Dance on Broadway

DanceMedia Editors Debate the 2019 Tony Awards Nominations

Amber Gray and the cast of Hadestown. Photo by Helen Maybanks, Courtesy DKC/O&M

The Tony Award nominations were announced yesterday morning, and, as always, they gave us a lot to talk about.

Could Hadestown sweep the awards? Why didn't John Heginbotham's work on Oklahoma! garner him a Best Choreography nomination? What musical numbers will the nominated shows bring to the ceremony on June 9? To discuss, we gathered a group of musical theater–loving editors from Dance Magazine and Dance Spirit for a roundtable conversation about the nominees.

On the Best Choreography nominations

The cast is captured midair in tuck jumps. The group is jumping in a triangle formation.

"Too Darn Hot" from Studio 54's Kiss Me, Kate.

Joan Marcus, Courtesy LSG Public Relations

Courtney Escoyne, Dance Magazine: How about we start with the Tony Awards' Best Choreography nominees?

Lauren Wingenroth, Dance Magazine: It felt like one of the more predictable years as far as this category goes.

CE: Agreed. Warren Carlyle was a shoe-in for Kiss Me, Kate; Sergio Trujillo, nominated for Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, is a regular in this category.

LW: I was pleasantly surprised to see Camille A. Brown get a nod for Choir Boy, since it's always a toss-up whether plays get recognized for their movement.

Helen Rolfe, Dance Spirit: I wasn't overwhelmed by the Choir Boy choreography, but that's probably just right for a play.

CE: Lauren, you were quite opinionated about Camille A. Brown not getting a nod last year.

LW: Yes! If she got one for Choir Boy, she definitely should have for Once On This Island.

HR: Her work felt naturalistic and contributed to the world of the play, but was certainly not like what she did in Once On This Island. That's not a dig at Island: Her trademark extensive research into Afro-Caribbean dance traditions made it vividly authentic.

Was John Heginbotham snubbed?

Gabrielle Hamilton performs the John Heginbotham–choreographed dream ballet in Oklahoma!

Paula Court, Courtesy DKC/O&M

CE: On the topic of authenticity: John Heginbotham is a notable absence in this category for his work on Oklahoma! He was also passed over by the Drama Desk and Chita Rivera Awards.

Madeline Schrock, Dance Magazine: I definitely agree with that sentiment.

LW: Yes! Though the majority of the show isn't super dance-y, he deserved a nod for the dream ballet alone.

MS: Especially in a redux of such a well-known show, he managed to make the choreography, even just the movement in a more general sense, seem so naturally embodied.

HR: I agree with Lauren. The dream ballet didn't really work for me personally, but I admired the bravery of making such a bold choice and taking such a big risk with a beloved part of the show.

LW: Yes! People have mixed feelings about whether it "worked" or not, as do I, but it was daring and risky and inventive, and allowed contemporary dance to carry an important moment in the show in a way we rarely see in musical theater. I have so much respect for Daniel Fish allowing Heginbotham to just do his thing. Or at least that's how it appeared to the outside eye.

CE: I wonder if this is a case where the nominating committee thought that the rest of the Oklahoma! choreography was too natural, so much so they read it as improvised?

On the lack of recognition for Head Over Heels

head over heels

The cast of Head Over Heels performs "We Got the Beat."

Joan Marcus, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown.

HR: Where was Spencer Liff's nomination for the risky-for-Broadway work he did on Head Over Heels? I felt that was a real snub. But I'm biased, as a longtime Liff fangirl. Were the rest of you also surprised by his absence in the Best Choreography category?

CE: Head Over Heels was ages ago in musical theater time—I forgot it was eligible this season.

MS: Ditto.

LW: I was sad to see it get totally snubbed. Bonnie Mulligan also deserved a nod for her fearless portrayal of Pamela.

MS: Throwing my hat in the ring for Spencer Liff, too. That show was stuffed with energetic dancing, though perhaps it wasn't subtle enough to garner a nomination.

HR: Subtle, certainly not: probably why Head Over Heels didn't get Tonys love in general. That show was fun and silly and over-the-top, and my feeling is that generally doesn't win the hearts of Tony voters.

On Casey Nicholaw's nomination for Best Director, but not Best Choreography

Brooks Ashmanskas in The Prom

Courtesy The Prom

CE: Do we think Casey Nicholaw should have been recognized for his choreography for The Prom? Or is that tied up in his Best Director nomination?

MS: That's difficult to pinpoint. When I look back on the show, the dancing isn't the most memorable part for me. It was more of the smart timing, witty jokes and Brooks Ashmanskas. I laughed so much during that show, and can't remember another show recently when I had that same reaction.

LW: It's so tricky with director/choreographers, but I agree with Madeline! I didn't find the dancing to be particularly important to the storytelling or overall world of the show, or the movement to be much different from what Nicholaw always does. He got a Chita nod, though.

HR: Was The Prom very similar to Mean Girls, in terms of dancing?

LW: I keep getting them confused, honestly.

Why Be More Chill only garnered a single nomination

George Salazar performs "Michael in the Bathroom" in Be More Chill

Maria Baranova, Courtesy Keith Sherman & Associates

MS: Well, high school musicals were hot this year.

CE: The Dear Evan Hansen effect, perhaps.

HR: Except Be More Chill notably was not, at least in the eyes of the Tonys nominating committee. One nomination.

CE: Is anyone surprised that Be More Chill didn't get more love? It's certainly got appeal, but not to Tony nominators, it would seem.

HR: I haven't seen it, but my friends who know musical theater were unimpressed by it.

LW: I'm not surprised in a certain sense; it got poor reviews. But I thought the nominating committee would throw it a few bones, perhaps for George Salazar, at least.

MS: George Salazar got a Drama Desk nomination, though!

LW: And the score did get a Tony nomination, which makes sense.

MS: I was glad to see that. Does anyone still have "The Pants Song" stuck in their head? "If you love someone, you put your pants on for them..."

CE: "Michael in the Bathroom" has been in my head for months.

HR: What's the dancing like in that show? Anything to write home about?

LW: It's pretty simple, aside from the finger-tutting, which is cool. I think it serves the show well but isn't terribly notable.

MS: But it's certainly popular, and its own sort of phenomenon. It's popular for another demographic.

HR: The youths.

About our love for Hadestown's world-building choreography

Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada in Hadestown

Helen Maybanks, Courtesy DKC/O&M

CE: We haven't touched on Hadestown yet. David Neumann got a choreography nod. What did we think of his work?

HR: World building! It felt like the richly painted details of a great fantasy novel to me. Everything the Workers Chorus did made that outrageous mythology/folk opera world come together so well.

MS: I have to say that I was so caught up in the show itself that I hardly noticed the choreography for the majority of the show. And that's a compliment to Neumann.

CE: I think the way he worked with the production design (which I'm absolutely rooting for) was incredible.

MS: Those concentric circles worked so well with the music.

CE: The choreography in and of itself wasn't necessarily groundbreaking, but it made complete sense in the world. And shoutout for an extremely hard-working five-person ensemble!

HR: Also, the sweet, brief moment of partnering between Orpheus and Eurydice. (I think it was during "All I've Ever Known.")

CE: Eva Noblezada did an inversion! I was not expecting that at all, but then, considering this is her second Tony nomination for a leading role and she's only 23, should I be surprised?

HR: I'd love to see the first time they tried it in rehearsal, considering neither is a "dancer dancer." That's not throwing shade—more dance on Broadway, especially by leads, is always a win for me.

Reeve Carney performs "Wait For Me" in Hadestown

Helen Maybanks, Courtesy DKC/O&M

CE: Though there were plenty of Shades on set, huh? Between the population of Hadestown and the production design...

HR: The lamps.

MS: Oh man, the lamps.

HR: Low-key stage magic. This is why we come to theater!

CE: Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted specifically about Rachel Chavkin and lamps.

MS: For something so incredibly simple, I was so mesmerized. When it was happening, I was having this inner dialogue of, Why am I liking this so much? They're literally swinging lamps on cords. But it was breathtaking.

CE: The journeys to and from Hadestown were the most chilling things in the show for me, and a lot of that was in the blocking and physicality.

On the battle for Featured Actress in a Musical

Ali Stroker in Oklahoma!

Teddy Wolff, Courtesy DKC/O&M

HR: On the flipside, all of Amber Gray's numbers (Persephone) were so fun, and provided some much-needed levity.

CE: I think Featured Actress is between Gray and Ali Stroker for her Ado Annie in Oklahoma!

HR: If Amber doesn't win the Tony...

LW: Oh man, Ali Stroker. What a powerhouse. My money's on her.

HR: I loved her, but that's all written in the role. Ado Annie is lovable and adorable and has all the ditzy zingers.

LW: I felt like she really reinvented Ado Annie, though!

CE: They really just reinvented Oklahoma! full stop.

LW: You're right.

HR: I'm with Courtney there. But I think more of an onus was on Amber Gray to breathe life into Our Lady of the Underground.

MS: Can we have two winners? Their two characters are like apples and oranges. How can you choose?

LW: I'm down for a tie.

Our dream role swap

Damon Daunno in Oklahoma!

Paula Court, Courtesy DKC/O&M

CE: Amber Gray was in a previous incarnation of the Daniel Fish Oklahoma! right?

LW: Yes! She was Laurey. And Damon Daunno (Curly McLain in Oklahoma!) was in an earlier Hadestown.

HR: Discovering he's on the demo recordings was the highlight of my weekend. "Wait for me, Mr. Daunno! Wait, I'm coming with you!"

MS: Who's imagining some sort of Broadway benefit where they swap roles?

HR: Or Reeve Carney (Hadestown's Orpheus) as Jud, honestly.

About Ephraim Sykes' show-stopping performance in Ain't Too Proud

Ephraim Sykes and the cast of Ain't Too Proud

Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M

CE: Can we get a little love for Ephraim Sykes? He absolutely stole the show in Ain't Too Proud and got Tony and Chita nods for it.

MS: Ephraim! I love seeing someone who's known for their dancing show us a whole new side to their talent.

HR: Yes! An Ariana DeBose moment?

CE: Love watching Hamilton alums take over Broadway.

MS: Absolutely. I would have loved to have been in the rehearsal room to know how Sergio Trujillo directed his choreography. Ephraim looked like he was giving an improvised concert in most numbers, like he could barely contain himself and just had to keep dancing.

CE: Trujillo definitely has a knack for that era, and with a dancer like Ephraim...

On Beetlejuice's staying power and King Kong's puppet

Christiani Pitts in King Kong

Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown

MS: What about what we haven't see yet? Tootsie, Beetlejuice...

LW: And why isn't there a Tony for best upside-down tap dancing? (Looking at you, Kiss Me, Kate.)

MS: It's always exciting to see a set being used to its fullest.

CE: If so, Ethan Slater ought to have one for his upside-down belting in SpongeBob last season.

LW: Yes!

CE: I'm still shocked that show closed when it did. It was a delightfully inventive. Do we think Beetlejuice might have a better chance of sticking around?

MS: I'd imagine so. Being a movie, it's the kind of name brand that adults know—and that they want to introduce to their kids.

LW: So was the Sponge, though. And Beetlejuice's review wasn't so great. But it at least seems visually stunning.

HR: I'm very curious to see Beetlejuice. I had basement-level expectations, but with Alex Timbers at the helm, and the comedy genius of that cast, and that insane could be an underdog. Plus Leslie Kritzer and Kerry Butler? Where do I sign up?

LW: I already have a headache from reading the New York Times review, but maybe I'm a Scrooge.

MS: The New York Times isn't the only review.

LW: True, but I find that they are about as grumpy as I am.

HR: I was a little surprised by the lack of a King Kong choreography nod. But I've heard other people hated the choreography, so maybe it's not so surprising.

CE: They're getting special recognition for the puppet, though.

MS: That's well deserved.

Our predictions for the Best Choreography winner

"Tom, Dick or Harry" from Kiss Me, Kate

Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy LSG Public Relations

HR: Okay, predictions?

LW: I know we have a lot of love for Hadestown, but is it Best Choreography–worthy? Otherwise I predict Kiss Me, Kate will get it.

HR: I think Kiss Me, Kate will nab it. It's a good place to show appreciation for that production, because Oklahoma! is obviously getting Best Revival.

MS: Kiss Me, Kate is probably the "danciest" as far as Broadway-with-a-capital-"B" dance is concerned.

LW: Sometimes it's nice to recognize the less dance-y but more risky productions, though.

CE: If Hadestown sweeps, it might sweep it up along with it.

LW: Just not sure that Hadestown fits that bill.

CE: I'm still miffed that Heginbotham's risk-taking wasn't recognized with a nod.

On the striking array of shows up for awards this season

Amber Gray in Hadestown

Helen Maybanks, Courtesy DKC/O&M

HR: It's either Hadestown or The Prom for Best Musical. The other shows don't have a chance.

CE: It's a good thing that Hadestown and Oklahoma! are up for Best Musical and Best Revival, respectively, otherwise my loyalties would be split.

MS: One thing that really stands out this season is how many different things Broadway means in 2019. There are so many paths a show can take. So it would be nice to see that reflected in the winners.

LW: True. And it's interesting how few revivals there were this season.

HR: Yes! It certainly sticks it to the hand-wringers who say there are no new shows.

CE: It's heartening to see some different takes in the mix, especially after last season's musicals were largely recognizable properties...

MS: Amen! And we were concerned we'd have another similar season at the top of this one. Last fall, it was unclear just which shows would make it to Broadway this season. Hadestown, for instance, I thought might wait.

HR: Maybe it's a reaction to the recycling of extant cultural properties that we've seen (and been underwhelmed by) in recent years.

LW: I love to see more "downtown" directors like Daniel Fish and Rachel Chavkin make it to Broadway.

CE: I'm so glad to see Chavkin back on Broadway! I just wish Great Comet still was...

HR: I've said this to all of you before, but Oklahoma! really pointed out all of the opportunities Carousel missed last season in terms of doing something new with a classic. Take a risk! Make a bold choice! Something!

LW: It's an interesting contrast to the Barlett Sher model of a revival.

CE: I did love Carousel's Justin Peck choreography, though.

Our dream performance program for the Tony Awards ceremony

Corbin Bleu taps his way through the set in "Bianca" in Kiss Me, Kate

Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy LSG Public Relations

CE: Any numbers we're hoping to see during the Tonys ceremony?

LW: "I Cain't Say No" from Oklahoma! would be fun!

MS: "Why We Build the Wall" from Hadestown.

CE: Talk about getting political. But I suppose both "Wait for Me" and "Epic III" would be difficult to pull off sans-turntable.

HR: I wonder what Kiss Me, Kate will do. They've been doing "Too Darn Hot" for basically every appearance.

CE: I just want Corbin Bleu dancing on my screen. Hit that High School Musical nostalgia!

HR: Is it too much to hope that Beetlejuice will do the dinner party? With "Day-o (Banana Boat Song)" and the demonic possession?

Will we actually get to see the Best Choreography award?

LW: I wonder if they'll bother to air the Best Choreography award.

HR: My bet is no.

CE: Probably not, though I live in hope!

LW: It's just so wrong! What would the Tonys be without dancing? Boring, that's what!

CE: But maybe James Corden will give us a bit of a dance in the opening number?

HR: Or a "Crosswalk" musical.

CE: Another Tonys-themed "Carpool Karaoke""?

On how far we still have to go

HR: Folks who have seen The Prom: What number should we expect? "Dance With You"? And will there be a kiss?

LW: That's what I was thinking!

MS: They kissed on the Macy's parade.

CE: Give me my LGBTQ+ representation!

HR: Another reason I was bummed about Head Over Heels being snubbed. Plus, voguing on Broadway? Yes! If they do kiss, I can't remember if that would be a first for the Tonys.

CE: It's 2019, it shouldn't still be news. And yet...

HR: Amazing how many firsts we still have to go!

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