Tony Awards preview: Cherry Jones vs. Audra McDonald for Best Actress (Play)

Two Tony titans could face off for Best Actress (Play) when nominations are announced Tuesday morning.

Two-time champ Cherry Jones (“The Heiress,” 1993; “Doubt,” 2005) has been the frontrunner for most of the season for her work in the acclaimed revival of “The Glass Menagerie.” However, on Friday, the Tony administration committee ruled that five-time winner Audra McDonald can contend in this category for her performance as Billie Holiday in the just-opened “Lady Day at Emersons Bar and Grill.” 

While this piece has been described by producers as “a play with music,” Lonette McKee contended on the musical side at the Drama Desk Awards for the original production back in 1987. This year, the Outer Critics Circle deemed it to be a musical but the Drama Desk re-classified it as a play and McDonald just picked up a nod there.

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McDonald won her record-tying five Tonys in the other three performance categories. Her most recent win, and first in lead, was for her work in the 2012 revival of the Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess.” She has a pair of Tonys for her featured turns in the musicals “Carousel” (1994) and “Ragtime” (1998) and another set of bookends for her supporting performances in the plays “Master Class” (1996) and “A Raisin in the Sun” (2004). 

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Jones would be the first actress to play the manipulative matriarch Amanda Wingfield on the rialto to earn a Tony nomination. The original production of this play that launched Tennessee Williams debuted on Broadway in 1946, the year before the first Tony Awards. Since then, there have been five revivals but all the leading ladies were snubbed, including Tony darlings Maureen Stapleton (1965, 1975), Jessica Tandy (1983) and Julie Harris (1994) as well as two-time Oscar champ Jessica Lange (2005). 

Tony Awards preview: What plays could contend? 

Among those looking to stop one of these two from taking to the stage of Radio City Music Hall on June 8 is six-time Emmy champ Tyne Daly who breaks hearts in “Mothers and Sons” as a woman visiting her late son’s partner. Terrence McNally wrote this play for Daly after working with her on the 2011 revival of his 1996 Best Play winner “Master Class.” Daly won the musical actress award back in 1989 for a revival of “Gypsy” and contended in the featured category in 2006 for the play “Rabbit Hole.” 

LaTonya Richardson Jackson was a last-minute replacement for Diahann Carroll in the Denzel Washington led revival of Lorranine Hansberry‘s groundbreaking “A Raisin in the Sun.” In the 2004 revival starring Sean CoombsPhylicia Rashad played this part of a put-upon mother and made Tony history as the first African American woman to win this category.

Tony Awards preview: What play revivals could contend? 

Emmy winner Toni Collette (“The United States of Tara”) and Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (“My Cousin Vinnie”) could go head to head for their work in Will Eno’s new play, “The Realistic Joneses.”

Emmy winner Debra Messing (“Will & Grace”) earned strong notices in her Broadway debut as the desperately lovelorn neighbor in John Patrick Shanley‘s romantic comedy “Outside Mullingar.” 

Another Emmy champ, Mary-Louise Parker, won this award in 2003 for “Proof.” She returned to the rialto this season in “The Snow Goose,” a new play by Sharr White

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Rebecca Hall could contend for her performance in an acclaimed revival of Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal.”

And Oscar champ Estelle Parsons (“Bonnie & Clyde”) could earn her fifth Tony nomination for Eric Coble’s new comedy, “The Velocity of Autumn.”

Nominees will be announced on April 29 and the 68th annual Tony Awards take place on June 8. Predict the winner of the Best Play race below using our easy drag-and-drop menu. 

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