The Belmont Stakes and the Tony Awards take place this weekend and in both cases there are significant amounts of prestige and money at stake. There’s even a chance that Broadway will have its own version of a Triple Crown winner, if Mark Rylance takes home both of the Tonys for which he’s nominated (OK, double crown).
Despite strict rules about campaigning for Tonys, producers pulled out all the stops at their disposal to plug their shows, and who could blame them? Even in a season that’s still reeling from the many film and TV stars passed over for nominations, the competition in the acting categories is more compelling than usual, while the Best Musical category is a toss-up among less-than-thrilling shows.
Stop by Deadline.com on Sunday night at 8 PM New York time, when we begin live-blogging the CBS telecast hosted by Hugh Jackman. The producers promise more Hollywood firepower than you can shake a stick at. Here’s a preview of what to expect, with no promises at all:
Best Play: Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina should win, but the Tony will go to Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way, a revisionist history of the Johnson presidency.
Director, Play: The frontrunner is Tim Carroll for Twelfth Night, but I’d call it a tie between Kenny Leon (A Raisin In The Sun) and John Tiffany (The Glass Menagerie).
Best Musical: None of this year’s nominated musicals will stand the test of time, but with Aladdin, Disney delivered the goods with a sparkling, de trop extravaganza. Watch out, though, for a spoiler, A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder, which has waged a great come-from-behind campaign.
Director, Musical: Darko Tresnjak should win for Gentleman’s Guide, a B+ show but the sole original work among the nominees in this category and thus the greater directing challenge.
Choreography: Director/choreographer Susan Stroman had two big shows this season — Bullets Over Broadway, still running, and the short-lived Big Fish. Both were expertly crafted but left audiences cold. After Midnight has elegant dancing but the music’s the thing that makes this show swing. Similarly, Rocky is a book musical and there’s not much dancing to speak of (or, more important, to remember). That leaves Casey Nicholaw, who delivers one razzle-dazzle production number after another in Aladdin, for which he’ll get the prize.
Best Score: Composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown has a lock on this, not only because he wrote beautiful songs for The Bridges Of Madison County, but because the show itself, now closed, outclassed the competition.
Orchestrations: This will send Brown home with his second Tony of the night, not only because folks like the score for Bridges but because, in addition to being a remarkable composer/lyricist, he’s a brilliant orchestrator, a different skill set altogether.
Best Book: Douglas McGrath’s book for Beautiful is the front-runner here, though Chad Beguelin deserves to win for Aladdin.
Best Play Revival: In an extremely strong category, the front-runner appears to be the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Twelfth Night, which ran last fall in repertory with Richard III. While both were exquisite, they flaunted the false aesthetic of mature male actors playing womens’ roles and the notion that this was “authentic” Shakespeare, which was nonsense. The fine revival of The Cripple Of Inishmaan, with a sensitive performance by unnominated Daniel Radcliffe, should nevertheless lose to truly game-changing productions of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun. The win will go to Raisin, in which the unnominated Denzel Washington proves that age does not alone define character.
Best Musical Revival: Hedwig And The Angry Inch has a lock on this, even though the best musical revival of the season is Violet. The former is a blast; the latter a classic-in-the-making.
Lead Actor, Play: Even if All The Way doesn’t go home with the Best Play Tony, Bryan Cranston surely will, for his sympathetic, full-throttle performance as Lyndon Baines Johnson. But I’d give it to Rylance for his subtle yet mesmerizing ramble into the twisted royal body and soul of Shakespeare’s King Richard III. Or perhaps I’d make it a tie with Tony Shalhoub’s warmly empathic account of Moss Hart in Act I.
Lead Actress, Play: The front-runners are Cherry Jones, who played an unforgettable Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, and Audra McDonald, heart-breaking as Billie Holiday in Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill, a role that’s sung as much as it is spoken. McDonald will take home her sixth Tony.
Lead Actress, Musical: Jessie Mueller is terrific as Carole King in Beautiful, and she’ll win despite strong sentiment for Kelli O’Hara in Bridges. Plus King herself is slated to appear on the telecast to boost the show.
Featured Actor, Play: Three of the five nominees are from Twelfth Night, including Rylance, his second nomination of the night. Although the Tony ought to go to Reed Birney for his corralling of the beskirted men of Casa Valentina, this is the Tony Rylance takes home, giving him yet another opportunity for one of his bizarre acceptance speeches.
Featured Actress, Play: Another category in which every nominee deserves the Tony, but I think Sophie Okonedo, as a young wife in Raisin struggling, with consummate grace, to negotiate the chasm between her husband’s thwarted ambition and her mother-in-law’s matriarchal control, will emerge first among equals.
Featured Actor, Musical: Everyone loves James Monroe Iglehart, the Genie in Aladdin. He’ll win, though my vote goes to Joshua Henry for his gorgeously sung soldier in Violet.
Featured Actress, Musical: Although the Harlem revue After Midnight has featured marvelous guest performances by the likes of Fantasia and k.d. lang, the show-stealer is Adriane Lennox. She’ll win.
Set, Play: Critics and audiences have been wowed by Beowulf Boritt’s turntable set for Act 1, and it’ll win. But I preferred Bob Crowley’s mold-shattering design for The Glass Menagerie, setting the Wingfield’s shabby apartment in an ink-black sea of memory.
Set, Musical: Christopher Barreca’s Rocky set offers the season’s most talked-about coup-de-theatre when the boxing ring for the final bout moves out over the front of the orchestra, allowing the customers to get up-close-and-personal to every jab and grunt. It’ll win one of that show’s two design Tonys, neither of which, for better or worse, will mean much at the box office.
Costumes, Play: Flash generally beats class in this category. Rita Ryack’s ladies’ getups for the gentlemen of Casa Valentina have both, and she’ll win. Look for a strong challenge from another queen of drag, Jenny Tiramani, who did the clothes for Twelfth Night.
Costumes, Musical: Gentleman’s Guide is a show about quick-change artistry, with the consequent demand on a costumier, and Linda Cho lives up to expectations. But the incomparable William Ivey Long outdoes his own considerable self with the sheer splendiferousness of his clothes for the mugs, poseurs and long-stemmed hoofers of Bullets Over Broadway.
Lighting, Play: Natasha Katz, The Glass Menagerie (see Crowley, above).
Lighting, Musical: Christopher Akerlind, Rocky (see Barreca, above).
Sound, Play: Since no-one but an expert can really judge the sound design of a play (unless it’s terrible), this is up for grabs. But because Audra McDonald sings the blues so powerfully in the very difficult Circle In The Square theater, Steve Canyon Kennedy will win for Lady Day.
Sound, Musical: How Rocky eluded a nomination in this category is another mystery of the season. All the nominees are worthy, but Tim O’Heir will win for making the high-volume score of Hedwig not just intelligible but enjoyable.