Last year, Jeremy O. Harris’ “Slave Play” ended up winning not one of its 12 nominations, a record for any play in the history of Tony Awards. This year, Michael R. Jackson’s musical, “A Strange Loop,” has been nominated for 11 awards, the most of any show in 2022. Will its fate be different?
Yes and no.
Among the major awards, “Loop” is a shoo-in to win for best score, by Jackson. The musical’s star, Jaquel Spivey, also looks likely to win, taking the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical away from the formerly pre-ordained Hugh Jackman in “The Music Man.” At this moment, Spivey’s major competition is Myles Frost in the season’s other Michael Jackson musical, “MJ.”
The chances for “Loop” to win Best Musical, however, are more complicated. Jackson, who also wrote the book for the show, recently gave an interview to the New York Times Magazine in which he discussed not wanting to hold “Blackout” nights for his show that included all-Black audiences. “I just struggle with the idea that like I’m supposed to create a quote-unquote all-Black space,” he said.
Harris, on the other hand, introduced Broadway to “Blackout” performances with “Slave Play.” That innovation plus a few controversial statements apparently alienated some conservative Tony voters.
Regarding the big prize, “A Strange Loop” has other problems with Tony voters. Few plays go on the road, so the Tony Awards’ snub of “Slave Play” for “The Inheritance,” which won last year, didn’t make any difference to producers in Middle America. Musicals are another story. Among the nominated musicals in 2022, the one most likely to tour the heartland is a musical about abused British royalty. (No, “Diana” is not nominated.) Out of the 650 Tony voters, the biggest block are out-of-town presenters who need the imprimatur “Tony-winning best musical” to market their subscription series. They will pick the half-dozen Spice Girls of “Six,” dramatizing the wives of Henry VIII, over a show about “a fat, Black, queer body.”
Which is unfortunate. “Six” had been playing cruise ships before it finally made its belated way to Broadway. Then again, the Tonys are an organization that picked “Spamalot” over “The Light in the Piazza,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” over “Urinetown,” “Avenue Q” over “Caroline, or Change,” “La Cage aux Folles” over “Sunday in the Park with George,” and “The Music Man” over “West Side Story.”
Jackson should win for best book and Stephen Brackett should win for directing “Loop.” Instead, Marianne Elliott will win for her direction of “Company” and Conor McPherson will win for writing the book for “Girl from the North Country,” which will shave off votes from “Loop” in more than one category. Never have I so hoped I’m wrong in my predictions. “Loop” deserves to sweep the Tonys. Maybe the Pulitzer Prize will give it that snob appeal usually reserved for the Irish (Conor) and the Brits (Elliott) on Broadway.
Speaking of the latter, after winning the Tony in 2019 for directing “The Ferryman,” Sam Mendes will again win best director of a play, for “The Lehman Trilogy,” which will win best play. Stefano Massini’s play has the luster of migrating to the States from London’s National Theatre.
The Tony nominators went out of their way to honor “The Lehman Trilogy” by expanding the best actor in a play category to include seven actors, making it possible for the entire cast of “Trilogy” — Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Adrian Lester – to be nominated. That may be too much of a good thing in the best actor category, denying Beale a win and giving the Tony to David Morse in “How I Learned to Drive.” His costar Mary-Louise Parker will follow her win last year, for “The Sound Inside,” with another one for her lead performance in “Drive.”
That double win for “Drive” should insure it receiving the award for best revival of a play. The Tony nominators tipped their hand, however, by not nominating its director, Mark Brokaw. They instead gave their blessing to Neil Pepe and Camille A. Brown, who directed “American Buffalo” and “For Colored Girls,” respectively. David Mamet’s pederast-teacher comments dashed any hopes for his play winning, giving “Girls” the best chance to beat “Drive.” I’d have thought “Trouble in Mind” would be a shoo-in; the rediscovery of playwright Alice Childress turned that show into a real event. But it closed in January. And how many of those out-of-town presenters saw it last during the height of the Covid surge?
Tonys for featured actors in a play will go to Kenita R. Miller in “For Colored Girls” and Chuck Cooper in “Trouble in Mind.” Cooper is a sentimental favorite, and his major competition, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, has the “Lehman Trilogy” disadvantage of seeing two of his costars, Michael Oberholtzer and Jesse Williams, also nominated for “Take Me Out.” By the way, how do the Tonys not nominate directors like Brokaw and Scott Ellis (“Take Me Out”) when their respective shows have so many nominated actors? Those performances don’t just happen by themselves.
Contest for best actress in a musical is between Joaquina Kalukango in “Paradise Square” and Sharon D Clarke in “Caroline, or Change,” with Kalukango having the edge for a couple of reasons: Her show is still running, and Kalukango should have won the Tony last year for her featured performance in “Slave Play.”
“Company” will see its featured players Patti LuPone and Matt Doyle win.
The Stephen Sondheim classic has the edge to win for best revival of a musical, and not just because its director was nominated. Jesse Green in the New York Times panned the show, and yet the Tonys gave “Company” nine nominations, which is three more than “The Music Man,” six more than “Caroline.” The Tonys have a long history of using opportunities like this to thumb its nose at the Old Gray Lady.
For the record: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the show for which Sam Mendes previously won a directing Tony Award.