Cicely Tyson Cicely Tyson, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, for her work in The Trip to Bountiful.

There will be a lot of talented women waiting in the wings at Sunday night’s Tony Awards (June 9, 8.m. EST, on CBS). As usual, there’s an impressive list of dramatic divas in all of the Best Actress categories. There’s a distinct possibility that women will win both Best Direction of a Play and Best Direction of a Musical. And, if Cyndi Lauper wins Best Original Score, she will be the first woman to do so.

What can I say? Girls just want to have fun. And do excellent work. And be recognized for it.

Unlike the Oscars, the Tony Awards is less about big-bucks box office and Botox, and more about the work. There’s less emphasis on hot young things and more on a dedication to craft. And, consequently, women are better represented (although still not quite on a par with their male colleagues) in the creative categories.

This year, one woman playwright will no doubt be honored, even if she isn’t named a winner. Nora Ephron, who passed away nearly a year ago, is nominated for her drama Lucky Guy. On opening night, the play’s star (and everyone’s favorite Hollywood good guy) Tom Hanks paid an emotional tribute to Ephron. We can certainly expect an encore at the Tonys. Ephron may well win the award for sentimental reasons, but my money’s on Christopher Durang for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. (Tom Hanks, on the other hand, is almost a shoo-in for Best Actor. Everything Hanks touches turns to gold. Is it because we all want him to be our best friend? I know I do.)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (the Tony Awards should really consider hiring a script doctor to shorten some of these award categories) will probably go to Cicely Tyson for her work in The Trip to Bountiful. In her long career, the 88-year-old has already won numerous honors, including two Emmy Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Award. In Bountiful, Tyson plays elderly widow Carrie Watts, who escapes from the “care” of her son and daughter-in-law to return one last time to her beloved hometown, Bountiful. (Geraldine Page won the Oscar for the same role in the 1985 film.) Praising Tyson’s performance, The Wall Street Journal noted, “If you’ve ever felt the fear of watching an increasingly frail parent try to keep on living her life the way she always has . . . well, you’ll feel it all over again as you watch Ms. Tyson on the stage of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. That’s the, measure of the truth of her acting.” Get out your handkerchiefs!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical will almost certainly go to megawatt talent Patina Miller for her star turn as “The Leading Player” in the revival of Pippin. Miller takes over the role from its original 1973 Tony winner Ben Vereen—awfully big tap shoes to fill. Her performance is nothing short of extraordinary, combining a powerful voice, Fosse-inspired dance, acting, and acrobatics. She is onstage virtually every minute of the 2-hour, 35-minute show, and she deserves any and all awards that come her way.

Another member of Pippin‘s cast who will likely be a winner is Andrea Martin for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role. Martin plays Pippin’s grandmother, and earns a standing ovation each night for her crowd-pleasing “Just No Time at All’—sung on a trapeze, no less!

Pam MacKinnon has a good shot at winning Best Director of a Play for the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  This is MacKinnon’s second consecutive Tony nomination; she was recognized last year for directing the play Clybourne Park. Diane Paulus will likely (and should) win for Best Direction of a Musical for Pippin. She was previously nominated for Hair (2009) and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (2012), both of which won Best Revival of a Musical. MacKinnon and Paulus are the only women nominated in either category.

Last but not least in our discussion of divine divas, let’s consider Cyndi Lauper’s rise from 1980s pop icon to accomplished Broadway composer and lyricist. As a recording artist, Lauper was a contemporary of Madonna’s, but her path has been quite different. In 1985, she was nominated for several Grammy Awards, including Best Album, Best Song, and Best Record. She won Best New Artist. Although a prolific music maker for the past 30 years, with a loyal following and critical acclaim, she’s never regained the mass popularity she had with “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” But, she’s become a passionate spokesperson for the LGBT community. This, as well as her always outrageous personality (“She’s So Unusual”), may have been why Lauper (along with book writer Harvey Fierstein) was the producer’s choice for developing the musical version of Kinky Boots from day one.

When Kinky Boots previewed out of town prior to arriving on Broadway earlier this year, The Chicago Tribune described Lauper’s work on the gender-bending tale this way: “This is, of course, ideal thematic territory for Lauper, who has stood for such things her entire career and who clearly found much in this story to inspire her music—the ballads ‘Hold Me in Your Heart,’ ‘I’m Not My Father’s Son,’ and ‘So Long, Charlie,’ which segues beautifully into a song called ‘The Soul of a Man,’ are all potent, as are the danceable disco ditties ‘Sex Is in the Heel’ and ‘Raise You Up/Just Be.’ Along with Fierstein and Mitchell’s warmth and conviction, they will propel this show to success, as long as the soles become solid and the heels made true.”

Cindi Lauper’s, Kinky Boots,

Kinky Boots is nominated for 13 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. But it may be knocked out of one or many categories by another girl-centric show: Matilda, the Musical, nominated for 12 Tonys. Matilda is a clever new adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s last novels. Despite a spunky heroine (and Danny DeVito’s kinder, gentler 1996 movie version), Matilda is a dark, demented story about the cruel abuse of adult power and what happens when the tables are turned.

Whether Kinky Boots or Matilda wins, Sunday night’s awards promise to be a celebration of theater, music, dance, and girl power. Expect a number of happy endings. After all, you have to believe that Matilda is a character that Lauper would appreciate. She’s so unusual.


Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Jimmy Roberts June 9, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Thank you, Alex, for a timely, interesting, and most informative piece about the Tonys—from a very special perspective. Now it will be mine as I watch the show tonight, Jimmy Roberts