By: David Sheward
May 29, 2020: Normally at this time of year, I would be making Tony and Drama Desk Award predictions. But the Tonys have been indefinitely postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent shuttering of all 41 Broadway theaters. In all likelihood, Broadway’s top honor will not return until 2021 since the Main Stem will probably not be open again until next year at the earliest. If so, they might expand the eligibility window to combine the truncated 2019-20 season with whatever opens next spring. Voters will no doubt be invited back to returning shows such as West Side Story, Girl from the North Country, Moulin Rouge and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Shows that have closed such as The Inheritance and Grand Horizons will be out of luck, because they will have to rely on the memories of the voters who saw them. Closed productions are usually shut out of the Tonys even in “normal” times.
But the Drama Desk is still going ahead with their award presentation on NY-1’s On Stage show on Sun. May 31 with Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), James Corden, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Beanie Feldstein (Hello, Dolly!), Santino Fontana, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jane Krakowski, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Cynthia Nixon, Ashley Park, Andrew Rannells, Ali Stroker (Oklahoma!), and Susan Stroman. Broadway and Off-Broadway are considered for all categories. Here are my predictions in the major slots along with my preferences (Disclosure: I am a Drama Desk voting member and have already cast my ballot)
Prediction: The Inheritance
Preference: Heroes of the Fourth Turning
The DD includes both Broadway and Off-Broadway in all of its multiple categories, but they usually go for the Broadway choice. With the shortened season, four of the five nominees in this category are Off-Broadway, but the voters will probably go for the only Broadway entry, The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez’s two-part saga of the post-AIDS gay community loosely based on E.M. Forster’s classic novel Howard’s End. I voted for Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Will Arbery’s drama of a reunion of graduates from a conservative Christian university in Wyoming, which had a short run at Playwrights Horizons and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.
Prediction/Preference: Soft Power
In a rare occurrence for the DD, all of the nominees for Outstanding Musical are from Off-Broadway. That means for the only the third time in its history, the organization’s pick for top tuner will not be a Broadway show. The other two are Little Shop of Horrors in 1983 and Hamilton in 2015. Soft Power, Jeanine Tesori and David Henry Hwang’s political satire, is my prediction since its Public Theater run was the longest run of the nominees. Michael R. Jackson’s autobiographical A Strange Loop won the NY Drama Critics Circle, Lortel, and Outer Critics Circle Awards as well as the distinguished Pulitzer Prize, but had a brief engagement at Playwrights Horizons, so many voters may have missed it. I enjoyed both innovative, imaginative shows, but Power was slightly better in my view.
Revival of a Play
Prediction: A Soldier’s Play
Preference: Much Ado About Nothing
Once again the only Broadway candidate will probably win. A perfectly serviceable production of A Soldier’s Play will top the delightful Central Park Much Ado.
Revival of a Musical
Prediction/Preference: West Side Story
This one is a bit tougher to call. Normally a Broadway restaging of the beloved West Side Story would seem a sure thing, especially with only two other nominees, both of them Off-Broadway–Little Shop of Horrors and the reworked Unsinkable Molly Brown which opened just before all the theaters closed so many voters could have been shut out. But Ivo van Hove’s radical, video-infused interpretation was seen as sacrilege by some fans of the Bernstein-Sondheim-Laurents-Robbins masterpiece. Others found it refreshingly innovative. Last year, the highly-sexualized take on Oklahoma! was defeated by the more traditional Yiddish-language Fiddler on the Roof. This year, a safe Little Shop might overtake the scary West Side Story, but I think the Broadway brand will prevail.
Actor in a Play
Prediction: Kyle Soller, The Inheritance
Preference: Edmund Donovan, Greater Clements
I thought Edmund Donovan belonged in the Featured Actor category for his intense portrayal of the psychologically-challenged son in Greater Clements, Samuel D. Hunter’s play about a dying town in Idaho, presented Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater. The main character of the play is the mother, played by Judith Ivey. However, Donovan won in the leading actor for the Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Awards. He might take the DD as well, but my prediction is for Kyle Soller as the main figure in the two-part, Broadway, imported-from-London, snob-appeal The Inheritance.
Actress in a Play
Prediction: April Matthis, Toni Stone
Preference: Liza Colon-Zayas, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven
All the nominees in this category are from Off-Broadway. April Mathis had the title role in Toni Stone, the real-life bio of an African-American female baseball player and was on stage throughout the play at Roundabout’s Laura Pels. Liza Colon-Zayas was part of a huge ensemble in Stephen Aldy Guirgis’ sprawling comedy-drama about the residents and staff of a NYC shelter. My personal preference was for Colon-Zayas, though the Outer Critics considered her performance featured rather than leading.
Actor in a Musical
Prediction: Francis Jue, Soft Power
Preference: Larry Owens, A Strange Loop
Once again, all the nominees are from Off-Broadway so no one has the edge of Broadway. Jue as a figure standing in for playwright David Henry Hwang in Soft Power which had a longer run than any of the other candidates, was probably seen by more voters than Larry Owens in A Strange Loop or Joshua Henry in The Wrong Man.
Actress in a Musical
Prediction/Preference: Adrienne Warren, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Warren would have been a shoe-in for the Tony Award for her electrifying star-making turn as Tina Turner. She deservedly will take the Drama Desk and hopefully will add a Tony whenever the theaters reopen.
Featured Actor in a Play
Prediction: David Alan Grier, A Soldier’s Play
Preference: Paul Hilton, The Inheritance
David Alan Grier has the showier part as a tyrannical sergeant consumed with self-hatred and victimized by racism in the Roundabout revival of A Soldier’s Play. But I preferred Paul Hilton’s subtler work as the spirit of EM Forster and a male version of Mrs. Wilcox in The Inheritance.
Featured Actress in a Play
Prediction: Lois Smith, The Inheritance
Preference: Elizabeth Rodriguez, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven
Lois Smith appears for the last 20 minutes of the six-hour Inheritance and makes a lasting impression as the mother of a man who has died from AIDS. She’ll probably take the DD for her Broadway performance over Elizabeth Rodriguez’s intense social worker in Halfway Bitches.
Featured Actor in a Musical
Prediction: Christian Borle, Little Shop of Horrors
Preference: Jay Armstrong Johnson, Scotland, PA
This is just a hunch, but I believe Borle will win his second Drama Desk Award for playing a small battalion of characters in Little Shop including a sadomasochistic dentist and a female magazine publisher. I voted for Johnson, the brightest, goofiest spot in an uneven musical update of the Scottish play.
Featured Actress in a Musical
Prediction/Preference: Lauren Patten, Jagged Little Pill
As the rejected lesbian student in the Alanis Morrissette musical, Lauren Patten brings the audience to its feet with her intense rendition of “You Oughtta Know” and it would have been the highlight of the scrapped Tony Awards.
Director of a Play
Prediction/Preference: Stephen Daldry, The Inheritance
Director of a Musical
Prediction: Leigh Silverman, Soft Power
Preference: Stephen Brackett, A Strange Loop
Prediction: Sonya Tayeh, Moulin Rouge
Preference: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, West Side Story