This year’s Tony nominations have already made history. On May 9, 2022, Lynn Nottage became the first playwright ever nominated for Best Play and Best Book of a Musical in the same season (for “Clyde’s” and “MJ”); L Morgan Lee became the first openly trans performer to be nominated with her performance in “A Strange Loop”; Adam Rigg became the first agender nominee, recognized for their scenic design of “The Skin of Our Teeth”; and Toby Marlow became the first nonbinary composer to earn a nod with “SIX” — just to name a few trailblazers. Still, the 2022 Tonys have the chance to break even more records during the live June 12 broadcast on Paramount+ and CBS. Here are the milestones and potential record-breaking wins to watch for on Broadway’s biggest night.
A Little Context
The Tony Awards turn 75 this year. In April 1947, the inaugural celebration of Broadway took place as an intimate dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Back then, there were only seven categories and none of them were competitive, meaning there weren’t nominations prior to the ceremony. Over the seven and a half decades since, the Awards have evolved into 26 competitive categories plus special honors like the Isabelle Stevenson Award for service (this year going to the Shubert Organization’s Robert E. Wankel), the Lifetime Achievement Award (going to the legendary Angela Lansbury), a Special Tony (New York Theatre Workshop’s artistic director Jim Nicola) as well as a few choice Tony Honors (being presented to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, Broadway for All, Emily Grishman, Feinstein’s/54 Below and United Scenic Artists Local 829). An Excellence in Theatre Education Award will be presented to drama teacher Roshunda Jones-Koumba of Houston, Texas. In less than a week, the industry will celebrate the honorees and reveal the results of the competitive categories.
On the books, 2007’s “Coast of Utopia” is the most Tony-winning play in history with seven trophies. This year, “The Lehman Trilogy” enters the race with eight nods and “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf” comes in with seven. It’s unlikely “Lehman” will break the record, as three of its eight noms are in the Leading Actor in a Play category (there would have to be a three-way tie to beat “Coast of Utopia” or a typical two-way tie to equal the record). However, “for colored girls” could match the total for “Utopia” if it wins every award for which it is nominated.
On the musical side, 2008’s “South Pacific” leads as the revival with the most Tonys, at seven. The current reimagining of “Company” boasts nine nominations. There would have to be a tie between Featured Actress in a Musical nominees Patti LuPone and Jennifer Simard for “Company” to take all nine, but it could nab eight and still beat the record.
Speaking of ties, there have been 10 in Tony history — the most recent in 2009 between “Billy Elliot: The Musical” and “Next to Normal” for Best Orchestrations. The timeline reflects that there has been at least one tie per decade since 1958, so it seems the Tonys are overdue for one. Will this be the year to mark the 11th?
The “Strange Loop” of It All
The big show to watch this year is “A Strange Loop.” Leading the pack with 11 nominations, the Michael R. Jackson musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2020. Including “A Strange Loop,” only 10 musicals have ever won the Pulitzer for Drama in the honor’s 105-year history. Of the nine preceding “Strange Loop,” six took home the Tony Award for Best Musical: “South Pacific” (1950), “Fiorello!” (1960), “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (1962), “A Chorus Line” (1976), “Rent” (1996) and “Hamilton” (2016). “A Strange Loop” will either join those ranks or be the fourth to earn the Pulitzer without the Tony, joining “Of Thee I Sing” (1932, prior to the establishment of the Tonys), “Sunday in the Park with George” (1984) and “Next to Normal” (2009).
To date, there are only five Tony winners for Best Musical that have book, music and lyrics written by the same person: Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” (1958, with a shared story credit for Franklin Lacey), Rupert Holmes’ “Mystery of Edwin Drood” (1986), Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” (1996), Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” (2016) and Anaïs Mitchell’s “Hadestown” (2019). If “Strange Loop” takes home the top prize, Michael R. Jackson will be the sixth solo author to win this prestigious prize.
The list of artists who wrote the book, music and lyrics for their show and won Best Book of a Musical and Original Score is similarly slim. To date, Holmes, Larson, Miranda, Mel Brooks for “The Producers” and the trio behind “The Book of Mormon” — Robert Lopez, Trey Parker and Matt Stone — are the only ones to do it. If Jackson walks away with Book and Score, he will be the eighth member of this club.
When it comes to individuals, this year’s prizes might shatter precedent. If Lee, Rigg or Marlow win in their respective categories, any one of them would be the first non-cisgender person to win a Tony Award.
It could also be a landmark year for Black artists. If “for colored girls” helmer Camille A. Brown collects Best Choreography, she will be the ninth woman to win, the ninth Black choreographer to win and the first Black woman (though Sonya Tayeh’s victory for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” cemented her as the first female choreographer of color to win in the category). A win for Brown would also mark the first time a play, rather than a musical, triumphs in this category.
Brown is also contending for Best Direction of a Play. She and Lileana Blain-Cruz (“The Skin of Our Teeth”) — as well as Lucy Moss (“SIX”), nominated for Direction of a Musical — are in contention to become the 11th woman to score a statue for direction. Marianne Elliott is the other female directing nominee, but she has prevailed for direction previously (the only woman to win twice). If Elliott comes out on top, she will be the first woman to accept three Tonys for direction and the sixth director overall, regardless of gender. A trophy for Blain-Cruz or Brown would mark the first win for a Black female director and the third Black director of any gender to win (Lloyd Richards and George C. Wolfe were the first two, respectively.)
Of note: The aforementioned Jackson and Nottage, or Christina Anderson (of “Paradise Square”) would be only the second Black winner to take home Book of a Musical after Stew’s victory for “Passing Strange” (2008). Jackson would be only the second Black winner for Original Score after Charlie Smalls for “The Wiz” (1975).
In 2016, Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Cynthia Erivo made history as their trophies marked the first time a performer of color conquered all four musical acting categories. The same could happen this year for musical as well as play acting categories.
While representation for Black artists is at a high among this year’s nominees, there is much room for improvement with regards to representation for Latinx artists, Indigenous artists, artists of Asian descent and more. Still, if either Jiyoun Chang (“for colored girls”) or Yi Zhao (“The Skin of Our Teeth”) earns a statue for Lighting Design of a Play, they would be the first lighting designer of Asian descent to win a Tony.
This season’s Tonys ceremony could also be a record-breaker when it comes to age. Currently, Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”) holds the record as the youngest performer to win Best Leading Actor in a Musical on his own. (The three Billy Elliots — David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish — won the award together in 2009.) At 23, “Strange Loop” star Jaquel Spivey could match Platt’s record; but if Myles Frost prevails for “MJ: The Musical,” the 22-year-old will replace Platt for the title of youngest solo winner in this category.
The Tony Awards could also be significant for a theatrical institution. A Best Play prize for “Clyde’s” or Best Revival of a Play victory for “Take Me Out” would put Second Stage Theater on the board of Tony-winning New York nonprofits. The longtime off-Broadway company only began producing on Broadway four years ago. (Peer nonprofits Lincoln Center Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club and Roundabout Theatre Company have all garnered Tonys for past productions.) What’s more, if “Take Me Out” wins, it will be the fifth play in history to win Best Play for its original outing and Best Revival for a subsequent production. Only “Angels in America,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Death of a Salesman” and “Fences” can say the same.
No matter the results of this year’s honors, the 2022 ceremony will mark the first Tony Awards returning to Broadway’s usual June schedule since 2019. That alone is a milestone worth celebrating.
Correction: A previous version of the article misstated the number of Tony winners for Best Musical that have book, music and lyrics written by the same person.