Tony Predictions, Plus A Look Back At A Wild Ride

God of Carnage i i

Jeff Lunden picks God of Carnage, a major hit from provocateur playwright Yasmina Reza, to win the Tony for Best Play. Marcia Gay Harden (left) is one-fourth of a "dream cast" that also includes Hope Davis (right), Jeff Daniels and James Gandolfini. Joan Marcus hide caption

itoggle caption Joan Marcus
God of Carnage

Jeff Lunden picks provocateur Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage, one of the season's major hits, to win the Tony for Best Play. Marcia Gay Harden (far left) is one-fourth of a 'dream cast' that also includes Hope Davis (near left), Jeff Daniels (near right) and James Gandolfini (far right).

Joan Marcus

Quick Picks:
The Tony Favorites

Best Play: God of Carnage

Best Musical: Billy Elliot: The Musical

Best Revival (Play): The Norman Conquests

Best Revival (Musical): Hair

David Alvarez in 'Billy Elliot' i i

Billy Elliot, the Elton John musical based on the 2000 film, rises above the competition for Best Musical. David Alvarez is one of three talented performers who rotate in the title role. David Scheinmann hide caption

itoggle caption David Scheinmann
David Alvarez in 'Billy Elliot'

Billy Elliot, the Elton John musical based on the 2000 film, rises above the competition for Best Musical. David Alvarez is one of three talented performers who rotate in the title role.

David Scheinmann
Alison Janney in '9 to 5' i i

Alison Janney stars in 9 to 5: The Musical, the new show by Dolly Parton. The show was unexpectedly passed over for a Tony nomination for Best Musical. Ryan Miller hide caption

itoggle caption Ryan Miller
Alison Janney in '9 to 5'

Alison Janney stars in 9 to 5: The Musical, the new show by Dolly Parton. The show was unexpectedly passed over for a Tony nomination for Best Musical.

Ryan Miller

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times on Broadway this season.

(And not just because a musical version of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities was a quick flop this fall.)

On the surface, many of the indicators were actually very good. Forty-three productions opened: 10 new musicals, eight new plays, four musical revivals, 16 play revivals, and five special performances.

That's the most since the 1982-83 season, and box office grosses reached a record-breaking $943.3 million.

The diversity of theatrical offerings was, at times, downright surprising: Who could've predicted that a revival of Exit the King, Eugene Ionesco's little-known absurdist existential comedy, would be a hot ticket? (Admittedly, it had a cast that included Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon, Lauren Ambrose and Andrea Martin).

And who'd have guessed that a musical about bipolar disorder (Next to Normal) would wow the critics?

On the other hand, there were more than a few jitters, most tied to the perilous state of the economy. In January, 13 shows shuttered — several of them limited runs, but others, like Hairspray, Young Frankenstein and Spring Awakening, open-enders that cited the economic downturn as their primary reason for closing.

And of the many shows that have opened this season, only a very few can be considered hits; look for another spate of closings after the Tony Awards. (Hint: Look first among the ones that don't take home the major trophies.)

As for where those trophies are likely to end up? And where they should? Here are some of my thoughts about the major Tony categories this year, along with my picks (in bold):

Best Play

Dividing the Estate — Horton Foote
God of Carnage — Yasmina Reza
Reasons to Be Pretty — Neil LaBute
33 Variations — Moises Kaufman

Will sentimentality prevail over boffo box office? Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate, the final production for the 92-year-old playwright before he died in March, was a critical success in its limited run on Broadway.

But God of Carnage, a comedy of very bad manners starring a dream cast of Marcia Gay Harden, James Gandolfini, Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels (all Tony-nominated), has been the one runaway hit play of the season.

Look for Carnage to win, and for Marcia Gay Harden, as a surprisingly ferocious yuppie mom, to win best actress.

Reasons to Be Pretty, while positively reviewed, has struggled to find an audience; 33 Variations, which brought Jane Fonda back to Broadway after a 46-year hiatus, received tepid reviews and middling audience support before it closed last month.

Best Musical

Billy Elliot: The Musical
Next to Normal
Rock of Ages
Shrek: The Musical

This is the big-money category, and Billy Elliot, with 15 nominations, is the hands-down favorite. Critics were rapturous, and it's been doing near-sellout business since it opened in the fall.

The show, about a boy from a depressed mining town in Northern England who falls in love with ballet, has much of the same creative team as the much-loved indie film it was based on: author Lee Hall, choreographer Peter Darling and director Stephen Daldry.

Elton John provides a folk-inflected score, and a trio of Tony-nominated teenagers — Kiril Kulish, David Alvarez and Trent Kowalik — trade heart-stopping performances in the lead role.

Billy Elliott should pretty much sweep in most categories. Best score, though, could go to Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey for their rock 'n' roll songs in Next to Normal, which will also probably take a Tony for Alice Ripley's fearless portrayal of a mother battling bipolar disorder.

Shrek, Dreamworks' $25 million adaptation of its hit computer-animated movie franchise, may pick up some technical awards for its very green, ever-morphing set and witty costumes. Rock of Ages, a jukebox musical of '80s air-guitar hits, has turned out to be a guilty pleasure for critics and a big draw for suburban crowds, but it'll go home empty-handed.

One surprising omission: 9 to 5: The Musical. Dolly Parton was nominated for best score and Allison Janney (in the Lily Tomlin role) for best actress, but the show, which got ho-hum to negative notices, was ignored for the big best-musical nomination, with its guarantee of a musical showcase on the CBS broadcast.

Best Revival of a Play

Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Mary Stuart
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

This is one of the toughest categories to predict — not just because all of the revivals are worthy, but because several other much-admired productions are missing. Notable among them are The Seagull with Kristin Scott Thomas, also astonishingly ignored; Speed-the-Plow, with an explosive Jeremy Piven before he left the cast, citing mercury poisoning; and Exit the King, with Geoffrey Rush in a manic, physical performance that will most likely win him a Tony for best actor.

But the nominees are the nominees, and Bartlett Sher's poetic production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone, one of August Wilson's finest plays, features a superb ensemble cast. (Roger Robinson may win best featured actor.)

Phyllida Lloyd's production of Friedrich Schiller's rarely revived Mary Stuart, meanwhile, features titanic performances from Janet McTeer as Mary Queen of Scots and Harriet Walter as Elizabeth I.

And Anthony Page's production of Waiting for Godot features another exciting ensemble — Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane as Samuel Beckett's loitering existential tramps, plus John Goodman and John Glover as the cruel master and long-suffering servant who pass by.

But The Norman Conquests has turned out to be a big, giddy surprise. Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy of comedies, about three unhappy middle-aged couples in a country house on a weekend, all overlap: one play is set in the dining room, another in the living room and a third in the garden.

They're being given a pitch-perfect production directed by Matthew Warchus (who's also up for a Tony for God of Carnage), and they feature an extraordinary ensemble cast, imported from the Old Vic in England. (Four of them are Tony-nominated).

In an unusually rich season of revivals, it's an unusually rich theatrical experience — I think it'll win best revival, and Warchus will win best director for his work on it.

Best Revival of a Musical

Guys and Dolls
Pal Joey
West Side Story

No contest: Hair. Diane Paulus' reinvestigation of this '60s musical goes well beyond what she dismisses as "hippie vaudeville." She and her cast capture the essence of exuberance and confusion that were part of the youth and anti-war movement of the time. And the band is slamming. Paulus has an outside shot of winning the best-director Tony, if the voters decide to spread the wealth around.

The only other contender in this category is West Side Story, back for the first time since 1980, and with a new twist — 91 year old author/director Arthur Laurents has the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, speak and sing much of their material in Spanish and Spanglish.

Leonard Bernstein's music is played by a full orchestra, Jerome Robbins' choreography has been faithfully reproduced, and the two female leads — Josefina Scaglione as Maria, Karen Olivo as Anita (and a good shot for best featured actress), have been widely praised. While the show received mixed notices, it's been one of the biggest hits of the season.

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