Sunday, April 26, 2015

2015 Tony Nominee Predictions: Part III (Best Actress)

Tony Tuesday is right around the corner, with the 2015 nominees scheduled to be announced bright and early on Tuesday, April 28th. (I've always found it odd that a profession where most everyone works nights announces anything so early in the morning, but that is neither here nor there.) I've already discussed which productions and leading men I expect to score nominations, and now it's time to turn my attention to Broadway's leading ladies. The latest Tony rule change allows anywhere between five and seven nominees in each category, leaving me to puzzle out not only the names of the contenders but how many of them I expect there to be. I doubt every category to automatically expand to seven nominees, but I don't expect every category to stay capped at five either. And in the name of covering my bases for the inevitable Tony curveball nomination, I'm also naming a wildcard performer who I feel has the best chance of unseating one of my official predictions.

Best Actress

Dame Helen Mirren is practically theatrical royalty, and she is playing royalty in the box office smash The Audience. She is one of this year's few sure things when it comes to the Tony Awards.

There are very few givens for this year's Tony Awards, but one of those givens is that Helen Mirren will be up for Best Actress. The Oscar winner is reprising her much lauded portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience, one of this spring's biggest box office successes. Some critics weren't overly impressed with playwright Peter Morgan's script, but everyone agreed Mirren made the show worth seeing, and in all honesty this award is likely hers to lose. And although not quite the lock Mirren is, Skylight's Carey Mulligan is another actress virtually guaranteed an invite to this year's ceremony at Radio City. 

I would be very surprised to see Constellations' Ruth Wilson excluded from this year's race, as she drew universal raves for her performance in Manhattan Theatre Club's two-hander. Less certain is a nomination for Elisabeth Moss, as the revival of Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles was not the critical home run many people were expecting and has already posted an early closing notice due to lackluster box office. Still, even those who weren't enamored with the production generally liked the Mad Men actress' performance, particularly her delivery of a key monologue during the play's second act. I'm going to cut the former Peggy Olsen some slack and consider her to be among this year's nominees.

Which still leaves at least one nomination up for grabs with no obvious candidate to fill it. Perhaps Maggie Gyllenhaal will join her brother Jake among this year's nominees for her performance in Roundabout's well liked (but not loved) revival of The Real Thing. Glenn Close's much ballyhooed return to Broadway in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance failed to generate much box office heat, but the actress remains an industry favorite and the weaker field of competitors could work in her favor. Hand to God's Geneva Carr has been ruled eligible in this category instead of the Featured Actress race, and her strong performance combined with an obvious critical love for the boundary pushing play makes her a strong contender. In fact, I suspect Carr will edge out more famous names like Renee Fleming (currently playing an opera diva in Living on Love) and previous Tony winner Blythe Danner, whose fall play The Country House has been entirely absent from the end of season chatter.

Geneva Carr, Hand to God
Helen Mirren, The Audience
Elisabeth Moss, The Heidi Chronicles
Carey Mulligan, Skylight
Ruth Wilson, Constellations

Glenn Close, A Delicate Balance

Best Actress in a Musical

Pint sized powerhouse Kristin Chenoweth is giving 110% in Roundabout's On the Twentieth Century, and will surely get a Tony nomination for her efforts.

Anyone who has been following this blog will know I am *heavily* rooting for Kelli O'Hara to win this damn award already! She is one of our most gifted singing actresses, and she is once again giving a masterclass performance in Lincoln Center's The King and I, a production I literally don't have enough positive adjectives for. There is no reality in which her reteaming with director Bartlett Sher fails to net the actress her sixth career nomination, as all three of their previous collaborations resulted not only in nominations but some of O'Hara's most legendary performances. I know several Tony voters specifically held off on voting for the golden voiced soprano last year under the assumption she was a shoe in to win this year (which is so not how these things should work, but that's a rant for another time); her failing to even get nominated would be one of the most shocking things to happen with the Tony nominations in years.

My unbridled love of O'Hara aside, I have to admit that Broadway's other blonde Oklahoma native is going to give O'Hara a serious run for her money. After a poorly received performance in Promises, Promises and five years away from the Broadway stage, Kristin Chenoweth is firing on all cylinders in On the Twentieth Century, a role that seems tailor-made for her unique combination of talents. Her nomination is guaranteed, and I think everyone agrees that she and O'Hara are this year's front runners. (Fun fact: Chenoweth and O'Hara both went to the same school and had the same vocal instructor, who must be ridiculously proud.) The final sure thing in this race is a nod for Broadway legend Chita Rivera in The Visit, with the actress once again paired with the writing team of Kander, Ebb, and McNally, who crafted both of Rivera's previous Tony-winning roles around her singular set of talents.

After that, things become much harder to predict. Brynn O'Malley *deserves* recognition for her sterling work in Honeymoon in Vegas, although I worry what the show's truncated Broadway run means for her Tony prospects. I'd also love to see a joint nomination for Side Show's Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, but the committee has already decided to consider the actresses separately and their show's premature closing will severely limit their chances. If pressed to pick a favorite, I'd give the slight edge to Padgett for the more emotionally complex of the two roles, as Tony voters have shown an increasing appreciation for nuance over flash in the past few seasons. This same trend also increases Beth Malone's chances for her moving portrayal of adult Alison in Fun Home, although I personally would consider it more of a featured role.

The final three actresses that I think have a legitimate shot are Gigi's Vanessa Hudgens, Finding Neverland's Laura Michelle Kelly, and An American in Paris' Leanne Cope. I suspect Tony voters are ultimately too snobbish to give a Tony nomination to former High School Musical star Hudgens, and the fact that her show was pretty resoundingly trashed by critics doesn't help. On the flip side, Kelly escaped the vitriol hurled towards Neverland virtually unscathed and possibly looking even better by comparison. And Paris has been doing surprisingly well at both the box office and in the various guild awards, all of which have singled out Cope for her Broadway debut. I give the edge to Cope and Kelly, but I wouldn't be shocked to see any of these women nominated come Tuesday morning.

Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century
Leanne Cope, An American in Paris
Laura Michelle Kelly, Finding Neverland
Beth Malone, Fun Home
Kelli O'Hara, The King and I
Chita Rivera, The Visit

Brynn O'Malley, Honeymoon in Vegas

That covers this year's leading performances; check back tomorrow for my analysis of the hardest categories to predict, the Featured Actor/Actress races. In the meantime, feel free to share which leading lady you'd like to see nominated in the comments, and don't forget to check out any Tony coverage you may have missed!

Tony Rule Change
2015 Nominee Predictions: Production
2015 Nominee Predictions: Best Actor

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