Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2014 Tony Awards Predictions: Best Lead Actor in a Play

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

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1. CHRIS O’DOWD
Of Mice and Men

2. BRYAN CRANSTON
All the Way

3. TONY SHALHOUB
Act One

MARK RYLANCE
Richard III

SAMUEL BARNETT
Twelfth Night

Shoulda been here: Michael C. Hall, The Realistic Joneses; Santino Fontana, Act One

And here we see how an aversion to Shakespeare ruins my ability to properly predict this category. While I saw neither Richard III nor Twelfth Night, both long closed (though I did see the same production of the latter at the University of Michigan a decade ago, I can’t recall if Mr. Barnett was in the cast at that time), neither Mark Rylance (as beloved as he is) or Samuel Barnett has a shot here.

Nor does Tony Shalhoub, who offers delicately detailed performances in James Lapine’s Act One, an adaptation of Moss Hart’s beloved biography. Shalhoub plays three roles — an middle-aged Moss Hart; Moss Hart’s father, Barnett and George S. Kaufman — with the best of the three being Kaufman, who the actor plays with an indelible array of physical tics and vocal inflections. He may not physically resemble the famous eccentric, but his performance is so specific and calculated, that his chilly, OCD Kaufman is not only a wonder to watch, but one that is comically endearing, especially in his interactions with the charming Santino Fontana’s younger Moss Hart. Unfortunately for Mr. Shalhoub, the overwritten script does the estimable actor no favors, and the other two characters — ill-defined and largely superfluous — detract more than they add to both the play and the performance(s).

Nothing is taken away from Bryan Cranston in All the Way, however. The actor proves he’s more than just the meth cook he played on TV for six seasons. As “accidental president” Lyndon B. Johsnon, Cranston hurls himself as forcefully into the performance as LBJ heaved himself into Civil Rights legislation in 1963. Donning black horn-rimmed glasses and the Texan’s famously crude sense of humor, Cranston is a seductive bully who never backs down from a challenge. Larger-than-life, his LBJ is portrayed as almost Shakespearean in his unfaltering crusade for Civil Rights. Onstage for nearly every minute of the nearly three-hour production, Cranston’s beguiling bluster never wavers, though the effort to maintain it is visible at times. Despite the obvious hard work at play here, Cranston is the clear favorite to win.

But if I had a vote, it’d go to Chris O’Dowd. In his Broadway debut, the Irish actor shows his chops, avoiding the easy-to-fall-into traps of portraying the mentally disabled (schmaltzy, overdone). Yes, his Lennie is the prescribed gentle giant of John Steinbeck’s script: a lumbering presence with an odd affinity for all things soft and furry. But O’Dowd’s smart portrayal pays close attention to the details of the sensitive Lennie: his hulking frame is always slightly, self-consciously hunched over; his eyes dart away systematically to avoid eye contact and the best of all is, literally, his handiwork. Whether listening intently to James Franco’s George, or struggling to articulate his thoughts, Lennie’s fingers flutter gently at his side, or flitter against his temple. The most unconscious of gestures, O’Dowd’s delicate handwork is touchingly graceful, making his heartbreaking character even more so.

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This entry was posted on May 18, 2014 by in Acting, Award Predictions, Broadway, Tony Awards.

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