Friday, April 24, 2015

2015 Tony Nominee Predictions: Part I (Production)

It's that time of year again! Now that spring has finally sprung and all of this season's Broadway productions have officially opened, it's time to discuss one of my favorite entertainment events of the year: the Tony Awards! They're Broadway's highest honor, designed to celebrate the industry's best and brightest stars and productions, and a strong showing at the Tonys can help turn an unsuccessful show into a hit (see last year's Best Musical winner A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, which never would have recouped without the box office boost its win provided).

This year's nominations will be announced April 28th, and every day between now and then I will be posting my predictions and analysis of the likely nominees in each of the Big 12 categories (New Play/Musical, Play/Musical Revival, and the 8 acting awards). I've had a pretty good track record in the past, but each year things become more complicated thanks to the ever-changing rules that have seen the maximum number of potential nominees expand. This year, the Best Play, Best Musical, and Best Play Revival categories all have enough eligible productions to prompt an expansion to five nominees. But as last year's four horse Best Musical race proved, just because the committee can nomination five shows doesn't mean it will, which makes predicting how many slots there are to fill just as hard as whittling down the eligible productions.

I've put a lot of thought into this and am fairly confident in my choices, but every year the nominations committee throws the Broadway community at least one curve ball. In acknowledgement of this, I will be listing a Wildcard nominee in each category, representing the production I think has the best chance of sneaking past my official predictions and into Tony Award contention. So without further ado, here are the productions I think will be competing for those much coveted Antoinette Perry Awards!

Best Musical

Brad Oscar and Brian d'Arcy James provide two of the funniest performances in the glitzy new musical comedy Something Rotten!

This may be the trickiest of the production categories to predict, as while there are enough eligible productions to allow five Best Musical nominees, last year's awards showed that is by no means guaranteed. In an odd bit of Tony math, I actually think we'll see the maximum five nominations despite this year's crop of musicals being (in my opinion) less exciting and worthy of that honor. There has yet to be a breakout critical and commercial hit among this year's new musicals, which probably means more variety in the Tony committee's number one picks and therefore a greater chance of the kind of close vote that would provoke a five competitor category.

While there are not sure things, I think Fun Home and Something Rotten! are this year's contenders. Both are well reviewed and recently opened musicals, so the buzz on both is strong for very different reasons. Rotten lovingly mocks Broadway in the same way as past Best Musical winners The Producers and Spamalot, and both the cast and creative team is filled with well-loved industry professionals who have been doing this for years. Fun Home is the rare musical that has made the shortlist for the Pulitzer Prize (even if it didn't win), addressing such important issues as personal identity and parent/child relationships in a way that is both funny and thought provoking. If either show was left off the list on Tony Tuesday, I would be very surprised.

From there, things are a lot less certain. Finding Neverland seems to be the commercial success of the season, and Tony voters clearly love director Diane Paulus, with all three of her previous Broadway credits winning their production categories. That said, it was utterly trashed by critics, to the point where its box office prowess might not matter. The top-notch Honeymoon in Vegas deserves a spot on this list, but since it recently closed after a very rough Broadway run I feel its perceived status as a flop will hinder its chances. The same logic also doesn't bode well for Sting's The Last Ship, although I can also envision a scenario where enough time has passed since its January closing for some nostalgia to set in and see it squeak into the category. An American in Paris scored surprisingly strong reviews, enough to put it into serious contention, and one can't rule out The Visit, as it is the last time Tony voters will ever be able to nominate a new work by theatrical legends Kander & Ebb. And after a surprisingly strong showing in the other industry Best Musical races, ensemble comedy It Shoulda Been You stands a legitimate shot at cracking into this close race.

An American in Paris
Fun Home
It Shoulda Been You
Something Rotten!
The Visit

Honeymoon in Vegas

Best Play

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time proves you don't need a realistic set to produce some mind-blowing images.

This category could be easily subtitled "The British Import We Liked the Best." The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Wolf Hall are virtual locks, given their ecstatic reception by the New York press. I would also consider it hugely surprising if The Audience wasn't nominated, as it is one of the most successful plays of the season and everybody loves Helen Mirren (even if critics weren't entirely sold on Peter Morgan's script).

Which doesn't leave a whole lot of room for competitors, even assuming a five nominee playing field. The homegrown show with the best chance of cracking into the Best Play race is Hand to God, whose Cinderella story from Off-Off-Broadway play to Main Stem critical hit is catnip to Tony voters who will surely overlook the show's somewhat troubling gender politics. In fact, there is a genuine chance that 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner Disgraced doesn't even get nominated, as interest in that production has cooled considerably since its critically acclaimed October premiere. Constellations (another British import) scored surprisingly strong reviews and is much fresher in voters minds, making it a serious contender for the fifth nomination slot. And one can't completely rule out box office smash Fish in the Dark, although Tony voters have recently proven far less influenced by box office success than they used to be; since Fish received kind but not glowing reviews, I don't think it really has a chance of spoiling anyone's fun, but stranger things have happened.

The Audience
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Hand to God
Wolf Hall Parts I & II


Best Musical Revival

I could have danced all night with this Broadway power couple, both giving exhilarating performances in Bartlett Sher's jaw-droppingly gorgeous staging of The King and I.

With only five eligible productions, Best Musical Revival is the one category we can guarantee won't have five nominees as the Tony rules won't allow it. The committee could nominate as few as three productions, as they did last year, although I suspect they will go with the traditional four as I think last year's reduced field was done primarily to keep all the eligible productions from being nominated (although if we're being honest, Cabaret deserved a nomination last year much more than Les Miserables).

Prediction this category is relatively simple. On the Town and The King and I are both transcendent productions and my two favorite musicals, new or revived, of the season. Both are guaranteed nominations, and at this moment I am 100% certain the Best Revival award will go to one of them. Roundabout Theatre Company took a gamble on producing the somewhat dated On the Twentieth Century (it's one of the most complex musical productions the non-profit has ever done), something that largely paid off thanks to the irrepressible dynamo that is leading lady Kristin Chenoweth. Between Chenoweth's operatic antics and the show's tap dancing porters, Twentieth Century's nomination prospects are looking very strong.

The only real question here is if the fourth slot will go to Side Show, Gigi, or neither. Side Show got better reviews, although it also struggled at the box office and was kicked out of the St. James Theatre in early January to make room for the more profitable sounding Something Rotten! Gigi is currently running (always a plus with Tony voters) and the presence of former Disney Channel star Vanessa Hudgens has thus far proven to be a fairly reliable box office draw, which a few years ago would have had me predicting it for the final nomination slot. Given recent Tony trends, however, I'm giving the edge to Side Show, whose fans are much more passionate than Gigi's and will likely see a Best Revival nod as one way to make up for the show's short Broadway run.

The King & I
On the Town
On the Twentieth Century
Side Show


Best Play Revival

Yes, there were people in The Elephant Man not named Bradley Cooper (but for better or worse, Cooper is the one who sold the tickets).

Normally a hyper-competitive category, this year's Best Play Revival race is somewhat weaker than normal. Many of the nine eligible productions got respectful reviews, but few provoked much enthusiasm from the press, which makes me suspect that this category may stay at four nominees despite enough revivals to allow for a category expansion. The one sure bet (and likely winner) is the Bradley Cooper led The Elephant Man, which was the talk of the town this past winter and probably the strongest reviewed production in the bunch. Following close behind is the just opened revival of David Hare's Skylight, imported from London's West End with its leads intact.

The first three revivals of the season (This is Our Youth, Love Letters, and You Can't Take It With You) all got very strong reviews, but have also been closed for a very long time. I honestly had forgotten about both Youth and Love Letters until I was looking at a list of eligible productions, and I doubt many others will remember them without prompting, basically killing any chance they have at a nomination. I do expect You Can't Take It With You to make the cut, which leaves one more slot for Tony nominators to fill. It's Only a Play was one of the fall's hot tickets thanks to its starry cast, something that has allowed the production to hang on despite generally poor reviews. Interest has cooled considerably since then, but the fact it's still running and has recently welcomed back headliner Nathan Lane means it has to be considered. I personally don't think it will edge out both The Heidi Chronicles and The Real Thing for the fourth nomination slot - the latter two plays are much better respected than Terrence McNally's showbiz comedy - but you never know.

The Elephant Man
The Heidi Chronicles
You Can't Take It With You

The Real Thing

Those are my predictions in the production categories. Check back tomorrow for my Best Actor predictions, and don't be afraid to share your thoughts in the comments section!

Previous Coverage
Tony Rule Change

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