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‘What If’ the Best Musical Tony nominees were actually Ohio State football players

You’re not going to get this kind of analysis from any of the real reporters on the Ohio State beat.

Please forgive this article of digression, but today is a very big day for me. I have been working in the New York theatre community for nearly a decade now as a reporter, editor, producer, and host covering the inner workings of the Broadway and Off-Broadway communities. So, tonight, when the 76th Annual Tony Awards take place at the United Palace in New York City, that is kind of like my Super Bowl... or at least my Super Bowl outside of the actual Super Bowl and The Game and Ohio State’s bowl game.

See, there aren’t very many people working on the Buckeye beat that are as dedicated to the Buckeyes and to Broadway as I am... in fact — with perhaps the exception of my LGHL colleague Jami Jurich — I would say I might be the only one. However, I do recognize that there is a possibility that there will be a number of Buckeye fans who end up watching the Tonys telecast on CBS beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 11 because a friend, partner, roommate, child, or someone else in their general vicinity has it on the TV.

For those specific cases, I wanted to at least give you some semblance of understanding about what is going on in the ceremony’s most important category, Best Musical. So, I have gone through all five nominees and picked a current Ohio State football player that is most exemplified by the show, so that you can get a sense of what it is all about, without traveling to New York or listening to a single second of their individual cast albums. You’re welcome, Buckeye Nation.

If you would like to hear my predictions for every Tonys category, along with those of my BroadwayRadio colleague Ashley Steves and Broadway Records A&R Director and cabaret icon Robbie Rozelle, check out the episode below:

‘& Juliet’ is Chip Trayanum

Stark Sands and Betsy Wolfe in ‘& Juliet’ | Chip Trayanum
Matthew Murphy | Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“& Juliet” is what we in the biz call a “jukebox” musical, because it takes songs that were originally released in more traditional, popular music venues. The show repurposes some of the biggest hits written by 25-time Grammy nominee and five-time winner, 11-time ASCAP Pop Music Awards Songwriter of the Year, and Oscar (and now Tony) nominee Max Martin.

Now, unless you are a major pop music aficionado, you probably don’t know Martin’s name, but the Sweed has written or co-written such songs as “...Baby One More Time,” “It’s Gonna Be Me,” “I Want It That Way,” “It’s My Life,” “Larger Than Life,” “Since U Been Gone,” “I Kissed a Girl,” “So What,” “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” “Raise Your Glass,” “Domino,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” “Whataya Want From Me,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “Roar,” “Shake It Off,” “Blank Space,” “Bad Blood,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”, just to name a few.

Many of those songs are featured in “& Juliet,” but what makes this show interesting is that it is not about Max Martin’s life and career, nor is it about any of the artists that he’s worked with. Instead, it imagines a world in which William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway (yes, that was her real name), convinces him not to have Juliet die at the end of “Romeo and Juliet” and the have very musical disagreements over how the story should end.

Not only does the musical reinvents one of the most famous stories in all of Western literature, but it also reimagines some of the most popular songs of the last 25-30 years.

One Buckeye who is no stranger to reinvention and reimagining what his football career could be is Chip Trayanum. I’m old enough to remember that when he was being recruited to Ohio State, it was under the name DeaMonte Trayanum and the Buckeyes wanted him to play linebacker.

Despite being a lifelong Ohioan, Chip saw himself as a running back, so he went to Arizona State, but after two years, the Akron native returned home and finally found a place in the Ohio State linebacking corps. However, a nearly never-ending rash of injuries at the running back position last season forced Trayanum to move back over to offense. Though he only rushed the ball 15 times in 2022, he did average 6.1 yard per carry, and will be remaining in the running back room for this upcoming season.

So, if there is anyone on the Ohio State roster who can understand what it is like to reconceive a story (and songs) in order to find something new and special, it would be DeaMonte... I mean Chip.

‘Kimberly Akimbo’ is Sonny Styles

Victoria Clark in ‘Kimberly Akimbo’ | Sonny Styles
Joan Marcus | Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The presumed frontrunner for the Best Musical Tony Award is “Kimberly Akimbo.” At the center of the story is a 16-year-old girl who is seemingly the only sane person in a family of screwups. However, she has issues of her own, most notably that she has a rare genetic condition that causes her to age four and a half times faster than normal; meaning that at age 16, she appears to be roughly 72 years old.

To me, this screams of a Sonny Styles connection. Yes, the Ohio State legacy is going into his second year of college football, but only because he reclassified and skipped his senior year at Pickerington Central (also my alma mater, go Tigers). Because of that, Styles is still just 18 years old (he won’t turn 19 until the day before the Buckeyes play Michigan in November), and yet, he is expected to be a major part of the Buckeye secondary this season.

His rare blend of size — he’s 6-foot-4, 225 pounds — and athleticism have made him one of the most exciting prospects to come to campus in a long time.

In addition to “Kimberly Akimbo” being the likely (though not guaranteed) winner for the evening’s biggest prize, it is likely to be rewarded with at least one acting trophy. While Victoria Clark, who plays the title character, is the frontrunner for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical award, the person who is the runaway leader in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category is Bonnie Milligan, who plays Kimberly’s felonious Aunt Debra.

What makes that especially exciting for us here in Buckeye Nation is that Milligan is an Ohio State alum! So, go Bonnie and go Bucks!

‘New York, New York’ is Marvin Harrison Jr.

Clyde Alves and Colton Ryan in ‘New York, New York’ | Marvin Harrison Jr.
Paul Kolnik | Brooke LaValley / USA TODAY NETWORK

Look, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Garrett Wilson is proving that he has what it takes to make it in the Big Apple, come December, I believe that Marvin Harrison Jr. will have a very exciting trip to the City that Never Sleeps on his schedule.

The musical “New York, New York” is based loosely on the Liza Minnelli, Robert DeNiro movie of the same name and follows the love story of two artists looking to carve out a life as artists in post-WWII New York. While their journeys to success had significant ups and downs, for Marv, his assent has been rapid and undeniable. So much so that, despite having an unproven, first-time starting quarterback throwing to him, he will ride the wave of his otherworldly abilities to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York last this year.

I’m not yet going to predict that Marv will win the trophy, because we know how difficult it is for anyone other than QBs to take home that honor; however, we’ve seen it happen recently, and if there has ever been a receiver more ready-made for that opportunity, I don’t know who he could be.

Not only does Harrison have the size and physical abilities needed to absolutely dominate any defensive back, but he literally grew up being trained by a Hall of Famer, so his technique and precision are unmatched. Anyone who follows the Buckeye beat also has heard tell of his relentless preparation and practice, so no one will be outworking Big Marv.

When you factor in the fact that Ohio State will be front and center on many TVs across the country all year, there are a ton of other WR weapons on the team so defensive coordinators can’t completely focus on him, and HIS NAME IS MARVIN HARRISON JR., there will be little doubt that he will absolutely have every opportunity to prove that he is the best player in college football this season.

‘Shucked’ is Cade Stover

Ashley D Kelley and Grey Henson in Shucked | Cade Stover and Ruben Hyppolite II
Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman | Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

“Shucked” is a musical about corn. Like, literally, the entire plot of the show (and many of the never-ending jokes in the script) is about corn. So, really, this one picked itself, because Cade Stover grew up on a farm that grows corn. They raise other stuff as well, like cows, alfalfa, and more, but how could I not pick the corn farmer for the musical about corn?

In fairness, there is more to “Shucked” than just corn, there is love, loyalty, family, acceptance, growth, and trips to the big city, but it all revolves around corn, so Cade, you’re about to get “Shucked.”

‘Some Like It Hot’ is Tommy Eichenberg

J. Harrison Ghee and Christian Borle in ‘Some Like It Hot’ | Tommy Eichenberg
Marc J. Franklin | Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“Some Like It Hot,” based on the classic Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon, Marilyn Monroe movie of the same name, is a throwback to the old style of musical comedy that Broadway doesn’t do much of anymore. Not only are the humor and storytelling reminiscent of the Golden Age of American musical theatre, but the music — by the famed team of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman — has this big band, brassy sound that harkens back to a bygone era... much like the linebacker play of Tommy Eichenberg.

In all fairness, I did not expect much from Tommy, as I thought he was going to be a poor man’s Tuf Borland — which would have made him pretty destitute if you ask me. However, I was wrong, and when I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong (a line delivered by Broadway icon Jerry Orbach in the movie “Dirty Dancing”). Eichenberg has turned out to be an incredibly consistent and productive presence in the middle of the Buckeye defense.

He is a throwback to a different breed of LB, much like “Some Like It Hot” is a different breed of musical that we don’t see much of these days.

Unlike all of these pretty contrived Ohio State-Best Musical connections, there are actually two shows with nominations that have direct ties to Ohio State. The first is... “The Ohio State Murders.” It is a fictional story written by now-91-year-old Theatre Hall of Famer Adrienne Kennedy who just so happens to be an Ohio State alum. The harrowing story takes place on and around Ohio State’s campus in the 1950s. Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald is nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for her turn in the show.

The other play that features our fair school is “Summer, 1976.” Written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Auburn, the show takes place in the summer of America’s Bicentennial in Columbus when two very different women become unlikely friends. One of them, played by four-time Emmy winner Laura Linney is an art professor at Ohio State. Her costar in the two-hander, Jessica Hecht is nominated in the same category as McDonald.

Fortunately for you, you aren’t going to have to worry about which actress from a play set in Columbus to root for in that category, because neither of them is going to win. The person taking home the trophy will either be Oscar-winner Jessica Chastain for “A Doll’s House,” or Emmy-winner Jodie Comer for “Prima Facie.”