The Tony Awards are almost here, and although I'm *slightly* behind on my prediction articles I am determined to get the rest of them out before Broadway's big night. It's time to tackle the last of the acting races, Best Actress in a Play and Best Actress in a Musical.
As always, I will use a combination of personal experience and popular opinion to determine who is most likely to walk away a winner Sunday night. And should the person most likely to win not match who I think is more deserving to win, I will be sure to point it out in my analysis.
Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.
Best Actress in a Play
Nominees: Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night; Laurie Metcalf, Misery; Lupita Nyong'o, Eclipsed; Sophie Okonedo, The Crucible; Michelle Williams, Blackbird
An eclectic mix of performances are represented in this year's Best Actress in a Play category, although it looks increasingly likely that Oscar and Emmy-winner Jessica Lange will end June 12th one step closer to a coveted EGOT (that's an Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony sweep for those of you who don't know). While I personally found the way Lange was directed to be problematic, there's no denying that her morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone is often a force of nature. It helps that the role is also one of the all-time great acting challenges in American drama, and that the currently running Long Day's Journey Into Night is the most recent of all the nominated productions.
I can't really imagine a scenario where one of the other actresses manages to wrest this award away from Lange. Metcalf was probably the only saving grace of the critically lambasted Misery, but I suspect most Tony voters have long since forgotten that Stephen King adaptation. Sophie Okonedo managed one of the most surprising Tony wins in recent memory when she won a Featured Actress Tony for A Raisin in the Sun two years ago, but I don't think the English actress will manage such an unexpected victory this time around. And while Lupita Nyong'o and Michelle Williams both earned strong notices in Eclipsed and Blackbird respectively, it doesn't appear that they inspire the same kind of passion among voters as Lange does.
Will Win: Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Should Win: Lupita Nyong'o, Eclipsed
Best Actress in a Musical
Nominees: Laura Benanti, She Loves Me; Carmen Cusack, Bright Star; Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple; Jessie Mueller, Waitress; Phillipa Soo, Hamilton
Let's be honest: this award is probably already being engraved with Cynthia Erivo's name. She is simply sensational as the much maligned Miss Celie in John Doyle's stripped down version of The Color Purple, giving the kind of diva performance that is the stuff of theatrical legend. Everyone I have talked to, from theatre geeks to those who went to see The Color Purple primarily for Jennifer Hudson, has been absolutely floored by Erivo's powerhouse performance and roof-rattling voice. And when was the last time an actress routinely commanded a mid-show standing ovation the way Erivo does during her 11 o'clock anthem "I'm Here?" I'd say not since Patti LuPone's "Rose's Turn" in the 2008 Gypsy, which I consider the single greatest musical theatre performance I have ever seen.
The other actresses are all incredibly talented, and in another year would be fiercely competitive. Laura Benanti is perfection in She Loves Me, with the role of perfumerie clerk Amalia Balash seemingly tailor made for her comedic chops and golden soprano. Phillipa Soo immediately impressed me during her Off-Broadway debut in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and is equally amazing as the emotional rock upon which Hamilton is built. I haven't seen Jessie Mueller in Waitress, but I have yet to see the Tony-winner give a bad performance, and by all accounts Carmen Cusack is one of the best things about this season's Little Show That Could, Bright Star. Yet Erivo has the combination of talent and incandescent star wattage that only comes about once in a blue moon, and will surely be awarded Broadway's highest honor because of it. (I mean, just listen to this performance from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and tell me you don't want to give Erivo every award imaginable.)
Do you think this year's Best Actress races are as locked down as I do, or do you expect someone else's name to be called Sunday night? Let me know in the comments, and don't miss out on the rest of my 2016 Tony coverage below: