Saturday, April 30, 2016

2016 Tony Nominee Predictions: Part II (Best Actor/Actress)

We're only a few short days away from the announcement of the 2016 Tony nominees, and as has become tradition here at Broadway, Etc. I'm doing my best to predict who they'll be! Today we'll be discussing the starring turns from this past season most likely to compete for Broadway's highest honor, using my completely improvised combination of honest evaluation, understanding of theatre trends, and gut feelings.

This year also marks the first time the main acting categories can expand to a potential seven nominees each, provided there is a two- or three-way tie for the 5th slot. I find it highly unlikely that will happen, given the nominating committee's recent tendency towards the lowest possible number of nominees, but it is technically possible. So in each category I will be selecting wildcard picks, the performer or performers I think most likely to prompt a category expansion or unseat one of my official nominees.

So without further ado, let's get on with the show!

Best Actor in a Musical

Danny Burstein and the company of Fiddler on the Roof.

I have gone on record with my belief that Danny Burstein is one of our most gifted character actors, and the fact he has yet to win a Tony Award despite five career nominations is borderline criminal. His towering Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof will certainly net him nomination number six, and I sincerely hope this is the year he finally wins. He will surely be joined by American Psycho's Benjamin Walker, who has been roundly praised for his portrayal of serial killer Patrick Bateman and has been nominated for every other guild award thus far.

And, surprisingly enough, those are the only two actors I'm ready to call sure things in this category. Hamilton presents an interesting conundrum in that both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr. are eligible here, and no one seems quite sure if the committee will nominate one, both, or if they will effectively cancel one another out. In recent years we've seen several pairs of male leads pitted against one another (Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad in The Book of Mormon, Stark Sands and Billy Porter in Kinky Boots, and Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham in Gentleman's Guide), so I am inclined to think both men make the cut. If only one of them is nominated, my money's on Odom, Jr.; quite frankly, he's the better actor, and the nominators may decide that the book and score nominations coming Miranda's way are more than enough praise for Broadway's resident genius.

With the men of Shuffle Along all being ruled Featured rather than Leading Actors, the way seems clear for School of Rock's breakout star Alex Brightman to score his first ever Tony nomination. We also cannot rule out Zachary Levi for his utterly charming work in She Loves Me, a show quickly proving to be an awards season favorite and in my opinion one of the best productions of the season.

Alex Brightman, School of Rock
Danny Burstain, Fiddler on the Roof
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton
Benjamin Walker, American Psycho

Zachary Levi, She Loves Me (I would love love *love* to see him make the cut)

Best Actor in a Play

Frank Langella in Manhattan Theatre Club's production of The Father.

In this category, I think the closest we have to surefire nominees are a pair of British actors who were roundly praised for their performances last fall. Tim Pigott-Smith earned across the board raves for his portrayal of the title character in King Charles III, and Mark Strong was equally lauded for his work as Eddie Carbone in the avant garde revival of A View from the Bridge. When it comes to spring shows, Broadway treasure Frank Langella seems to have a seventh career nomination coming his way for his work in The Father, with the three-time Tony-winner routinely cited as the best thing about the production.

Other strong contenders include Gabriel Byrne for his quietly devastating work in Long Day's Journey Into Night and Jeff Daniels for his harrowing portrayal of a former child molester in Blackbird. I also wouldn't rule out Jesse Tyler Ferguson's work in Fully Committed; the one man show earned fairly good reviews, and as the sole performer in the show Ferguson obviously played a major role in its success. And while I suspect the show is too long gone to be remembered come nomination time, Fool for Love's Sam Rockwell did get a great deal of praise for his work in the Sam Shepard drama.

Gabriel Byrne, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Jeff Daniels, Blackbird
Frank Langella, The Father
Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles III
Mark Strong, A View from the Bridge

Sam Rockwell, Fool for Love

Best Actress in a Musical

Laura Benanti in Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of She Loves Me

As per usual, this is one of the most competitive categories around, although many of the nominees seem set at this point. Past winners Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, and Jesse Mueller are virtually guaranteed nominations, with all three delivering superb performances in their respective shows. And Hamilton's Phillipa Soo, who I have been raving about since her work in Off-Broadway's Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 a few seasons back, is doing phenomenal work as the mega-hit musical's emotional anchor; her talent combined with the massive buzz behind the show should be enough to secure her a spot among this year's nominees.

Which leaves only one guaranteed nomination spot left to be filled, and I can't imagine it going to anyone other than The Color Purple's Cynthia Erivo. The British actress is simply sensational as the put-upon Miss Celie, bringing the house down nightly with her soul-stirring rendition of the show's eleven o'clock anthem "I'm Here."

Honestly, all of these women seem like virtual locks, and I would be shocked to see any of them excluded in favor of someone else. Which is not to say there aren't other deserving nominees out there; Carmen Cusack has won herself a lot of fans with her work in the Steve Martin musical Bright Star, and Ana Villafane's spot-on channeling of a young Gloria Estefan has a lot to do with On Your Feet working as well as it does. If any of the leading performance categories were to expand beyond five nominees, it would likely be this one.

Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Audra McDonald, Shuffle Along
Jessie Mueller, Waitress
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

Carmen Cusack, Bright Star

Best Actress in a Play

Lupita Nyong'o in Eclipsed

This is the category I have least feel for, as despite the abundance of plays this season many of them have had male leads. One play that bucked that trend is Danai Gurira's all-female Eclipsed, and I expect its Oscar-winning star Lupita Nyong'o to be among the women who hear their name called Tuesday morning. I also have a very good feeling about last year's Best Featured Actress winner Annaleigh Ashford being nominated again for her turn as the titular pooch in this season's Sylvia. And while I personally had some reservations about Jessica Lange in Long Day's Journey Into Night (specifically the way she was directed), she is the one other name I would be genuinely surprised to see excluded from the Best Actress race.

As for the other two slots, they are really up for grabs. Past Best Actress winners Nina Arianda and Linda Lavin are certainly in contention for their work in Fool for Love and Our Mother's Brief Affair respectively. I would give the edge to Arianda, as while both shows have been closed for a while she has managed to at least get a couple of theatre guild nominations this season, while Lavin has been passed over. There's also Michelle Williams to consider for her work in Blackbird, and the very slight chance that Laurie Metcalfe is remembered for doing her best to save the critically panned Misery from itself.

Nina Arianda, Fool for Love
Annaleigh Ashford, Sylvia
Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Lupita Nyong'o, Eclipsed
Michelle Williams, Blackbird

Linda Lavin, Our Mother's Brief Affair

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments. Check back Tuesday afternoon to see how well I did, and in the meantime catch up on the rest of my Tony coverage:

2016 Tony Nominee Predictions: Part I (Production)


  1. I agree with most of your predictions. However, I think Zachary Levi will be nominated instead of Benjamin Walker, Laurie Metcalf will just barely manage to sneak in with a nomination, and Ben Whishaw will be nominated over Gabriel Byrne.

    1. Interesting. What makes you think Benjamin Walker is the one who would be replaced should Zachary Levi get nominated?

  2. Well, since Hamilton is largely about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr's longtime rivalry, I think Tony nominators will feel foolish if they don't nominate both Miranda and Odom. That's one reason why I think Walker will be left off the list.

    Another is the critical acclaim. I feel the critical acclaim for Levi as well as She Loves Me as a whole will be a factor in him getting a nomination. Most of the reviews I've read for American Psycho claim that the only notable thing about the show is that Benjamin Walker spends a lot of time on stage shirtless, and most of the reviews pretty much say "Go read the book/watch the movie. Those are better." What makes Christian Bale's performance in the film version of American Psycho notable isn't whether or not he has his shirt off; it's Patrick Bateman's overall behavior.

    Now don't think I hate Benjamin Walker, cause I don't. I haven't seen him onstage cause I don't live in New York City, but when I have seen him in movies, he's often very good, even if the movies themselves are problematic (such as The Choice and In The Heart Of The Sea).

    1. I agree Miranda and Odom are looking very likely at this point. I just think that if one of my predictions gets bumped in favor of Levi, it will probably be Alex Brightman instead of Walker.