Monday, June 1, 2015

2015 Tony Predictions: Best Actress

The 2015 Tony Awards are less than one week away, and the buzz surrounding the upcoming telecast has reached a near deafening volume. As I do every year, I am steadily working my way through predictions for all of the major categories, and today I tackle two categories that are on the opposite ends of the predictability spectrum. One race is practically a foregone conclusion, while the other is so neck and neck that we may not fully process who wins until reading the news in the papers Monday morning. As always, I will make sure to predict not only who will win but who deserves to win, doing my best to keep personal feelings at bay so I can objectively judge the competition (but trust me, I have *very* strong opinions about Best Actress in a Musical). 

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.

Best Actress in a Play

Dame Helen Mirren will likely be adding "Tony winner" to her extensive list of accomplishments following her universally praised performance as Elizabeth II in The Audience.

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

I could do my usual routine of listing the pros and cons of each nominee, but let's be honest: does anyone really expect someone besides Helen Mirren to win this award? Mirren is one of the most universally respected and beloved actresses in the business, reprising her Oscar-winning portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in a play that has already won her an Olivier Award (the West End equivalent of the Tony). She was a front-runner for Best Actress from the moment the show was announced, and at this point she is looking like a virtual lock.

None of this is meant as a slight to the other actresses, all of whom did fine work and seem like lovely people. Hand to God's Geneva Carr has been particularly charming on the awards circuit due to her palpable excitement at just being nominated; she has repeatedly said she thought she would be replaced by a name star at some point during the play's remarkable journey from Off-Off-Broadway to the Great White Way. Elisabeth Moss and Ruth Wilson both have the disadvantage of their shows having already closed (Moss' prematurely), and even if she doesn't win Carey Mulligan will surely be welcomed back with open arms whenever she decides to return to Broadway. But this is Mirren's year, and I would imagine even her competitors agree that she is entirely deserving.

Will and Should Win: Helen Mirren, The Audience

Best Actress in a Musical

As Lily Garland in On the Twentieth Century, Kristin Chenoweth has found the best showcase for her talents since Wicked 12 years ago.

Nominees: Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century; Leanne Cope, An American in Paris; Beth Malone, Fun Home; Kelli O'Hara, The King and I; Chita Rivera, The Visit

This category has been a major sore spot for me the past few years, and will continue to be one until Kelli O'Hara wins this damn award already! She is one of the all-time great singing actresses, and for me ranks behind only Audra McDonald as the most consistently captivating performer on contemporary Broadway. The fact that six-time nominee O'Hara has yet to win Broadway's highest honor is simply ludicrous, and something I desperately hope the voters rectify this year for her absolutely stellar work in Lincoln Center's The King and I. Yes, the lack of a Tony obviously hasn't hurt the golden-voiced soprano's career - she works more consistently than just about anyone else - but it's the principle of the matter, dammit!

Unfortunately, O'Hara once again finds herself going toe to toe with two of Broadway's most beloved divas, previous Tony winners Chita Rivera and Kristin Chenoweth. O'Hara should be most concerned about Chenoweth, who after a disappointing run in 2010's Promises, Promises and long absence has returned in top form with her gutbusting performance in On the Twentieth Century (fun fact: both women attended the same university and studied under the same vocal instructor). Chenoweth's unique set of comic gifts make the actress difficult to cast in most revivals, but the role of Lily Garland fits the pint-sized dynamo like a glove. Chenoweth's performance is also the showier of the two, though comparing her farcical antics to O'Hara's naturalistic charisma points out the inherent problems with trying to pick a "best" actress in such a wide-ranging medium.

As much as it pains me to say it, I think public sentiment may be leaning towards Chenoweth. O'Hara is so reliably excellent and prolific that I think a segment of the community takes her brilliance for granted (similar to how the universally praised Meryl Streep has 19 career Oscar nominations but "only" 3 actual wins). And if I'm being as objective as possible, it is very hard to argue against Chenoweth; her only slight missteps in Twentieth Century stem from weird directorial choices rather than any failings on the actress' part. I will continue to root hard for O'Hara, and think she has a legitimate chance at finally getting her due after years of being overlooked. But if Chenoweth is called to the stage Sunday night, I can't say I'll be surprised. I just hope she has more than 20 seconds to change her wig this time around.

Will Win: Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century
Should Win: Kelli O'Hara, The King and I

That covers all the acting categories. Check back on Wednesday and Friday for my predictions in the four production categories, including the highly coveted Best Musical award. Meanwhile, check out the rest of my Tony coverage below.

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

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