Monday, May 25, 2015

2015 Tony Predictions: Best Featured Actress

As the 2015 Tony Awards creep ever closer, my annual predictions have now entered the Big 12 categories. The 8 acting and 4 production awards seem to be the most coveted of all Tonys, particularly from an advertising perspective. They also tend to provoke the most speculation and lead to the closest races of any given season, and this year's crop of nominees is no different. While doing my best to predict who will actually win, I will also be sure to point out if I think there is a more deserving performer in danger of being overlooked. Of course, anything can happen on Tony Sunday (the Featured categories are a hotbed for surprise nominees and winners), but as of right now, here are my best guesses as to who will go home victorious on June 7th.

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Lydia Leonard (right) with fellow Tony nominee Ben Miles in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Wolf Hall.

Nominees: Annaleigh Ashford, You Can't Take It With You; Patricia Clarkson, The Elephant Man; Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall Parts I & II; Sarah Stiles, Hand to God; Julie White, Airline Highway

Just like their male counterparts, this season's Featured Actress in a Play nominees find themselves in a wide open race. As with her costar K. Todd Freeman, I think Julie White will be severely handicapped by the fact that Airline Highway has almost no awards momentum (it failed to make the cut for Best Play); also, as a previous Tony winner White may be held back by voters who prefer to spread the love. Meanwhile, while Sarah Stiles has one knockout scene in Hand to God along with several supporting bits, I expect her to be overlooked in favor of an actress whose role is a little more fleshed out.

Annaleigh Ashford was hysterical in last fall's You Can't Take It With You, and the widely publicized story of how she performed on pointe despite breaking her toe during rehearsals will certainly earn her some brownie points. But Ashford's show opened and closed a long time ago, a major handicap I don't think her well-liked performance can quite overcome. She is still a dark horse candidate, but I think her chances would be greater if the show had lasted until March or April rather than early February.

Patricia Clarkson and Lydia Leonard are in the best position here, as although they are competing in the "Featured" category both are in practice the female leads of their respective shows (a situation that helped The Book of Mormon's Nikki M. James win her Tony Award back in 2011). Clarkson's show has been closed since mid-February, but thanks to the buzz surrounding Bradley Cooper's performance as the titular Elephant Man I expect most voters saw and remembered her performance. But Lydia Leonard is a Shakespearean actress in a critically acclaimed, two part period drama which provides her nearly twice the material as any of her competitors, which is a pretty hard combination to beat. I expect this is ultimately her race to lose.

Will and Should Win: Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall Parts I & II

Best Featured Actress in a Musical

Judy Kuhn (left) and fellow Featured Actress Tony nominee Sydney Lucas in the Broadway transfer of Fun Home.

Nominees: Victoria Clark, Gigi; Judy Kuhn, Fun Home; Sydney Lucas, Fun Home; Ruthie Ann Miles, The King and I; Emily Skeggs, Fun Home

It's lovely Victoria Clark has received her fourth career Tony nomination this year (even if I personally would rather have seen On the Town's Alysha Umphress in this spot). That said, I don't think she has a snowball's chance in hell of actually winning, with the main question in this race being whether or not the three Fun Home actresses cancel one another out and allow Ruthie Ann Miles to complete the ultimate Cinderella story and win a Tony Award for her Broadway debut.

Pitting the Fun Home actresses against one another forces voters to pick a favorite, something that is incredibly difficult and will likely split votes. Judy Kuhn, Emily Skeggs, and young Sydney Lucas all do fantastic work in the chamber musical, each providing some excellent scene work capped off by the score's three best songs (Kuhn's "Days and Days," Skeggs' "Changing My Major," and Lucas' "Ring of Keys"). The incredibly talented Lucas has one of the largest and most important roles in the show, as her scenes with Michael Cerveris form the dramatic crux of the evening and the key to understanding both characters. But Kuhn is practically a theatrical institution, with three previous nominations but no wins to her name, and although her character doesn't say much the actress makes every syllable count. Furthermore, her interpretation of the aforementioned "Days and Days" is some of the most accomplished musical acting currently on Broadway.

In fact, Kuhn is probably the biggest threat to Miles, and I can honestly see the race going either way. Unfortunately the other theatrical awards don't provide much insight into how voters may be leaning, as Kuhn's award-winning work in Fun Home's Off-Broadway production last season made her ineligible this year, clearing the way for Miles to win an Outer Critics Circle Award earlier this month. I personally would favor Miles, as her "Something Wonderful" is every bit as marvelous as Kuhn's big number, with the added bonus that Miles has comparatively more to do and imbues every move her character makes with a multitude of meanings. But if the industry's already established love of Kuhn leads to them honoring the Broadway veteran with her first Tony Award, I couldn't reasonably complain.

Will Win: Judy Kuhn, Fun Home
Should Win: Ruthie Ann Miles, The King and I

And that wraps up my predictions for the Featured performances, which are the categories that usually bring down my batting average on Tony night. Check back on Friday as I begin to tackle the Lead Actor and Actress categories. You can also catch up on all my previous Tony coverage below, and be sure to check back every Monday and Friday from now until the telecast for more updates!

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

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