Even now that the 2013-14 Tony nominations are set, the race for Broadway's biggest awards remains wide open. Voters find themselves facing either categories crowded with shoo-ins, or packed with contenders that inspire more admiration than passion.
But the comic musical, much praised by the press, has yet to ignite a groundswell of enthusiasm at the box office. The same is true of "Almost Midnight," critically lauded but comparatively soft in weekly grosses. Moreover, "Midnight" is a revue with no original music, which might make voters hesitate to award it the Tonys' top honor.
Meanwhile, "Beautiful," the Carole King bio that draws its score from King's songbook, and Disney Theatrical Prods.' "Aladdin" both count as more broadly commercial fare. But each is a well-executed crowdpleaser, with sales to match -- and both might hold extra appeal for regional voters; the two titles look sure to prove attractive on the road.
Balloters face the opposite dilemma in an ultra-competitive category such as lead actress in a musical. Sutton Foster ("Violet"), Idina Menzel ("If/Then") and Kelli O'Hara ("The Bridges of Madison County") are powerhouses seemingly loved by the entire industry. In another year, any one of them would be the one to beat.
Some observers wonder if this might be O'Hara's time, after four previous noms and no wins. But you can't count out strong perfs from the other two, or from Jessie Mueller, a relative newcomer who's earned raves as King in "Beautiful."
It's an anything-goes situation that makes for a change of pace from the years when there are one or two obvious frontrunners, as was the case in 2013's contest between "Kinky Boots" (13 noms) and "Matilda" (12). This year, the only thing anyone can count on is a few surprises.