Saturday, April 26, 2014

2014 Tony Nominee Predictions: Part II (Best Actress)

It's that time of year again; the Tony Award nominations are set to be announced this Tuesday, and I am in full Tony mode here at Broadway, Etc.  Yesterday, I made my best guesses as to which shows would find themselves nominated in the production categories (including my theories about how the recent Tony rule change might affect this year's races).  Today I tackle the harder to predict Lead Actress races, with more eligible nominees and proportionally fewer slots to go around.  These are some of the most competitive categories of the year, with many deserving women vying for the precious few nominations.

As always, I'm using a combination of first-hand experience, hearsay, and gut feeling to come up with these predictions.  I will also pick one Wildcard for each category, representing the person I feel has the best chance of unseating one of my five presumptive nominees for a chance at the big prize.  (Or sometimes I pick two wildcards.  It's my blog, I can do what I want.)  Read on to see who I think this year's lucky ladies will be!

Best Actress

Should Audra McDonald win the Best Actress in a Play category, she would enter the record books as having more Tony Awards than any other performer AND being the first actress to win awards in all four acting categories. 

There have been a huge number of plays produced on Broadway this season (limited runs really increase the number of shows can you can cram into one year).  Unfortunately, many of those plays have been male driven, meaning the Best Actress in a Play category isn't as stacked with talent as one might expect, although the eligible performances are still might impressive.  Cherry Jones was universally praised for her Amanda in last fall's The Glass Menagerie, and will almost surely be recognized with a nomination.  Tyne Daly is also virtually guaranteed a nomination for her bigoted (but not really) matriarch in Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons; some committee members will also probably feel guilty that the 2012 race didn't have room for Daly's towering Maria Callas in Master Class and will be looking to make it up to her.

In Tony predictions, it almost never pays to bet against Audra McDonald, and the acclaimed singing actress is currently making a very strong case for a record-breaking sixth Tony Award (more than any other performer) with her starring turn in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.  Her work in the 90-minute, one woman show will certainly land her among this year's nominees.  And although critics were lukewarm to The Velocity of Autumn, they universally praised 83-year-old Estelle Parson's performance in the two-hander.  It would be very surprising to see her name left out of this year's nominee list, especially considering that she has never actually won a Tony despite her long and illustrious career.

Which leaves one slot available for the rest of the season's lead actresses to fight over.  The last time A Raisin in the Sun was on Broadway, Phylicia Rashad won Best Actress her Lena Younger; LaTanya Richardson Jackson is certainly in the running for playing the same role.  But Rashad made such a strong impression 10 years ago it may keep Jackson out of serious consideration, a situation not helped by the fact that Jackson didn't have the benefit of a full rehearsal period (she took over for the previously announced Diahann Carroll when the latter actress bowed out during rehearsals) .  The highly praised ensemble of The Realistic Joneses could also produce a nominee, although it's debatable whether Toni Collette or Marisa Tomei has the edge.  However, I just have this sneaking suspicion that Rebecca Hall's universally praised performance in Roundabout's revival of Machinal will make her one of this year's surprise nominees, knocking Jackson out of the race.

Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons
Rebecca Hall, Machinal
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill
Estelle Parsons, The Velocity of Autumn

LaTanya Richardson Jackson, A Raisin in the Sun

Best Actress in a Musical

If Kelli O'Hara can't win a Tony for her absolutely stunning work in The Bridges of Madison County, she might as well just throw in the towel and take up gardening or something.

This is, hands down, the most competitive race of the year (and perhaps the past several years).  For once, the phrase "it's an honor just to be nominated" will not be an empty pleasantry, because this category features some of the most critically praised, beloved women currently working in the industry, and it is truly anyone's guess of who will be recognized on Tuesday.

As far as untouchables go, I would say that Kelli O'Hara, Idina Menzel, and Sutton Foster have had a seat reserved for them at Radio City since their respective projects were announced.  All three shows are positively built around these women's momentous talents, and all of them have walked the Tony red carpet multiple times (of the three, only O'Hara has never actually won, something that I'm praying changes this year).  Most importantly, all three women are sensational in their chosen vehicles, and even critics who weren't won over by the productions as a whole conceded that these three women are the real deal.  The exclusion of any one of them would surely rank as the year's biggest snub.

Trailing just behind them in current Broadway "It Girl" Jessie Mueller, who went from being an unknown only three years ago to headlining her own Broadway show.  She isn't *quite* guaranteed a nomination for her work as Carole King in Beautiful, but I and most industry insiders would be shocked if she didn't make the cut.  The final slot in this category is likely reserved for Oscar-nominated actress Michelle Williams' Broadway debut in Cabaret.  Sally Bowles is certainly an award-worthy role - it won Liza Minelli the Oscar and Natasha Richardson the Tony - but Williams received a rather cool critical reception with many reviews finding her to be on of this revival's weakest aspects.  I still think there is enough support for her to be nominated (her involvement seemed to be the point where Cabaret transformed from a "Really? Again?" show into a "Must See"), but she is most in danger of losing her spot.

I don't foresee anyone unseating the five above ladies, and I'm tempted to not even name a Wildcard, but in the spirit of expecting the unexpected I will say that Mary Bridget Davies' spot on impersonation of Janis Joplin in A Night with Janis Joplin just might have made enough of an impression to allow her to break into such a tough category.  The likeable Margo Siebert will have to take solace that Rocky opened in a very competitive year, and to be quite honest the material she was given let her down.

Sutton Foster, Violet
Idina Menzel, If/Then
Jessie Mueller, Beautiful
Kelli O'Hara, The Bridges of Madison County
Michelle Williams, Cabaret

Mary Bridget Davies, A Night with Janis Joplin

That covers this year's leading ladies; check back tomorrow for my predictions for the leading men who will walk the red carpet as nominees on Sunday, June 8th.  And while you're waiting, be sure to check out the rest of my Tony coverage below:

2014 Tony Nominee Predictions Part I (Production)

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