Broadway burst with so much creativity this year that the Tony winners could practically be decided by a coin toss. It’s particularly satisfying that a year so full of artistry and innovation paid off with 13 million people attending shows and a record-breaking box office of $1.4 billion.
Winning a Tony typically gives a boost to shows in the major categories, and here’s how the competition stacks up for the awards, which will be telecast Sunday night on CBS.
This season offered more than the usual song and dance. Fun Home transformed the most unlikely premise—a lesbian cartoonist growing up with a closeted dad who ran a funeral home—into theater that pierced your heart.
At the opposite extreme, the rip-roaringly funny Something Rotten, set in some version of the Renaissance, portrayed Shakespeare as a rock star and conjured the first musical written to compete with his work. The clever, leave-em-laughing show could play for years.
But awards buzz seems focused on the gracefully elegant An American in Paris, based on the 1951 movie. It stars two real-life ballet dancers with the charm and voices of Broadway stars, so good luck finding replacements for the tour. With music by Gershwin, it’s not as fresh as Rotten, which could pull off an upset.
Will Win: An American In ParisShould Win: Fun Home
The six-hour Wolf Hall Parts 1 & 2, based on the Hilary Mantel novels about the court and wives of Henry VIII, was serious and virtuous, and though plays from London’s Royal Shakespeare Company tend to be awards magnets, Wolf may bow to smaller, quirkier shows.
Hand to God used humor and a demonic hand puppet to look at how repressive religion distorts normal responses to love, loss, and sex. Sharp and smart, it started off-Broadway and seemed an unlikely show to move—but has surprised everyone.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime brought audiences inside the mind of a young man with Aspergers, struggling to find his way in a confusing world. The strong writing and more elaborate production values of Curious give it the edge.
Will Win: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NighttimeShould Win: Hand to God
Best Revival of a Musical
The Lincoln Center revival of The King and I enthralled audiences with staging as lush and elaborate as a Met Opera. The extraordinary stars found new twists in familiar characters, making even songs like “Hello Young Lovers” feel modern and meaningful.
The supporting cast, including the King’s trusted number one wife and the tortured Tuptim gave star-making performances.
On the Twentieth Century has its advocates, and there may be some competition from the bright and fun On the Town, but if King doesn’t win, demand a recount.
Will Win: The King and IShould Win: The King and I
Best Revival of a Play
In this strong category, You Can’t Take it With You, a 1940s chestnut by George S. Kaufman, wouldn’t necessarily seem like a good bet for Broadway. But wonderful directing and a flawless cast made it one of the funniest, most delightful shows of the season.
The smart and intense Skylight was a tour de force of acting, merging British politics with deep emotion—and it’s hard to imagine how this 1995 David Hare play could ever be done better.
This is Our Youth let a terrific cast of three young stars explore what it means to be young and searching.
Will Win: You Can’t Take It With YouShould Win: Skylight
Best Actress in a Musical
Kelli O’Hara, the Meryl Streep of Broadway, gets nominated for an award every time she steps on stage. Five Tony noms so far, and she hasn’t won yet—but this time, she should.
Her Anna in The King and I had such confidence and charm that it would have been more than a puzzlement if the king didn’t fall in love with her.
Among other nominees, Chita Rivera proved indomitable in The Visit, and alluringly lovely Leanne Cope danced sublimely in An American in Paris. Audience members weren’t always enamored of Kristen Chenoweth’s over-the-top performance in On the Twentieth Century, but an influential critic’s inexplicable praise could sway voters her way. Chenoweth, always a trooper, is liked in the Broadway community, and she’s co-hosting the Tony broadcast. This may be her last chance. O’Hara will surely be nominated again.
WILL WIN: Kristen ChenowethSHOULD WIN: Kelli O’Hara
Best Actor in a Musical
Michael Cerveris played the complicated father in Fun Home with such subtlety and range that his daughter’s searching (at various ages) to understand her ultimately-suicidal dad felt heartbreaking. Cerveris won an award when this show was Off-Broadway and should get another.
Robert Fairchild took on the Gene Kelly role in An American in Paris with his predecessor’s charm and even better ballet—and his multi-talents may win the day.
If there were a Tony for “sexiest moment on stage”, Ken Watanabe would grab it for the moment in The King and I when he first placed his hand on Anna’s waist to dance. His look of longing, love, and surprise captured the entire show in an instant.
Will Win: Robert FairchildShould Win: Michael Cerveris
Best Actor in a Play
As a wealthy businessman trying to win back his ex-lover in Skylight, Bill Nighy was magnetic, his every movement on stage perfectly honed. In another season, he would be a shoo-in for the Tony.
But Bradley Cooper captured the pathos and pride of the physically deformed hero of The Elephant Man, and Ben Miles performed royally as Thomas Cromwell in the marathon Wolf Hall, Parts 1 & 2.
Then there’s the competition from lesser-known stars. Stephen Boyer originated the part of the repressed teenager in Hand to God off-Broadway and made the puppet at the end of his arm seem completely real. It’s impossible to imagine anyone doing it as well.
Recent Juillard graduate Alex Sharp commanded every moment of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, getting inside the head and heart of a boy trying to cope with an overwhelming world. The power of that show may win the voters.
WILL WIN: Alex SharpSHOULD WIN: Stephen Boyer
Best Actress in a Play
Helen Mirren held court in The Audience as Queen Elizabeth II, meeting over the years with her prime ministers and giving a glimpse into the royal heart. Mirren has already won a passel of awards for portraying the same role (including an Academy Award for the 2006 movie The Queen) and voters may be torn about whether to award her again.
Carey Mulligan was riveting in Skylight, her character’s calm (and onstage cooking) a perfect foil to the overwrought pursuits of her former lover.
But perhaps most touching of all was Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss, who embodied two decades of the women’s movement in one brilliant performance in The Heidi Chronicles.
The play had disappointing box office, but that doesn’t change Moss’s triumph. She would have made writer Wendy Wasserstein proud.
Will Win: Helen MirrenShould Win: Elizabeth Moss
Other Categories to Watch
Best original score should go to Sting for the mesmerizing music in The Last Ship. But the show closed quickly and lost all the investors’ money, so some voters may just want to forget it. In that case, the prize will go to Fun Home.
Best supporting actor in a musical is an incredibly strong category, but it’s hard not to cheer for Christian Borle (of TV’s Smash) whose codpiece-wearing, hip-swaying Shakespeare in Something Rotten will forever change our image of the Bard.
Best supporting actress in a play should go to Annaleigh Ashford, for her daffy, toe-shoe wearing daughter in You Can’t Take It With You.
Micah Stock may not win as best supporting actor in a play, but he can take heart knowing that he was the only one nominated from It’s Only A Play, a show that included Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.
Best supporting actress in a musical includes three nominees from Fun Home—the two young actresses (Sydney Lucas and Emily Skeggs) who play the heroine at various ages and their mother (Judy Kuhn). Can we just call this one a tie?
Whatever happens, expect Fun Home to get the biggest boost this year as it prepares for a national tour.