Three actresses play the graphic novelist Alison Bechdel at different stages of her life in the Tony-nominated musical “Fun Home,” and this year three of us worked the phones — and the cocktail-party circuit — to predict who might win Broadway’s top prizes at tonight’s ceremony.
We are a theater reporter, a theater editor and a Web editor for theater. In total, we interviewed 44 of the 844 eligible Tony voters, asking them to anonymously share their ballots. It was neither a scientific nor a random sample, as the most poll-hardened of the three of us observes; still, we are here to tell you what looks likely to happen in eight major categories.
This year, we must point out, the candidates are extraordinarily varied (“Have you ever seen four shows less alike?” one voter noted of the best-musical derby) and the races tighter than usual.
Except when they’re not.
There aren’t many sure things on Broadway, but here’s one: “The King and I” will be Tony voters’ cup of tea. The lush revival, a hit for Lincoln Center Theater, was our sample’s overwhelming choice to win best musical revival over “On the Town” and “On the Twentieth Century.”
And for best actress in a play, Helen Mirren might as well start polishing her crown now. By a wide margin, the voters we surveyed rewarded her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s bio-drama “The Audience.”
Two other British imports, Simon Stephens’ eye-popping coming-of-age drama “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and David Hare’s 1996 work “Skylight,” look like locks for the best play and best revival of a play Tony.
Yes, there is some made-in-the-USA affection for Robert Askins’ comedy “Hand to God” as best play, and for its lead actress, Geneva Carr. An unknown amid a bevy of movie and TV stars (most of them British), she has attracted fans who found surprising depths in her antic performance as the mother of a teenager possessed by his puppet. But in our tally, the Queen rules.
Many voters and industry experts we spoke with expect “An American in Paris” to take the most sought-after prize: the Tony for best new musical. But the underdog “Fun Home,” a critical darling that is now selling well too, has more than its share of passionate advocates and could pull off an upset.
There are still lots of reasons to believe “American in Paris” will win. It opened to strong reviews, is widely admired for its choreography and visuals, has a score of much-loved Gershwin standards, and week after week has been the highest-grossing new musical. It is classy and classic, more than challenging, meaning that the show could run for some time on Broadway and that a planned tour could go anywhere.
But “Fun Home” appears to be winning votes from those who believe the show is more original than “Paris” — it has new songs, rather than old standards — and who admire the producers’ decision to mount a musical about a lesbian and her suicidal father. The show also packs an emotional punch, fueled by Jeanine Tesori’s striking score, that many audience members have praised (albeit through tears).
One voter says “Fun Home” evangelists have gotten their message across. “It’s gone from being the show about the guy who kills himself to being perceived as a smart musical,” he said. “And every season has one.”
Such surging support is affecting another close race as well: best actor in a musical, where Michael Cerveris, a highly regarded Broadway veteran who plays the closeted dad in “Fun Home,” looks to have overtaken Brian d’Arcy James of “Something Rotten!” and Robert Fairchild of “An American in Paris.”
And then there were two.
Alas, that’s the best we can tell you about one of the night’s most anticipated battles: best actress in a musical.
It’s always been seen as a three-way contest between Broadway megastars: Chita Rivera, a two-time winner and 10-time nominee, for “The Visit”; Kristin Chenoweth, a comic whirlwind in “On the Twentieth Century”; and Kelli O’Hara, nominated for the sixth time, without a win, for “The King and I.” (Leanne Cope and Beth Malone should be proud to be nominated.)
While many had predicted that the 82-year-old Rivera would get a valedictory salute for her riveting turn as a vengeful zillionaire in “The Visit,” it doesn’t look likely. It’s Kelli-vs.-Kristin, and while our tally shows O’Hara with an edge, it still feels too close to call.
For many voters, a vote for O’Hara is long overdue notice for a sterling career; for others it’s celebrating the perfect match of actress and role: the schoolteacher Anna, who forces her way into the court and the heart of the King of Siam.
But the reasoning goes the other way, too: Does O’Hara bring anything new to a role that won Tonys for two other actresses? Wasn’t she better in “South Pacific,’’ in “The Bridges of Madison County”?
Chenoweth (who already has a Tony) faces a similar conundrum: When is she not Broadway’s musical-comedy Energizer bunny, a go-for-broke comedian with a silvery soprano? She was all that and more in “On the Twentieth Century,” and she’s sure to put those talents to use as one of the Tonys hosts, but is that enough?
We also still see a two-person race in best actor for a play. The biggest stars, Bradley Cooper and Bill Nighy, are unlikely to be part of it. (Neither is Ben Miles of “Wolf Hall.”) Instead Alex Sharp of “Curious Incident” or Steven Boyer of “Hand to God” will go home with a Tony.
They are both Juilliard graduates; they both deliver physically intense performances; they have both been ubiquitous on the meet-and-greet circuit. What Sharp has in his favor is a beloved play and a great back story: just 26, he was plucked right from school for a Broadway stage.
Boyer has Tyrone, the puppet alter-ego who expresses his every venal thought on stage. Sharp will probably win, but if Boyer —- and Tyrone — take the Tony, watch out.