Tony predictions: Expect wins for 'Kimberly Akimbo' and 'Leopoldstadt'

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Tony predictions: Expect wins for 'Kimberly Akimbo' and 'Leopoldstadt'
Sean Hayes, who is in the Tony Awards race for leading actor in a play, as Oscar Levant in “Good Night, Oscar” at the Belasko Theater in New York, April 13, 2023. Tony voters who talked with The New York Times ahead of the show on Sunday night, June 11, 2023, seem to be favoring “Kimberly Akimbo” to take home the award for the best new musical and “Leopoldstadt” for the best new play. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

by Michael Paulson

NEW YORK, NY.- What do you get when you toss together a brassy grifter, an Elvish-speaking anagrammist, a show choir and, oh yes, a teenager with a life-threatening genetic condition? This year, it seems, you get a Tony-winning musical.

“Kimberly Akimbo,” a small show with a huge heart, is likely to win the most coveted prize at the 76th Tony Awards ceremony Sunday, according to my annual survey of Tony voters.

Over the past week, I have connected, by email or telephone, with 158 voters who generously agreed to discuss their picks (and, often, their concerns about, and hopes for, the theater business); they are distributing their votes widely among the nominees after a season with few consensus favorites.

There are a total of 769 Tony voters, and they are mostly industry insiders — producers, investors, actors, writers, directors, designers and many others with theater-connected lives and livelihoods. Although in recent years, voters have been allowed to cast ballots only in categories in which they had seen all nominees, this year, because health and economic disruptions (and, over the past few days, wildfire smoke) made it hard for some voters to catch some shows, there is more leeway: Voters can cast ballots in any category in which they have seen all but one nominee.

This is not a scientific poll, but in past years this exercise has provided a reliable forecast of the ultimate winners in key categories. For the actual results (and the songs!) tune in Sunday for the telecast at 8 p.m. Eastern time on CBS and Paramount+ (and, if you want to see the awards for design and other creative categories, stream the preshow at 6:30 p.m. Eastern on Pluto TV).

Until then, here’s what I am hearing:

‘Leopoldstadt’ Good Bet for Best Play

In each of the last four Tony Awards, voters have chosen as best play an epic production imported from London. Last year was “The Lehman Trilogy,” and before that were “The Inheritance,” “The Ferryman” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

This year, that trend seems certain to continue. By a significant margin, voters are favoring “Leopoldstadt,” a play by Tom Stoppard about how the Holocaust affected an assimilated and affluent Jewish family in Austria.

The play proved inadvertently timely: Although written several years ago, it arrived on Broadway in September, just as concern about resurgent antisemitism was rising in the United States and beyond.

“Leopoldstadt” is leading the second-place favorite, “Fat Ham,” 2-to-1 among the voters with whom I spoke, suggesting that it is all but certain to win. Three other nominated plays, “Ain’t No Mo’,” “Cost of Living” and “Between Riverside and Crazy,” are further behind.

Stoppard, who is 85, is already the winningest playwright on Broadway: He has previously won the best play Tony four times, for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” “Travesties,” “The Real Thing” and “The Coast of Utopia.”

“Leopoldstadt,” directed by Patrick Marber and featuring an ensemble cast of 38, is about a fictional family, but is inspired by Stoppard’s own life experience: He was born in what was then Czechoslovakia; his parents fled invading Nazis when he was a toddler; he has spent his life in Britain; and, like a character in “Leopoldstadt,” only late in life came to understand his family’s Jewishness and the impact of the Holocaust on his relatives.

The play, which transferred to Broadway after winning the Olivier Award for best play in London, opened in October to strong reviews and healthy box office sales in New York. Its sales have softened considerably this year, and it is scheduled to close July 2.

‘Kimberly Akimbo’ Shows Strength

“Kimberly Akimbo” is the smallest of the nominated new musicals, with just nine characters and a budget that is about one-third that of its splashiest competitors.

But it is shaping up to be the little engine that could: It opened last fall to the strongest reviews of any of the season’s new musicals, and now a plurality of voters interviewed say they are voting for it as the season’s best new musical.

Not all voters love “Kimberly Akimbo” — some are finding it extraordinarily moving, while others are left cold — but the show’s odds are good because those who are not voting for it are splitting their votes between two comedies: “Some Like It Hot,” a cross-dressing caper adapted from the Billy Wilder film, and “Shucked,” a pun-filled and country-scored fable. The two other nominated musicals, “& Juliet” and “New York, New York,” lag considerably behind.

“Kimberly Akimbo,” which opened in November, is about a high school student, 15 going on 16, whose life is threatened by a genetic disorder that causes her to age prematurely; that sounds sad, and it is, but the musical is also quite funny, as the protagonist navigates a dysfunctional home life, a gawky peer group, and the criminal aunt who connects those worlds. The show, directed by Jessica Stone, is adapted from a play by David Lindsay-Abaire; he wrote the musical’s book and lyrics, and Jeanine Tesori wrote the music.

Revival Categories Tough to Gauge

This was, by all accounts, a good season for revivals, many of which were praised by critics and a number of which sold well at the box office. But that is making these categories tougher for voters, who liked so many of the offerings that they are torn over which to single out for prizes.

Among play revivals, a production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog” appears to have a modest but real lead, and is likely to win the Tony Award. If it is upset, it would be by the revival of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” but there is enough support for revivals of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” and Lorraine Hansberry’s “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” to make it difficult for any of them to catch up.

“Topdog/Underdog,” first staged off-Broadway in 2001, is about two Black brothers, portentously named Lincoln and Booth, living together in a one-room apartment, trying to get by in a world that makes their lives difficult. The play is an undisputed classic — it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2002, and in 2018 was named the best American play of the previous quarter century by New York Times critics. The revival, directed by Kenny Leon, ran from September 2022 to January.

The musical revival category is even closer. A production of “Parade,” a 1998 musical written by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown about the lynching of a Jewish man in early-20th-century Georgia, has a narrow lead among voters I spoke with, but there is also substantial support for revivals of two shows with music by Stephen Sondheim: “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd.” Any of those three could win; a revival of “Camelot” is not a significant factor in the race. “Parade” opened in March and is scheduled to close in August; “Camelot” and “Sweeney Todd” are running indefinitely, while “Into the Woods” is wrapping up a national tour.

Three Top Acting Races Are Sewn Up

J. Harrison Ghee, Jodie Comer and Victoria Clark can start writing their acceptance speeches. Each of them is almost certainly going to take home a Tony Award.

The category of best leading actor in a play, on the other hand, is way, way, way too close to call, but has boiled down to two of the five contenders: Sean Hayes and Stephen McKinley Henderson.

Ghee, who is nonbinary, is winning over voters with an empathetic, but also entertaining, portrayal of a musician whose gender identity is evolving in “Some Like It Hot.”

Comer wowed voters with her physically and emotionally exhausting tour-de-force performance in “Prima Facie,” a one-woman play about a lawyer who defends men accused of sexual assault until she becomes a victim herself. Amazingly, this is her first stage role.

And Clark is heavily favored for her mind-bending star turn in “Kimberly Akimbo,” in which the 63-year-old actress plays an ailing adolescent with all the awkwardness, resilience and premature wisdom that such a role requires. Clark previously won a Tony Award in 2005 for “The Light in the Piazza.”

As for that race for best leading actor in a play: A little less than one-third of voters I spoke with chose Hayes, who in “Good Night, Oscar” portrays Oscar Levant, a pianist whose bitter humor made him a popular talk-show guest while he battled serious psychological problems. But nearly the same number of voters are supporting Henderson for his portrayal of a retired police officer trying to hang onto a rent-controlled apartment in “Between Riverside and Crazy.”

Who will win? Check back Sunday night.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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