Who will win – and who should

With the 76th Annual Tony Awards looming, high profile nominees like Jessica Chastain (“A Doll’s House”), Sean Hayes (“Goodnight, Oscar”), Samuel L. Jackson (“The Piano Lesson”), Ben Platt (“Parade”) and more are gearing up for Broadway’s biggest night — and waiting to see if they’ll strike gold.

As star-studded as the New York theater was this season, star power on stage doesn’t always translate to Tony’s gold. Take for example our presumptive winning and expected to win selection for Best Musical. “Kimberly Akimbo” has no Hollywood talent tied to its production, and it received the fewest Tony Award nominations of the five new shows competing for Best Musical. But you should expect those eight nominations to yield the most wins.

The only thing standing in the way of the show’s resounding success at the upcoming Tony Awards are those out-of-town presenters. They make up the awards’ largest voting block and tend to honor more audience-pleasing shows that can be promoted on their respective Cleveland or St. Louis subscription series. Luckily, their votes will likely be split evenly between “&Juliet,” “New York, New York,” “Shucked,” and “Some Like It Hot,” since there’s no consensus among them. In other words, we won’t have a situation where a schlock show like “Spamalot” or “Thoroughly Modern Millie” wins the Tony for Best Musical.

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“Kimberly Akimbo” isn’t just aiming for a win for Best Musical. Many of the show’s nominees are also looking to bring home the Tony, and they include Victoria Clark (Best Actress in a Musical), Bonnie Mulligan (Best Featured Actress in a Musical), Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay- Abaire (Best Score) and Lindsay-Abaire (Best Book). The Musical’s Jessica Stone has a good chance of winning Best Director of a Musical, but there’s stiff competition from Michael Arden, who directed “Parade.” The Tonys are used to bestowing this award on the director of a revival, and in the case of “Parade,” Arden’s work is also likely to win Best Musical Revival.

Justin Cooley for “Kimberly Akimbo” or Kevin Del Aguila for “Some Like It Hot” deserve the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Cooley’s plaintive “Good Kid” and Del Aguila’s heartfelt “Fly, Mariposa, Fly” are two of the musical highlights of the season. However, anything soft and subtle can’t compete with Flonase’s blast of noise which is “Independently Owned” as sung by Alex Newell in “Shucked.” Newell brings this Tony home.

Best Actor in a Musical is a close contest between J. Harrison Ghee in “Some Like It Hot” and Ben Platt in “Parade.” Considering Platt already has a Tony, for “Dear Evan Hansen,” voters might want to help create a new star, and Ghee’s smooth performance is very topical.

“Leopoldstadt” and Patrick Marber’s direction of Tom Stoppard’s Holocaust drama have a lock on the Tonys for Best Play and Best Director of a Play. I much prefer “Ain’t No ‘Mo” and Stevie Walker-Webb’s kaleidoscopic direction of Jordan E. Cooper’s scathing comedy about racism, but few voters, let alone theatergoers in general, have given the short-lived production.

Few viewers have seen Stephen McKinley Henderson’s delightfully drawn portrayal of an embittered ex-cop in “Between Riverside and Crazy.” Henderson delivered the most memorable performance of the year. Instead, the Best Actor Tony will likely go to Sean Hayes for “Goodnight, Oscar.” Not only does he give a very showy performance, but he also plays the piano. Hayes has something else going for him, too: The New York Times review of the actor and the play was definitely a boost, and every year the Tonys like to throw their own raspberries at the Old Gray Lady, and the best actor category is his best shot in 2023. Hayes wins. Tellingly, a recent Times opinion piece on who “will and should” win the Tony made no mention of Hayes.

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This year’s flip-a-coin category is Best Featured Actor in a Play, a three-way contest between movie star Samuel L. Jackson (“The Piano Lesson”) and two actors whose shows are still running: Arian Moayed (“A Doll’s House”) and Brandon Uranowitz (“Leopoldstadt”). (Not that it makes a difference, but I’m voting for David Zayas in “Cost of Living,” even if his sensitive portrayal of a caregiver is a starring role.)

Another nail biter is who will be proclaimed Best Featured Actress in a Play. It should be a contest between the outrageous Crystal Lucas-Perry (“Ain’t No Mo’) and the subtle Katy Sullivan (“Cost of Life”), but few voters have seen these plays. More likely, Miriam Silverman (“The Sign in the Window by Sidney Brustein”) will win. Not only is her show still on the boards, but the role of the arch-conservative sister has always been considered Tony-worthy: Frances Sternhagen was nominated for her turn. in the 1972 revival despite the production shutting down on its opening night, and Alice Ghostley won the Tony in 1965 for her turn in the original production of Lorraine Hansberry’s unfinished drama about clueless white people.

There’s a lot less suspense about Best Actress in a Play. Jessica Chastain (“A Doll’s House”) seemed to have a lock on that award. And then came Jodie Comer (“Prima Facie”) with her tour de force solo performance as a lawyer who gets raped. Comer wins.

While “Topdog/Underdog” deserves to win for Best Cover of a Play, this Tony is more likely to go to “A Doll’s House,” which continues to play.

See it all unfold on June 11 at the 76th Annual Tony Awards at the United Palace in New York City. They will air live on CBS from 8-11 p.m. Eastern Time, and also stream live and on-demand on Paramount+.

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