News Column

'Matilda' Odds-on Favorite

June 9, 2013



The big question looming over tonight's presentation of the Tony Awards for the 2012-13 Broadway season is how "Matilda" will make out.

The British musical, based on a Roald Dahl novel about a precocious little girl who overcomes dunderheaded parents and a vicious school headmistress, arrived on Broadway trailing the acclaim of its London debut.

And it proved to be an extremely good, imaginative show, easily the best production in an otherwise mediocre season for new musicals.

Logic suggests it will win the award for new musical, as well as a bushelful of additional Tonys.

There have, though, been rumblings of growing support for "Kinky Boots," an inferior, by-the-numbers American musical based on a film about a straight man and a drag queen teaming up to save a struggling shoe factory.

If "Matilda" is upset, you can blame one or all of the following reasons:

Although thoroughly enjoyable for adults, the show is about -- and partially aimed at -- kids. It also isn't pure musical comedy: There are dark moments. And, finally, there might be concerns about its future viability as a touring attraction.

A sizable chunk of Tony voters have financial involvement in road productions, and would prefer a Tony winner that would make a good touring product.

Some of them might think "Matilda" would be a tougher sell than the lighter-weight "Kinky Boots." Plus, "Matilda" has four young girls alternating in its demanding lead role, which could cause casting headaches.

In any case, speculation will end and all will be revealed tonight. Here are my semi-assured predictions of the results in the new-musical and other major Tony categories:

* New musical: "Matilda" will make it, although "Kinky Boots" is a real threat. The other nominees, "Bring It On" and "A Christmas Story," closed eons ago and are not contenders.

* New play: A consensus has developed around Christopher Durang's Chekhov mash-up, "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," and it will be surprising if that doesn't win. The worthy also-rans are Richard Greenberg's "The Assembled Parties," Nora Ephron's "Lucky Guy" and Colm Toibin's "The Testament of Mary."

* Musical revival: This is another category with a very clear front-runner -- "Pippin." It's hard to see a way any of the other candidates, "Annie," "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" or "Cinderella," can beat it.

* Play revival: What's unusual here is that a play that closed a while ago, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is the favorite, and probable winner. If there's an upset, it'll likely be by "Golden Boy." The other nominees are "Orphans" and "The Trip to Bountiful."

* Actor in a musical: This is a two-transvestite race, between an actor who cross-dresses to play a female role, Bertie Carvel ("Matilda"), and an actor who wears women's clothes to portray a cross-dresser, Billy Porter ("Kinky Boots"). It's a true toss-up. I'll pick Carvel. The other, pants-wearing nominees are New Milford's Rob McClure ("Chaplin"), Santino Fontana ("Cinderella") and Stark Sands ("Kinky Boots").

* Actress in a musical: We have here another two-performer mano a mano, between Patina Miller ("Pippin") and Laura Osnes ("Cinderella"). I'll go with Miller. The other nominees are Leonia resident Carolee Carmello ("Scandalous"), Stephanie J. Block ("Edwin Drood") and Valisia LeKae ("Motown").

* Actor in a play: The Tonys use "best" in their award designations, and this category, in particular, shows how hollow the word choice is. Tom Hanks ("Lucky Guy") will win -- Tony voters are partial to drop-in movie stars -- for his excellent portrayal of a tabloid columnist, but he was no better than Nathan Lane ("The Nance"), David Hyde Pierce ("Vanya and Sonia") or Tracy Letts ("Virginia Woolf"), all of whom gave masterful performances in very different kinds of roles. You can say you liked one actor more than the others, but comparing apples to pumpkins and discerning a "best" is absurd. The last nominee, Tom Sturridge ("Orphans"), was good, too, although he belonged in the supporting-actor race.

* Actress in a play: Cicely Tyson ("The Trip to Bountiful"), who made a triumphant return to Broadway after 30 years, will almost certainly win. Her only competition seems to be Kristine Nielsen ("Vanya and Sonia"), a consistently fine veteran actress who had a role that made people take notice. The other, very worthy, nominees are Laurie Metcalf ("The Other Place"), Amy Morton ("Virginia Woolf") and Holland Taylor ("Ann").

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