It's been a year on Broadway so unpredictable that the only thing for certain at the Tony Awards on Sunday is that Hugh Jackman will be the host. There have been no clear juggernauts — although some wonderful performances — and critics have largely bemoaned the lack of strong new good musicals and plays. In fact, the best revival categories this year easily overshadow anything new.
That has led to uncertainty in most of the categories, and the nominating committee made no friends with choices that left many scratching their heads. CBS won't be too happy that the likes of Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe, James Franco and Rachel Weisz didn't get nominations. To make matters worse, the telecast faces off against Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
So, into the breach, The Associated Press handicaps some of this year's messy races.
Will win: "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder." Should win: "Aladdin."
"A Gentleman's Guide" is the only one of the four nominees to have all original music and is a hard-working, witty, fun work that deserves its win. But "Aladdin" has everything a big musical should have — humor, high-step dancing, big sets and costumes, a bona fide leading man in James Monroe Iglehart and tried-and-tested songs. It's even got a flying carpet. Who could ask for anything more? Actually, we could ask for more nominations: "The Bridges of Madison County," ''If/Then," ''Bullets Over Broadway" and "Rocky" — though each was somewhat flawed — all deserved to be here, too.
Will win: "All The Way." Should win: "Mothers and Sons."
The first turbulent year of Lyndon Johnson's presidency is the gripping focus of Robert Schenkkan's play and it owes its likely win to Bryan Cranston, who is spellbinding in the lead role. But the play is bloated and gets bogged down in the second half. Terrence McNally's "Mothers and Sons" is gentle in a way "All the Way" is showy. And in its subtle dialogue, McNally's play often seems more authentic than Schenkkan's. The other contestants — "Act One," ''Casa Valentina" and "Outside Mullingar" — are delightful without leaving a lasting impression.
Will win: "The Glass Menagerie." Should win: Any of the four.
Want great acting in brilliant works? Step right down to the best play revival category. "The Glass Menagerie," with Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto, was dreamy and sublime. "A Raisin in the Sun" with Denzel Washington is powerful and resonant. "Twelfth Night" with Mark Rylance was Shakespeare at its best. And "The Cripple of Inishmaan" is an ensemble, sets and a playwright firing on all four cylinders. No one should have to choose among these standout productions.
Will win: "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." Should win: "Les Miserables."
The breathtaking 90-minute revival of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is full of energy and bravado, with a leading transvestite in Neil Patrick Harris who sings with real feeling and saucily spits up at the audience. So it's easy to overlook the new "Les Mis," with its gloomy, aching heartbeat. It has two superb leads in Ramin Karimloo and Will Swenson and new orchestrations, stagecraft and costumes. The third candidate, the understated "Violet," could sneak in to steal the trophy if its two glitzy rivals spit the vote.
Will win: Bryan Cranston. Should win: Bryan Cranston.
Are you going to argue with Walter White? Cranston, fresh off his triumph as a drug kingpin in "Breaking Bad," shows what he can do in a Broadway debut, and it's astonishing. He looks nothing like President Lyndon B. Johnson in "All the Way" but no matter: With his hair slicked back, his pants hiked up and in a pair of thick black glasses, Cranston stretches his rubbery face into a near-constant Johnson scowl and makes that good ol' boy accent run riot. He makes Mark Rylance's "Richard III" look like a cub scout. The other competitors — Chris O'Dowd, Tony Shalhoub and Samuel Barnett — need not have a speech ready.
Will win: Audra McDonald. Should win: Audra McDonald.
McDonald will have her sixth Tony for a role that showcases all her stage skills — singing and acting and just being Audra McDonald. In "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," she plays Billie Holiday with humor and grit. You get to hear "Stormy Weather" live and somehow enjoy Holliday and McDonald at the same time. Cherry Jones, who was marvelous in "The Glass Menagerie," had this wrapped up until McDonald decided to join her on Broadway this season. Their other competitors — Tyne Daly, Estelle Parsons and LaTanya Richardson Jackson — were great too but none can beat McDonald and Holiday.
Will win: Neil Patrick Harris. Should win: Jefferson Mays.
Not to take anything from NPH, but Mays puts everything he has into his eight roles in "A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder." Harris will win for a tour de force as a German transsexual in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," and he deserves it. He is willing to eat cigarettes and lick the stage. But May deserves applause, too, as the four noblemen and two noblewomen standing in the way of an inheritance. Both actors are sweating at the end. One has killed, and one has been killed, over and over again. Other competitors — Ramin Karimloo, Andy Karl and Bryce Pinkham — all are young and will surely be back.
Will win: Idina Menzel. Should win: Kelli O'Hara.
Menzel lets her impressive lungs loose in the dual heroine lead of "If/Then," which should have produced two paychecks. But O'Hara, in "The Bridges of Madison County," also put her heart and the imprint she puts on her songs will outlast her rival, even though the show hasn't. Sutton Foster in the understated "Violet" is a worthy competitor and Jessie Mueller is an appealing Carole King, but no one can beat the vocal fireworks of the woman who taught us to let it go.
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits