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Tony Time: And the Winner Is...

The 2004-05 season had its share of revivals. But there were also a lot of new writers introduced to Broadway, as well as other new talent that graced the stages of the Great White Way. Will they be recognized with Broadway's coveted prize, the Tony Award, this year? We'll all find out for sure this Sunday night, June 5, when the awards will be presented at Radio City Music Hall and telecast live on CBS starting at 8 p.m. But, as I do every year, here's who and what I think will be the winners.

As I see it, there are as many as 10 definite winners out of this year's 25 categories, and another eight categories where the winner is almost a sure bet. Eighteen categories out of 25 in which one can predict fairly accurately who the winners will be is a relatively high percentage. Four of the remaining seven categories boil down to a race between two contenders, and in the remaining three categories, the contest is a bit tighter, mostly among three nominees.

The biggest winner will be "The Light in the Piazza," with as many as five awards, with "Doubt" and "Monty Python's Spamalot" coming in right after with as many as four each. "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," "Glengarry Glen Ross," and "La Cage aux Folles" will receive as many as two Tonys each, and another six shows may be recognized with one award. It seems like a fair distribution this year.

I called upon six colleagues to help me come up with my predictions: one press agent, one press agent-producer, and four theatre critics. Each brought a definite point of view to the table.

Just to remind you, the list that follows indicates not my own choices, but whom and what I think the majority of the 758 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-third), and their vote may be more about which show will do well in their theatres than about the quality of a piece. 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. But the clout of having received award(s) that may affect the Tony voter.

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

Play: There's no contest here. It has won all the awards. It's an American author who has been around for a while, but not on Broadway before. It's also probably Bronx-born John Patrick Shanley's best work to date. There's terrific industry buzz about it. Every one of my interviewees says "Doubt" will win, and I do, too. No doubt about it.

Musical: "Monty Python's Spamalot" is the big, splashy musical comedy that's the obvious front runner, but it's hard to rule out the three other nominees, since they all have a possibility of winning, too. But "Spamalot" is doing boffo biz at the box office, it won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards, it's a good property to tour, and it has Mike Nichols' name attached to it. All my interviewees say it is the winner and I agree.

Book of a Musical: It's fairly certain that the award will go to Rachel Sheinken for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." But there's also the possibility of "Spamalot" winning, especially if it wins for Best Musical. However, voters may not necessarily vote in blocs. Each of the musicals seems to have its own strong aspect. My colleagues were split in this category. I'm going to say that the winner will be "Spelling Bee." It's the only original book, and it's very original and clever.

Original Score (Music and/or lyrics) Written for the Theatre: The race seems to be between "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The Light in the Piazza." The majority of my colleagues say "Piazza." The Drama Desk gave the nods to "Piazza" 's music and "Spamalot" 's lyrics. (The Tony category is a single vote.) David Yazbek's score for "Scoundrels" is fun and hummable. Yet Adam Guettel's score for "Piazza" is just beautiful, and seamless, and integrated so well with the story. It's Guettel's first time on Broadway and the Tony Award will allow him to carry on his lineage. He's the grandson of Richard Rodgers and the son of Mary Rodgers ("Once Upon a Mattress"). "The Light in the Piazza" will win.

Revival of a Play: All the nominees are well-deserving, but it's between "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "Glengarry Glen Ross," and "Twelve Angry Men." "Glengarry" received the Outstanding Ensemble (a noncompetitive award) from the Drama Desk, but that critics group, as well as the Outer Critics Circle, gave the revival award to "Twelve Angry Men." It also has a great ensemble. It's a box-office success (Roundabout extended its run seven times). It had never been on Broadway before, hadn't been produced in New York in quite a long time, and a tour has already been announced for the 2006-07 season. It also has something important to say, and has family appeal. Just about all of my interviewees say "Twelve Angry Men," and though I'm still wavering between "Glengarry Glen Ross" and Reginald Rose's jury-room drama, I'll go along with my crowd and say "Twelve Angry Men" will get the Tony.

Revival of a Musical: The contest is between "La Cage aux Folles" and "Sweet Charity," though this is one category where the nominees are not as well received by the industry as many of the other nominees have been in the other categories. Both shows got mixed reviews. The Drama Desk gave the award to "La Cage." My interviewees were evenly split. Some felt that "Charity" is the least offensive of the three nominees. And there's the old-fashioned Broadway success story that goes along with "Sweet Charity." On the night I attended, the audience seemed completely turned on by the production. But I'm still going to go along with "La Cage aux Folles" as the Tony winner. Robert Goulet has brought some added clout to the show, and no one can say anything wrong about those fabulous Cagelles.

Special Theatrical Event: Hands down, Billy Crystal for "700 Sundays."

Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play: I'd say BrĂ­an F. O'Byrne as Father Flynn in "Doubt" is a sure win, but there's a slight chance that James Earl Jones might get the recognition he deserves as Norman in "On Golden Pond." He made the revival come alive for me. But O'Byrne will be part of the "Doubt" sweep, and despite the fact that he won a Tony for best featured actor for "Frozen" last season, he will win again, and deservedly so.

Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play: Cherry Jones will win the Tony for her commanding performance as Sister Aloysius in "Doubt." However, there's a slight possibility that Kathleen Turner could end up as the surprise winner for her unique portrayal of Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical: The contest is over. The Tony Award winner is Norbert Leo Butz as Freddy in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." With little experience in comedy and his claim that he's "not really a funny guy," his physical comedy alone in "Scoundrels" makes him a proven classic.

Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical: Another sure winner: Victoria Clark as Margaret Johnson in "The Light in the Piazza." According to many I spoke with, it's the performance of the year. She's both vocally and dramatically commanding. One believes her as a mother and as a woman in the 1950s. It's a breakthrough role for Ms. Clark, who's been treading the boards in New York for some time.

Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play: It's a strong category, but we can pare down the contenders to Alan Alda (Shelly Levene in "Glengarry Glen Ross") and Liev Schreiber (Richard Roma in "Glengarry Glen Ross"). Michael Stuhlbarg, who won the Drama Desk Award, could be the underdog, especially if Alda and Schreiber cancel each other out. As for Alda, it's great to have him back on Broadway, he's a "star" in a featured role (so is the entire cast of "Glengarry"), and he gives a standout performance. But it's Liev Schreiber who has the strongest hold on the award. He's an extremely versatile actor, splitting his time between film and stage and successful in a variety of roles. In "Glengarry," he makes his character so convincing, it's as if he's living that role. And as deceptive and conniving as he is in this part, he's still a sure bet to nab the Tony.

Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play: Another strong category where all the nominees are extraordinary in their roles, but the race will be among Dana Ivey (Mrs. Malaprop in "The Rivals"), Adriane Lenox (Mrs. Muller in "Doubt"), and Amy Ryan (Stella in "A Streetcar Named Desire"). Ivey has not won a Tony before, has been working fairly steadily for a long while, and is well liked in the community. But the show's been closed for a while, and the buzz has settled. Ryan is the most authentic character in "Streetcar," but the production got a bum rap from the critics. Lenox creates fireworks in the 10 minutes that she is on the stage, and she's part of the "Doubt" sweep. Again, no doubt, the Tony to Adriane Lenox.

Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical: Another shoo-in. It's Dan Fogler as William Barfee in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Five out of six of my colleagues agree with me. He's big and outlandish and funny, and I'm positive he can spell out Tony Award.

Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical: It's a real decision. The choice is between Jan Maxwell as the Baroness Bomburst in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and Sara Ramirez as the Lady of the Lake in "Spamalot." Both got rave reviews. Maxwell got the Drama Desk Award, and Ramirez was recognized by the Outer Critics Circle. (She was overlooked by the Drama Desk, not even receiving a nomination.) Those I interviewed were evenly split. If Maxwell wins, it might be the only recognition for "Chitty" (except possibly for its scenic design). Ramirez has the "Spamalot" prestige. I'll toss a coin for this one. Heads up. The winner is Sara Ramirez.

Scenic Design of a Play: A two-way race between Santo Loquasto for "Glengarry Glen Ross" and Scott Pask for "The Pillowman." The Drama Desk gave its nod to Loquasto. The restaurant and office designs for "Glengarry" are so real, just the opposite of the abstract house in "Pillowman" that adds to the eeriness of the production. The majority of my cohorts say "Glengarry." It's another toss of the coin. Again, heads up. "Glengarry" will win the Tony.

Scenic Design of a Musical: It's another two-way race, this one between Anthony Ward for his wild and wacky and clever sets in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and Michael Yeargan's gorgeous, fluid sets for "The Light in the Piazza." "Piazza" was recognized by the Drama Desk, "Chitty" by the Outer Critics. "Chitty" is fun and more of a spectacle. "Piazza" 's sets make you feel like you are in Florence and their movement is like a piece of choreography. Bravo to "Piazza."

Costume Design of a Play: No pun intended, but this one's a shoo-in. It's Jess Goldstein for his colorful, opulent, and detailed costumes that described "The Rivals" characters so perfectly.

Costume Design of a Musical: Tim Hatley's "Spamalot" costumes are gaudy and fun. It got the critics groups' nods and the majority of my interviewees. William Ivey Long's costumes for "La Cage aux Folles," especially for the Cagelles, bear his trademark: sexy and fabulous. Catherine Zuber's designs for "The Light in the Piazza" are gorgeous, as if they came out of Italian Vogue from the 1950s. I think it should go to Zuber, but voters seem to be attracted to glitzy and over-the-top work. Ivey has won many Tonys, and deservedly so. This year, it's hats off to Tim Hatley for "Spamalot."

Lighting Design of a Play: Brian MacDevitt's dark, moody, evocative lighting for "The Pillowman" will most likely win. The design adds so much to the meaning of the play, it's almost like another character, but this one created by MacDevitt.

Lighting Design of a Musical: Christopher Akerlind is in the spotlight for his design for "The Light in the Piazza." As fluid as the music and the sets, the lighting design creates a mood and atmosphere that add to the Italian flavor of the production.

Direction of a Play: With "Doubt" being the show of the season, I think that Doug Hughes is a sure bet for the Tony. There seems to be so much admiration for him in the community, and he's never won a Tony before. This will be his first.

Direction of a Musical: Everyone has pretty much of a chance here, but the fact that Jack O'Brien has won the award two years in a row will keep him out of the running this season. James Lapine got the Drama Desk Award for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." The Outer Critics gave it to Mike Nichols for "Spamalot." Bartlett Sher's staging of "The Light in the Piazza" is top-notch, bringing together all the elements to create a visually, musically, and dramatically stunning production. But all my colleagues say Nichols is the man. Since "Spamalot" will most likely win for Best Musical, it makes sense that the director will also win. Nichols' made his Broadway debut 45 years ago as a performer, but hadn't directed a Broadway show in 13 years, not since 1992's "Death and the Maiden"; it's great for the industry to have him back.

Choreography: It's Jerry Mitchell's turn to win the Tony, and he will this year for "La Cage aux Folles." (He's been nominated a number of times in the past.)

Orchestrations: Ted Sperling, Adam Guettel, and Bruce Coughlin for "The Light in the Piazza" for creating a wonderful work of art that integrates so well with the physical production. Still, Harold Wheeler might be a close runner up for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." He's been nominated six times over the years and this season will allow the skilled veteran another shot at the prize. But the Sperling-Guettel-Coughlin team will win out.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

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