Monday, April 27, 2015

2015 Tony Nominee Predictions: Part IV (Featured Actor/Actress)

Every year I make a ton of Tony nominee predictions, and every year I struggle over whether to include the Featured Actor and Actress categories. These are often the hardest categories to get a read on before the nominations come out, since most performances in a given season fall under the Featured umbrella. Making things even more complex this year is the fact that these categories can now include anywhere from five to seven nominees, and I expect we'll see several of these races expand past the traditional five performer cap.

I'm basing a large portion of these predictions on speculation and gut feeling, as I unfortunately have not seen anywhere near all the eligible performances. I will also be predicting at least one Wildcard nominee in each category in an attempt to cover my bases in case the nominations committee decides to forgo the obvious candidates. Check back Tuesday afternoon to see how I did!

Best Featured Actor in a Play

Nathaniel Parker (right) as King Henry VIII, the source of all the trouble in the Royal Shakespeare Company's transfer of Wolf Hall.

The large number of ensemble plays this season makes this category a virtual nightmare to predict, especially since it lacks any obvious frontrunners. The smart money says at least some of Wolf Hall's sprawling ensemble makes the cut, probably from among the plays' key players like Nathaniel Parker's Henry VIII or Paul Jessen's multiple clergymen. Fellow West End import The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will also likely produce a competitor in this category, with Ian Barford's beautiful complex portrayal of the protagonist's father a prime candidate for recognition. And while Helen Mirren is the undisputed star of The Audience, she wouldn't be able to give the performance she does without help from all those prime ministers she interacts with; Mirren's star wattage will almost surely lift a costar or two into consideration (perhaps Dakin Matthews' Winston Churchill or Rufus Wright's Tony Blair).

Last fall's You Can't Take It With You was filled with memorable supporting turms, chief among them James Earl Jones as the Sycamore family patriarch. Jones is a very strong candidate for a fourth career nomination, and I also have a fairly good feeling that Bryce Pinkham will be making a return trip to the Tony red carpet for his role in The Heidi Chronicles (Boyd Gaines won a Tony for playing Pinkham's role in the play's original production). Hand to God was so well received that the industry's love of the boundary pushing play could translate into multiple acting nominations, although in all honesty both of the male supporting players pale in comparison to the brilliance of leading man Steven Boyer. Marc Kudish is respected enough among his peers that it could bolster his chances, even if his role as the local pastor is mostly reactionary. And while it's not inconceivable that one of the supporting players in It's Only a Play could get nominated, I do think it unlikely, as Nathan Lane's lead performance was the only one of any note in that revival.

Ian Barford, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
James Earl Jones, You Can't Take It With You
Marc Kudish, Hand to God
Nathaniel Parker, Wolf Hall
Bryce Pinkham, The Heidi Chronicles

Paul Jessen, Wolf Hall

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Annaleigh Ashford has no vanity when it comes to the characters she plays, as proven by this charming photo from You Can't Take It With You.

This is still a wide open category, although with a few more safe bets than the Featured Actor race. I will be shocked if Annaleigh Ashford doesn't get nominated for her delightfully daffy ballerina in You Can't Take It With You, and I think there is a good chance she will be joined by her costar and onstage mother Kristine Nielsen. You Can't Take It With You also featured a textbook definition of a scene-stealer in Julie Halston, whose Tony worthiness can be summed up in two words: the stairs. (If you didn't see the show, Halston turned an almost entirely wordless drunken climb up the set's staircase into a showstopping moment). And as the most prominent female presence in critical darling Wolf Hall, Lydia Leonard is in a very good position to find her name listed among the nominees on Tony Tuesday.

I adored Francesca Faridany in Curious Incident, with her soothing motherly presence serving as the perfect counterpoint to the play's frantic portrayal of an autistic youth's journey of self-discovery. But her equally strong costar Enid Graham's role calls for more obvious "acting," and if only one of these ladies makes the cut it will likely be Graham. This category is also It's Only a Play's best chance at scoring an acting nomination, as Stockard Channing's fading diva was the revival's funniest and most effective performance after leading man Nathan Lane. Fish in the Dark, Broadway's other star-studded ensemble comedy, could also find itself represented here thanks to the performances of Rita Wilson (who is unfortunately on medical leave from the production but is scheduled to return soon after nominations are announced), Rosie Perez, and Jayne Houdyshell. This is a close race that will benefit from the committee's ability to nominate more than five performances, although I doubt the votes will be *quite* close enough to force an expansion to the maximum seven.

Annaleigh Ashford, You Can't Take It With You
Stockard Channing, It's Only a Play
Francesca Faridany, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Enid Graham, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Julie Halston, You Can't Take It With You
Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall

Kristine Nielsen, You Can't Take It With You
Rita Wilson, Fish in the Dark

Best Featured Actor in a Musical

I'll be honest: while I enjoy him, I don't *quite* get the unabashed love for Christian Borle (center), a major contender for this year's awards thanks to his over the top performance in Something Rotten!

This is a very competitive category, as many of the season's big musicals have multiple performances worthy of inclusion here. If the other industry awards are anything to go by, Something Rotten! will be the show to beat this season, and will surely produce at least one Featured Actor nominee. Conventional wisdom says it will be Christian Borle's preening, pompous Billie Shakespeare, although I personally preferred the hammy antics of Brad Oscar as the soothsayer who suggests creating a musical in the first place. Not only does Oscar feel like he's in the same show as everyone else (Borle's collection of tics, while very funny, often make is seem like he's wandered in from a different production), but Oscar also leads the showstopping "A Musical" number that the company will almost surely perform on this year's Tony telecast. I suspect both men will find themselves nominated on Tuesday morning.

Last fall's On the Town also produced a pair of Tony-worthy performances from sailors Jay Armstrong Johnson and Clyde Alves. If only one of these gentlemen makes the cut, my money is on Johnson, whose incredibly endearing Chip also benefits from having one of this season's best scene partners, Alysha Umphress' sensational Hildy. From the spring shows, Andy Karl makes quite an impression as Kristin Chenoweth's buffoonish boy toy in On the Twentieth Century, and has thus far been rewarded with Featured Actor nominations in the various guild awards. I strongly suspect the Tony committee will follow suit, making Karl one of the relatively rare back-to-back acting nominees. And while Doctor Zhivago received some of the harshest reviews of the season, I wouldn't be surprised if Paul Alexander Nolan's supporting turn in that show nets him some Tony love, as he was one of the overblown epic's few highlights. And finally, as recipients of both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations, It Shoulda Been You's Josh Grisetti and An American in Paris' Max von Essen are very strong contenders that I would be surprised to see excluded from this year's proceedings.

Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Josh Grisetti, It Shoulda Been You
Jay Armstrong Johnson, On the Town
Andy Karl, On the Twentieth Century
Brad Oscar, Something Rotten!
Max von Essen, An American in Paris

Paul Alexander Nolan, Doctor Zhivago

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

Alysha Umphress in On the Town #HildyneedsaTony

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Hildy needs a Tony. I firmly believe that had On the Town opened during the spring glut of shows and was therefore fresh on everyone's mind, Alysha Umphress would be this year's James Monroe Inglehart (re: the clear frontrunner). But Umphress has done shockingly poorly in this year's guild awards, which makes me seriously question her chances at even a nomination, let along a win. Her costars Megan Fairchild and Elizabeth Stanley have both been nominated for other awards, and could potentially edge Umphress out here, particularly the sublime Stanley. I still think Umphress has a good shot at the nomination, but she is not a sure thing and will have an uphill battle if she wants to take home the actual trophy.

Fun Home's Judy Kuhn, however, is pretty close to a sure thing, even if her immense talent is underutilized by Jeanine Tesori and Judy Kuhn's chamber musical. I also think the love for Something Rotten! will spread to industry favorite Heidi Blickenstaff, similarly underutilized but benefiting from being the largest female presence in this spring's industry darling. The King and I's Ruthie Ann Miles is *not* underutilized, but her performance is so compelling that you still want more of her deliciously complicated Lady Thiang. It's quite an accomplished Broadway debut for the actress and will almost assuredly lead to a Tony nomination for the captivating performer, who made a splash in the Public Theatre's Here Lies Love back in 2013.

Conventional wisdom indicates that at least one of the many supporting players in It Shoulda Been You gets nominated in this category, although the community's love of both Tyne Daly and Harriett Harris isn't quite strong enough to grant either one of them an automatic nomination, especially in a field as crowded as this one. A similar logic applies to Victoria Clark in Gigi and Nancy Opel in Honeymoon in Vegas, both well-liked talents whose respective shows don't have a lot of momentum headed into Tony Tuesday. And On the Twentieth Century's Mary Louise Wilson is also in contention for her daffy supporting turn as a religious widow, meaning this is really anyone's race.

Heidi Blickenstaff, Something Rotten!
Judy Kuhn, Fun Home
Ruthie Ann Miles, The King and I
Elizabeth Stanley, On the Town
Alysha Umphress, On the Town

Tyne Daly, It Shoulda Been You

And so concludes my nomination predictions for the 2015 Tony Awards. Tomorrow morning at 8:30 am we'll find out how well I did, and check back tomorrow afternoon to see my gut reactions to this year's nominations. Then strap in for an exciting month of speculation, coverage, and maybe even an extra review or two as we march towards this year's ceremony on June 7th! Until then, you can catch up on what you missed below:

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

No comments:

Post a Comment