Tinseltown Dominates Tonys, But Who Will Win?

When it comes to Tony time, I’m all in favor. I think anyone who works in the theater should be showered with awards and love and money all the time. For one thing, why would I wish them anything less than I wish for myself? For another, the lives of theater folk are so very hard and vulnerable that any recognition or plain, simple “thank you” that comes their way couldn’t be more richly deserved.

Unless they aren’t richly deserved. But let’s not go into The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee quite so soon. It would spoil the atmosphere. Juth becauth it’s a childlike muthical lithping its way to thuctheth. Personally, I still haven’t got over its cute little girl played by an adult actress in fierce pigtails who can spell “thithtitith.”

Nevertheless, I wish all the winners well. True, the televised Tonys have never been quite as glamorous as the Oscars. But watch out for a glimpse of Mayor Dinkins on the red carpet. Here are my tips for the major categories in the 2005 Tony Awards, being shown on CBS on June 5 at 8 p.m. And the envelope, please!

Though I prefer Martin McDonagh’s weirdly disturbing The Pillowman, and some think it will take the Tony for Best Play, the winner will be John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. The gifted Mr. Shanley has had a wonderfully productive season, and the play has already won this year’s Pulitzer. My doubts about Doubt when I reviewed it were that its outcome is never really in doubt. Mr. Shanley’s unstoppably righteous nun fixes the truth about the priest she suspects is molesting a choirboy. Faith, the message appears to be, requires no evidence. Maybe so. Absolutely no doubt, however, that Mr. Shanley will take home the Tony.

This isn’t going to be The Pillowman’s night. I expect Doug Hughes of Doubt to win Best Director. But what odds as Best Actress on Doubt’s Cherry Jones versus Kathleen Turner of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s almost too close to call.

The Best Actress category is already fierce enough, with Laura Linney ( Sight Unseen) and Mary-Louise Parker ( Reckless) also nominated. Ms. Jones is a critics’ darling, giving a flawless performance as the nun lying to herself in righteous certitude. But Ms. Turner as Edward Albee’s mythic man-eater drinking herself into goading oblivion has been almost unanimously raved over. Hmm … Ms. Turner’s unafraid, unembarrassed performance is the more challenging role. But my hunch is the Tony will go to Cherry Jones.

The category for Best Actor in a Play includes such brilliant actors as Brian F. O’Byrne for his dedicated priest under suspicion in Doubt and Billy Crudup’s amateur storyteller on nightmare trial for his life in Pillowman. But the sentimental favorite, James Earl Jones as crusty old Norman Thayer in musty old On Golden Pond, will win.

Look at the nominees for Featured Actor in a Play! Three of the five are from the terrific all-male ensemble of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross-Alan Alda, Liev Schreiber and Gordon Clapp. I think Mr. Alda’s washed-up salesman begging for his livelihood could just about win, but the split vote hands an opportunity to the excellent Michael Stuhlbarg of The Pillowman.

The melodramatic Roundabout production of Twelve Angry Men was peculiarly popular. But the Tony of Best Play Revival ought to go to Glengarry Glen Ross, which actually gives revivals a good name.

Best Musical is between the underdog Spelling Bee versus the big rich guy, Monty Python’s Spamalot. The innate English dopiness of Spamalot is far superior to the manufactured American dopiness of another nominee, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The Italianate musical The Light in the Piazza is much too serious at this level, although its old-fashioned theme about a retarded American girl who falls for a gorgeous Italian in Florence is come se dice-‘ow you sayz?-lika beega pizza pie. The whole world loves an underdog, or a puppet, as last year’s surprise Best Musical, Avenue Q, proves. Cute lispers or the rampant joys of English schoolboy silliness? Monty Python’s Spamalot takes the Tony.

Mike Nichols-for it is he-wins so many awards they should ban him from all awards ceremonies, except as a presenter. If necessary, he could present himself with another Lifetime Achievement Award. Mr. Nichols of Spamalot will surely win for Best Director of a Musical.

I think Eric Idle of Spamalot will win for Best Book of a Musical. None of the four nominations for Best Original Score, however, are exactly “original”: They’re derivative or pastiche. Adam Guettel’s Sondheimean Light in the Piazza is the most original of the bunch. But I think Spamalot will be on a roll and the Tony will go to John Du Prez and Eric Idle.

The neophyte Christina Applegate of Sweet Charity has achieved a dogged miracle by receiving a nomination for Best Actress in a Musical, and some showbiz sentimentalists, including Ms. Applegate, are hoping her dream will come true. Sherie René Scott is great fun in Rotten Scoundrels. The winner will be Victoria Clark for her outstandingly dignified performance in The Light in the Piazza.

Best Actor in a Musical is a tougher choice. Hank Azaria and Tim Curry of Spamalot are both very appealing, but they split their votes. Gary Beach wasn’t universally admired in the revival of La Cage aux Folles. Nor was the mannered John Lithgow in Rotten Scoundrels. Norbert Leo Butz of Rotten Scoundrels gave one of the most over-the-top performances I’ve seen in a musical, or anywhere, and Mr. Butz will win.

I see that along with three other solo shows, Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays has been nominated for a Tony for Special Theatrical Event. And the winner is … Mario Cantone for Laugh Whore!

But don’t bet on it. Still, Mr. Cantone will be there proudly in his tux just the same. It’s good, of course, that Edward Albee will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. (What kept them?) But I’m particularly thrilled that a Tony for Regional Theater is going to one of the finest troupes in America, the Theatre de la Jeune Lune of Minneapolis.

A decade or more ago, I caught a masterpiece of theirs on tour in Los Angeles. Their stage version of Marcel Carne’s Children of Paradise counts vividly as among the best experiences of my theatergoing life. And I remember how, at the end of the performance, the cast members lined up as mere mortals and innocents in the foyer to shake our hands, if that’s what we wanted to do. I was so thankful I embraced them, and wrote about their astonishing achievement, and for the only time in my life I pleaded with theater producers here to bring a great production to New York.

Well, they’re here at last! Perhaps the Theatre de la Jeune Lune no longer performs their Children of Paradise. It seems like a fantastic dream now. But in theater, it’s never too late to make amends, never too late to give thanks for work so wonderfully done.