It's Tony time on Sunday, meaning the theater community will gather to honor a bunch of shows that most of America probably didn't see. This year's awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, are pitted as a battle on the musical side between Kinky Boots and Matilda. When it comes to plays there's the question of whether Nora Ephron's posthumous Lucky Guy and its star Tom Hanks will take home any prizes, or whether Christopher Durang's Chekhov-inspired comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike will sweep. Though we haven't seen everything, here's our best guess as to who is going to win.
Well, at least part of this category is easy. You can eliminate Bring It On: The Musical and A Christmas Story, The Musical, two shows that didn't get such good reviews that are already closed, right off the bat. Then comes the hard part. Kinky Boots and Matilda are both beloved (though for different reasons), both critically praised (Matilda probably a little more so), and both would win in a year wherein they weren't pitted against each another. Kinky Boots, an adaptation of a 2005 movie, is about the friendship between the owner of a shoe factory and the drag queen who helps him save it. It's a warm, infectious show, that literally has the audience dancing at the end. Cyndi Lauper wrote the music and lyrics, which are poppy and familiar and comforting. Broadway favorite Harvey Fierstein wrote the book. Matilda, on the other hand, is being billed as the more cerebral show, the thinking person's favorite. It's adapted from Roald Dahl's classic book about a mistreated and brilliant little girl. The show is visually stunning, and from a scenery point of view feels more innovative.
All of that makes it very hard to predict which is going to win. We think voters might swing Matilda, a show it's almost unfashionable to say you don't like, and has British prestige factor.
Best Musical Revival
This one's pretty easy. The Mystery of Edwin Drood got good reviews but closed too early. Annie was met with a resounding shrug. Rogers + Hammerstein's Cinderella (which in fact has never been on Broadway before) had its moments but needed work. And then there was Pippin. Pippin is a bizarre show about Charlemagne's son's quarter-life crisis, and director Diane Paulus upped the ante by adding a circus-theme. It's a big spectacle that voters will probably have a hard time saying no to.
Best Actor, Musical
Once again the Kinky Boots/Matilda split makes things difficult. Both Santino Fontana of Cinderella and Rob McClure of Chaplin don't have a shot. Stark Sands of Kinky Boots was great, but his Charlie has to take a backstage to Billy Porter's fiery performance as Lola. He's challenged by Bertie Carvel, in another gender-bending role, as Matilda's evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull. Carvel's physicality is amazing, and when he first appears on stage you have to look at your Playbill to make sure that it really is a guy up there. But, ultimately, it's a supporting role compared to Porter's.
Meanwhile, on the politics side there's a sense that Porter deserves this. Patrick Healy of the New York Times explains that Porter "has been in New York musicals and plays for 20 years and has emerged to create his first leading character, the show’s exuberant heart." Give this one to Porter.
Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Though Stephanie J. Block might be forgotten for her gender-bending turn in Edwin Drood. Carolee Carmello in the Kathie Lee Gifford-penned Scandalous is definitely forgotten, and Valisia LeKae has the unfortunate task of holding down the jukebox musical fort here. That leaves Patina Miller, taking on a role played by a man in Pippin's original production, and Laura Osnes as the titular girl with the glass slippers. Either could win. We'll go with Osnes. Sure, she's sugary sweet, but she's risen above her reality show origins and proved herself a Broadway workhorse. Plus, she plays the title role.
Best Featured Actress in a Musical
No one remembers the now-closed Hands on a Hardbody, so Keala Settle is out. Matilda is popular, but even a victory overall won't win Lauren Ward the prize as Matilda's nervous teacher. Victoria Clark is a slightly off-kilter fairy godmother, but ultimately fails to make a lasting impression. We'd like to reward Annaleigh Ashford playing the romantic lead in Kinky Boots, but she'll ultimately lose to Broadway staple Andrea Martin, whose number in Pippin literally stops the show.
Best Featured Actor in a Musical
Ultimately, we're least qualified to predict this category. Once again we'll get rid of the options from Hands on a Hardbody and Motown. That leaves us with Terrence Mann as Pippin's Charlemagne, Gabriel Ebert as Matilda's jerk of a father, and Will Chase in Edwin Drood. We're going to make a wild guess and give it to Chase, who has more of a leading role, as a potential murderer.
There are no hot new breakouts in this category this year; it's a crowd of familiar heavy-hitters. Well, I guess you could count novelist Colm Tóibín as a relative newcomer to the theater, but other than that it's all familiar faces. Let's count Tóibín out for his Testament of Mary, a one-woman show about Jesus's mom that hasn't really had much buzz, and has already closed, despite starring theater royalty Fiona Shaw. We can probably also guess that the great Richard Greenberg, a Tony winner for his beautiful gay baseball play Take Me Out, won't repeat for The Assembled Parties. While it got strong reviews, I just don't think it has the necessary fire behind it. That leaves Christopher Durang's wildly popular Lincoln Center transfer Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a family comedy with obvious Chekhovian influences, and the late Nora Ephron's Lucky Guy, most notable perhaps for being the play that brought Tom Hanks to Broadway. Lucky Guy could take the prize as a way of posthumously honoring the beloved Ephron, but I think that Durang's work will win, box office smash as it was.
Best Revival of a Play
I think we can prrrrobably toss out the early-closing, cast-troubled production of Orphans, right? I mean it's a lock for Best Email From Shia LaBeouf, but not for this category. Past that, we can probably also dismiss the tepidly received Odets revival Golden Boy. I think there's a slight chance that The Trip to Bountiful team could wind up on the stage, if only because everyone loved Cicely Tyson's performance so much. But really I don't think anything can compete with the rapturously received Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a Steppenwolf import that had people going apesh-t over Tracy Letts and Amy Morton's fiery performances. It's been closed for a while, which could hurt it, but it's still the one to beat.
Best Actor, Play
Tom Hanks got his courtesy nomination. Tom Sturridge got the doff of the cap for playing a mentally challenged kid in Orphans. Nathan Lane received strong reviews for The Nance. But I don't think any of them are really competition for Tracy Letts blistering work in Woolf or David Hyde Pierce's much lauded turn in Vanya.
My inclination is that Letts will win for one of the best-reviewed performances of the season, but never discount David Hyde Pierce. I mean, remember when he beat out Raul Esparza's breathtaking work in Company for lamely soft-shoeing in the wheezy Curtains? The Tony voters love them some DHP, so he could triumph here. But, then again, the Tonys have lately loved giving awards to movie stars. So don't be surprised if Tom Hanks winds up with the spinning trophy. Can you really invite Tom Hanks to the Tonys and not give him one?
Best Actress, Play
Everyone in this category is great. Laurie Metcalf? Come on, a theater god. Amy Morton? Ditto. Kristine Nielsen more than held her own against David Hyde Pierce in Vanya, and beat costar Sigourney freaking Weaver out for a nomination. And Holland Taylor not only played former Texas governor Ann Richardson by herself on stage for two hours in Ann, she wrote the damn thing. So that's all great. But none of them are going to beat Cicely Tyson here. Not just because she's old, but because she was apparently quite good in Trip to Bountiful. It's a great group of women, but this year Dame Tyson is the greatest.
Best Featured Actor, Play
Things get a bit trickier here. Some people are predicting Richard Kind for The Big Knife, some are saying it'll be hunky Billy Magnussen for playing a hunk in Vanya, but I think it might be Courtney B. Vance for Lucky Guy. Really that's for no other reason than that he's been singled out in some reviews, and everyone I know who's seen the show has said, "Tom Hanks was good, but Courtney B. Vance was great!" Unscientific, I know, but this is a tough category. Go with your gut.
Best Featured Actress, Play
Again, something of a doozy. Will Shalita Grant add to Vanya's medal count? Might Judith Ivey sneak in there for her lauded work in the otherwise panned The Heiress? Will Phylicia's daughter Condola Rashad continue the family tradition and take home hardware for Trip to Bountiful? And what about good old Judith Light, who got good notices for Assembled Parties? Well, Light won last year, so let's scratch her off the list. And The Heiress closed a good long while ago and was something of a dud, so, sorry Ms. Ivey. Between Grant and Rashad (let's assume that fifth nominee Carrie Coon, for Woolf, is not really in the running here), I'd give the edge to Rashad. Hers is a more sentimental play and, y'know, the family name doesn't hurt. But, fair warning, there could be a Vanya acting sweep. Well, a three-quarter sweep. Again, Ms. Tyson is not going home on Sunday without that Tony.