In the last few days of every Tony Awards season, prognosticators have the tendency to overthink some races that are likely done deals. That could be the case this year with the Featured Actress in a Play category, where frontrunner Kenita R. Miller (“for colored girls”) has dominated the conversation since the revival of Ntozake Shange’s classic choreopoem started previews. But a large number of our users think Uzo Aduba (“Clyde’s”) will pull off an upset, while dozens are picking Rachel Dratch (“POTUS”). Those mavericks may be overlooking the real spoiler in the category, though, in past Tony winner Phylicia Rashad, who returned to Broadway in Dominique Morisseau’s Best Play nominee “Skeleton Crew.”
Right now, Miller leads the field to take home the Tony for her “resplendent” performance as the Lady in Red. The actress not only delivered an acclaimed turn, but she took on the role while pregnant, adding a layer of poignancy to her harrowing monologue “a nite with beau willie brown.” One factor that could hinder her path to the Tony is her early departure from the production on May 24 for maternity leave, meaning that the Tony voters who saw the show during the last two weeks did not have the chance to see her. While the Tony voting portal does ask voters to provide the date they saw each production, it will not automatically remove a category from an individual’s ballot if one of the nominated cast members is absent on their particular date.
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It makes sense that Aduba and Dratch have emerged as alternatives. In “Clyde’s,” Aduba hilariously chews the scenery as a tyrannical owner of a roadside sandwich shop that employs formerly incarcerated people. Dratch also steals scenes as a White House staffer who loses her inhibitions after getting high. The problem for both of these performers is that they have costars nominated in the category: Kara Young from “Clyde’s” and past Tony winner Julie White from “POTUS.” Even though the others might have an edge, we know from Tony history that multiple nominees from a show in the same race may hinder all their chances of winning. In 2016, for example, Megan Hilty and Andrea Martin (“Noises Off”) and Pascale Armand and Saycon Sengbloh (“Eclipsed”) likely helped pave the way for Jayne Houdyshell (“The Humans”) to win in this very category.
Enter Rashad. Pundits might be overlooking her as a potential winner because “Skeleton Crew” closed back in February, but she received rave reviews for her role as Faye, a factory line worker from Detroit, MI, who faces the loss of her livelihood when her plant announces it will shut down. Helen Shaw (Vulture) raved about her performance, writing, “She takes on the spirit of the underlying play, becoming something like the personification of labor itself. She turns into something larger and more commanding than the merely individual drama around her, and all Broadway turns to look.” Jesse Green (New York Times) called her performance “wonderfully ungrand,” which fits her character. Ayanna Prescod (Variety) said the actress inhabited Faye “brilliantly.”
SEE ‘Skeleton Crew’ reviews: ‘Commanding’ Phylicia Rashad leads this ‘moving’ Dominique Morisseau play
The role has already earned Rashad recognition from various awards bodies this season, with nominations from the Outer Critics Circle (where she lost to Aduba) and the Drama League. She also just won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play (Miller competed in Featured Actress but did not prevail). The stage veteran has a long history on Broadway, too, appearing in 11 productions over the past 50 years, earning three total Tony nominations and winning once for “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2004.
If Rashad has any strike against her other than the winter closing date of “Skeleton Crew,” it may be her controversial support of Bill Cosby back when his conviction for sexual assault was overturned last June; she later issued an apology voicing support for survivors of sexual assault. Even though these comments caused a huge stir, many in the industry seem to have moved on, from theatre critics to awards bodies, including the roughly three dozen nominators who picked the Tony finalists and the Drama Desk voters who just awarded her. As one of the most celebrated actresses in the race, she could easily surprise when the winners are announced on June 12.
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