Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2014 Tony Predictions: Best Actress

Without a doubt, these next two categories are the most competitive of this year's Tony races.  There are some phenomenal performances being given by some of Broadway's best-loved actresses, and the Best Actress in a Musical race is particularly brutal this year.  I will also admit that I have particularly strong feelings about these two races which may be blinding my objective judgement, so if I get these two wrong you'll know why.  With that said, here are my thoughts on who will (and should) win.

Best Actress in a Play

Audra McDonald is apparently incapable of delivering even an average performance; all of her Broadway outings have been virtually flawless.
Nominees: Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons; LaTanya Richardson Jackson, A Raisin in the Sun; Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie; Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill; Estelle Parsons, The Velocity of Autumn

I think this Sunday will see Audra McDonald make history by collecting a record-breaking sixth Tony Award for her phenomenal work in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.  If she wins, not only will McDonald have received more acting Tonys than any performer in history, she will also be the first woman to win in all four performance categories.  Anyone who has seen McDonald in Lady Day knows the singing actress is doing an uncanny job of channeling the late Billie Holiday, but Broadway's reigning queen goes far beyond mere impersonation.  She is Holiday reincarnated, with a performance that is free of the artifice and forced mannerisms that often plagues actors tasked with playing real people.  It is an impeccable piece of acting, and definitely a worthy role to propel McDonald into the history books.

The only person with even the slightest chance of unseating McDonald is The Glass Menagerie's Cherry Jones, but it is a long shot to say the least.  Even though this beloved actress gave what some termed the performance of her career, McDonald just has too much of a lead (McDonald has won every guild award she has been eligible for this year).  Tyne Daly, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, and Estelle Parsons will just have to take solace in the fact they even managed to get nominated in such a competitive year.

NOTE: I should probably mention that McDonald is also my all-time favorite Broadway performer (I will go see her in anything), so I fully admit some personal bias has entered into this article.

Will and Should Win: Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Best Actress in a Musical

Performances on the level of Kelli O'Hara's in The Bridges of Madison County are rare.  If she doesn't win, the Tony voters will have lost major credibility points.
Nominess: Mary Bridget Davies, A Night with Janis Joplin; Sutton Foster, Violet; Idina Menzel, If/Then; Jessie Mueller, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; Kelli O'Hara, The Bridges of Madison County

If Kelli O'Hara does not win her long-overdue first Tony Award on Sunday, I am declaring this year's awards null and void.  O'Hara was absolutely sensational in the gone-too-soon Bridges of Madison County, giving a performance that is frankly on an entirely different level from this year's other nominees.  Her brilliance isn't just because of her phenomenal singing, although O'Hara's crystalline soprano has never sounded better than it did singing the breathtaking melodies Jason Robert Brown wrote specifically for her.  Her ability to give a nuanced, deeply felt and believably acted performance while singing the most difficult music of the season was a master class in musical theatre acting and the heights it can reach.  Add in the fact that O'Hara is a perpetual Tonys bridesmaid (this is her 5th nomination in the past 10 years) that is almost universally respected and earns raves even when her shows are critically panned, and it is time Tony voters wised up and gave her the damn award already.

Sutton Foster was perfectly charming in Violet, and gets extra points for stretching herself artistically with a more dramatic role than she typically tackles.  Idina Menzel was even better than expected in If/Then, a performance which is significantly more nuanced and accomplished than her work in Wicked 10 years ago (for which she won).  I have not personally seen Mary Bridget Davies or Jessie Mueller in their respective shows, but I'm sure they are lovely.  However, Kelli O'Hara has earned this, and picking anyone other than O'Hara as the winner would be a grave mistake.

It must be said that Mueller does pose a legitimate threat to O'Hara, as the talented young actress seems to be Broadway's latest It Girl.  Mueller has gone from being an unknown to headlining a major new musical in just 3 short years, but the fact of the matter is Mueller will have plenty more chances to win a Tony or two.  I also cannot fathom what Mueller could be doing in Beautiful (a dull sounding jukebox musical that holds no interest for me) that tops O'Hara's career-best work in Bridges.

There is a possibility Mueller wins the Tony; you might even say there is a strong possibility, since Mueller just took home the Drama Desk Award on Sunday, beating out O'Hara in the process.  But Mueller beating O'Hara would be wrong, and I have to believe Tony voters can see that.  If they mistakenly select Mueller on Sunday night, I firmly believe in 10 year's time the general population will look back and agree that O'Hara was more deserving for what may well become her signature role (similar to how most people now agree Bernadette Peters should have won for Sunday in the Park with George, even though Chita Rivera is an immense talent and no one begrudges her a Tony or two).  With all due respect to Mueller, she can wait another season or two.

Will and Should Win: Kelli O'Hara, The Bridges of Madison County

And that covers all of the acting categories for this year's awards.  Check back tomorrow as I start to tackle this year's production categories, starting with the revivals.  And be sure to check out all of my previous Tonys coverage below!

2014 Tony Nominations React
Best Direction and Choreography
Best Book and Score
Best Featured Actor
Best Featured Actress
Best Actor

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