Never bet the rent on who will win the Tony Awards. With insiders voting, factors like what show could use the box-office boost and who’s starting a national tour can hold excessive sway. But this year, tourist-pleasing musicals like Rocky and Bullets Over Broadway didn’t even get nominations, nor did popular movie stars who made the bold move to stage—including Daniel Radcliffe, Daniel Craig, Michelle Williams, and James Franco. So on this Sunday night’s Tony telecast on CBS, awards will likely go to some of theater’s precious gems rather than its gaudy baubles. One exception: Neil Patrick Harris, likely to win for his flamboyant lead role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, surely counts as both.
Here’s how some of the other races will play out:
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder has a memorably clever score and close-to-perfect stars—including the irrepressible Jefferson Mays, who manages to be murdered at least seven times by the nicest serial killer ever (Bryan Pinkham). A literate operetta set in Edwardian England, it’s cheerfully reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan at their best. After Midnight recreated a wildly entertaining night at the Cotton Club, and the engaging Beautiful—the Carole King Musical brought King’s music and warmth to life. Neither show had original songs or Gentleman’s theatrical wit, but Beautiful has some momentum with voters. It could settle in for a long run, which a Tony imprimatur would help. Aladdin was Disney at its best—bright, bold, and lots of fun, but it’s more likely to attract happy audiences than Tony voters.
Will Win: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Should Win: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Act One could have used some judicious editing in act two, but Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana are so wonderful portraying playwright Moss Hart at different ages (as well as his collaborator George S. Kaufman) that all is forgiven. All the Way also crams in too much, but LBJ’s first year as President was a busy one. While it’s less a story than a history lesson about the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Bryan Cranston captures the crass charm and astuteness of the president with such spirit that he might want to run for office. Though less likely to win, Mothers and Sons, a play about love and forgiveness, is heart-poundingly effective, and star Tyne Daly revealing a mother’s pain and confusion, even when she doesn’t say a word. Casa Valentina replays Harvey Fierstein’s favorite themes and Outside Mullingar delighted as a well-written Irish love story.
WILL WIN: All the Way
SHOULD WIN: Act One
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
The cult hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch became big-time respectable with Neil Patrick Harris at its glittery center, playing the East German wannabe-rock star who suffered a botched sex-change operation. Once edgily shocking, the show now feels rich with pathos and poignancy. Les Miserables returned with Ramin Karimloo as a glorious Jean Valjean and the only other nominated show, Violet, had such an oddly unbelievable story that what should be a warm center felt cold.
Will Win: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Should Win: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Early in Hedwig, the star realizes he’s at the same theater where Mark Rylance appeared and leans down to kiss the stage. As well he should. Rylance was unforgettable as the mordantly sly king in Richard III, giving a brilliant new twist to a classic role. He also has a best supporting actor nomination for his mincing, lovestruck Olivia in Twelfth Night. Voters will likely give him that win, so the way is clear for Bryan Cranston, who moved from Breaking Bad to Broadway with great panache. Watching his LBJ cackling as he convinces various congressmen to vote with him is reason enough to see All the Way. Chris O’Dowd was the saving grace of a dreary Of Mice and Men and Tony Shalhoub made a beloved character very real in Act One.
One side note: However crowded this category, it’s unforgiveable that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan were overlooked for Waiting for Godot.
WILL WIN: Bryan Cranston
SHOULD WIN: Mark Rylance
BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Beloved Audra McDonald wins a Tony every time she appears on stage, and she could get another—even though Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill was weak on story and any emotional punch felt faux. Since Audra spends most of the show belting songs as Billie Holiday, why was she nominated in this category rather than for a musical? Six-time Emmy winner Tyne Daly hit every note right as a mother who lost her son to AIDS in Mothers and Sons and Cherry Jones made us see Tennessee Williams’s faded Southern belle in a totally new light in the wonderful revival of The Glass Menagerie. Jones is worth watching in any role, but this was a perfect match of bold actress and brilliant part.
WILL WIN: Audra McDonald
SHOULD WIN: Cherry Jones
BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Both Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham charmed in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder and Andy Karl made the most of mediocre material in Rocky. Extraordinary singer Ramin Karimloo played the sexiest Jean Valjean in awhile and his rendition of “Bring Him Home” was heartrendingly beautiful. But Neil Patrick Harris owned the world in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and though he’s not hosting the Tonys this year, he’ll find his way to the stage.
WILL WIN: Neil Patrick Harris
SHOULD WIN: Neil Patrick Harris
BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Oh what a talented group of stars. If only their shows had been better. Kelli O’Hara will be making her Met Opera debut next season in The Merry Widow, sure to be a better showcase for her than the bland Bridges of Madison County. Idina Menzel beautifully blasted the score from If/Then—but the book just wasn’t strong enough to dazzle. Sutton Foster abandoned her usual perky personna to play scared and scarred in Violet, and voters may reward her effort. Mary Bridget Davies got the singer’s style just right in A Night With Janis Joplin. But the real winner among this amazing group should be Jessie Mueller, who brought a perfect sound and soul to Beautiful—the Carole King Musical. I left the theater feeling like Carole was my best friend and we’d just spent a great evening together. I wouldn’t mind seeing her again.
WILL WIN: Sutton Foster
SHOULD WIN: Jessie Mueller
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
The Cripple of Inishmaan offered a moving story of love and hope, with Daniel Radcliffe as a crippled boy who stares at cows and dreams of Hollywood. Touchingly directed and beautifully acted, it deserved more notice. The Glass Menagerie also danced around the theme of dreams with memorable, transporting performances including magical Celia Keenan-Bolger (who should win as supporting actress). What more can I say about the perfection of Twelfth Night? Somewhere the Bard is smiling that the Brits finally got him right.
WILL WIN: The Glass Menagerie
SHOULD WIN: Twelfth Night