This is the time of the year when I think OTB ought to mean Off Tony Betting. I mean, it’s the theater community’s biggest horse race, and there’s not even a production of Guys and Dolls in sight!
In terms of prognostication, Tonys 2012 presents a challenging task: save for the sitting-pretty-in-the-black Death of a Salesman revival, there are no runaway smash hits (last year this time: The Book of Mormon. ‘Nuff said.)
And the musical categories are, for me at least, a particularly blah affair this year. Nevertheless, The American Theater Wing’s Tony Awards constitute the theater’s biggest and most celebratory night, and attention must be paid — to such an awards show, attention must finally be paid! Here then, humbly submitted, are my predictions, including Will Wins and Should Wins, for Tonys, 2012.
Once has lovely, inventive movement, but not really dance; Kathleen Marshall’s work in Nice Work If You Can Get It is fun, but comes off as Anything Goes-lite. That leaves Christopher Gatelli’s high-stepping paper boys in Newsies to nab this prize.
WILL WIN: Newsies. SHOULD WIN: Newsies.
BEST FEATURED ACTOR/PLAY
Christian Borle’s pre-Peter Pan Captain Hook in Peter and the Starcatchers is a riot, and Michael Cumpsty does yeoman’s work as Judy Garland’s long-suffering aide-de-camp in End of the Rainbow. But pre-summer-blockbuster-Spiderman Andrew Garfield reveals that, as an actor, he is most definitely not a dime a dozen as Biff in Death of a Salesman.
WILL WIN: Garfield. SHOULD WIN: Garfield.
BEST FEATURED ACTOR/MUSICAL
Porgy and Bess’s David Alan Grier and Philip Boykin will probably do the cancel-each-other-out thing, leaving industry favorite Michael Cerveris’s much-lauded turn as Che Guevara in the otherwise reviled Evita revival to keep him high-flying and adored.
WILL WIN: Cerveris. SHOULD WIN: Boykin.
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS/PLAY
Beloved in the industry for her tireless, important charity work, Judith Light stepped into Linda Lavin’s shoes for the Broadway run of Other Desert Cities and proved, once again, that, despite her fame from an 80s TV sitcom, she has always been a brilliant stage actress. Yet Linda Emond took on an iconic role — Linda Loman in Salesman — and read it anew, with the kind of depth and sensitivity we’ve come to expect from her. This is a tough race.
WILL WIN: Emond. SHOULD WIN: A tie between Light and Emond.
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS/MUSICAL
She works all the time, and her work in Nice Work is not just nice, it’s delightful. Nice Work is derived from the old Gershwin show Oh, Kay! When they announce her name on Tony night, here’s hoping the presenters will call it out like this: “Oh, Judy Kaye!”
WILL WIN: Kaye. SHOULD WIN: Kaye.
I’m a big fan of Michael Wilson’s solid, entertaining revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, which would pull this award out if it weren’t for an obscure little play from the 1940s called Death of a Salesman. Hello!? Mike Nichols and his magnificent cast gave us what didn’t seem possible: a new/old Salesman that is, quite frankly, one for the ages.
WILL WIN: Death of a Salesman. SHOULD WIN: Death of a Salesman.
Evita may have kept the cash rolling in from all directions, but critics pronounced it D.O.A. Diane Paulus and her Porgy and Bess (oh, my bad: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess) famously pissed off Stephen Sondheim. That leaves director Eric Schaeffer and the Kennedy Center’s take on Sondheim’s own Follies to glitter among the ashes here. Hats off, here it comes, that beautiful Tony.
WILL WIN: Follies. SHOULD WIN: Follies.
Senior citizens do it best. In 2012, Mike Nichols directed Death of a Salesman on Broadway. Any questions?
WILL WIN: Nichols. SHOULD WIN: Nichols.
Directors of Disney musicals (excepting Julie Taymor, of course) don’t usually win in this category, so no Newsies is bad Newsies for that show’s fine and capable helmer Jeff Calhoun. Much of the success of Once, however, must be given to its director and not its marketing machine. John Tiffany mined the depths of all his performers, resulting in an unusually well-acted musical.
WILL WIN: Tiffany. SHOULD WIN: Tiffany.
Of all the races, this is the heartbreaker to call. Will James Corden’s comic-gold performance in One Man, Two Guvnors best Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sterling dramatic turn as Willy Loman? Is an apple better than an orange? Can voters really choose between these two utterly different, utterly deserving performances? I’m giving the nod to Hoffman, by a nose.
WILL WIN: Hoffman. SHOULD WIN: Hoffman.
Hands down, the toughest competition of the evening. Linda Lavin and Stockard Channing — two of the most amazing veteran actors in the business — were hilarious and terrifying and fabulous in The Lyons and Other Desert Cities, respectively. As for Nina Arianda’s whip-wielding and whip-smart auditioning actress in Venus in Fur? She hit her marks with a ferocious sting that was both comic and devastating. And in End of the Rainbow, the remarkable Tracie Bennett brilliantly brought to life the Judy Garland of both our dreams and our nightmares. Only a fool would bet on this category. And yet, here I go.
WILL WIN: Arianda. SHOULD WIN: Bennett.
Newcomer Jeremy Jordan became a star in not one but two Broadway musicals this year: Bonnie and Clyde and Newsies. His nomination for the latter is a much deserved “welcome to the club.” Norm Lewis’s Porgy and Ron Raines’s Ben in Follies proved outstanding contributions from veteran performers, and Steve Kazee breathed palpable melancholy life into his soulful, conflicted romantic lead in Once. Much-nominated Danny Burstein essayed his tortured song-and-dance man character from Follies with knockout showmanship and unexpected gravitas. No folly there. This is a class where all the students earn an A.
WILL WIN: Kazee. SHOULD WIN: Burstein.
You can bet the farm — or all of Catfish Row, I mean — on Audra McDonald’s epic work as Bess in The Gerswhins’ Porgy and Bess. But I’m going to play a sentiment card here: yes, Audra is stunning (would you have guessed otherwise?) but this will be her fifth Tony Award. Jan Maxwell, who ultimately walked away with the entire evening (and that’s saying something) as Phyllis in Follies has not one Tony on her shelf, after years of nominations and spectacular work in both plays and musicals. As far as I’m concerned, Jan can do no wrong. So... my money’s on McDonald, but my heart is on Maxwell.
WILL WIN: McDonald. SHOULD WIN: Maxwell.
Peter and the Starcatcher has the most family appeal and, with a Tony win, the best tour chances; Clybourne Park and Other Desert Cities are weightier, “serious” plays. C.P. has a Pulitzer Prize, which doesn’t always mean an edge with Tony voters, but here, I think it does.
WILL WIN: Clybourne Park. SHOULD WIN: Clybourne Park.
This usually glittering category is earthbound this year. Once has its fans, and scores on a few levels, but, to me, it seemed more like a play with music. Nice Work should get the Environmental Tony for its achievement in recycling. Leap of Faith? It leapt off a cliff. Newsies is a moneymaking crowd-pleaser from the Disney machine — more a triumph of marketing than of art. Which is to say: it will tour beautifully.
WILL WIN: Newsies. SHOULD WIN: I’m abstaining; don’t judge.
Best of luck to all the nominees. Watch the Tony Awards broadcast on CBS, Sunday, June 10, at 8 p.m.