Tony Awards 2017: Nominations–Surprises

Broadway’s busy 2016-2017 season was packed with potential for the Tony Award nominations.  There is too much competition for very few slots, so there were bound to be surprises as well as snubs and disappointments.

The 71st Tony Awards will be handed out in a June 11 ceremony emceed by Kevin Spacey at Radio City Music Hall.

SURPRISE: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Dave Malloy’s quirky electropop opera had long been expected to do well with the nominations — just not so well that it would rack up a dozen noms, outpacing obvious favorites “Hello, Dolly!” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” The show’s nominations for new musical and score seemed assured, as did directing and design nods, but a nom for book wasn’t a shoo-in, and it wasn’t clear how many of the cast members would make the cut in acting categories. Even topliner Josh Groban wasn’t a sure thing, since his title role of Pierre is an odd, retiring one, playing a major part in the proceedings (and singing a couple of big, notable songs) but lurking in the background for a lot of the show. Despite all that, the idiosyncratic show took the lead — thereby lending the musical a promotional boost that could help at the box office once its big-draw star, Groban, finishes off his stint in the show in July.

SURPRISE: Denée Benton and Eva Noblezada
Both Benton (“Great Comet”) and Noblezada (“Miss Saigon”) had been tipped as possibilities for the lead actress race alongside sure-things LuPone, Ebersole,and Bette Midler (“Hello, Dolly!”). But the thinking in the industry was that at least one of the two open slots, if not both, would go to faves from previous seasons, Laura Osnes (“Bandstand”) and Phillipa Soo (“Amelie”). Instead, nominators chose two newcomers, making headturning Broadway debuts, to round out the race.

SURPRISE: Cast sweeps
It’s no secret that the four-actor ensemble of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” is uniformly strong, with Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, and Condola Rashad each giving distinct, memorable performances in Lucas Hnath’s best play nominee. Still, it’s a pleasant surprise to see all four of them snag nominations. Ditto the most prominent players in the now-closed “Falsettos” revival, with Christian Borle up for lead actor and Andrew Rannells, Stephanie J. Block, and Brandon Uranowitz in the mix in feature races.

SURPRISE: Dennis Arndt for Heisenberg
Simon Stephens’ quirky play “Heisenberg” was almost a stealth candidate this season: The Broadway production opened way back in the fall, and it was transfer of a show that many in the industry had seen back when it played Off Broadway. Still, both its actors, Tony winner Mary-Louise Parker and Arndt, earned raves in the tale of an unlikely May-December sorta-romance. Nominators made a point of remembering Arndt, the veteran actor who made his Broadway debut in the Manhattan Theater Club production.