The Tony Awards this year will be extremely interesting, as most fields are more wide open than they have been in years – the good shows this season have been an embarrassment of riches.
I will analyze all the Musical categories for the 2014 Tony Awards; I am not well-versed enough in the plays to properly predict victors. Full disclosure: I have seen all the musicals with multiple nominations this season except Beautiful and After Midnight (lack of interest), and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (lack of opportunity).
Note that predicting the Tonys is not as much of a science as the Oscars. The only preceding theater awards are the Drama Desks and Outer Critics Circle (OCC) Awards (and to a minor extent, the Drama League Awards) – all of which honor off-Broadway shows as well so the results are skewed. I have looked at these preceding awards, spoken to lots of theater-goers, and will do my best to predict who will win, along with giving my two cents about who should win.
This season has been unique in that a lot of very good shows opened, but none that appear to be the all-consuming blockbusters of years past. This has led to much more egregious snubbing by the Tonys than usual – If/Then did not get a Best Musical nomination and got snubbed all around (notably for its set and its book), Steven Pasquale was overlooked for Best Actor, and so forth. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (henceforth, “A Gentleman’s Guide”) leads the pack with ten nominations, with Hedwig and the Angry Inch in second place with eight nominations. However, this is no guarantee of triumph on Tony Night – Scottsboro Boys had twelve nominations three years ago, and walked away empty-handed. So, let’s dive in, category by category.
– After Midnight
– A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
This is the big prize, the one that every show hopes to win. All four of the nominated shows have at least four other nominations, so it’s clear why voters like them (unlike Bring It On last year, whose nomination is still the most inexplicable thing in recent Tony history).
After Midnight just seems to be a complete nonentity – it’s a glorified revue that no one’s heard anything about. Audiences certainly aren’t having it – this past week, After Midnight’s miniscule theater was only 71% full; the other three shows had more expensive tickets yet still filled their larger theaters to 100% capacity. The Tonys rarely reward shows that aren’t crowdpleasers, so I cannot see After Midnight walking away as the Best Musical.
Past that, things get murky. The Broadway community can only agree on one thing: their collective hatred for jukebox musicals. Jukebox musicals’ relentless success only increases this vitriol, as Rock of Ages has become the go-to punchline upon Spiderman’s demise. However, the community seems to be wholeheartedly embracing Beautiful, the jukebox musical for Carole King songs. The only other jukebox musical to win Best Musical in the last twenty years is Jersey Boys. As flummoxed as I am by this, Beautiful stands a decent chance come June 8th.
The Broadway community also does not seem to think much of Disney’s musicals – the only one to win Best Musical was Lion King. However, Aladdin is their best offering since the one that started it all, Beauty and the Beast. Audience response to the show has been rapturous, with standing ovations reported in the middle of the show. Unlike most of this season’s shows, which feel like they still need quite a bit of work, Disney did not bring Aladdin to Broadway until it was perfected. It would most certainly be my pick for Best Musical; it was the one I enjoyed most this past season.
That leaves A Gentleman’s Guide. The show came out of nowhere and has kept gaining steam as the season went on: it leads in Tony nominations, and it won the Drama Desk, Drama League, and OCC Award for Best Musical. With this much momentum, it may be impossible to stop it. To be frank, I don’t get the hype – it was a perfectly lovely musical, but not of Best Musical caliber. Still, I seem to be in the minority here. Certainly, of the four nominees, this one feels the freshest (compared to a revue, a jukebox musical, and a musical film adaptation). Expect A Gentleman’s Guide to complete its awards sweep come June 8th.
Will Win: A Gentleman’s Guide
Might Win: Beautiful
Should Win: Aladdin
– Hedwig and the Angry Inch
– Les Miserables
This race is the closest to being locked out of all the categories; there is absolutely no way Hedwig and the Angry Inch does not win. Hedwig won the Drama Desk, Drama League, and OCC awards in this category, and it’s all anyone is talking about. The show is pretty much sold out for the remainder of its run, and about 200 people attempt the ticket lottery every day. Since I’ve not seen Hedwig, I’ll be rooting for Les Miserables, but I know that’s futile. Since Hedwig has never played Broadway before, this is its first chance to win a Tony for a Best Show category, and it most assuredly will.
Will Win: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
– Warren Carlyle (After Midnight) – also nominated for Best Choreography
– Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) – previously won for Spring Awakening; previously nominated for Thoroughly Modern Millie and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; previously nominated for the play A View From the Bridge
– Leigh Silverman (Violet)
– Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman’s Guide)
This category is a difficult one to predict, and will end up being a toss-up between Mayer for Hedwig and Tresnjak for A Gentleman’s Guide. Silverman does not stand a chance with Violet, since the show is one big squandering of potential. Carlyle is also nominated for his choreography for After Midnight, and might receive that as a consolation prize, but I cannot see him winning for Direction.
So it comes down to Mayer and Tresnjak. Mayer has the experience, and has a Tony already, whereas Tresnjak is making his Broadway debut. The Drama Desks and OCC Awards both gave awards to Tresnjak (who is the only director to be nominated for all three awards this season). Both Gentleman’s Guide and Hedwig have built up a lot of momentum going into the Tonys, and it’s really too close to call. I’ll pick Gentleman’s Guide to win, just because I’ve seen it and know the direction was excellent, but it’s essentially a coin flip at this point.
Will Win: Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman’s Guide)
Might Win: Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
– Neil Patrick Harris (Hedwig)
– Ramin Karimloo (Les Miserables)
– Andy Karl (Rocky)
– Jefferson Mays (A Gentleman’s Guide) – previously won for I Am My Own Wife
– Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide)
This season has the most extraordinary Best Actor field in recent memory – even the actors who were snubbed (Steven Pasquale and Norbert Leo Butz, among others) would have walked away with the Tony in most other years. Of the five nominees, it is astounding that there has only been one previous nomination, considering the level of talent.
Bryce Pinkham has the least chance of winning, just because all the Gentleman’s Guide support will go towards Jefferson Mays. He is in the same position as Stark Sands was last year – playing the straight man to a showstopper like Billy Porter. It’s great that he was recognized with a Tony nomination, but he won’t get the award – probably won’t even factor in enough to split the Gentleman’s Guide vote. On the upside, this should cement Pinkham as a leading man on Broadway – previously, he’s only had a small role in Ghost the Musical, and was an understudy in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
I do not know how Ramin Karimloo is as Valjean, since I saw an understudy in the role. However, everyone who has seen him spoke rapturously about his performance. Although this is Karimloo’s Broadway debut, he has been an awards magnet in other cities for his work in musical theater. Unfortunately, the lack of other nominations for Les Miserables (only two others, in Best Sound Design and Best Revival) bodes poorly for Ramin’s chances – there just seems to be a feeling that Les Miserables was not away long enough to necessitate a revival.
The same problem applies to Andy Karl, who is stupendous as the eponymous Rocky. Andy Karl has been working steadily on Broadway for a decade, including small parts in Legally Blonde and 9 to 5, a stint as Fiyero in Wicked, and a fantastic turn as Neville Landless in last year’s Mystery of Edwin Drood. He is long overdue for some Tony recognition, and he essentially carries Rocky the Musical on his shoulders. But Rocky only got three other nominations (Lighting, Set, and Choreography), and is generally being derided by the Broadway community. To some extent I agree – there is just a feeling that Rocky never needed to be a musical. However, Andy Karl’s performance elevates the whole production, and I wish he’d get the Tony.
That leaves the two frontrunners: Neil Patrick Harris and Jefferson Mays. Once again, the two shows with the most momentum. I thought NPH would have this in the bag, since there has been some criticism levied at Mays for rehashing the same trick from his one-man play I Am My Own Wife, where he plays seven different characters. But Mays is getting a last-minute swell of support. Mays won the OCC Award in this category. NPH won the Drama League’s Distinguished Performance Award denoting the best theatrical performance of the season (and when considering other categories in addition to this one, that’s saying something!). Further confusing the race, Mays and NPH tied at the Drama Desks! Ties are exceedingly rare at the Tonys, but there could be one here.
In the end, I give Harris a very slight edge, because his performance is legen-wait for it-dary (couldn’t resist). I wish I could see it. But in a year like this, it really is an honor just to be nominated.
Will Win: Neil Patrick Harris (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
Might Win: Jefferson Mays (A Gentleman’s Guide)
Should Win: Andy Karl (Rocky)
– Mary Bridget Davies (A Night with Janis Joplin)
– Jessie Mueller (Beautiful) – previously nominated for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
– Idina Menzel (If/Then) – previously won for Wicked; previously nominated for Rent
– Kelli O’Hara (Bridges of Madison County) – previously nominated for Nice Work If You Can Get It, South Pacific, The Pajama Game, and The Light in the Piazza
– Sutton Foster (Violet) – previously won for Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes; previously nominated for Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Shrek
In contrast to the Best Actor category, Best Actress includes some of the most decorated musical theater actresses working today – eleven previous Tony nominations, three of them wins. I’m sure Mary Bridget Davies was great as Janis Joplin – her nomination is the only one for any of the four shows that closed before nominations. But she is a nonentity in this race – from the get-go, it was a four-woman race between Jessie, Kelli, Idina, and Sutton. Each one has a stupendous starring role that got nominated for every major theater award… but only one can win.
The one that almost certainly won’t is Sutton Foster. Violet is a terrible showcase for her talent – there isn’t really any dancing, and the music could be sung by anyone with a decent voice. Besides, she already has two Tonys, one of which she won only two years ago.
Idina Menzel would be my choice, because she gives one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen, in one of the most demanding roles I’ve ever seen. She is almost never offstage during If/Then, and she has to portray two different characters. Everyone agrees that If/Then is essentially “Idina Menzel the Musical” – Idina carries the entire show. In fact, I’m very curious what will happen to the show when Idina leaves.
Despite all that, from what I can tell the frontrunners are Jessie Mueller and Kelli O’Hara. Mueller has been on stage almost constantly in the last few years, with roles in Mystery of Edwin Drood, Nice Work If You Can Get It (which she took over from Kelli O’Hara, ironically). Ever since she debuted as Carole King and elevated the show from a jukebox musical to a respected piece of theater, there has been Tony buzz for her. By all accounts, she is brilliant and carries the show, and she did win the Drama Desk Award. (The OCC Award went to Audra McDonald, who thankfully is not in this category at the Tonys.)
But then there is Kelli O’Hara. This is O’Hara’s fifth nomination, and she is really overdue for a win. If any role will get her a Tony, it should be this one. Bridges of Madison County was written specifically with her in mind as the lead, and then delayed until she could star in it. The role is one of the most challenging, with the score supremely difficult, and accent that has to be maintained, and a gamut of emotions that has to be conveyed. This could also be where Tony voters decide to reward the underappreciated Bridges of Madison County.
It’s incredibly close between O’Hara and Mueller, but I think in the end O’Hara will come out on top. Primarily because the common sentiment seems to be that she should really have a Tony by now, and this role is the best she’s ever performed in. Mueller will certainly have plenty of other opportunities to bring home a Tony. But this race is definitely one to watch.
Will Win: Kelli O’Hara (Bridges of Madison County)
Might Win: Jessie Mueller (Beautiful)
Should Win: Idina Menzel (If/Then)