Who's Winning This Awards Season So Far — and Does That Mean They'll Win a Tony?
The month of May is replete with awards honoring the best in Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway theater. This Story of the Week will track which Broadway shows have won the most trophies so far and speculate what it all means for the Tony Awards in June.
Which shows are winning the most awards?
In the new play categories, Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman is the biggest winner so far: It won the Outstanding New Play Award from both the Outer Critics Circle (OCC) and the Drama League. Meanwhile, Heidi Schreck's What the Constitution Means to Me took home both the Obie and the Off Broadway Alliance Awards for its earlier off-Broadway run; but whenever Constitution (now on Broadway) has gone head-to-head with The Ferryman, it has lost. The one exception happened at the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, which both The Ferryman and Constitution won (more on this later).
Of this year's musicals, Hadestown is winning the most laurels: It won Outstanding Musical at both the Drama League Awards and the OCC Awards (where it picked up five additional prizes). Tootsie, which I predicted would be the biggest competition for Hadestown, earned two OCC Awards (for Robert Horn's book and Santino Fontana's performance). Thus far, Tootsie has only won Best Musical from the New York Drama Critics' Circle, and that only happened after Hadestown was disqualified — a subject of much drama in the Circle.
Why was Hadestown shut out of the New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards this year?
Hadestown was already considered by the Circle in 2017 for its off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop. The vast majority of members chose The Band's Visit (which also ran off-Broadway that season) as the Best Musical that year, with only Christopher Kelly of The Star-Ledger voting for Hadestown. It is unfortunate that in 2017 the Circle had to choose between the Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 2018 (The Band's Visit) and the likely winner of 2019 (Hadestown), but that's both the hazard and thrill of considering innovative off-Broadway musicals before they become Broadway hits.
Some members of the Circle, unhappy with this state of affairs, mounted a campaign to reconsider Hadestown for its Broadway run — a movement mostly pursued through an extended email chain than devolved into nasty personal missives and charges of hypocrisy. These angry Hadestown-folk argued that the script and production have evolved enough since the off-Broadway run to merit a second look.
Of course, this is a tenuous argument. While Rachel Chavkin's production (which was in the round off-Broadway and is now in a proscenium on Broadway) has been significantly revamped, the score and script have not — and the Drama Critics' Circle Award (established in 1935 as an alternative to the Pulitzer Prize) is primarily an award for writing. If it was all about the production, I would gladly vote for the current revival of Oklahoma! (first performed in 1943) as the Best Musical of 2019. In the end, the pro-Hadestown faction was rebuffed and Tootsie emerged as the Best Musical of the year.
Why did the New York Drama Critics' Circle choose two Best Plays this year?
Every year, the Circle gives a Best Play Award, but it also has the option of giving an additional award for Best American Play or Best Foreign Play, depending on the nationality of that year's Best Play writer (if the winner is American, an award for Best Foreign Play can be considered, and vice versa). This additional tribute was established by the Circle in 1937 as a "proper gesture away from provincialism," but it has mostly seemed to convey the opposite message in the ensuing years. Still, this throwback to 1930s nationalism occasionally garners happy results, as it did this year: The Ferryman (by London native Jez Butterworth) won Best Play with What the Constitution Means to Me (by Heidi Schreck, originally of Wenatchee, Washington) taking Best American Play. Both playwrights won on May 6, but only one of them can take the top prize on June 9.
The 18 voting members of the Circle are also Tony voters, so their selections on the Circle awards (seen here) offers a direct indication of how that small subset of Tony voters will mark their ballots. But again, Hadestown was totally excluded from this equation, and this is only 18 out of 831 total voters.
So who is going to win the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Play?
Hadestown appears to be the front-runner for Best Musical, with the slimmest possibility of an upset from The Prom. The two chief critics for the New York Times have recently written that The Prom should win the top award, and I agree with them. The Prom offers the total package of catchy music, a great book, and a splashy production. Tootsie and Hadestown each only have two out of three of those qualities — and in the case of the latter, a mesmerizing production often compensates for an underwhelming script.
As noted before, the Best Play Tony is a two-way race between What the Constitution Means to Me and The Ferryman, with the latter at a clear advantage. Constitution is the more avant-garde of the two, pushing the limits of what a play can be while engaging the audience in a spirited debate about the past and future of the American experiment.
A family drama set in Northern Ireland, The Ferryman fits more easily in within the traditional definition of a stage play, but what it does within those parameters is nothing short of remarkable: A 21-person cast (including a rotating army of children) leap onto the stage of the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre eight times a week to take us away to the Carney farmhouse for three hours and 15 minutes. One rarely encounters nonmusical plays this big anymore (they're just too expensive), and the professional producers and theater artists who vote on the Tonys will likely want to reward a big risk that has paid off (perhaps in hopes of encouraging even bigger investments in the future).
We won't know for sure until June 9, but I'm predicting wins for both The Ferryman and Hadestown. Check back in the coming week for more specific predictions about the acting categories, and for results from the Drama Desk Awards (June 2), which are sure to provide even more clues about the way the wind is blowing on Broadway in the run-up to the Tony Awards.