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Tonys 2008: Predicting the winners

Who’ll be victorious at Sunday’s Broadway celebration? Our expert tells us who she expects will be taking home the statue in every category

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Whoopi Goldberg
Craig Blankenhorn

Regarding the 2008 Tony Awards, I’m absolutely certain that: Whoopi Goldberg will be wearing something ”fierce” designed by Christian Siriano, and the ratings will be nowhere near what CBS hopes they will be. And that’s about all I’m sure of. That’s why I’ve predicted a winner and a spoiler in most categories. Tune in to the show on Sunday night to see how I fared.

BEST PLAY
August: Osage County
, by Tracy Letts
Rock ‘n’ Roll, by Tom Stoppard
The Seafarer, by Conor McPherson
The 39 Steps, by Patrick Barlow
Winner: August: Osage County Spoiler: None.
All right, this is a sure thing. August won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize; it has also been honored by the New York Drama Critics Circle, the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama League….

BEST MUSICAL
Cry-Baby
In the Heights
Passing Strange
Xanadu

Winner: In the Heights Spoiler: Xanadu
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s valentine to his Washington Heights ‘hood is upbeat, well-crafted, and wholly, beautifully original. Strange got amazing reviews, but those do not necessarily equal Tony votes. (For the record, though, Xanadu received perhaps the best notices of any nominee.) People vote for what they love (see: Avenue Q beating Wicked), which is why — gulp — Xanadu could skate off with the statuette.

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Cry-Baby (Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan)
In the Heights (Quiara Alegría Hudes)
Passing Strange (Stew)
Xanadu (Douglas Carter Beane)
Winner: Passing Strange Spoiler: Xanadu
I’ve heard a few people say, ”I’m voting for Passing Strange because it’s the only place I’m voting for it.” But anyone who loves the zingy camp of Xanadu will want to hear Beane make a quip-filled speech. Hudes, too, will get some votes from the die-hard Heights fans.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE
Cry-Baby (Music & Lyrics: David Javerbaum & Adam Schlesinger)
In the Heights (Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda)
The Little Mermaid (Music: Alan Menken; Lyrics: Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater)
Passing Strange (Music: Stew and Heidi Rodewald; Lyrics: Stew)
Winner: In the Heights Spoiler: Passing Strange
This is very close. Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s rock- and R&B- and funk-infused score is definitely Strange‘s strong point. But Lin-Manuel Miranda’s infectious music — incorporating rap, salsa, hip-hop, and more — is unlike anything we’ve heard on Broadway. (Want to compare? Strange‘s MySpace page. Heightswebsite.)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Ben Daniels, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Mark Rylance, Boeing-Boeing
Rufus Sewell, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Patrick Stewart, Macbeth
Winner: Patrick Stewart Spoiler: Mark Rylance
The fact that Macbeth closed on May 24 could hurt; I’m counting on Stewart’s track record (The Tempest, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, his one-man Christmas Carol) to put him over the top. But Rylance knocks himself out in Boeing — it’s a sensational comic turn.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Eve Best, The Homecoming
Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County
Kate Fleetwood, Macbeth
S. Epatha Merkerson, Come Back, Little Sheba
Amy Morton, August: Osage County
Winner: Deanna Dunagan Spoiler: Amy Morton
Dunagan’s replacement, Estelle Parsons, takes over June 17 — two days after the Tonys! That announcement didn’t help on-the-fence voters. And it’s a shame Dunagan and Morton are competitors. Dunagan’s drug-addicted mom is the larger presence, if not the larger part; it’s a towering performance, and playing crazy never hurts. Morton’s eldest daughter, however, does the heavy lifting. She’s got the best lines (”Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed,” the hilarious ”Greatest Generation” speech). And she’s still in the show. There’s one more scenario: Dunagan and Morton split votes, and Merkerson emerges victorious.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Daniel Evans, Sunday in the Park With George
Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights
Stew, Passing Strange
Paulo Szot, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Tom Wopat, A Catered Affair
Winner: Paulo Szot Spoiler: Lin-Manuel Miranda
A colleague calls this the Reese Witherspoon Oscar effect: She won for Walk the Line because her category wasn’t as competitive as Joaquin Phoenix’s; thus, Szot will win because costar Kelli O’Hara won’t (see next screen). Szot is a sensational singer. The Brazilian opera star had me crying from the moment he began ”This Nearly Was Mine.” But some are less moved by his acting. Miranda, meanwhile, is charisma personified. He’s the narrator, the tour guide, and the heart and soul of Heights. One problem: He wrote the music, and those voting for Heights in Best Score may not want to give him two votes. (That’s not stopping me.)

NEXT PAGE: More acting categories

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Kerry Butler, Xanadu
Patti LuPone, Gypsy
Kelli O’Hara, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Faith Prince, A Catered Affair
Jenna Russell, Sunday in the Park With George
Winner: Patti LuPone Spoiler: Kelli O’Hara
I cannot believe I even have to acknowledge a spoiler. The New York Times has become O’Hara’s personal campaign manager, which is fine, but I don’t understand all the fuss. She’s lovely as Nellie Forbush. But she’ll be lovely in the future. LuPone is playing Mama Rose. It’s a star turn. It’s a Tony-winning role. It’s the kind of performance that comes along once in a lifetime. Give her the damn Tony.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Bobby Cannavale, Mauritius
Raúl Esparza, The Homecoming
Conleth Hill, The Seafarer
Jim Norton, The Seafarer
David Pittu, Is He Dead?
Winner: Raúl Esparza Spoiler: Jim Norton
Esparza, Norton, Hill, and Cannavale could all win. (Sorry, David.) If Seafarer were still open, Norton would have a better chance. Esparza was terrifically creepy in The Homecoming, and it would be payback. He lost last year for Company, many thought unjustly.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Sinéad Cusack, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Mary McCormack, Boeing-Boeing
Laurie Metcalf, November
Martha Plimpton, Top Girls
Rondi Reed, August: Osage County
Winner: Martha Plimpton Spoiler: Mary McCormack
Remember what I said about payback? Plimpton didn’t win for The Coast of Utopia in 2007. She plays two roles — the Pope (!) and a 15-year-old girl — in Top Girls, and she’s terrific in both. However…McCormack practically steals the show an ultra-aggressive German stewardess in Boeing.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange
Danny Burstein, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Robin De Jesús, In the Heights
Christopher Fitzgerald, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Boyd Gaines, Gypsy
Winner: Boyd Gaines Spoiler: Danny Burstein
LuPone’s Rose wouldn’t be what she is without Gaines’ Herbie. It’s not much of a part, but Gaines does a lot with it. But this would be his fourth Tony. Burstein, meanwhile, hams it up in coconut bra and grass skirt. Tough call, come to think of it.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
de’Adre Aziza, Passing Strange
Laura Benanti, Gypsy
Andrea Martin, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Olga Merediz, In the Heights
Loretta Ables Sayre, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Winner: Laura Benanti Spoiler: Loretta Ables Sayre
Benanti has always been a favorite, and people feel her time has finally come. If she has any competition, it’s SP‘s Bloody Mary.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Scott Pask, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Todd Rosenthal, August: Osage County
Anthony Ward, Macbeth
Winner: August: Osage County Spoiler: None
That house is breathtaking. See for yourself.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday in the Park With George
Anna Louizos, In the Heights
Robin Wagner, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Michael Yeargan, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Winner: South Pacific Spoiler: In the Heights
Has any musical ever used Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont stage as well as SP? Louizos’ Heights set has shabby-chic charm, though.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY
Gregory Gale, Cyrano de Bergerac
Rob Howell, Boeing-Boeing
Katrina Lindsay, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Winner: Les Liaisons Dangereuses Spoiler: Cyrano de Bergerac
The costumes were the best part of Liaisons. And voters love anything that’s more than 100 years old. (Me? I’m more partial to Boeing‘s groovy ’60s threads.)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
David Farley, Sunday in the Park With George
Martin Pakledinaz, Gypsy
Paul Tazewell, In the Heights
Catherine Zuber, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Winner: South Pacific Spoiler: Sunday in the Park With George
This would be Zuber’s fourth straight Tony, following The Light in the Piazza, Awake and Sing!, and The Coast of Utopia — all Lincoln Center shows, like SP. They should put her on permanent payroll.

NEXT PAGE: Revival of a play, revival of a musical, and directing

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY
Kevin Adams, The 39 Steps
Howard Harrison, Macbeth
Donald Holder, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Ann G. Wrightson, August: Osage County
Winner: The 39 Steps Spoiler: Macbeth
The lighting in Macbeth was spooky, but how could anyone not give it to 39 Steps? It uses pantomime and shadows and projections to tell the story — the lighting is essential to the production.

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Ken Billington, Sunday in the Park With George
Howell Binkley, In the Heights
Donald Holder, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Natasha Katz, The Little Mermaid
Winner: South Pacific Spoiler: Sunday in the Park With George
People love to vote a straight ticket in design categories. Also, Holder’s design is really inseparable from Michael Yeargan’s set. But this could be Sunday‘s best shot.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY
Simon Baker, Boeing-Boeing
Adam Cork, Macbeth
Ian Dickinson, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Mic Pool, The 39 Steps
Winner: The 39 Steps Spoiler: Rock ‘n’ Roll
This is a new category; honestly, I think voters don’t know what to make of it. Rule out Boeing. Any of the others could win.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Acme Sound Partners, In the Heights
Sebastian Frost, Sunday in the Park With George
Scott Lehrer, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Dan Moses Schreier, Gypsy
Winner: South Pacific Spoiler: None
A plane flies overhead, and a pivotal monologue is delivered via radio. Isn’t that enough?

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY
Rob Ashford, Cry-Baby
Andy Blankenbuehler, In the Heights
Christopher Gattelli, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Dan Knechtges, Xanadu
Winner: Cry-Baby Spoiler: In the Heights
Ashford and Blankenbuehler were singled out in just about every review. Heights‘ steps are so fresh, like everything else in the show. But Cry-Baby‘s prison-yard license-plate dance alone wins it for Ashford.

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS
Jason Carr, Sunday in the Park With George
Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman, In the Heights
Stew & Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange
Jonathan Tunick, A Catered Affair
Winner: Passing Strange Spoiler: In the Heights
Often, this goes with the Best Score winner. But I suspect people who are voting for Heights there will see Orchestrations as a way to acknowledge Strange‘s music.

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Boeing-Boeing
The Homecoming
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Macbeth
Winner: Boeing-Boeing Spoiler: Macbeth
I’m giving Boeing a very slight edge because it’s still open, and Stewart’s win would be Macbeth‘s prize.

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Grease
Gypsy
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Sunday in the Park With George
Winner: South Pacific Spoiler: Sunday in the Park With George
Though I think it’s a little ridiculous that they thought they had to call it ”Rodgers and Hammerstein’s” South Pacific — what, like people didn’t know? — it has a major edge. It’s an astounding achievement. That 30-piece orchestra alone is reason enough. (Incidentally, the CD sounds spectacular.) Lately, I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Sunday, but this is SP‘s to lose.

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Maria Aitken, The 39 Steps
Conor McPherson, The Seafarer
Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County
Matthew Warchus, Boeing-Boeing
Winner: Anna D. Shapiro Spoiler: Conor McPherson
Playwright/director McPherson poses a small threat; recognizing him here is a way to recognize his stunning drama. But Shapiro will ride the August wave — and deservedly so. Wrangling that three-hour-and-20-minute drama was no small feat. Also, I think we’re ready to see another woman win! There are only four others: Julie Taymor, Garry Hynes, Susan Stroman, and Mary Zimmerman.

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
Sam Buntrock, Sunday in the Park With George
Thomas Kail, In the Heights
Arthur Laurents, Gypsy
Bartlett Sher, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Winner: Bartlett Sher Spoiler: None
Without Sher, SP wouldn’t be the enchanted evening that it is.