Tony awards 2019: nominations reveal snubbed stars and dark themes

With a refreshing embrace of both experimental plays and difficult themes, this year’s nominations offer up an interesting, hard-to-predict race

What does it say about Broadway that a play about a troubled belief in the American experiment was not nominated for a Tony award and a play about a pile of corpses with waggling genitalia was? Welcome to the nominations for the 73rd Tony awards, announced on Tuesday morning by Bebe Neuwirth, in a frilly blouse, and Brandon Victor Dixon, in a powder blue suit. Although many of the nominations went as expected, there were a few surprises – some of them very welcome.

If the Tonys have a deserved reputation for preferring conventional, easy-touring shows or big blockbusters, this year attention went to more experimental work, such as Daniel Fish’s darkly revisionist Oklahoma!, Heidi Schreck’s gutting and galvanizing What the Constitution Means to Me, and Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, a show that began 12 years ago in a silver-painted bus touring Vermont town halls.

Hadestown, a lush retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth with a folk, jazz and blues score, led the nominations with 14 nods, and looks likely for best musical, though it has close competition from the relentlessly comic Tootsie. As expected, a best musical nomination also went to the Temptations jukebox musical Ain’t Too Proud, with The Prom and Beetlejuice taking slots that might have gone to teen fave Be More Chill or The Cher Show. (Few will be mourning the Pretty Woman and Gettin’ the Band Back Together shutouts, though Head Over Heels, the sunny, queer Go-Go’s musical, had its champions.)

King Kong was rightly excluded from the big categories, but (maybe also rightly, maybe not) it was recognized in the design categories, with a special Tony award for its creature design. Be More Chill received a nod for score. So did Adam Guettel’s music for To Kill a Mockingbird, which honestly just felt a little like shade-throwing.

Because in a breakfast-time bombshell, Aaron Sorkin’s sturdy but self-satisfied Mockingbird went un-nominated for best play, upsetting most predictors (and sports betting sites), who had calculated a breathless race between Mockingbird and The Ferryman, with What the Constitution Means to Me, from hometown hero Schreck, coming up behind. Also ignored was Ivo van Hove’s version of Network. Snubs were expected for American Son, Lifespan of a Fact, The Nap, The New One and Straight White Men (the first Broadway show by an Asian American woman, fascinating and prickly). Expectations were met.

Jeremy Pope and Caleb Eberhardt in Choir Boy.
Jeremy Pope and Caleb Eberhardt in Choir Boy. Photograph: Matthew Murphy

Nods instead went to the moving if somewhat thin Choir Boy; the gonzo Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus; and the British import Ink. Choir Boy’s extravagantly talented Jeremy Pope was a surprise nominee for actor in a leading role in a play and a less surprise nominee for a featured role in Ain’t Too Proud, where he is up against his castmate Ephraim Sykes, one of the season’s breakout stars, two veteran Hadestown performers, Patrick Page and André De Shields, and Andy Grotelueschen, the Tootsie clown with perfect timing. For best revival of a play, favorites All My Sons and The Waverly Gallery were joined by Burn This, as well as early-season entries Torch Song and The Boys in the Band.

It was a typically starry year on Broadway, though many of those stars went un-nominated, such as Glenda Jackson, Kerry Washington, Keri Russell, Mercedes Ruehl, John Lithgow and Jonny Lee Miller. In acting categories, the straight play categories run hotter than the musicals, at least when it comes to leading roles. Pope is nominated alongside Ferryman’s Paddy Considine, Network’s Bryan Cranston, Mockingbird’s Jeff Daniels and Burn This’s Adam Driver. Women are spoiled for choice with All My Sons’ Annette Bening, The Ferryman’s Laura Donnelly, The Waverly Gallery’s Elaine May, Bernhardt/Hamlet’s Janet McTeer, Hillary and Clinton’s Laurie Metcalf and Schreck again.

The categories for actors in featured roles were typically strong. Just look at actress in a featured role in a musical: Lilli Cooper and Sarah Stiles from Tootsie, Mary Testa and Ali Stroker from Oklahoma!, Amber Gray from Hadestown. It’s a slate so stacked it could somehow elide the deliriously daffy Leslie Kritzer of Beetlejuice.

If the nominating committee proved cool on certain kinds of director’s theater – Sam Gold’s King Lear especially, Ivo Van Hove’s Network somewhat – there was much enthusiasm for Daniel Fish’s stripped-down, sexed-up, immersive Oklahoma!. Fish even beat out Alex Timbers of Beetlejuice for a best director slot. For plays, Bartlett Sher of Mockingbird and Ivo van Hove were nominated even though their shows weren’t. And though Lila Neugebauer’s Waverly Gallery and Jack O’Brien’s All My Sons will probably fight it out for best revival, neither director was nominated. George C Wolfe, who directed the antic, static Gary instead made the list, alongside Rupert Goold (Ink) and Sam Mendes (The Ferryman).

Looking at the season as a whole and the shows that made the kind and unkind cut, it’s striking how many of them seem to reference a kind of hell: The Ferryman, Gary, Hadestown, Beetlejuice. If you want to take the measure of America today (and you have a thermometer that goes pretty high), maybe start there.


Alexis Soloski

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tony awards 2017: big stars dominate nominations while surprising snubs sting
Bette Midler, Cate Blanchett and Kevin Kline provide some A-list glamour for this year’s nominations, but there’s no love for Amélie and Significant Other

Alexis Soloski

02, May, 2017 @3:42 PM

Article image
Tony awards 2017: complete list of nominations
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 leads with 12 nominations, with Tim Minchin’s Groundhog Day in contention for best new musical – here are the nominees in full

Guardian Stage

02, May, 2017 @2:31 PM

Article image
Tony awards 2021: Moulin Rouge! triumphs in a Broadway celebration
The adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s musical picked up 10 awards in a ceremony that also acted as a comeback for New York theatre

Benjamin Lee in New York

27, Sep, 2021 @4:06 AM

Article image
Tony awards 2020: unusual Broadway year leads to restricted nominations
A year on stage cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a delayed and truncated set of nominations with Moulin Rouge, Jagged Little Pill and Slave Play out in front

Benjamin Lee

15, Oct, 2020 @4:46 PM

Article image
Tony awards 2019: folk musical Hadestown triumphs while Brits win big
The mythic musical was the night’s big winner but Sam Mendes and The Ferryman also made an impression in a diverse ceremony

Benjamin Lee in New York

10, Jun, 2019 @3:37 AM

Article image
House of bad jokes: Kevin Spacey wins the Tony award for worst host
The House of Cards actor offered outdated Johnny Carson impressions, a Bobby Darin number and a misfiring gag about Hillary Clinton’s emails on a night of occasional shock and unforgivable schtick

Alexis Soloski

12, Jun, 2017 @11:24 AM

Article image
Tony nominations 2017: Bette Midler's Hello Dolly! pipped by Tolstoy
Surprise on Broadway as Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 picks up 12 nominations, while British production of Groundhog Day the Musical gets seven

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

02, May, 2017 @4:24 PM

Article image
Tony awards 2015: winners list in full
The 69th annual Tony awards have wrapped at Radio City Music Hall. Here’s a list of the recipients in full – click through for Guardian reviews of the shows

Guardian stage

08, Jun, 2015 @3:01 AM

Article image
Tony awards 2018: glitzy nominations reflect Broadway's blockbuster year
SpongeBob, Mean Girls and Harry Potter lead the way after a record-breaking year but are the big-budget productions hampering original alternatives?

Alexis Soloski

01, May, 2018 @4:51 PM

Tony awards 2013: Broadway's star-studded night out – in pictures

Kinky Boots won big, Matilda won a little, Tracy Letts won a remarkable double achievement – and host Neil Patrick Harris once again won everyone's hearts

10, Jun, 2013 @12:30 PM