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A Tony Forecast

Will it be international film star Antonio Banderas, making his Broadway debut, or Broadway veteran Harvey Fierstein who will walk away with this year's Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical? What about for Best Actress in a Musical? Will Broadway newcomer Marissa Jaret Winokur win out over Broadway's reigning queen Bernadette Peters?

Though there are a number of categories featuring close races in this year's Tony Awards, at least half of the awards this season are fairly predictable. Unlike last year, where there were only three shoo-in winners, for 2002-03, "definite winners" can be predicted in as many as 11 of the 22 categories. As I look at it, the remaining 11 categories can be broken down as follows: a.) "almost definite" (three such categories), though one of the other contenders might just pull through; b.) "down to two possibilities" (seven of these); and c.) the "toss-up" group (one category), where every one of the four nominees is worthy of the award.

The big winner, of course, will be "Hairspray," which garnered 13 nominations in 12 categories for its cast and creative team. Of the dozen categories, the show already has five definite wins; two categories are "almost definite"; another two, as noted above, are a tight race; and one is in the "toss-up" category, where it will probably win anyway as part of the "Hairspray" sweep. "Hairspray" might just win at least 10 Tony Awards this coming Sunday night during the telecast on CBS.

I called upon four of my colleagues in order to help me come up with my predictions: three theatre writers-critics (including one out-of-town critic), and one theatre administrator.

Just to remind you, the list that follows indicates, not my own choices, but whom and what I think the majority of the 720 Tony voters will go for. The voters include members of the governing boards of the performing arts unions and guilds (Actors' Equity, Dramatists Guild, United Scenic Artists, the Casting Society of America, and the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers), the board of directors of the American Theatre Wing (administrator of the Tony Awards), the critics and journalists who comprise the opening-night list of the League of American Theatres and Producers, as well as the voting members of the league (New York producers as well as out-of-town producers and road presenters).

As I mention every year, there are certain criteria that one must consider when trying to predict who will win the Tony: 1.) Reviews, mostly in the dailies, and mostly from The New York Times; 2.) The general "mood on the street" or industry buzz about a show or performer, which may or may not have anything to do with the reviews the show gets from the press; 3.) If a show is still running or not. Generally, Tony voters prefer to save their vote for shows that are still on; 4.) Sentimentality. Voters tend to favor those performers who've been treading the boards for some time, and will cast their votes for a body of work stretched out over one's career, while taking in the present season's accomplishment as well; 5.) Road presenters make up a substantial bloc of votes (about one-seventh), and their vote may be more about what show will do well in their theatres than fairly judging the quality of a piece. This year, for various reasons, their influence doesn't seem as significant as it has in previous seasons; 6.) Other awards that a show or person may have won already for the current season, such as Drama Desk, N.Y. Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle, etc. Mind you, a relatively small number of voters who cast their votes for any of the above will also be voting for the Tonys. It's the clout of having received award(s) that may make it more appealing or decisive for the Tony voter.

So, with all this in consideration, here are my predictions:

PLAY: There's no contest here. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama League awards. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Richard Greenberg's "Take Me Out" has hit a homer with the bases loaded.

MUSICAL: Audiences are just flipping out over it. It also won the New York Drama Critics Circle, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama League awards. "Hairspray" is solid musical comedy in the old tradition of musical theatre, but with a current twist to make it accessible to new and younger audiences. It's sure to win.

BOOK OF A MUSICAL: Again, a no-contest category. Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's script for "Hairspray" is funny, clever, entertaining, and still has something significant to say.

ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC & LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE: The third category where "Hairspray" has a sure hold on the award. The music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman are surely to the '60s beat while still maintaining the great Broadway sound.

REVIVAL OF A PLAY: It would be a three-horse race if "Dinner at Eight" was still running. But, since it's not, the contest is between "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" and "Long Day's Journey into Night." The Drama Desk gave its award to "Long Day's Journey"; the Outer Critics Circle recognized "Joe Egg," possibly because "Long Day's Journey" opened after the group's cut-off date. "Long Day's Journey" got some of the best reviews of any show all season. It's a solid revival of a great O'Neill classic with a terrific cast and directed with a fresh approach. My bet's on "Long Day's Journey into Night."

REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL: "La Bohème" might have been considered along with "Gypsy" and "Nine," since it got the best overall reviews. But it opened in the fall, it's an opera sung in Italian, and voters might not feel comfortable with an opera in this category. So the race boils down to two possibilities with "Nine" having the edge. (Unless "Gypsy" and "Nine" cancel each other out, and "La Bohème" wins!) The out-of-town producers don't factor in much here since it's unlikely that these shows will tour. But the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards both went to "Nine." The majority of my interviewees say "Nine." "Nine" is sexy and sexy sells. I say the Tony goes to "Nine."

SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT: "Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on Broadway" stands way ahead of its contenders on being special on the Great White Way. It got positive press and positive word-of-mouth. It made Broadway look "cool" to house a show like this—a show that one wouldn't even dare to think of as belonging on Broadway. And though it's already shuttered, I think that being such a hip show with a cast of young talents who are honest and open will convince Tony voters to say "definitely yes!"

LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY: My interviewees were split in this category, choosing between Brian Dennehy and Eddie Izzard. Dennehy won in this same slot in 1999 for "Death of a Salesman." There he was the main force. But in "Long Day's Journey," many people think he takes the back seat to Vanessa Redgrave. Eyes are on Izzard. He received good reviews. He brings his comic talents to the role, but still manages to create a character whose pain we can feel. And despite the show having just closed, I say Izzard wins.

LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Every one of the nominees in this all-British lineup was brilliant, though I would have imagined Fiona Shaw winning the prize if Vanessa Redgrave hadn't opened in "Long Day's Journey." Every review was like a love letter to her. She was the central force in the O'Neill play and most people were just awed by her performance. The coveted prize goes to Redgrave.

LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: This is probably the toughest category and the one that holds the most suspense. It's a real contest between Antonio Banderas and Harvey Fierstein. The Drama Desk voters gave awards to both; Outer Critics Circle gave it to Banderas. Banderas is charismatic and endearing, and has made a big impression on the Broadway community. He's an international star playing an international star. But Harvey is a Broadway baby who has come back to Broadway. Playing Edna Turnblad may be the performance of his career. The role can easily be played over the top, but Fierstein doesn't let that happen. He's outrageous, yet believable, and communicates a sympathetic character. The majority of my interviewees say Fierstein. Harvey, get ready to place your fourth Tony on the mantelpiece.

LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Another high-profile category, and a tough choice, between Bernadette Peters and Marissa Jaret Winokur. Both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle recognized Winokur. My interviewees were divided. Peters brings a sexiness to Momma Rose, a quality that's never been played before. One finally understands why Herbie stays around for so long. Previous Roses have won Tonys: Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly. Is there a tradition? But Peters got a mixed reception from the critics. She won a Tony for "Annie Get Your Gun," another role that she got mixed notices for and many felt she was not quite right for. Winokur is making her Broadway debut. She's a natural in the role. Usually, the vets win out over the young newcomers, with voters thinking that there's plenty of time for the thesp to prove his or her ability. But this time 'round, I think Winokur will defy that notion to be another Turnblad who wins the Tony.

FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY: Here's a category where there's a definite winner, yet every nominee is deserving of recognition. Still, Denis O'Hare gives a breakout performance. He won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards, and got nods from all my interviewees. He's paid his dues in the theatre community. His character is so likeable and endearing, and he makes that role so much his own that he becomes the central force in "Take Me Out."

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Unanimous consent for Linda Emond in "Life (x) 3." Aside from the show being the only one of the five still open, Emond also has paid her dues in the industry, and she's a standout in this show, mining every nuance of her character.

FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Another definite—Dick Latessa, completing the entire Turnblad family as Tony winners. He got both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. He's a 40-year veteran in the business and he makes us really believe that he loves his wife!

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Jane Krakowski will win the Tony Award (she got both of the other awards) for her fabulous entrance and her fabulous dress. This will make up for the Tony she didn't get for her fabulous performance in "Grand Hotel" back in 1990.

SCENIC DESIGN: Though John Lee Beatty wowed audiences with his hanging dining room set in "Dinner at Eight," voters will choose Catherine Martin for her designs for "La Bohème." It is the look of the show that makes the production so impressive. And this will be "La Bohème" 's first award (aside from its Honor for Excellence in the Theatre that's being presented to its ensemble). It's another way of recognizing this unique experience on Broadway.

COSTUME DESIGN: Here's the one "toss-up" category where all the nominees should get awards. And though I can't say that there's a definite winner among the lot, I will say that William Ivey Long will probably walk off with the prize for "Hairspray." He won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle honors. This will be his third Tony for his creative, stylish, fun, and sexy looks.

LIGHTING DESIGN: The spotlight is on both Donald Holder for "Movin' Out" and Nigel Levings for "La Bohème." The critics groups sanctioned the designs for "La Bohème." My interviewees are split. Lighting is integral to "Movin' Out": it sets the mood and notes the transitions between years. As one of my critics added, "It becomes a character in the production." In "La Bohème," it is part of the "look" of the show, and part of the reason why the sets work so well. I think Tony voters will go for the complete look and vote for Levings.

DIRECTION OF A PLAY: The Tony Administration Committee might want to consider separate categories here in the future—one for new plays and one for revivals. With revivals, one can see, for the most part, a director's influence. With a new piece, it's hard to separate direction from the work itself. We recognize instantly the creative choices that Robert Falls made in "Long Day's Journey," and we also know for sure Joe Mantello's inventiveness as a director made "Take Me Out" work. My interviewees were split. Both directors previously won Tonys. This is one category where I'm really not sure of the outcome. I'll flip a coin. Heads up! Falls wins.

DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL: Jack O'Brien, all the way for "Hairspray."

CHOREOGRAPHER: Twyla Tharp for "Movin' Out," obviously. It was an amazing feat to be able to tell a two-act coming-of-age story all through movement.

ORCHESTRATIONS: To Harold Wheeler, a veteran of musical theatre who has been nominated three times for a Tony Award but has never won—until now. He took "Hairspray" 's '60s music and gave it that big Broadway sound. Broadway will sound off for him.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

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