I love tough Tony Award races. I love when there are so many eligible contenders for a given category, I don't even know who is going to be nominated. So I am super excited about the Best Actress in a Play Tony Award category.
In my decade plus career, I don't remember a better slate of contenders than we have this year. There are so many people who any other year would be nominated, but this year will fall short. With so many shows left to come, it may seem a little early to start talking about Tony categories. Insiders know however -- it's never too early to start thinking about the Tony race. After all, many producers make decisions based on the races. Producers rush certain shows in during weak seasons. It's very rare that the Tony Awards Administration Committee (which decides category eligibility) denies a petition, so producers often choose whether to petition to move an actor up to lead or down to featured based on the competition in a given category. (Performers listed above the title are generally eligible in Best Actress/Actor, performers below the title in the featured categories. The Administration Committee can change this and so, for example, one would think Kate Arrington, above-the-title for Grace, would be considered featured if the producers petition the Administration Committee accordingly.)
Sight unseen it is of course hard to pick nominees, but, without knowing more, I'm going to go ahead and predict Laurie Metcalf, Bette Midler, Amy Morton, Fiona Shaw and Cicely Tyson will have nominations. I may have predicted Estelle Parsons in one of those slots, but a production spokesperson has confirmed that Velocity of Autumn will not come this season.
Why these ladies? The Other Place transferred on the basis of Metcalf's performance; she makes the play. It will already be gone by Tony time, but I don't think she will be forgotten. Everyone is excited about Midler. Back in the early half of the 'oughts, Midler starred in a reading of a Charles Busch play that was slated to arrive at the Biltmore during MTC's inaugural season there. The comedy, set in a summer camp, apparently was not very good, but everyone I know still wanted it to come because of Midler. She's finally in a piece that seems, on paper, to be tailor made for her over-the-top persona. I worry that her and Joe Mantello are strange bedfellows and their marriage may be rocky, but as of now she seems a likely nominee because, well, she is in general divine. With Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? closing early, I suspect I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers will soon announce the Booth, a frequent home to one person shows (though I personally think Bette deserves the Barrymore). Morton is genius in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- she plays the role of Martha in a new, fresh way and deserves a nomination for her brilliant performance. Shaw is playing The Virgin Mary; enough said. Tyson is returning to Broadway for the first time in two decades -- her Trip to Bountiful could be an absolute mess, but if it is a smooth ride, the well-respected Tyson will likely be honored with a nomination.
These picks are not set in stone, I'm saying this without seeing many of the potential nominees. If critics respect what Emilia Clarke is doing in Breakfast at Tiffany's, I would think she could very easily become an "IT" girl and knock out one of the veterans. The Miss Firecracker Contest's Amber Tamblyn could do the same. And I can't really count Holland Taylor out for a show she also wrote -- I think she has a very good chance here. It's also hard to completely ignore the film stars gracing the stage currently, though I do think they will probably be ignored come May. Judith Light or Jessica Hecht may sneak in with nominations for The Assembled Parties. There could also be more plays announced soon, which will totally change the analysis. I hope Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike makes the move and that will add at least Sigourney Weaver to the list. (The Performers is not eligible for Tony consideration, meaning those ladies are not a factor, if some reader thought they might be.)
So, basically, I can't decide. We'll have to wait and see. I will be enthusiastically watching each performance, talking to press agent Rick Miramontez about campaign buttons, polling industry insiders and wishing press agent Judy Jacksina represented one of the contenders, so I could hear her say: "Cicely Tyson? I'll annihilate Cicely Tyson!" (Note, I am sure Ms. Jacksina loves Ms. Tyson, but she always wants to annihilate her Tony competition.)
Here is the current list of those likely eligible in the Best Actress in a Play category:
Jessica Chastain, The Heiress
Emilia Clarke, Breakfast at Tiffany's
Maggie Grace, Picnic*
Jessica Hecht, The Assembled Parties
Katie Holmes, Dead Accounts
Marin Ireland, The Big Knife*
Scarlett Johansson, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Judith Light, The Assembled Parties
Patti LuPone, The Anarchist
Laurie Metcalf, The Other Place
Bette Midler, I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers
Amy Morton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Fiona Shaw, The Testament of Mary
Amber Tamblyn, The Miss Firecracker Contest
Holland Taylor, Ann
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful
Debra Winger, The Anarchist
*These actresses could be either lead or featured depending on eligibility rulings.
Cara Joy David has finally given in and joined Twitter. Find her at @CaraJoyDavid or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.