Friday, May 29, 2015

2015 Tony Predictions: Best Actor

With the unofficial start of summer this past Monday, we are now less than 2 weeks away from Broadway's biggest night: the Tony Awards! As I do every year, I am doing my best to predict who will come out on top during the June 7th telecast, and since I've already discussed the writing, direction, and the featured performer races, it's time to turn my attention to the leading actor and actress categories. The pinnacle of recognition for any performer, these are inevitably some of the most hotly debated and contested races of any given season.

As always, my predictions are focused on who will win, not who is my personal favorite. If there is a major discrepancy, I will be sure to point it out, as there are all sorts of factors that can influence someone's Tony chances besides the quality of their work. So without further ado, let's dive into the Best Actor races to see who will get to add a shiny new award to their mantel next Sunday.

Best Actor in a Play

Alex Sharp hadn't even officially graduated from the Julliard Drama School when he was cast in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and now he is one of the front runners for Best Actor in a Play.

Nominees: Steven Boyer, Hand to God; Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man; Ben Miles, Wolf Hall Parts I & II; Bill Nighy, Skylight; Alex Sharp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Heading into awards season, this appeared to be the most competitive of all the acting categories, so I'm surprised to see only five nominees here despite plenty of deserving candidates. It's difficult to argue against any of these gentlemen, who all received universally good reviews and a few outright raves. Even Bradley Cooper, who would normally be at a disadvantage as the only nominee not currently performing on Broadway, remains a legitimate contender for the title.

The two names I would be most surprised to hear called on Tony Sunday are Ben Miles and Bill Nighy, but that doesn't mean either can be totally discounted. Miles is the central figure in the much lauded Wolf Hall double bill, but the excitement for that show seems to be focused on the production as a whole rather than any particular member of its sprawling ensemble. And while Nighy has been roundly praised for his work in Skylight, the general feeling towards that revival seems to be an intellectual respect rather than emotional excitement; the play may be a little too highbrow to get much attention in a season with so many electrifying performances. And while the aforementioned Cooper definitely has a shot, I do think the fact that The Elephant Man closed month ago will ultimately keep him from claiming victory.

Which leaves us with Steven Boyer and Alex Sharp, two unknowns giving perhaps the most exciting performances of the season. Boyer's work in Hand to God is mindblowingly good, a masterclass of physicality that allows the psychotic hand puppet Tyrone to emerge as one of the breakout characters of the season. The fact that Boyer manages to balance Tyrone's unfiltered id with host Jason's shy, soft-spoken manner is a jaw-dropping accomplishment that in my opinion is more than Tony worthy. That said, I think voters will go with Sharp's deeply felt portrayal of an autistic teen in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, as the recent Julliard grad anchors that dazzling play with a heart and gravitas that keeps the impressive production design from overwhelming the narrative. But I'm still rooting for Boyer, especially if it means the foul-mouthed Tyrone makes an appearance on the Tony telecast.

Will Win: Alex Sharp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Should Win: Steven Boyer, Hand to God

Best Actor in a Musical

Michael Cerveris gives what he describes as his most emotionally draining performance to date in Fun Home, the Pulitzer Prize finalist transfer from the acclaimed Public Theatre.

Nominees: Michael Cervaris, Fun Home; Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris; Brian d'Arcy James, Something Rotten!; Ken Watanabe, The King and I; Tony Yazbeck, On the Town

This category is an exciting mix of established and emerging talent, with over half the nominees competing for their first ever Tony Award; Robert Fairchild and Ken Watanabe even have the added excitement of being nominated for their Broadway debuts. The five nominees are also all currently performing on Broadway, which makes this as close to a fair fight as we're ever going to get when it comes to the Tonys.

As much as I adored Tony Yazbeck's work in On the Town, I just don't think the triple threat can compete with some of the showier performances in this category. Robert Fairchild received a nice set of reviews, with everyone agreeing the NY City Ballet principal is a naturally talented actor/singer in addition to his unrivaled dancing abilities. That said, I'm not sure the Broadway community is quite ready to award a newcomer the industry's highest honor. And while I was highly impressed with Ken Watanabe's utterly charming work in The King and I, enough people had trouble understanding the Japanese-born actor's accent that he faces an uphill battle in order to win this race.

Brian d'Arcy James is such an established talent in the theatrical community that it is easy to forget the golden-voiced character actor has yet to win a Tony Award. James definitely anchors Something Rotten! with a performance that is funny, sincere, and more than accommodating to his scenery chewing costars, making him a major contender for this award. But previous Tony-winner Michael Cerveris completely disappears inside the nebbish, deeply conflicted Bruce Bechdel in Fun Home, and not just because he is nearly unrecognizable in Paul Huntley's 1970's period wig. Cerveris is giving an actor's performance, layered and nuanced and emotionally vulnerable, all the things you think of when you imagine award winning work. Lisa Kron's book and Jeanine Tesori's score also give Cerveris more to play than any of the other nominees, which makes Cerveris the front-runner and likely winner.

Will & Should Win: Michael Cerveris, Fun Home

Check back on Monday for my predictions on what is probably the most closely watched, hotly debated race of the entire season: Best Actress in a Musical. In the meantime, get caught up on all my previous Tony coverage below:

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

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