Monday, June 6, 2016

2016 Tony Award Predictions: Best Actor

The Tony Awards are less than a week away, so it's time to really ramp up our prediction articles here at Broadway, Etc. The remaining categories are arguably the most prestigious, with the Best Actor/Actress and production categories having the greatest effect on both individual shows and entire careers. Winning a Tony in one of the leading performance categories definitely opens up a host of career opportunities, and can turn a relative unknown into a bankable star capable of opening a big budget production on name recognition alone.

Although etiquette typically dictates "ladies first," we're actually going to start with the Best Actor candidates, as the two Best Actress categories tend to be more eagerly anticipated by the theatrical community. Which takes nothing away from the incredible achievements of this year's nominated men, who have delivered some truly stunning performances over the past 12 months. As always, I will use a combination of personal observation and gut feeling to determine the most likely winner, and if that person doesn't align with who I would personally vote for I will make sure to point it out in my analysis.

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.

Best Actor in a Play

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

Nominees: Gabriel Bryne, 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

The further into awards season we get, the more Frank Langella appears to have a lock on this award. The three-time Tony-winner has received virtually every Best Actor award in existence for his universally praised performance as an aging man dealing with the onset of dementia, a feat even more impressive when you consider that many critics weren't exactly enthralled with The Father as a play. 

Looking at the rest of the nominees, I don't really see any viable challenges. Tim Pigott-Smith's acclaimed turn in the title role of King Charles III seems like ages ago, as the show closed before most of the other nominated productions even opened. Jeff Daniels certainly earned his share of critical accolades for bringing a large measure of humanity to a former child molester, but the overriding feeling towards Blackbird seems to be one of respect rather than outright enjoyment. When push comes to shove, most Tony voters go with the show/performance that excites them the most, something that rarely comes from a production they don't feel passionately about. Gabriel Bryne does brilliantly subtle work as patriarch James Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night, but has been largely overshadowed in people's minds by costar Jessica Lange. If anyone is going to give Langella a run for his money, it's Mark Strong for the critically beloved A View from the Bridge, but that show is probably too long gone for Strong to be truly competitive.

Will & Should Win: Frank Langella, The Father

Best Actor in a Musical

Aaron Burr, sir: Leslie Odom, Jr. in Hamilton.

Nominees: Alex Brightman, School of Rock; Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof; Zachary Levi, She Loves Me; Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton; Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton

This is actually one of the most competitive, unpredictable races of the night. I feel fairly confident in ruling out first-time nominee Alex Brightman, mostly due to the strength of his competition rather than any fault in the actor's by all accounts fantastic performance. And while I and many others absolutely *adored* Zachary Levi's pitch perfect work in Roundabout's fantastic She Loves Me revival, the TV star turned Tony Award-nominee also feels like an extreme long shot to win.

Many people seem to think being the creative genius behind this season's presumptive Best Musical Hamilton makes Lin-Manuel Miranda likely to win this award, but I actually think it hurts his chances at a Best Actor victory. Tony voters know he will be walking away with several writing awards Sunday night, and therefore will likely opt to spread the wealth around in this category. Also, with all due respect to Miranda, his is a very good performance competing against several extraordinary ones, and if he were to win here it would be a case of hype overriding merit.

I think this race will ultimately boil down to Leslie Odom, Jr.'s fascinating Aaron Burr versus Danny Burstein's transfixing Tevye. Burstein has been a staple of the Broadway community and the Tony Awards for the better part of a decade, with many (myself included) feeling he is long overdue for his first win after five previous nominations. Six proved to be the magic number for Kelli O'Hara, who finally won the Tony for her work in The King and I last year, and I can easily see a similar outcome here (complete with the accompanying standing ovation). Yet Leslie Odom, Jr. is delivering a star making performance in megahit Hamilton, and the momentum behind that show cannot be underestimated. Further helping Odom, Jr.'s case is the fact that Hamilton is much more universally beloved than the latest incarnation of Fiddler, which despite strong critical notices doesn't seem to inspire much passion in anyone describing it.

My gut says that Odom, Jr. just barely wins this award, but my gut also said Kristin Chenoweth would win last year. And if I'm being totally honest, I would probably vote for him too if forced to choose. Hamilton allows Odom, Jr.'s performance to be exciting in a way the somewhat staid Fiddler doesn't allow Burstein's to be, and I think that will ultimately give Odom, Jr. the edge in the night's closest race.

Will & Should Win: Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton
Extremely Close Second: Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Who are you rooting for in the hotly contested Best Actor in a Musical category? Think any of the play nominees can seriously challenge Frank Langella? Let me know in the comments, and check back throughout the week for the rest of my Tony predictions. And in the meantime, catch up on my previous coverage below:


  1. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Hamilton is going to create an All About Eve situation. Both Bette Davis and Anne Baxter were nominated for Best Actress Oscars for All About Eve, and in a sense, that was understandable, since they were both the leads of the film. However, Oscar voters were then torn over who deserved it more, allowing another actress from another film to ultimately win.

    My guess is Miranda and Odom will also split a lot of votes because they'll be unsure of who deserves it more, and thus, Danny Burstein will win. In one of Michael Riedel's recent columns, he talked to some Tony voters, many of whom said they were voting for Burstein. Burstein's been compared a lot to many famous non-winners-finally-turned-winners in the film and TV world like Leonardo DiCaprio and Susan Lucci. If DiCaprio could finally win an Oscar this year, I think the same thing could happen to Burstein at the Tonys.

    1. It's certainly possible. However, in recent Tony history having two nominees from the same show hasn't hurt other front runners, like Billy Porter in "Kinky Boots" (won over costar Stark Sands) or Douglas Hodge for "La Cage aux Folles" (won over Kelsey Grammar). Also, I would take anything Michael Riedal says about "Hamilton" with a grain of salt, as he has made clear he's one of the few who doesn't like the show and takes any chance he gets to disparage the show.

    2. Good points. Although (correct me if I'm wrong), in those men's cases, it seems they won because they were able to stand out way more distinctly than their nominated costar. And from what I've heard, Miranda and Odom hold pretty equal ground against each other in Hamilton, thus creating the possible vote splitting.