Monday, February 1, 2016

Extremely Early 2016 Tony Predictions: Part II

I love talking Tony Awards, but this year's awards offer an interesting conundrum. Many of the musical categories, which are typically my favorite to discuss and dissect, feel like a foregone conclusion thanks to the overwhelming (and deserved) critical and commercial success of Hamilton. If any show can give this musical juggernaut even a minor challenge it will be a miracle, as everyone I know expects the show to clean up at this year's ceremony.

Luckily, the acting categories are much more competitive, given the overwhelming number of positively reviewed productions from the fall. There's already enough noteworthy performances to make for some truly exciting races, and that's not even taking into account all of the yet-to-open spring shows. The one problem with many of these performances (especially the non-musical ones) is that they will be nothing but a memory by the time Tony nominations are announced in May, meaning any acting hopefuls will have to have made a major impression on the theatrical community to stay in contention. So who do I think has done just that? Find out below!

Best Actor in a Musical

Danny Burstein (left) as Tevye in Bartlett Sher's first-rate Fiddler on the Roof.

As far as I'm concerned, this award *needs* to go to Danny Burstein. He is one of the greatest character actors currently in the business, and the fact he has yet to win a Tony is one of the industry's biggest headscratchers. He will definitely get nominated for his superb Tevye in the latest Fiddler on the Roof revival, but will have to overcome some serious competition to actually win. Lin-Manuel Miranda seems destined for an acting nod for his work as the title character in Hamilton, and he will almost certainly be joined in the Lead Actor category by costar Leslie Odom, Jr. thanks to the latter's expertly nuanced portrayal of Aaron Burr.

After those three locks, things get much trickier to predict. Assuming The Color Purple's Isaiah Johnson is deemed a Lead Actor for his role as the villainous Mister, he is one to watch out for and will definitely be a part of the conversation. And many critics were mightily impressed with Alex Brightman's star turn in School of Rock, keeping his name in the mix as well. That's already enough for a full slate of Best Actor in a Musical nominees, and it doesn't even take into account the well-liked work of Austin P. McKenzie in Deaf West's Spring Awakening or any of the leading men from the spring shows. American Psycho's Benjamin Walker; Shuffle Along's Brian Stokes Mitchell, Joshua Henry, and Brandon Victor Dixon (depending on the size of their roles); and Tuck Everlasting's Andrew Keenan-Bolger are all well-respected performers who are definitely in contention, meaning this could be the first Tony race to use last year's rule change to expand past the traditional five nominees.

Best Actress in a Musical

Newcomer Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple, making one of the most sensational Broadway debuts in years.

Here again we have a category that is already fairly competitive even without taking the spring shows into consideration. The Color Purple's Cynthia Erivo is the clear front-runner at the moment; every critic and audience member I know has been absolutely floored by her soul-stirring performance as the put-upon Celie. The other surefire nominee at this point would be Hamilton's Phillipa Soo, who I had pegged as one to watch during her Off-Broadway debut in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Soo's Eliza Hamilton provides the Broadway's latest blockbuster with much of its heart, and the captivating actress gets to display the kind of wide emotional range that makes a performance catnip to awards voters.

Beyond Erivo and Soo, we might not see much representation for the fall shows. I have to imagine the previous Tony-winners Audra McDonald, Jessie Mueller, and Laura Benanti will be among this year's contenders for their highly anticipated spring shows, which would give us a full slate of nominees *unless* the category expands. Should a sixth slot become available, I think On Your Feet's Ana VillafaƱe is the most likely to fill it thanks to her utterly charming Broadway debut. One also cannot completely rule out Lea Salonga, although the fact that Allegiance will be long gone by the time nominations are announced severely hinders her chances. At this point, my gut tells me this category will stay at five nominees, meaning Mueller or Benanti would have to severely disappoint to make room for one of the other possibilities (the idea of Audra McDonald disappointing in anything is so unlikely it isn't even worth considering).

Best Actor in a Play

Mark Strong in Lincoln Center's avant-garde production of A View from the Bridge.

Currently, there are no clear front-runners in this category, which makes the nomination slots basically up for grabs. Tim Pigott-Smith and Mark Strong were both nominated for Olivier Awards for their work in the King Charles III and A View from the Bridge respectively, and I expect them to be nominated for Tonys as well (Strong ultimately won the Olivier). Aside from them, I don't really see anyone else from the fall slate of plays making the cut. There is a slightly possibility Fool for Love's Sam Rockwell or The Gin Game's James Earl Jones get recognition for their well-reviewed work, but both shows already feel like they closed ages ago and will likely be long forgotten by the time nominations are announced. As this is another category I fully expect to remain at five nominees, I think there's enough contenders among the spring shows to keep the number of fall nominees low.

Best Actress in a Play

Annaleigh Ashford as the titular pooch in A.R. Gurney's Sylvia.

This category is certainly more competitive than Best Actor in a Play at the moment, with several well-loved actresses having already turned in some highly respected performances. Last year's Best Featured Actress winner Annaleigh Ashford will likely find herself competing in the Best Actress category this year her work in Sylvia, as she is someone who just earns better reviews each time she steps onstage. Laurie Metcalfe is probably one of the most respected actresses in the business to not have a Tony, and by all accounts she single-handedly makes Misery watchable, so I expect her to be in contention as well. And if Andrea Martin can not just get nominated but win a Tony for 10 minutes of stage time in Pippin, one has to imagine that playing the lead in Noises Off puts her in a very good position heading into Tony season. We also cannot completely rule out previous Tony winners Nina Arianda, Cecily Tyson, and Linda Lavin from consideration, although at this point all three feel like long shots. And while Kiera Knightly is generally an awards show darling, I think Therese Raquin was simply too divisive of a play to secure her a nomination.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the Lead Actor/Actress categories in the comments, and keep an eye out for the third part of this feature coming soon. In the meantime, you can always check out my previous Tony coverage by clicking on the link below:

Extremely Early 2016 Tony Award Predictions: Part I


  1. Even though Eclipsed hasn't premiered yet, I'm surprised you didn't mention Lupita Nyong'o as a contender for Best Actress In A Play, since the play did receive critical acclaim off-Broadway.

    1. This article is focused on the Tony chances of the already opened shows, which makes "Eclipsed" outside the scope of these predictions. That said, I agree that Lupita Nyong'o is someone to watch and I am sure she will factor in to my official nomination predictions in April.

    2. And if she's nominated and does win, she'll already be halfway towards joining the EGOT club.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sorry about that confusion by the two deleted comments. I clicked on the "back" button after publishing my first comment, and when I came back, the comment came back again, so I clicked publish. I didn't realize it would publish the same comment again. So in effect, I accidentally published my EGOT club comment 2 more times.