That Tony Pool: Few Sure Bets
By PATRICK HEALY
THE new Broadway musicals “Newsies” and “Once” won’t run the table at the Tony Awards
on Sunday the way “The Book of Mormon” did last year or “Billy Elliot”
did in 2009, when those hits were runaway favorites in multiple
categories. But the 2012 awards ceremony, the biggest night of honors
for the Broadway industry, offers something even more fun than singing
missionaries and pint-size ballerinas: competition.
The horse race for best musical between “Newsies,” a high-energy show
about 19th-century New York City newsboys, and “Once,” a low-key story
of unrequited love on the streets of Dublin, is only one of an unusually
high number of unpredictable contests at the Tonys. Other major
categories as well — best play, best musical revival, best actor and
actress in a play and best actor in a musical — have many of the 851
Tony voters struggling with a luxury problem they rarely experience:
choosing a favorite from several strong contenders.
Interviews with 40 voters — theater producers, tour presenters,
directors and designers, as well as actors — yielded few obvious winners
in the balloting, which ends at 6 p.m. Friday. But the predictions
business requires some odds setting, so herewith are the results from
one crystal ball.
Voters like to honor commercially successful Broadway musicals because
the Tony imprimatur — the industry’s most recognizable marketing tool —
can help turn a popular show into a powerhouse at the box office in New
York, as well as propel subsequent productions and tours nationally and
overseas. Such conventional wisdom should favor “Newsies,” which is
already grossing nearly $1 million a week.
But for all the popularity that “Newsies” enjoys with audiences, a
majority of Tony voters surveyed said that “Once” had more artistic
innovation, with inventive staging by John Tiffany (a sure bet for best
director) and melancholy mood from the writer Enda Walsh (the
front-runner for best book) pushing the form of musical theater more
than the traditionally structured “Newsies” does. Several tour
presenters also said that “Newsies” didn’t need their Tony votes to
guarantee ticket sales on the road because the show already had an
appealing brand name — its producer, Disney — that would draw audiences.
The other two nominees, the Gershwin musical “Nice Work if You Can Get
It” and the now-shuttered flop “Leap of Faith,” are drawing relatively
little support. Expect “Newsies” to win for best score (Alan Menken, on
his fourth nomination, and Jack Feldman) and choreography (Christopher
Gattelli), but the luck of the Irish is likely to pay off with a best
musical victory for “Once.”
Each of the four nominees — “Clybourne Park,” “Other Desert Cities,” “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Venus in Fur”
— has die-hard fans who say their favored show exudes expert
craftsmanship and keen intelligence that deserve recognition.
“Clybourne,” a satire on race relations that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize
for drama, nearly didn’t make it to Broadway after its lead producer
withdrew because of a falling-out with the playwright Bruce Norris,
turning “Clybourne” into the show that defied odds (at least in the eyes
of its admirers). All four plays won acclaim from critics, and “Other Desert Cities”
in particular is the sort of emotionally charged family drama, with
political overtones to boot, that Tony voters tend to embrace.
“Peter and the Starcatcher,” a prequel to the classic Peter Pan story,
is also receiving a healthy share of votes for creating a highly
theatrical world of pirates and island adventure with minimal sets and
props. “Peter” may have to settle for several design awards and a
featured actor trophy for Christian Borle, who plays the forerunner to
Captain Hook, and who is locked in a tight race with Andrew Garfield as
Biff in the revival of “Death of a Salesman.” The race for best play is
between “Desert Cities” and “Clybourne,” and Mr. Norris looks to be the
Best Musical Revival
The Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman classic “Follies”
lost for best musical in 1972 and best musical revival in 2001; the
latest Broadway revival, which ran earlier in the 2011-12 season, was
adored by many theater critics and fans of the show, not to mention more
than a few Tony voters. The musical’s chief competition in the revival
category is “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,”
whose two title performances, by the nominees Norm Lewis and Audra
McDonald, have earned devotion among some Tony voters. Mr. Sondheim
memorably criticized some script changes under consideration for “Porgy
and Bess” last year. (The most radical changes were never made.) As it
turns out, the race for best musical revival is between Mr. Sondheim’s
show and the one he attacked. (The other nominees, “Evita” and “Jesus
Christ Superstar,” have minimal support.) The votes in our sampling
favor “Follies” by a hair, with “Porgy and Bess” more likely to receive
recognition in acting categories.
Best Play Revival
There may be four nominees — “Death of a Salesman,”
“Gore Vidal’s The Best Man,” “Master Class” and “Wit” — but here there
is no contest. The critically praised “Salesman” will win, as it did for
best play in 1949 and best revival in both 1984 and 1999. Mike Nichols
has the lead in the voter survey for best director of a play for
“Salesman,” over Roger Rees and Alex Timbers for “Peter and the
Best Actor, Play
This category is often a face-off between Americans and Britons, and
this year is no different. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Willy Loman had many
Tony voters in tears at “Salesman,” while James Corden has them in
stitches as the lovable manservant in the London import “One Man, Two Guvnors.”
While James Earl Jones has some partisans for his pugnacious
performance as a former American president in “The Best Man,” Mr. Corden
and Mr. Hoffman have more votes than Mr. Jones and are tied in the
survey. (The nominees Frank Langella and John Lithgow have more
affection than votes.) In this era of the struggling everyman Mr.
Hoffman would seem to have an edge.
Best Actress, Play
Cynthia Nixon (“Wit”) won the award six years ago for “Rabbit Hole,” but
now she trails in the survey behind Nina Arianda (“Venus”), Tracie
Bennett (“End of the Rainbow”), Stockard Channing (“Other Desert
Cities”) and Linda Lavin (“The Lyons”). All four have ardent fans, but
the survey favors Ms. Arianda for her sexy performance as a mysterious
actress over Ms. Bennett as a late-in-life Judy Garland. The
British-born Ms. Bennett has showstopping numbers as Garland, and some
voters said they would be shocked if she lost. But the Tony is most
likely going to Ms. Arianda, Broadway’s newest star.
Best Actor, Musical
Too close to call. Danny Burstein is a Broadway baby, beloved by his
peers, and this year he has his third Tony nomination as the
skirt-chasing husband Buddy in “Follies.” Jeremy Jordan and Steve Kazee
are the leading men in the two best musical contenders, “Newsies” and
“Once,” while Mr. Lewis is extolled by some voters for his restraint as
Porgy in the Gershwin revival. (Ron Raines of “Follies” has far less
support from voters.) Mr. Kazee and Mr. Burstein narrowly lead in this
Tony survey, but the award could go to any of the four men, given the
passionate support that each enjoys.
Best Actress, Musical
A lock: Ms. McDonald will win her fifth Tony, at the age of 41, for her
performance as Bess in “Porgy and Bess.” On this one, at least, the
crystal ball is clear.
Interesting that Arianda is leading her category. I had a hunch to change my prediction from Bennett to Arianda and that is the push that made me do it.
This did not help predict Musical Actor one bit. I wouldn't be surprised to see that category tie on Sunday night.
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I will be thrilled if Nina Arianda wins, and am pleasantly surprised to see that she has the lead in this poll over Tracie Bennett.
Corden and Hoffman actually tied in the poll. This will be the closest race of the night, again, very much contradicting the "this isn't even close" narrative journalists and "experts" have been ignorantly peddling. You heard it here now, whoever wins, it won't be "an upset".
It offers no help in the Featured Acting categories for musicals, particularly Featured Actor, though the article does say "Porgy and Bess" is "more likely to recieve recognition in acting categorieS." Makes me wonder if in addition to Audra, Philip Boykin took the lead in their poll for Featured Actor. Or if I'm just reading too much into it.