And the winner is … a tie? Why this year’s Tony Awards are so impossible to predict

You know it’s an interesting year for the Tony Awards when a critic is still arguing with himself in June over what should win best musical and best play.

I’m divided between “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Natasha, Pierre and & the Great Comet of 1812,” the two leading contenders in a musical category that also includes “Groundhog Day” and “Come From Away.” As for best play, I’m down to flipping a coin between “A Doll’s House, Part 2” and “Oslo,” though just admitting that brings a twinge of regret for “Sweat” and “Indecent,” the other worthy plays in contention.

My indecision shouldn’t be mistaken for halfheartedness. I admire these works, but they succeed and stumble on their own terms. Singling out a winner seems indefensibly capricious, like deciding a pet beauty contest that includes dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and goldfish.

The most inventive staging of a musical by far was Rachel Chavkin’s production of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.” I experienced the enchanting postmodern swirl of this musical adaptation of part of Leo Tolstoy’s novel “War and Peace” from one of the onstage café tables at the Imperial Theatre. The exhilaration was dizzying. But Chavkin faces stiff competition from Jerry Zaks, whose staging of “Hello, Dolly!” is the most potent antidepressant in the Broadway pharmacy, and Michael Greif, who could be part of a “Dear Evan Hansen” sweep, which some are predicting.

“The Great Comet” received the most nominations of any production, but the momentum this spring has clearly shifted to “Dear Evan Hansen.” Some readers of the Broadway tea-leaves, however, are cautioning, that “Come From Away,” the stirring 9/11-themed musical that had its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse, could steal the best musical prize in a coup that would be as shocking as the “Avenue Q” upset win over “Wicked” in 2004. I doubt that will happen, but “Come From Away” administers a healing dose of musical theater uplift that in these politically fractious times has found a grateful audience.

“Dear Evan Hansen,” which tells the emotionally complicated tale of a vulnerable high school senior who gets caught up in a lie that turns him into a social media hero, doesn’t traffic in the usual Broadway sentiment. But Steven Levenson should win for his book, which trusts that an audience will be open to an unorthodox journey if the experience is authentic and handled with deep sensitivity.

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