Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Extremely Early 2015 Tony Predictions: Part II

Because my love of the Tony Awards cannot be contained to a mere six weeks in the spring, I am once again using the winter lull in Broadway activity to assess the Tony prospects of last fall's shows. I've already discussed my thoughts on the production categories, meaning it's time to turn my attention to the leading actor and actress awards.

This year sees a potentially game changing new rule allowing up to seven nominees in each of the acting categories, which is highly exciting but also makes any predictions that much harder. Since a tie in the nominations process is required to activate a category expansion I doubt we'll see it occur across the board, and after last year's Best Musical controversy I think it's best to assume the committee will err towards less rather than more nominees. With a large number of productions slated to open in the next few months that will surely produce some awards buzz, I'm also going to limit my discussion here to those performers I think have made particularly strong critical impressions.

Warning: Occasional snark and lots of speculation to follow.

Best Actor in a Musical

Tony Yazbeck is giving a helluva performance in the triumphant Broadway return of On the Town.

The currently aren't a lot of performers who qualify in this category, but a couple of them already look like sure things. Tony Yazbeck is a hard-working and well-respected triple threat who's been given the role of his career in the top notch revival of On the Town. Yazbeck knocks it out of the park with his beautifully sung and gorgeously danced Gabey, and I would be shocked if he didn't at least score a nomination. I also expect Honeymoon in Vegas' Rob McClure to be among the lucky few on April 28th, especially since his current vehicle is much more deserving of the mercurial actor's many talents than the ill-fated Chaplin (for which he was also nominated). If there weren't so many male-fronted musicals on the horizon I would be more optimistic about Michael Esper's chances for his accomplished work in The Last Ship, but that show's early closing will be a difficult obstacle to overcome. There's also a very slim chance McClure's costar Tony Danza scores a nod, although I suspect he might be demoted to the supporting actor race despite his above the title billing.

Best Actor in a Play

Recent Julliard graduate Alex Sharp (right) astounds in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a performance made all the more impressive by the fact that it's his Broadway debut. 

This is, hands down, the most competitive acting category at the moment. If any race is going to prompt an expansion in the number of nominees, it will be this one, which features a glut of deserving talent even before the upcoming spring shows are taken into account. It would be downright criminal to deny a nomination to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time's Alex Sharp, the Julliard graduate whose Broadway debut is more layered, nuanced, and compelling than many Broadway veterans. And while Bradley Cooper's name certainly helped generate initial interest in The Elephant Man, it's his universally praised performance as the titular character that has made that revival one of the season's hottest tickets. Both Sharp and Cooper are virtual locks.

Very close behind them is Broadway favorite Hugh Jackman, although The River has proven divisive enough as a play that it might hinder his Tony chances. On the other hand, even critics who were lukewarm on the production were impressed with the Jackman's performance, with several calling it the best of his Broadway career. It would be very surprising to see Jackman's name excluded when the nominations are announced, but the category is so competitive he may wind up as one of this year's high profile snubs. A case can also be made for Jake Gyllenhaal in his well-reviewed Broadway debut, but my feeling is that several of the spring plays will have to disappoint for the trippy Constellations to have any real awards momentum come April. And while Nathan Lane is one of our most reliable talents and was easily the best thing about the disappointing It's Only a Play, I just don't know if there's space for him among this year's nominees. If there's going to be a wildcard among the lead actors, it would be Disgraced's Hari Dhillon, but in all honesty I think the category is just too crowded for him to make the cut.

Best Actress in a Musical

Brynn O'Malley (right) gets romanced by a crooning Tony Danza in the fun-filled musical romp Honeymoon in Vegas.

I want to go on record saying Brynn O'Malley needs a Tony nomination for her standout work in Honeymoon in Vegas; her performance was my favorite thing about Jason Robert Brown's highly enjoyable musical comedy. She has little chance of actually winning, especially with new roles for Tony darlings Kelli O'Hara, Kristin Chenoweth, and Chita Rivera on the horizon, but I'm really hoping the committee includes O'Malley's name among those announced on April 28th (I think they will). I also have a soft spot for Side Show's Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, perfectly matched as conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, but I fear their show will be too long gone by the time nominations are doled out. While it would be nice to see the pair win a joint nomination like their predecessors Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner did in 1998, I have a sneaking suspicion these talented ladies will be considered individually and split votes to the point neither gets nominated. Should the category expand to six or seven nominees, there's also an outside chance The Last Ship's Rachel Tucker gets nominated for her performance as the conflicted Meg Dawson, but that scenario involves one or more of the spring's actresses turning in an unexpectedly subpar performance.

Best Actress in a Play

Three time Tony winner Glenn Close returned to Broadway in the well reviewed revival of A Delicate Balance, but the curiously buzz free production may well be forgotten by the time Tony Awards are handed out.

Most of the big names in plays this fall were men, which leaves the Best Actress category with more breathing room. It also makes this race more unpredictable, as it could go any number of ways. Glenn Close's much anticipated Broadway return in A Delicate Balance was well received and certainly makes the three-time Tony winner a contender, although that production has virtually no buzz around it. As a member of Disgraced's much praised ensemble Gretchen Mol also merits consideration, and may be the one actor from the incendiary play that actually manages to score a nomination. I would also keep an eye on Constellations' Ruth Wilson, as the two-time Olivier Award winner is a big part of why that reality-spanning love story went over so well with critics. The Real Thing's Maggie Gyllenhaal might even slip in here if the category does expand, although I have to imagine at least one of the slots is reserved for Helen Mirren's Queen Elizabeth II in this spring's The Audience.

Those are my thoughts on where the lead actor and actress races currently stand; feel free to share your picks in the comments. And for more of my 2015 Tony Awards coverage, check out below:

Tony Awards Rule Change
Extremely Early 2015 Tony Predictions: Part I


  1. Tony Yazbeck's stellar performance is all the more noticeable for having survived the musical's disastrous direction.

    Our tickets were pricey and that mattered not one bit next to the joy generated by the opportunity to get out alive when the intermission --- FINALLY! --- arrived, delighted to be able to escape the oppression generated by OTT's ridiculously extended first act.

    Top-notch? Nope. Not even one notch. What a terrible thing to do to such talented actors.

    The Spiderman Curse lives on!

  2. I don't think you can call "On the Town's" first act extended. It is performed as written by the original creative team, back when musicals were just generally longer. Unlike many subsequent productions, this revival doesn't cut any of the dance music or reprises, which makes it feel long to contemporary audiences who are used to shorter first acts.

    And while you're entitled to your opinion, you are literally the only person I've come across who didn't love the show. I expect it to do very well when nominations are handed out in April.