Tonys: Who Should Win, Who Will Win (Analysis)

THR's chief theater critic David Rooney and awards analyst Scott Feinberg share their respective preferences and predictions for 17 top categories.
Paul Kolnik
Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe in 'The King and I'

Final Tony ballots are due by Friday, and the awards will be handed out Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall in a ceremony hosted by past Tony winners Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth (she's also a nominee this year).

So who will be standing in the winners' circle when this year's race for the best of the Broadway season is finally over?

Will musical frontrunners An American in Paris, Fun Home and Something Rotten! spread the wealth, or will one show pull off a sweep? Will the same team that triumphed on Tony night in 2008 with South Pacific achieve similar glory with The King and I, another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic? Will that revival finally score overdue Tony recognition for leading lady Kelli O'Hara? And will The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time add one more to the long string of British imports that have snagged a win for best play?

THR's chief theater critic David Rooney and awards analyst Scott Feinberg share their respective preferences and predictions in 17 top categories.

BEST PLAY

Nominees: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Disgraced, Hand to God and Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two

Should Win: Hand to God

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the hands-down winner for its kinetic production. However, the audacious irreverence and devilish originality with which playwright Robert Askins attacks that old-favorite theme — the family in crisis — make me root for this scrappy American underdog about a Christian youth possessed by a Satanic sock puppet named Tyrone.

Will Win: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Talk about a varied group! While puppets, period pieces and Pulitzers are great, the clear frontrunner is Curious Incident, an immersive, multimedia look inside the mind of a boy with (apparent) autism. Based on Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel, its West End incarnation won the corresponding Olivier Award, and the Broadway version has now won the top play prize of all three notable precursor groups. None of its competitors — each of which has proven somewhat divisive — were even nominated for all three.

BEST MUSICAL

Nominees: An American in Paris, Fun Home, Something Rotten! and The Visit

Should Win: Fun Home

Dialogue and song work in seamless harmony in this minor-key heartbreaker by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir. A unique musical about coming out, coming of age and coming to terms with the past, this is one of the most haunting American memory plays since The Glass Menagerie.

Will Win: Fun Home

There's something for everyone in this category, including a solemn drama from a team of Broadway luminaries (Visit), a splashy comedy from the master of family fun (Rotten) and a beautiful ballet of the sort rarely seen on the Great White Way (Paris). Paris won the Outer Critics Circle and Drama League prizes and has become a box-office phenomenon, but my sense is that things are breaking for Fun Home, an Off-Broadway import — and community favorite — that offers a moving trip into an artist's memory. A telltale sign: five acting noms, divided among revered vets and lesser known up-and-comers.

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY

Nominees: The Elephant Man, Skylight, This Is Our Youth and You Can't Take It with You

Should Win: The Elephant Man

Stephen Daldry’s superbly acted Skylight revival is riveting theater. But director Scott Ellis and his impeccable cast led by Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola brought piercing sensitivity to this dated play, turning its starchy didacticism into a work of rich emotional rewards.

Will Win: Skylight

Two of the four nominees also are represented in the best direction of a play category, which may indicate particular strength: Skylight, Stephen Daldry’s tremendously-reviewed take on David Hare’s kitchen sink drama (which landed more noms than the 1996 original), and Scott Ellis' You Can't Take It with You, which won the Outer Critics Circle and Drama League prizes. But don't discount Drama Desk winner Elephant Man, which Bradley Cooper made a must-see attraction on both sides of the Atlantic, or This Is Our Youth, which has its fans. A close contest might be decided by the fact that only Skylight is still running.

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL

Nominees: The King and I, On the Town and On the Twentieth Century

Should Win: The King and I

No contest. The songs are glorious, but it’s the intensely felt human drama that gives this culturally specific East-meets-West story such powerful immediacy. And with a cast of 50 and a 29-piece orchestra, this sumptuous revival of the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic has a grandeur and scope now rare in the challenging economy of contemporary Broadway.

Will Win: The King and I

Each of these nominees was directed by and stars revered vets, has been critically acclaimed and commercially successful and was nominated by all three precursor groups. However, based on the fact that the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic landed as many total noms as the two Comden and Green classics put together (nine, versus Twentieth's five and Town's four), centers around the most consequential story and won all three precursor prizes, this outcome seems like a slam-dunk.

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Nominees: Steven Boyer (Hand to God), Bradley Cooper (The Elephant Man), Ben Miles (Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two), Bill Nighy (Skylight) and Alex Sharp (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)

Should Win: Cooper

Cooper’s physically demanding portrayal of John Merrick brought pathos, dignity and fathomless reserves of empathy to the grotesquely deformed outcast embraced by Victorian society, erasing all traces of the movie star who had nurtured this passion project for years.

Will Win: Sharp

Each of these gents did/does something incredible: Cooper contorted himself, Boyer splits his personality, Miles is on stage for 5.5 hours three times a week and Nighy inhabits anew a character he's played twice before. But Sharp's trump card is that he's part of a landmark play and has an irresistible personal backstory: He graduated from Juilliard last year without an agent or manager, landed the part of a lifetime and rose to the occasion. He landed noms from each of the precursor groups (as did Miles and Cooper, who's now reprising his part on the West End) and he also won the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Dresk prizes.

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Nominees: Geneva Carr (Hand to God), Helen Mirren (The Audience), Elisabeth Moss (The Heidi Chronicles), Carey Mulligan (Skylight) and Ruth Wilson (Constellations)

Should Win: Mirren

Mulligan and Wilson did exquisite work, respectively in Skylight and Constellations, but Mirren finds unexpected shadings in a character she played before onscreen — in Stephen FrearsThe Queen. Her return to the role of the British monarch is both regal and warmly, wonderfully ordinary, which should earn her a Tony to sit alongside her Oscar.

Will Win: Mirren

Carr's a newcomer and Moss' show tanked at the box office so, through no fault of their own, this is going to be a battle of the Brits: Wilson, whose two-hander closed months ago, and Mirren and Mulligan, who came with their shows from London and are still beating the boards here. Voters may be tempted to fete a rising star, but i history is any indicator, the likelier scenario is that they will coronate an older, revered, Tony-less veteran, revisiting the role of her lifetime. (Mirren's already won Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk prizes.)

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Nominees: Michael Cerveris (Fun Home), Robert Fairchild (An American in Paris), Brian d'Arcy James (Something Rotten!), Ken Watanabe (The King and I) and Tony Yazbeck (On the Town)

Should Win: d'Arcy James

There’s not an undeserving contender in the bunch, but James’ spiky insouciance is the glue that holds together the highbrow-meets-lowbrow antics of this exuberant meta-musical about playwrights competing with Shakespeare. He’s been a stalwart Broadway trooper for 20 years, and this feels like his moment.

Will Win: d'Arcy James

No category is harder to pick. Watanabe's a rookie for whom a nom alone is a victory. The relative similarity of the roles played by Fairchild, in his Broadway debut, and Yazbeck, who's been hoofing here since he was a kid — both standouts from their respective casts' principal trios — will probably cancel each other out. (Fairchild did, however, win Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards.) Cerveris could ride his show's coattails to a second win, but his role isn't particularly demonstrative. I suspect voters will throw this to popular d'Arcy James, who came up short with his two prior noms but makes sense here for impressively originating a role. A vote for him also is a way of acknowledging his show, which might not prevail elsewhere.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Nominees: Kristin Chenoweth (On the Twentieth Century), Leanne Cope (An American in Paris), Beth Malone (Fun Home), Kelli O'Hara (The King and I) and Chita Rivera (The Visit)

Should Win: O'Hara

Not because she’s the perennial Tony bridesmaid, but because her performance is musical-theater acting at its finest, combining heavenly vocals with shattering emotional authenticity. Just hearing her breathe new life into a song like “Hello, Young Lovers” peels away any quaintness associated with the material and provides direct access to the heart of the widowed British schoolteacher in 19th century Siam.

Will Win: Chenoweth

Cope, a newcomer, dances beautifully but could have benefited from more dialogue, while Malone is an effective but understated narrator. This prize tends to go to someone who sweeps you off your feet, which is why I'm focused on the other three. A lot of people are rooting for O'Hara, mostly because her work this season is exquisite, as always, but also because Rivera and Chenoweth already have Tonys (two and one, respectively), while she has none to show for an astounding six noms over the last 11 years. Many others are rallying behind Rivera, a legend who may not get many more at-bats; the Drama League already acknowledged her unparalleled career this year. But momentum seems to be favoring Chenoweth, who has never been more uniquely-suited for a role than this one — for which she already won Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards — and who, history suggests, will get bonus points for hosting while nominated.

BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY

Nominees: Matthew Beard (Skylight), K. Todd Freeman (Airline Highway), Richard McCabe (The Audience), Alessandro Nivola (The Elephant Man), Nathaniel Parker (Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two) and Micah Stock (It's Only a Play)

Should Win: Stock

A solid category though one with no real standout. Stock gets my vote because it takes mad comedic skills to hold your own as the sole unknown in an all-star cast, particularly when most of your key scenes have you trading quips with Nathan Lane, one of the sharpest gagmeisters on Broadway.

Will Win: Parker

This is one of the few categories in which every nominee could conceivably win. It's hard to argue with the choices of the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk — scene-stealers McCabe and Freeman, respectively. But in close featured races, the person with the most time on stage tends to win, and in this case (by my unscientific calculations) that's Parker, who already bagged an Olivier Award this year for the same part. Nivola also was a strong co-lead, but his part was less showy and his show, unlike Parker's, has shuttered.

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Nominees: Annaleigh Ashford (You Can't Take It with You), Patricia Clarkson (The Elephant Man), Lydia Leonard (Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two), Sarah Stiles (Hand to God) and Julie White (Airline Highway)

Should Win: Clarkson

Ashford has become a theater favorite in the past decade, and her nutjob balletomane in You Can’t Take It With You was a delight. But having Clarkson back on Broadway after 25 years was something to savor, in a porcelain characterization that brought spontaneous tenderness, grace and sensuality to a woman who presented herself as a model of studied artifice.

Will Win: Clarkson

One way around the aforementioned "rule" about stage time is delivering a killer scene. Stiles certainly has one (co-starring her puppet), but she's a relative newcomer competing against Clarkson, a popular veteran who had one of her own (when her wounded character tried to show a little kindness to Cooper's), so I give the edge to the latter. That being said, one certainly can't write off Drama Desk winner Ashford, who has loyal fans (though it's hard to see her winning for a fluffy part in a long-gone show); Leonard, who landed Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk noms; or 2007 winner White, who had great moments in a show that wasn't for everyone.

BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Nominees: Christian Borle (Something Rotten!), Andy Karl (On the Twentieth Century), Brad Oscar (Something Rotten!), Brandon Uranowitz (An American in Paris) and Max von Essen (An American in Paris)

Should Win: Oscar

Another award that could deservedly go in any one of five directions. But as the soothsayer in Elizabethan England who opens a visionary channel to the musical theater of the future and then can’t shut it off, Oscar steals the show just as he did 14 years ago in The Producers.

Will Win: Karl

With Paris and Rotten both represented by pairs of nominees, vote-splitting among costars is likely and would help to pave the way for Outer Critics Circle winner Karl, who also has several other things going for him: he's well-known, well-liked and still Tony-less (he first hit Broadway in the 1990s); he's nominated for the second year in a row (some wish he would have won last year for Rocky), but doing something totally different this year than he did last year (he turns out to be very adept at physical comedy); and Kevin Kline, who originated the part 37 years ago, took home this prize for his performance.

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Nominees: Victoria Clark (Gigi), Judy Kuhn (Fun Home), Sydney Lucas (Fun Home), Ruthie Ann Miles (The King and I) and Emily Skeggs (Fun Home)

Should Win: Miles

After anchoring David Byrne’s Here Lies Love with her layered portrayal of naive dictator’s wife Imelda Marcos, relative newcomer Miles reveals enormous depths of devotion and love as senior wife to the stubbornly traditionalist King of Siam. Her rendition of the song “Something Wonderful” is exactly that.

Will Win: Kuhn

Fun Home thesps received a total of five noms, three in this category, and if one of them is going to win somewhere it will probably be here. Sure, they could cancel out one another, but it's hard to imagine Miles winning for a rather small part (although she did claim the Outer Critics Circle prize) or Clark winning for a show that hasn't been well-received. Rookies Skeggs and Lucas each have standout moments — and a win for diminutive Lucas, who already bagged an Obie for the part and would be the second-youngest female Tony winner in history, would be cute. But I give a slight edge to popular Kuhn, whose part gets better as the show goes along, and who's been on Broadway for 30 years, accumulating four noms but no wins.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Nominees: Fun Home (Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron), The Last Ship (Sting), Something Rotten! (Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick) and The Visit (John Kander and Fred Ebb)

Should Win: Fun Home

Five-time nominee Tesori deserves the win for her deeply moving score. Paired with Kron's perceptive lyrics, the music accompanies the protagonist through her intricate journey into the past, asking uneasy questions that are specific to her experience and yet somehow cause us to reflect on the turning points of all of our lives.

Will Win: Fun Home

A show need not be commercially successful to win this prize — The Bridges of Madison County tanked and then won last year — which means that The Last Ship, the category's only shuttered nominee, can't be counted out. Voters may want to seize their last chance to celebrate the legendary tandem of Kander and Ebb (the latter died in 2004). But my hunch is that this race is between the other two nominees. Voters could go with the Kirkpatrick brothers, Broadway novices who wrote a rollicking musical about brothers trying to write a musical. But I suspect they'll instead break for Fun Home, a collaboration between Tesori, who's been nominated four other times (she has yet to win), and first-time lyricist Kron. It would be only the second time that a man has not at least shared in a win in this category.

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL

Nominees: An American in Paris (Craig Lucas), Fun Home (Lisa Kron), Something Rotten! (Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell) and The Visit (Terrence McNally)

Should Win: Fun Home

The contribution of the book writer is frequently overlooked among key factors that define a great musical. Kron's exemplary work adapting Bechdel's "family tragicomic" supplies connective tissue that's every bit as essential as the songs in describing the complicated relationships of the cartoonist's home life, both through the innocent lens of childhood and from the illuminating vantage point of the adult.

Will Win: Fun Home

The options include Rotten! — the only of the nominees totally created from scratch — for its sharp industry humor, The Visit for its no-frills poignancy and Paris for a seamless adaptation. But the clear favorite is Fun Home, for which Kron, a playwright-actress making her first foray into the musical genre, took a story that sounds unadaptable, and made it not only work but soar.

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY

Nominees: Stephen Daldry (Skylight), Marianne Elliott (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), Scott Ellis (You Can't Take It with You), Jeremy Herrin (Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two) and Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Hand to God)

Should Win: Elliott

The virtuoso stagecraft of Elliott’s direction — as much as Simon Stephens’ play or lead actor Sharp’s febrile performance — takes us inside the high-functioning mind of the 15-year-old protagonist, making this murder mystery-meets-domestic drama a thrillingly visceral experience.

Will Win: Elliott

Von Stuelpnagel's chances are probably hindered by the relatively small scale of his production and the perception that it is performance-driven. Herrin will surely get points for biting off a lot this season — effectively two epic shows — as might Daldry and Ellis, as the former also directed The Audience and the latter also directed The Elephant Man and On the Twentieth Century. (The latter two might also benefit from voters' proclivity — at least in each of the last three Tonys ceremonies — to reward directors of revivals.) Still, the smart money is on Elliott, who won this prize four years ago for her one prior Broadway outing, War Horse, and who has done something at least as imaginative this year.

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL

Nominees: Sam Gold (Fun Home), Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten!), John Rando (On the Town), Bartlett Sher (The King and I) and Christopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris)

Should Win: Sher

While this is another category without a weak contender, Sher’s mastery with 20th century American classics — both musicals and plays — has perhaps never been so refined as it is here, in a production that combines monumental scale with heart-stopping intimacy.

Will Win: Gold

Three past winners of this category are among this year's five nominees: Rando (2002's Urinetown), Sher (2008's South Pacific) and Nicholaw (2011's The Book of Mormon). But I think that this race is likely between two newer names: Wheeldon, whose directorial debut has knocked people off their feet with its ambition and beauty, and Gold, the thirtysomething wunderkind who took his phenomenally-received Off-Broadway production (which was performed on a proscenium stage) and completely revamped it for Broadway (in the round), not only not losing anything in the process, but actually making it even better. Wheeldon, like Nicholaw, may get extra credit here for also choreographing his show — but I suspect that voters will opt to recognize him in the choreography category.

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

Nominees: Joshua Bergasse (On the Town), Christopher Gattelli (The King and I), Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten!) and Christopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris)

Should Win: Wheeldon

Dance as an expressive part of the musical-theater vernacular can seem a forgotten art in many Broadway seasons. This one reversed that trend, with vintage inspiration in On the Town and The King and I, tongue-in-cheek razzle-dazzle in Something Rotten! and dramatic physicality in Curious Incident, making the latter a rare nonmusical contender in this category. But ballet maestro Wheeldon's exciting work in An American in Paris takes movement-based storytelling to transporting new heights.

Will Win: Wheeldon

There are no bad options here: On the Town features high-energy dancing; King and I juggles dozens of kids and an iconic number; Something Rotten! packs a ton of performers and storylines onto the stage; and Curious Incident — the first non-musical to land a nom in this category since Dancing at Lughnasa 23 years ago — involves people and sets interacting in a totally unprecedented way. But, at the end of the day, it's hard to imagine this prize not going to Wheeldon's gorgeous ballet sequences, which are the talk of the town.

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