Will ‘War Horse’ gallop away with Best Play at Tony Awards?

Our panel of experts predict that “War Horse” is on track to become the first play since “Sleuth” in 1971 to take the top Tony Award without any acting nominations. This British import is also expected to win its other four bids by co-helmers Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris and the tech types responsible for lighting, scenic and sound design.

Four years ago, Nick Stafford adapted the 1982 best-seller by Michael Morpurgo that told the tale of a young English farmhand who enlists during WW I in hopes of finding his beloved colt who has been sold to the cavalry. The innovative production, which included both actors and puppeteers, won the 2007 Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Laurence Olivier Awards for set design (Rae Smith and Handspring Puppet Company) while Toby Sedgwick received the Olivier for choreography. The puppeteers are being feted with a special Tony tonight.

Of the other Best Play contenders, both “Jersualem” and “The Motherf***er With the Hat” reaped six nods apiece. Our experts expect “Jerusalem” leading man Mark Rylance to win a bookend to his 2008 Best Play Actor Tony (“Boeing-Boeing”) for his bravuara performance as the cocky Johnny “Rooster” Byron who crows about the British class system. However, they think “Motherf***er” will be shut out despite three acting bids: leading man Bobby Canavale and featured players Yul Vazquez and Elizabeth Rodriguez. Although the fourth play contender “Good People” only earned one other nomination, our pundits predict Oscar winner Frances McDormand (“Fargo”) will win Best Play Actress. 

Rylance’s chief rival is two Tony-winning director Joe Mantello (“Take Me Out,” 2003; “Assassins,” 2004) who returned to acting in the first Broadway production of Larry Kramer‘s 1985 play “The Normal Heart.” Our pundits predict that this production will win three of its five bids: Best Play Revival and both featured acting prizes for John Benjamin Hickey and, in her Broadway debut, Ellen Barkin.

Of the other Play Revival contenders, “The Merchant of Venice” vies for seven Tonys, including a bid by Al Pacino who won his other two Tony races (“Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?” 1969; “The Basic Training of Pavlov Hummel,” 1977). While this was the 50th production of the Shakespearean tragic comedy to play Broadway, it was only the fifth since the Tonys were created in 1947. The most recent was the 1990 staging starring Dustin Hoffman who also earned a Best Actor bid for playing the moneylender Shylock; he lost to Robert Morse for the one-man show “Tru.” The other nominees are “The Importance of Being Earnest” — which is expected to win one of its other two races (Best Play Costumes) — and “Arcadia” which is forecast to lose both its bids.

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