Is a post-Hamilton letdown at the 2017 Tony Awards inevitable? Maybe not.
There are a number of nominees that hit that elusive Broadway nexus of artistic quality, social relevance, and commercial success, including two with strong local ties.
Dear Evan Hansen, with a scenario and lyrics by Ardmore-born Benj Pasek and music by Justin Paul, has nine nominations, including best musical. The J.T. Rogers play Oslo, developed in Philadelphia by the workshop organization PlayPenn, has seven nominations, including best play.
So, at the least, expect an influx of Philadelphia energy at Sunday’s ceremony, broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall at 8 p.m. and airing locally on CBS3.
Dear Evan Hansen finds Pasek and Paul on an upswing that songwriters dream about: They are coming off an Oscar win for their work in the hit film La La Land and are even more fully the spirit behind Dear Evan Hansen, a years-in-the-making musical about the death of a high school student (suggested by an event Pasek recalled from his alma mater Friends’ Central) and the aftermath of internet-fueled lies.
Star Ben Platt, who plays the hapless, vulnerable Evan Hansen, could well best Josh Groban in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 for best lead actor in a musical. But even with strong efforts among the Dear Evan Hansen team — the Pasek and Paul score, Steven Levenson book, and direction by Michael Greif (best-known for the path-breaking Rent) — the production faces tough competition from Comet, a loose but ambitiously playful adaptation of Tolstoy by librettist/songwriter Dave Malloy. It has 12 nominations.
The Dear Even Hansen score is intentionally fashioned in a mainstream pop style to suit the teenage characters, though some critics thought it bland. But the show wins points for being a contemporary story not based on an existing book or film. Then again, Come from Away, a musical about airline passengers stranded in Newfoundland by 9/11 is equally original and topical. The other competition for best musical is Groundhog Day, based on the cultural-touchstone film.
Oslo is a dense, complex dramatization of the 1993 Middle East peace negotiations, and is full of great ensemble-acting opportunities. Author Rogers has a solid record in past works and director Bartlett Sher delivered some of his best work outside his usual territory (the Metropolitan Opera and Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals). A Doll’s House Part 2 by Lucas Heath and Indecent by the acclaimed Paula Voge are considerable competition, but Oslo won outstanding play from the Drama Desk Awards and Outer Critics Circle Awards this year — a good omen for the Tonys.
The Tonys telecast will be hosted by Kevin Spacey — not quite the accomplished comedian that last year’s host, James Corden, was, but an engagingly unpredictable presence. Presenters will include Glenn Close, Sally Field, Tina Fey, and the much-adored Hello Dolly! star Bette Midler, who has declined to sing — her costar David Hyde Pierce will sing “Penny in My Pocket” — but who always leaves her mark on any awards show.