June 05--Competitive categories, Hollywood glam and, as is often the case, Pittsburgh connections will be on dazzling display at the 67th annual Tony Awards Sunday, with Neil Patrick Harris back as host for the fourth time as the ceremony returns to Radio City Music Hall after a two-year absence. It airs on CBS at 8 p.m.
When Tony nominations were announced in April, the titles of four musicals were repeated chorus-style, over and over -- homegrown "Kinky Boots" with 13 and British import "Matilda" with 12, and the revivals of "Pippin" with 10 and "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella" with nine. Local connections reflected the tradition of strong musical programs for youngsters on up to the conservatory level at Point Park and Carnegie Mellon universities.
If an especially big cheer goes up throughout Pittsburgh during the reading of the best actor in a musical, it's because Billy Porter of East Liberty and CMU is a nominee for his star turn as Lola, the drag queen in "Kinky Boots" with a big heart, a strong punch and sky-high heels.
As always in recent years, film stars are sprinkled among Broadway's best as nominees and presenters. Tom Hanks is a nominee for best actor in his first Broadway try, while presenters include Scarlett Johansson (not nominated for her lead as the "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"), Cuba Gooding Jr., Jesse Eisenberg and Jon Cryer.
Here are my and fellow Post-Gazette theater critic Chris Rawson's Tony picks. These are "oughta wins" in both senses: some we think will win, some we're rooting for, and some both.
Best Musical: "Matilda" and its bevy of cute kids and clueless, nasty adults is the better show. "Kinky Boots" is an uplifting pop musical based on a small British movie with Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper (in her Broadway debut) collaborating on book and songs and Jerry Mitchell at the helm. "Matilda," based on the dark kids classic by Roald Dahl and directed by Matthew Warchus, has book and songs by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin. It won London's Tony equivalent, the Olivier Award, last season. Pick: "Matilda."
Best Play: Christopher Durang's family comedy mashup of Chekov characters and plots with current culture and a top-notch cast gives "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" a fighting chance against sentimental fave "Lucky Guy," the last work by the late Nora Ephron. Other nominees are "The Testament of Mary," Colm Toibin's one-woman play with Fiona Shaw as the mother of Jesus, and "The Assembled Parties," Richard Greenberg's portrait of a family grasping for stability. Pick: "Vanya ... ."
Best Actor in a Musical: While rooting like crazy for Mr. Porter for his star turn in "Kinky Boots," the safer bet is Bertie Carvel as "Matilda's" dastardly headmistress Miss Trunchbull. (By the way, that's a guy in drag vs. a guy playing a woman.) In Mr. Porter's favor, he's already won the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards, the latter honoring Mr. Carvel as a supporting player. Pick (with fingers crossed): Billy Porter.
Best Actor in a Play: Movie star Mr. Hanks ("Lucky Guy"), making his Broadway debut, vs. two-time Tony winner Nathan Lane ("The Nance") vs. an acclaimed performance by Tracy Letts in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Mr. Lane has earned raves as a burlesque star as the lights go dim on the genre, while Mr. Hanks' portrayal of real-life tabloid columnist Mike McAlary has commanded high praise despite the play's mixed reviews. Pick: Nathan Lane.
Best Actress in a Musical: The New York Times critics split on this one, Ben Brantley picking "Cinderella" herself, Laura Osnes, while Charles Isherwood went with Carnegie Mellon alumna Patina Miller for "Pippin." Pick: Patina Miller.
Best Actress in a Play: Sentiment may be with Cicely Tyson for the sentimental "Trip to Bountiful," but all the others are deserving, especially Amy Morton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Pick: Cicely Tyson.
Best Revival of a Play: A competitive category with "Golden Boy," "Trip to Bountiful" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Pick: "Virginia Woolf."
Best Revival of a Musical: Stephen Schwartz's Cirqued-up "Pippin" vs. "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella," which features Ms. Osnes' well-reviewed star turn and a couple of new twists. Pick: "Pippin."
And for the obsessive compulsive, here are the rest, briefly stated. Note that "Pippin" is one of three nominations for Kenneth Posner for lights in a musical, that our lights in a play prediction ("Lucky Guy") is the CMU duo of Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer and if "The Nance" wins for costumes in a play it will be the first Tony after five nominations for another CMU grad, 81-year-old Ann Roth.
Directors: Musical, Matthew Warchus ("Matilda"); play, Pam MacKinnon ("Virginia Woolf").
Featured Acting: Actor play, Richard Kind, "The Big Knife"; actress play, Judith Light, "Assembled Parties"; actor musical, Terrence Mann, "Pippin"; actress musical, Andrea Martin, "Pippin."
Musicals: Score, "Kinky Boots"; book, "Matilda"; choreography, "Pippin"; sets, "Matilda"; costumes, "Cinderella"; lights, "Pippin"; sound, "Kinky Boots"; orchestrations, "Cinderella."
Plays: Sets, "The Nance"; costumes, "The Nance"; lights, "Lucky Guy"; sound, "Trip to Bountiful."
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson contributed to this report.
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