Despite a Broadway season that saw a 6-percent dip in attendance, theater fans still have cause for celebration at this Sunday’s Tony Awards. There’s a contest heating up for Best Musical, pitting the “revolting” children of Matilda against the fabulous drag queens of Kinky Boots.
And there’s some real suspense in other major categories: Will two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (above) add a Tony to his mantel for his Broadway debut in Lucky Guy? Will former Who’s the Boss star Judith Light win back-to-back Tonys in Best Featured Actress in a Play? EW critics Melissa Rose Bernardo and Thom Geier offer their predictions of who will be step-step-kicking to the podium at Radio City Music Hall this Sunday. (By the way, we’ll also be live-blogging the ceremony, hosted for the fourth time by the Energizer bunny of awards-show hosts, Neil Patrick Harris.) Disagree with our picks? Please let us know who you think will win — or should win — in the comments section.
It’s rare for a comedy to take the top prize, but the much-liked Christopher Durang’s hilarious reworking of Chekhov is the solid front-runner.
This is a two-way race between Kinky Boots and Matilda, but Matthew Warchus’ inventive staging gives this hit adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book the edge (and the edginess).
Best Revival of a Play
The Trip to Bountiful
*Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Melissa, Thom)
Though it closed in March, director Pam MacKinnon’s Steppenwolf-bred production of Edward Albee’s classic left an indelible impression. Long-shot spoiler: the star-studded The Trip to Bountiful.
Best Revival of a Musical
Director Diane Paulus’ circus-inspired reworking of the 1972 perennial should be justly rewarded.
Best Book of a Musical
Joseph Robinette, A Christmas Story, The Musical
Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots
*Dennis Kelly, Matilda The Musical (Melissa, Thom)
Douglas Carter Beane, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Dennis Kelly is the clear front-runner here.
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, A Christmas Story, The Musical
Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, Hands on a Hardbody
*Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots (Thom)
*Tim Minchin, Matilda The Musical (Melissa)
This is a close contest between two Broadway newcomers, but Cyndi Lauper could sneak past the Matilda juggernaut for her surprisingly accomplished pop score.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
*Tom Hanks, Lucky Guy (Melissa, Thom)
Nathan Lane, The Nance
Tracy Letts, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
David Hyde Pierce, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Tom Sturridge, Orphans
Nathan Lane and David Hyde Pierce have their fans, but they also both have Tonys sitting at home. Tom Hanks not only brings star quality to his Broadway debut, he bolsters a somewhat undercooked script by the late Nora Ephron.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Laurie Metcalf, The Other Place
Amy Morton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
*Kristine Nielsen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Melissa)
Holland Taylor, Ann
*Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful (Thom)
The eightysomething Cicely Tyson is the sentimental favorite here, delivering an amazingly spry performance in Horton Foote’s Texas-set drama. But look out for the scene-stealing Kristine Nielsen, who even swiped a nomination out of the hands of her better-known costar Sigourney Weaver.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Bertie Carvel, Matilda The Musical
Santino Fontana, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Rob McClure, Chaplin
*Billy Porter, Kinky Boots (Melissa, Thom)
Stark Sands, Kinky Boots
Broadway loves its drag queens, and Billy Porter’s dominates Kinky Boots. If there’s an upset, look out for Bertie Carvel for his cross-dressing turn as the evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull in Matilda.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Stephanie J. Block, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Carolee Carmello, Scandalous
Valisia LeKae, Motown The Musical
*Patina Miller, Pippin (Thom)
*Laura Osnes, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Melissa)
Former reality-show contestant Laura Osnes pulls off the tricky title role in Cinderella without making the heroine seem like a goody-two-glass-slippers. But Patina Miller really shines as Pippin’s Lead Player, a role originated by a man (Tony winner Ben Vereen). Consider this one a toss-up.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
*Danny Burstein, Golden Boy (Melissa)
*Richard Kind, The Big Knife (Thom)
Billy Magnussen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Tony Shalhoub, Golden Boy
Courtney B. Vance, Lucky Guy
This is a wide-open race, with everyone but the ab-tastic Billy Magnussen having a legitimate shot at the prize. Danny Burstein delivered a memorable performance as the trainer to a young boxer in the long-closed revival Golden Boy (though former Monk star Tony Shalhoub, as the boxer’s Italian immigrant dad, has many fans too). But Richard Kind dominates The Big Knife as a ruthless studio boss in golden-era Hollywood.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Carrie Coon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
*Shalita Grant, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Melissa)
Judith Ivey, The Heiress
*Judith Light, The Assembled Parties (Thom)
Condola Rashad, The Trip to Bountiful
Shalita Grant has won raves as a housekeeper with a mystical side. But the front-runner here is Judith Light, who would pick up her second consecutive award in this category (after last year’s Other Desert Cities).
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Charl Brown, Motown The Musical
Keith Carradine, Hands on a Hardbody
Will Chase, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
*Gabriel Ebert, Matilda The Musical (Melissa, Thom)
Terrence Mann, Pippin
Gabriel Ebert is a standout as Matilda’s pompous, pompadoured dad – though look out for Terrence Mann as the king in Pippin as a potential spoiler.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Annaleigh Ashford, Kinky Boots
Victoria Clark, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
*Andrea Martin, Pippin (Melissa, Thom)
Keala Settle, Hands on a Hardbody
Lauren Ward, Matilda The Musical
Former SCTV star Andrea Martin is a safe bet to win her second Tony for her memorable first-act solo routine as Pippin’s high-flying grandma.
Best Scenic Design of a Play
*John Lee Beatty, The Nance (Melissa, Thom)
Santo Loquasto, The Assembled Parties
David Rockwell, Lucky Guy
Michael Yeargan, Golden Boy
John Lee Beatty would pick up his second career Tony for the exceedingly clever turnstile set for the vaudeville era-set drama The Nance.
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
*Rob Howell, Matilda The Musical (Melissa, Thom)
Anna Louizos, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Scott Pask, Pippin
David Rockwell, Kinky Boots
Best Costume Design of a Play
Soutra Gilmour, Cyrano de Bergerac
Ann Roth, The Nance
*Albert Wolsky, The Heiress (Melissa, Thom)
Catherine Zuber, Golden Boy
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregg Barnes, Kinky Boots
Rob Howell, Matilda The Musical
Dominique Lemieux, Pippin
*William Ivey Long, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Melissa, Thom)
The real showstoppers in Cinderella are William Ivey Long’s magical costumes, which transform from rags to couture before your eyes.
Best Lighting Design of a Play
*Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Lucky Guy (Thom)
*Donald Holder, Golden Boy (Melissa)
Jennifer Tipton, The Testament of Mary
Japhy Weideman, The Nance
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Kenneth Posner, Kinky Boots
Kenneth Posner, Pippin
Kenneth Posner, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Hugh Vanstone, Matilda The Musical (Melissa, Thom)
Poor Kenneth Posner. Despite his three nominations, the prize is likely to go to Hugh Vanstone for Matilda.
Best Sound Design of a Play
John Gromada, The Trip to Bountiful
Mel Mercier, The Testament of Mary
*Leon Rothenberg, The Nance (Thom)
*Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg, Golden Boy (Melissa)
Leon Rothenberg gets points for having to incorporate a live (backstage) band into the sound mix. But the team behind Golden Boy could sneak off with the award if audiences remember the long-shuttered revival.
Best Sound Design of a Musical
*Jonathan Deans & Garth Helm, Pippin (Thom)
*Peter Hylenski, Motown The Musical (Melissa)
John Shivers, Kinky Boots
Nevin Steinberg, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Motown’s sound mix, blending lots of classic R&B hits, is absolutely first-rate – though Tony voters haven’t given the hit production a lot of love. Deans and Helms’ work for Pippin might be a safer choice.
Best Direction of a Play
Pam MacKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
*Nicholas Martin, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Thom)
Bartlett Sher, Golden Boy
*George C. Wolfe, Lucky Guy (Melissa)
George C. Wolfe does a remarkable job smoothing over some of the flaws in Nora Ephron’s play, completed before her death last year. But the favorite here is probably Nicholas Martin for the screwball pacing he brings to Christopher Durang’s comedy. Possible upset: Pam MacKinnon, for her justly acclaimed work on Virginia Woolf.
Best Direction of a Musical
Scott Ellis, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots
*Diane Paulus, Pippin (Melissa)
*Matthew Warchus, Matilda The Musical (Thom)
This is a two-way race between two innovative directors. British director Matthew Warchus has received kudos for his work on Matilda, but the popular Diane Paulus could have the edge for her third successful re-imagining of a classic musical (following 2009’s Hair and last year’s Porgy and Bess).
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On: The Musical
Peter Darling, Matilda The Musical
Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots
*Chet Walker, Pippin (Melissa, Thom)
Chet Walker updates Bob Fosse’s original dance moves with eye-popping circus acrobatics.
*Chris Nightingale, Matilda The Musical (Thom)
Stephen Oremus, Kinky Boots
*Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook, Motown The Musical (Melissa)
Danny Troob, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Follow Thom on Twitter: @ThomGeier