A Critic’s Guide to the 2013 Tony Awards

Handicapping the major categories in a year in which the Best Musical award is up for grabs

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Joan Marcus / Boneau/Bryan-Brown / AP Photo

The Tony Awards show will be broadcast this Sunday (June 9, 8 PM ET, CBS).  As Broadway gets ready for its big night, TIME theater critic Richard Zoglin offers his assessment of several major categories.

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Best Musical

  • Bring It On
  • A Christmas Story
  • Kinky Boots
  • Matilda

What should be a foregone conclusion has become the hottest race of the evening. Matilda, by all rights, should sweep the awards, but the brilliant show from London, based on Roald Dahl’s children’s story, is facing a homegrown backlash, and Kinky Boots (from Broadway favorite Harvey Fierstein and pop star Cyndi Lauper) has emerged as a strong challenger. If Matilda loses, it will be a travesty on the order of … well, about half the Best Musical winners of the past decade (remember Memphis?) Never underestimate the provincialism of Tony voters: my guess is that Kinky will pull an upset here, and in several other top categories.

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Best Play

  • The Assembled Parties
  • Lucky Guy
  • The Testament of Mary
  • Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

I’m resigned to the inevitability of Vanya and Sonia, Christopher Durang’s overrated family comedy, which has already grabbed most of the pre-Tony prizes. It is helped by a weak slate of challengers, though Lucky Guy — Nora Ephron’s slender but enjoyable biodrama on New York newspaper columnist Mike McAlary — would be a better choice. So would Colm Toibin’s beautifully written (but commercially disastrous) The Testament of Mary, but that really would be a miracle.

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Best Musical Revival

  • Annie
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • Pippin
  • Cinderella

Diane Paulus’s showy, acrobatic reworking of Pippin is virtually a sure thing in this category, and probably deserves the award — though I’m puzzled that the smart and sprightly revival of Annie has been ignored so completely: this is its only nomination.

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Best Play Revival

  • Golden Boy
  • Orphans
  • The Trip to Bountiful
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, greeted last fall by gorgeous reviews but relatively little business, is the class act here, and the deserved frontrunner. But Trip to Bountiful is getting some support among voters with an eye for the box office: of the four shows nominated, only Trip is still running.

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Best Actor in a Musical

  • Bertie Carvel, Matilda
  • Santino Fontana, Cinderella
  • Rob McClure, Chaplin
  • Billy Porter, Kinky Boots
  • Stark Sands, Kinky Boots

Broadway loves cross-dressers, and this year it has two to choose from:  Carvel, as the mean headmistress in Matilda, and Porter, as the chief drag queen in Kinky Boots. A Carvel win could be a safe way for Tony voters to reward Matilda, while passing it over for Best Musical. But don’t count on it: Porter’s flamboyant turn will be hard for Tony voters to ignore.

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Best Actress in a Musical

  • Stephanie J. Block, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • Carolee Carmello, Scandalous
  • Valisia LeKae; Motown
  • Patina Miller, Pippin
  • Laura Osnes, Cinderella

The “who cares?” race of the year. Only Carmello and Osnes had legitimate starring roles, and since no one saw Scandalous, Osnes has to be considered the frontrunner. But Miller’s high-energy turn in the role once played by Ben Vereen could sneak in. And don’t rule out LeKae — one way for the Tony voters to recognize Motown, the biggest musical hit of the season.

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Best Actor in a Play

  • Tom Hanks, Lucky Guy
  • Nathan Lane, The Nance
  • Tracy Letts, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
  • David Hyde Pierce, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
  • Tom Sturridge, Orphans

A strong category, even with the unforgivable omission of Alan Cumming, for his bravura turn in Macbeth. Lane is a Broadway favorite, and has one of his best roles as a gay burlesque comic in The Nance, while Tracy Letts gave a defining performance as George in Virginia Woolf. But they’ll all be applauding for Hanks, who is a sure bet for making Ephron’s newspaper drama a sellout hit.

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Best Actress in a Play

  • Laurie Metcalf, The Other Place
  • Amy Morton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
  • Kristine Nielsen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
  • Holland Taylor, Ann
  • Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful

A beloved 88-year-old actress returns to Broadway in Horton Foote’s sentimental crowd-pleaser: How can Cicely Tyson miss? Among the contenders, Amy Morton is most deserving, for helping reinvigorate an American classic, and Nielsen has some (inexplicable) support. But Tyson will take it, just for showing up.

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Best Director of a Musical

  • Scott Ellis, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots
  • Diane Paulus, Pippin
  • Matthew Warchus, Matilda

Once again, Matilda is caught in a hometown vice. Warchus’s extraordinary work is a landmark achievement in musical theater. But there’s a good chance he’ll get aced out, not by Kinky’s Mitchell but by Pippin’s Paulus, who deserves much praise for her high-voltage revival  — just not the Tony.

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Best Director of a Play

  • Pam McKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
  • Nicholas Martin, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
  • Bartlett Sher, Golden Boy
  • George C. Wolfe, Lucky Guy

A rare category with four viable candidates. Sher and Wolfe were key to making their respective revivals live on the stage, and Martin could ride on the coattails of a Vanya sweep. But McKinnon, who reignited Virginia Woolf, is a slight favorite, and deservedly so.

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