Tony Awards shockeroo: How did ‘Raisin’ pull off 3 upsets?

There were only four upsets at the Tony Awards and “A Raisin in the Sun” pulled off three of them: Best Play Revival, Best Director (Kenny Leon) and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Sophie Okonedo).

By overwhelming vote, our Experts (12 out of 15) predicted “Twelfth Night” would win those first two prizes easily, just as it did at the Drama Desk Awards where Leon wasn’t even nominated in the helmer’s contest.  Our gurus also stupidly backed the Drama Desk winner for Featured Actress — Celia Keenan-Bolger (“The Glass Menagerie”).

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So … what happened … and why? Seems like the pundits (including me) put too much stock in the fact that lead “Raisin” star Denzel Washington wasn’t nominated, assuming that indicated low Tony support for the production. Instead, we fawned too much over the widely ballyhooed “Twelfth Night,” just as the New York Times had. Its lead drama critic Ben Brantley had gushed in his review, “This imported production from Shakespeare’s Globe of London floods us with pure, tickling joy.”

Basically, we forgot to remember that nominations aren’t necessarily indicative of wins. They’re determined by a different voting process — by a committee that’s often anti-Hollywood. Hell, its voters snubbed Jim Parsons (“Harvey”) and Bette Midler (“I’ll Eat You Last”) just last year. But if Hollywooders can get past the nominating committee, they often win when all 700 voters cast ballots — as Denzel learned in 2010 when he prevailed for “Fences,” sharing the winner’s circle with Catherine Zeta-Jones (“A Little Night Music”) and Scarlett Johansson (“A View from the Bridge”).

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We also forgot a Sacred Tony Pundit’s Rule that’s usually a huge factor when forecasting winners: productions that are currently running have an edge over closed shows. Only two of the four nominees for Best Revival of a Play are still in Broadway theaters: “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” which had little chance of victory, and “Raisin.” “Twelfth Night” and “The Glass Menagerie” closed last February.

One more thing to consider: Shakespeare plays don’t usually do well in the top race. Only two of the Bard’s shows have won since a Tonys category for revivals was created in 1977: “Othello” (1982) and “Henry IV” (2004). Curiously, “Henry IV” beat an earlier restaging of “Raisin in the Sun” by Kenny Leon, who wasn’t nominated for Best Director.

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That means Leon held a Tony I.O.U. after that. He also held a second one. Four years ago he snagged a nomination for staging “Fences,” but lost to Michael Grandage, who helmed “Red,” which won Best Play. However, “Fences” got a nice consolation prize – it won Best Revival.

Lastly, what was the fourth upset on Tonys night, you ask? “Beautiful” won Best Sound Design over “Hedwig.” Otherwise, the remaining 22 Tonys categories went pretty much according to script, or at least according to the predictions of Gold Derby’s Experts.

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