'Dear Evan Hansen' vs. 'The Great Comet' Tonys Showdown: Which Is the Best Musical Front-Runner?

'Dear Evan Hansen' vs. 'The Great Comet' 

Two red-hot productions -- Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 -- are the front-runners in the top race at the Tony Awards on Sunday. One is likely to take the torch from Hamilton -- but which will win the 2017 prize?

DEAR EVAN HANSEN

What it's about: A misfit teen finds popularity and viral fame following a classmate’s death, but a dark secret threatens to shatter his newfound confidence.

Nominations: 9

Leading man: After a year co-starring in The Book of Mormon, Ben Platt has become Broadway’s biggest new star as the morally questionable Evan. “He owns that role,” says book writer Steven Levenson. “There was never any doubt he was our Evan.”

Composers: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won an Oscar for best original song earlier this year for “City of Stars” from La La Land.

Billboard 200 Chart High: No. 8, the highest debut of a Broadway cast album since 1961’s Camelot.

Commanding co-star: As Evan’s deceased frenemy Connor, Tony nominee Mike Faist is the “absent center of the story,” says Levenson. “There’s something about Mike that’s inviting, but also mysterious.”

Tearjerker moment: Performed by Evan’s mother (Rachel Bay Jones) after the show’s climax, “So Big, So Small” gives the audience “a chance to take a collective breath,” says Levenson. “It’s healing.”

Why it should win: Like the Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why, the show encourages dialogue on mental health issues. “People are hungry for that,” says Levenson.

NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

What it's about: An immersive take on a chapter of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace that boasts a multicultural cast and electro-pop score.

Nominations: 12

Leading man: Josh Groban makes his Broadway debut -- in a fat suit, no less -- as the hard-drinking, soul-searching Pierre. “He’s both a leader and a follower, and that’s a delicate balance to strike with [his] level of success,” says director Rachel Chavkin.

Composers: Dave Malloy, a musical theater veteran from Cleveland who’s at work adapting another classic, Moby Dick.

Billboard 200 Chart High: No. 84

Commanding co-star: Denée Benton lends “philosophy, self-awareness, humor, arrogance and humility” to the romantically challenged Natasha, says Chavkin. “Her soul is enormous. In the end, it really is Natasha’s play.”

Tearjerker moment: The titular characters finally connect in the show’s penultimate number, the aptly titled “Pierre
& Natasha,” accompanied only by piano. “Some are here for the dance party, and some for romance,” says Chavkin.

Why it should win: In light of America’s political climate, “a play about selfishness and tiny acts of bravery feels really timely,” says Chavkin.

This article originally appeared in the June 17 issue of Billboard.