Tony Night is Broadway’s one evening to impress a mainstream audience. And like any entertainment-awards competition, popularity and personality play a big part in what gets nominated and who wins.
This season, American theater critics and audiences didn’t always see eye to eye. For example, Alec Baldwin wowed audiences with his strong and nuanced performance in Orphans, but he didn’t get a nod. “He does those Capital One commercials,” sniffed one Broadway producer and Tony voter. “How could we admit that he’s also a real actor?”
What else are Tony voters thinking about? Here’s what to consider before the envelopes are opened at Radio City Music Hall this Sunday night.
The beloved Nora Ephron never got to see her last work, Lucky Guy, reach Broadway. The fast-paced show has Ephron’s signature blend of humor and humanity, and it could be a sentimental favorite for voters, especially because it stars Tom Hanks, as a New York tabloid reporter. But the unexpectedly wonderful Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a hilariously funny audience-grabber. The script by Christopher Durang is touching and clever, and the cast—including David Hyde Pierce and Sigourney Weaver—unmatched for ensemble brilliance. The play even makes reference to Chekhov, giving it enough elitist cred for some voters.
WILL WIN: Lucky Guy
SHOULD WIN: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Tom Hanks brings his trademark confidence and every-guy charm to Lucky Guy and gives the play a tenderness it might otherwise lack. His competition includes Tracy Letts, who plays the heavy-drinking husband in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with plenty of anger and angst, but none of the sexual vibe that Richard Burton made famous in the movie role. David Hyde Pierce is knock-out funny in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, sending audiences into gales of laughter with his every grimace. If Tony voters are ready to reward comedy, this could be his year. Nathan Lane continues to prove himself one of the great stage actors in The Nance, but the somewhat weak play works against him.
WILL WIN: Tom Hanks
SHOULD WIN: David Hyde Pierce
BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Laurie Metcalf gave a heart-rending portrayal of a businesswoman suffering from early dementia in The Other Place. Her scene with a young woman she imagines is her child (played onstage by her real-life daughter) was among the most touching of the season. Kristine Nielsen rocks the stage in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike with a glorious mix of humor and pathos, and Amy Morton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? practically gives a master class in acting. Praise also to Holland Taylor, who, at age 70, wrote and stars in Ann, the one-woman play about the late governor Ann Richards. But trumping all will likely be Cicely Tyson, age 79. Returning to Broadway for the first time in 30 years, Tyson brings enormous heart—and ultimately joy—to the otherwise tired The Trip to Bountiful.
WILL WIN: Cicely Tyson
SHOULD WIN: Kristine Nielsen
Matilda the Musical swept last year’s Olivier Awards, London’s equivalent of the Tonys, and American voters probably aren’t ready to declare independence. Some ticketholders were left cold by Matilda’s sour tone and screechingly over-miked voices. So Kinky Boots—the cheerful story of a shoe-factory owner who teams with a transvestite to save his business—could still walk away a winner. The terrific music by Cyndi Lauper, doing her first Broadway show, is fresh, innovative and hard to resist, even if the book by Harvey Fierstein feels flat-footed, with too many “accept me as I am” clichés. (Note to Fierstein: You were accepted long ago.)
WILL WIN: Matilda
SHOULD WIN: Matilda
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will be the safe and reflexive choice of most Tony voters. While it was a powerful show, an even more riveting revival was Golden Boy, Clifford Odets’s searing drama about a young man who trades his humanity for fame as a boxer. The strong production from the admirable Lincoln Center Theater (much nominated this year) brought pain and pathos to the 1937 struggle about ethics and money. And it would be nice—but very unlikely—for plaudits to go to Orphans, with Alec Baldwin as the mesmerizing father figure to wild brothers played by Ben Foster and Tom Sturridge.
WILL WIN: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
SHOULD WIN: Golden Boy
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Pippin has always had great songs and sexy dancing, and this revival also has Olympic acrobats, circus-performers, and fire-tossing jugglers. The spectacle actually makes sense with the story, and any show trying this hard deserves the Tony. Some voters might like Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which updates the Disney tale with a strong-willed Cinderella and a prince struggling to treat everyone fairly. The Mystery of Edwin Drood was a clever, well-done entertainment. As for Annie, the satirical Forbidden Broadway rightly suggested that by now it should be called Granny.
WILL WIN: Pippin
SHOULD WIN: Pippin
BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Bertie Carvel probably has the Tony wrapped up with his cross-dressing performance as the cruel headmistress Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical. His only real competition comes from another man in a skirt: Billy Porter as the luscious transvestite Lola in Kinky Boots. Santino Fontana brings unexpected depth and humor to the role of the prince in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, but since he keeps his pants on, he doesn’t stand a chance in this category.
WILL WIN: Bertie Carvel
SHOULD WIN: Santino Fontana
BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Laura Osnes got her first Broadway role by winning a reality-TV show—which didn’t endear her to theater insiders. But her clear, enticing voice and onstage grace won over doubters, and should earn her a Tony for the title role in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Patina Miller in Pippin is the polar opposite of a princess—hard-edged and icy, wearing black pants and boots, oozing power. While voters will likely choose softness over sexiness, the tall, lanky Miller deserves a nod for her bewitching style and sing-it-to-the-rafters voice.
WILL WIN: Laura Osnes
SHOULD WIN: Laura Osnes
FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Andrea Martin has only one big scene in Pippin, but it stops the show almost every night. Playing a feisty grandma, she strips out of her long dress to sing to Pippin that “it’s time to start living”—and she proves it by swinging from a trapeze. There is simply no way to compete against a 66-year-old actress dangling daringly off the arm of a muscular acrobat. Annaleigh Ashford is endearingly ditzy in Kinky Boots, but dancing on a conveyor belt just isn’t enough this year.
WILL WIN: Andrea Martin
SHOULD WIN: Andrea Martin
FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Hands on a Hardbody closed when it didn’t get a much-deserved nod for Best Musical. So it would be nice if Keith Carradine were recognized for his touching role as one of the down-on-his-luck contestants trying to win a truck in a grueling contest in Texas. But voters are more likely to go for Gabriel Ebert, who plays Mr. Wormwood in Matilda the Musical with bitter fun. A clueless father who doesn’t even know his daughter is a girl, Ebert manages to make the sour role sweet. Competition could come from Terence Mann, who charms in Pippin, or Charl Brown from the mostly ignored Motown the Musical.
WILL WIN: Gabriel Ebert
SHOULD WIN: Keith Carradine
FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Judith Ivey (The Heiress) and Judith Light (The Assembled Parties) are Broadway regulars who have both won this category before—and could do it again. But Condola Rashad deserves the Tony for her small but compelling role in The Trip to Bountiful. Also nominated last year, Rashad is unforgettable as the young woman who befriends Cicely Tyson, her huge eyes revealing so much emotion that she never has to say a word. Arriving at a bus station in the middle of the night, Rashad, 26, sings and dances—and fills the empty setting with life.
WILL WIN: Judith Ivey
SHOULD WIN: Condola Rashad
FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Tony Shalhoub, best known as TV’s Monk, gave a soulful center to Golden Boy, playing the firm but emotional father. Richard Kind also brought TV credentials to his riveting role in The Big Knife. Worthy as both were, the award will likely go to Courtney B. Vance, who plays editor Hap Harrison in Lucky Guy with verve and depth. He is the perfect foil to Tom Hanks, providing insight into the questionable morals of the tabloid reporter that Hanks’s smooth performance doesn’t always reveal.
WILL WIN: Courtney B. Vance
SHOULD WIN: Tony Shalhoub
BEST THAT WON’T GET NOTICED
Some great theater happened Off-Broadway, with two movie actors deserving special kudos. Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight) was riveting in Chekhov’s Ivanov at Classic Stage Company (one of the best theaters in New York right now) as well as in the less-successful Clive. Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) showed enormous talent, writing and starring in The Revisionist, along with a luminous Vanessa Redgrave. Also out of Tony range, the musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Comet of 1812 turned a minor love triangle in War and Peace into a major event. The sexy young cast members performing in a theater set up as a Russian nightclub make Tolstoy the hottest star of the summer.