Two musicals in the past half-century have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama before they were up for Tony Awards: Rent in 1996 and Hamilton in 2016. Both went on to win the Tony for best musical.
While statistically insignificant, that’s encouraging for A Strange Loop, Michael R. Jackson’s idiosyncratic meditation about a young black gay man writing a musical, which won a Pulitzer in 2020.
Today, both Tony nominations and the 2022 Pulitzer Prizes were announced. James Ijames’s Fat Ham, which was inspired by Hamlet and is set at a Southern barbecue, won the Pulitzer. It’s scheduled to begin previews at the Public Theater on Thursday.
And A Strange Loop became the season’s most Tony-nominated show, with 11. That’s another leading indicator. Starting with The Producers and ending with Hadestown, 14 of the past 20 Broadway musicals that garnered the most Tony nominations have gone on to win best musical.
The Lehman Trilogy, the highest-grossing of the best play nominees, led the plays with eight nominations. Nods for all its stars — Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Adrian Lester — may split the vote and help the other nominees: David Morse (How I Learned to Drive), Sam Rockwell (American Buffalo), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Lackawanna Blues) and David Threlfall (Hangmen).
Strange Loop‘s recognition in multiple categories indicates that nominators were as taken with the musical as critics were. In addition to Stephen Brackett’s direction and Jackson’s book and score, it got nods for lead actor Jaquel Spivey and ensemble members L. Morgan Lee and John-Andrew Morrison, all three of whom are making their Broadway debut.
Six, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ hit pop concert about the wives of King Henry VIII — which was originally scheduled to open on March 12, 2020, the day Broadway closed indefinitely — got eight nominations. But there was no love for the minimal book or for any of the hard-working actresses playing the Queens. That suggests that while Six‘s addictive contemporary score has conquered TikTok and YouTube, the nominators didn’t embrace it as a full-fledged Broadway musical.
MJ‘s 10 nominations were a coup for the Michael Jackson estate, the lead producer of the high-volume, dance-heavy spectacle. No surprise that Myles Frost was nominated for his uncanny and athletic turn as Michael Jackson. The nod for Lynn Nottage’s book was less predictable and an implicit endorsement of her light touch regarding the icky allegations against Jackson. (Critics were less laudatory. “MJ Exists in a Hyperbaric Chamber of Denial,” was the headline of Helen Shaw’s review for Vulture.)
If MJ’s strong showing sets up a Michael R. Jackson vs. Michael Jackson contest for best musical, MJ probably has the votes of many road presenters, who make up a significant bloc of Tony voters. (There are 650 voters in all, down from 784 in October 2020, according to press releases from the Tonys, which are co-produced by the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League.) It’s hard to envision a musical about a man “caught in a self-referential loop of his own self-hatred” — as Michael R. Jackson described his Loop in an NPR Tiny Desk concert — selling out 2500-seat barns across the country.
Strange Loop lead producer Barbara Whitman capitalized it at $9.5 million, which is inexpensive for 2022. Small usually carries the day. At last September’s delayed Tony telecast, the $28 million Moulin Rouge! was the first big-budget show since Billy Elliot in 2009 to win best musical. (MJ cost about $20 million.)
This season’s other new musical nominees are Paradise Square (produced by convicted fraudster Garth Drabinsky), Girl From the North Country (with music by Bob Dylan) and Mr. Saturday Night with Billy Crystal. The Crystal comedy may be best positioned to play the role of spoiler. It was favorably reviewed, goes down easy and in the last week of April grossed more than double that of the Dylan and Drabinsky shows combined. (Girl from the North Country played only three performances.)
Director Marianne Elliott’s revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company was the most-nominated musical revival, with nine. The recognition comes not a moment too soon, as its grosses and advance sale have dwindled amid a flood of new arrivals on Broadway. It will face stiff competition from the Hugh Jackman-led Music Man (six nominations), perhaps less so from the much-praised, short-lived Caroline, or Change (three).