Friday, June 5, 2015

2015 Tony Predictions: Best Play and Musical

It all comes down to this. On Sunday, the American Theatre Wing will crown the latest crop of Tony Award winners, representing the best and brightest of the Broadway theatre season. As the industry's highest honor, the Tonys prompt huge amounts of speculation every season, as winning can provide the boost needed to send an actor's career to the next level or ensure a struggling production runs long enough to turn a profit. 

There are only two categories remaining in my annual Tony predictions, and they are the two biggest: Best Play and Best Musical. More than any other award, a win in one of these categories can mark the turning point where an obscure property becomes a long-running, oft produced hit. It automatically generates more interest in the ticket buying public, and specifically for musicals can be the different between turning a profit and closing at a loss. (For a case in point, last year's well reviewed A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder struggled at the box office until winning the Best Musical prize, and has since recouped its investment.) So which new play and musical will have the honor of being selected as Broadway's best? Find out below.

Warning: Occasional snark and major speculation to follow.

Best Play

Alex Sharp in one of the many visually stunning scenes from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Nominees: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Disgraced; Hand to God; Wolf Hall Parts I & II

What does it say about the Tony Awards when Pulitzer Prize winner Disgraced is the least competitive Best Play nominee? The implications of that could fill an entire blog post on their own, but what it primarily says is that having your show running during voting season is almost essential to winning. Tony voters don't have the longest memories, and in a competitive season such as this the probing Muslim-American drama just couldn't find the traction to stick with voters past its March 1st closing date.

The other three contenders are all currently running and each has its champions, although there seems to be less fervor surrounding the Royal Shakespeare Company's Wolf Hall double bill. Which leaves London import The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and scrappy underdog Hand to God to battle it out for the big prize, with the former the clear favorite. Curious Incident, in addition to being the most visually stunning play of the season, is a well written and cleverly nuanced coming of age story about an autistic youth, wonderfully embodied by likely Best Actor winner Alex Sharp. It has also won every Best Play award of the season, an uninterrupted winning streak that is hard to ignore.

Yet you can't completely dismiss Hand to God and its passionate supporters, who would love to see a wholly American play take this award (although given the last 3 Best Play winners were all home grown successes, it's getting harder to argue the Tonys are biased towards British imports). An edgy, unpredictable work, Hand to God ultimately becomes so focused on shocking the audience it loses sight of its thematic core. Playwright Robert Askins clearly has something to say, but you get the impression he hasn't quite figured out how to say it, whereas Curious Incident knows exactly what it wants to communicate and does so beautifully. While I won't entirely rule out a Hand to God upset, I think Curious Incident both deserves and will win this award for combining a beautiful script about an important subject with a highly inventive, top tier production.

Will & Should Win: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Best Musical

The three different incarnations of Alison Bechdel, the lesbian cartoonist whose graphic memoir inspired the boundary pushing chamber musical Fun Home.

Nominees: An American in Paris; Fun Home; Something Rotten!; The Visit

Of the four Best Musical nominees, I probably got the most enjoyment out of watching the frankly insane The Visit unapologetically tell its story of love, greed and revenge. But as fascinating as Kander and Ebb's final show is, it definitely has the smallest chance of winning here, scoring only half as many nominations as any of its competitors. A couple months ago, word on the street was that Something Rotten! would be the musical to beat this season, but its disappointing showing at the other industry awards makes it look less competitive than it once did. I suspect the show is a little too derivative of past Tony winners Spamalot and The Producers to really impress the voters, but given its recent million dollar weeks I think the show will run regardless of what happens Sunday night.

This race will ultimately come down to An American in Paris versus Fun Home, and it remains almost too close to call. Fun Home is the more prestigious of the two shows, both better constructed and better realized. Yet something about the show left me cold, and even though I appreciated the piece's ambition and the skill of all involved, I wasn't moved by it the way I expected to be. There is also the question of whether the road producers are willing to vote for a dark, challenging musical about a lesbian cartoonist and her closeted father when they could vote for a crowd pleasing dance show packed with familiar Gershwin tunes that will surely pack their regional houses. The other industry awards don't provide much indication as to which way voters are leaning, as Fun Home's Off-Broadway run occurred last season and therefore the two shows have not been in direct competition (Fun Home dominated last year, while American in Paris has been riding high this year).

Until a couple of days ago, I would have predicted a victory for An American in Paris. But as I write this, I really think the voters will do the right thing and vote Fun Home the Best Musical of 2015. It is certainly better written, and arguably better performed (although the American in Paris cast is quite talented). And recent Tony voting patterns show that many of the supposed obstacles to a Fun Home victory aren't really issues at all. Kinky Boots' win and subsequent success across the country proves that road voters and audiences aren't inherently terrified of "gay" shows, although the glitzy drag musical is a much more sanitized and widely appealing production. And if the road producers vote strictly for the most commercial production, last year would have seen Beautiful or Aladdin triumph over Gentleman's Guide. So at the last minute, I am changing my official prediction from American in Paris to Fun Home, and hoping that the Tony voters don't disappoint me.

Will & Should Win: Fun Home
Incredibly Close Second Where Winning Odds Are Concerned: An American in Paris

And there you have it. Those are my official predictions for the 2014-2015 Tony season. Check back on Monday to see my thoughts on this year's winners and the Tony telecast itself, and be sure to check out any of the coverage you may have missed below.

Nominations React
Best Book & Score
Best Direction & Choreography
Best Featured Actor
Best Featured Actress
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Revival

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