Tony Awards 2022: Who will win, who should win?

Chris Jones
New York Daily News

The Tony Awards are coming. So who’s going to win?

We’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out, but I pulled out my opinionated crystal ball, nonetheless. And so here’s a look at the likely winners in some major categories.

Best musical

Jaquel Spivey, fourth from left, portrays Usher, a man named after a famous singer working as an usher while working on a musical in Detroit native Michael R. Jackson's "A Strange Loop." It's up for 11 awards at the 75th Tony Awards on June 12.

Will Win: “A Strange Loop.”

Should win: “Girl From the North Country.”

This year’s best musical category is unusual: the two best musicals of the year are both niche attractions. But “Six,” the feminist pop parody involving the six wives of Henry VIII is too slight a show to merit the Tony Award, the brilliance of its conceptual idea notwithstanding. “Paradise Square” is an honorable entry but bedeviled by multiple writers and conceptual reboots. “Mr. Saturday Night” is great fun but, structurally speaking, doesn’t function as a full-blown musical. And for all its visual and musical prowess, “M.J. The Musical” lacks a sufficiently courageous book. “A Strange Loop,” a deeply personal and brilliantly creative look inside the head and and heart of a Black gay man, will be the insider’s choice and has the right politics for most Tony voters. But the show lacks multiple entry points and is sexually explicit enough to knock out a good portion of the Broadway and touring audience. “Girl From the North Country” is a melancholic musical, for sure, but revelatory when it comes to the world of jukebox shows. Intense, haunting, beautiful and existentially wise, it’s the best musical of the season.

Best musical revival

Will win: “Caroline, or Change.”

Should win: “Caroline, or Change.”

All three of this year nominees had their flaws, flowing in part from the current Broadway fear of embracing moral complexity. “The Music Man” lacked confidence, at least at the beginning of the run, and “Company” (for all of its pizzazz) struggled with a less than empathetic central character. Even “Caroline, or Change” stacked the deck when it came to its main conflict, which was very different from the first time around in 2003. But it’s still a masterfully penned piece from Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori, and this revival was filled with great performances and is worthy of a Tony.

Best new play

From left, Adam Godley, Simon Russell Beale and Adrian Lester in "The Lehman Trilogy."

Will win: “The Lehman Trilogy.”

Should win: “The Lehman Trilogy”

This was a superb season for new plays. The two British imports, “Lehman” and Martin McDonagh’s crackling “Hangmen” both deserve a Tony and there also is much to admire in Lynn Nottage’s “Clyde’s,” a piece that seemed to be set in a restaurant but that subtly takes down Broadway without the bosses realizing. “Lehman,” though, was a stunning evening of theater revealing these things above all: Kids rarely do what their parents want. And all of our success is both finite and unearned. This was the most intellectually invigorating show on Broadway all season.

Best revival of a play

Will win: “For Colored Girls...”

Should win: “How I Learned to Drive.”

“American Buffalo” was entertaining but missed much of the pain and vulnerability in David Mamet’s script. The revival of Ntozake Shange’s “Colored Girls” was alive, but it didn’t fully trust the power of that incredible piece of poetry. “Trouble in Mind” was a missed opportunity and lacked truth. “Take Me Out” was a successful, commercially viable show and great fun. But “How I Learned to Drive” was incredible in how it seemed to stop time in its tracks, offering a vista of intergenerational pain, coursing now through two different centuries. Paula Vogel’s play made for the best revival of the year.

Best book of a musical

Will win: Michael R. Jackson, “A Strange Loop.”

Should win: Conor McPherson, “Girl from the North Country.”

With all due respect to Jackson, who wrote a rich and profoundly personal book, McPherson’s work on “Girl from the North Country” made for one of the best books to a jukebox musical in the history of the genre. He freed the Bob Dylan-inspired show from any and all biographical strictures, found a perfect metaphoric landscape and succeeded in spectacular fashion in honoring the great American composer.

Best original score

Will win: Michael R. Jackson, “A Strange Loop”

Should win: Jason Howland, “Paradise Square”

Kudos to Jackson again for a compelling song suite of the most moving dimension but Howland’s multifarious work on “Paradise Square” was remarkable, especially given the need to deal with an every-changing cast of book-writers. His extensive score — rich, diverse, haunting — will likely be overlooked but history will be kind.

Best direction of a play

Will win: Sam Mendes, “The Lehman Trilogy”

Should win: Sam Mendes, “The Lehman Trilogy” 

Mendes, who will manage to fight off Les Waters’ superb direction of “Dana H,” fully deserves a Tony for this masterful, invigorating staging. Without him, the play would have been a dry lesson in economics. With him, it roared.

Best direction of a musical 

Will win: Stephen Brackett, “A Strange Loop”

Should win: Conor McPherson, “Girl From the North Country”

Brackett’s superb casting and his thrilling, empathetic staging is crucial to the success of “Strange Loop.” But McPherson’s work on “Girl” is even better.

Best choreography 

Will win: Christopher Wheeldon, “MJ”

Should win: Christopher Wheeldon, “MJ” 

Wheeldon somehow managed to craft a piece that felt entirely in the Michael Jackson vocabulary while also remaining entirely original. Given all the existing works of Jackson-fueled choreography, this was a singular achievement. No Tony more deserved this year than the one that should be etched with Wheeldon’s name.

Best actor in a play 

Will win: Simon Russell Beale, “The Lehman Trilogy”

Should win: Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Lackawanna Blues”

If you judge acting by what it costs the actor to produce the performance, Santiago-Hudson’s work in “Lackawanna Blues” was the best of the year: rich, warm and filled with the knowledge that comes only from time, pain and experience. Beale offered up a tour-de-force performance by one of the English speaking theater’s giants. But Santiago-Hudson haunts me still.

Best actress in a play

Will win: Deirdre O’Connell, “Dana H.”

Should win: Mary-Louise Parker, “How I Learned to Drive”

Judging between this pair of performances is one of the toughest Tony tasks this year; they both deserve the award. O’Connell’s technical precision in her lip-synched work was breathtaking but then Parker was not only just as riveting, she somehow embodied her own history in this very role. Parker deserves to win.

Best actor in a musical

Will win: Jaquel Spivey, “A Strange Loop”

Should win: Myles Frost, “M.J.”

Spivey is excellent in “A Strange Loop” and truthful in all the ways that matter. But Frost’s work in “M.J.” not only represented a massive challenge overcome but it anchored a show that revolves around him. He is thrilling.

Best actress in a musical 

Will win: Sharon D. Clarke, “Caroline, or Change.”

Should win: Joaquina Kalukango, “Paradise Square”

“Paradise Square,” a powerful, serious musical that overcame enormous COVID-19 stresses, deserves a Tony. And its biggest asset is Kalukango’s stunning performance, filled with musical riches, dignity, love and fortitude.

May she get what she so richly deserves. May we all!