toby Darling in The Inheritance — but Blair Underwood's less-is-more approach to Captain Richard Davenport in A Soldier's Play makes him a real contender.

David: Best Actress in a Play, with just Laura Linney, Mary-Louise Parker, Joaquina Kalukango, and Audra McDonald, could go in several directions, as well. My personal pick is Mary-Louise – like I said, The Sound Inside was the show I loved most — but a win for Joaquina and the sheer bravery she displayed in Slave Play would make me extremely happy. But the voters love Audra, and she could theoretically break her own record and win Tony number 7 — although I don't even think Audra herself is expecting that to happen.

Jaoquina Kalukango is nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Slave Play.
(© Janie Willison)

Zach: Audra is great, but doesn't she have enough? I think the voters will want to give the award to a relative newcomer who gave a great performance in a very challenging play — especially one who is set to star in a big new musical next season. Kalukango fits the bill.

For Featured Actress in a Play we have another pair from Slave Play: Chalia La Tour and Annie McNamara. There's also Jane Alexander for Grand Horizons, Lois Smith for The Inheritance, and Cora Vander Broek for Linda Vista. I'm guessing the voters will give the award to stage veteran Lois Smith for delivering a monologue that could compete with Hickey's in The Iceman Cometh in terms of grandeur. But my vote is with Vander Broek, who gave a heartbreaking performance as a woman of a certain age allowing herself to love again. She also performed the most realistic depiction of middle-aged sex I've ever seen onstage.

David: It'll be Lois Smith, hands down. She was in The Inheritance for five minutes and stole the show. And she's beloved. And she's 90. I think her co-star, Paul Hilton, will also take home a trophy for Best Featured Actor in a Play — that monologue he delivered was like a knife to the heart.

Zach: I agree. I fully intend to evangelize about Hilton's performance to anyone who will listen until I'm in my 90s and they have to wheel me out of the upstairs bar at Sardi's.

For Featured Actress in a Musical we have Kathryn Gallagher in Jagged Little Pill, Celia Rose Gooding in Jagged Little Pill, Robyn Hurder in Moulin Rouge!, Lauren Patten in Jagged Little Pill, and Myra Lucretia Taylor in Tina. What do you think?

Lauren Patten performs "You Oughta Know" in Jagged Little Pill on Broadway.
(© Matthew Murphy)

David: That's a lot of nominees who, in a normal year, probably would not see their name on this list, so good for them. The only one who would is probably the eventual winner: Lauren Patten, whose performance of "You Oughta Know" is the only thing people tend to remember about Jagged Little Pill. However, she and the production handled the controversy about the gender representation of her character very poorly and that could send voters to someone else's name. In that case, I think it would be Kathryn Gallagher, who gave a very nuanced portrayal of a sexual assault survivor.

Zach: Lucky for Patten, then: The Tony ballots were collected back in March, before anyone was talking about this ginned-up controversy. She's going to win it.

All that's left in terms of performances is Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical. The nominees are Danny Burstein for Moulin Rouge!, Derek Klena for Jagged Little Pill, Sean Allan Krill for Jagged Little Pill, Sahr Ngaujah for Moulin Rouge!, and Daniel J. Watts for Tina. I think I know how you're going to answer this one, David.

Danny Burstein stars as Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge! The Musical on Broadway.
(© Matthew Murphy)

David: Oh yeah, it's my man Danny. It's his zillionth nomination. He, too, is beloved in the theater community, and he had a Job-ian 18 months which found him almost dying of Covid and then losing his wife to ALS. A Tony is poor consolation for grief that immense, but I think everyone just wants to see something nice to happen for him.

Zach: This is a real Kelli O'Hara situation, where you win for a solid track record rather than a breakout performance. This marks Burstein's seventh nomination, none of which were wins. He should have won the Tony for his gut-wrenching performance in Cabaret. He really should have won for his career-defining portrayal of Tevye in Fiddler. But he will finally win this year for a typically excellent performance in Moulin Rouge!

David: And I'm totally fine with that. But I'm mostly totally fine for this Tonys cycle to be over, as I'm sure everyone — nominees, prognosticators, and general viewers -- is, too. The list of winners should have been revealed via press release on March 19, the day after voting ended.

Zach: It was both the longest Tony season ever, and also the most unsatisfying. I just hope the brief telecast on Sunday doesn't fall into the same traps a lot of other awards shows have fallen into this year. And most of all, I hope it convinces viewers to come to New York to see a show.

David: At the very least, all the viewers who subscribe to Paramount+ .

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