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Races close for musical, acting in Tony Awards

There’s "Follies," and then there’s folly. The first is a winning revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical that wowed Broadway this season. The other is how you can characterize any attempt to handicap today’s Tony Awards (at 8 p.m. on KLAS-TV, Channel 8). But here goes.

BEST MUSICAL

Will win: "Newsies." Should win: "Once."

This is the battle of extremes – the stripped-down, bittersweet magic of "Once" versus the pump-you-up appeal of classic razzle-dazzle in "Newsies." Both are a great night out, just different. Both came from movies, and only "Newsies" has new songs written specifically for the stage, giving it an edge with Tony voters. But "Once" just makes you feel, well, good. As for the other contenders, "Leap of Faith" doesn’t have a chance since it has closed, and "Nice Work If You Can Get It" is a fun romp but not as strong as its cousin "Anything Goes."

BEST PLAY

Will win: "Clybourne Park." Should win: "Clybourne Park."

Bruce Norris’ sly, edgy gem has the same heat on it that Jon Robin Baitz’s "Other Desert Cities" had when it opened in the winter. That doesn’t make it better, just fresher. Both plays prove Broadway is putting on great American works again. The oh-so-cool "Peter and the Starcatcher" and the naughty "Venus in Fur" are inventive and bold, but not broad enough to tickle everyone.

REVIVAL-PLAY

Will win: "Death of a Salesman." Should win: "Death of a Salesman."

Arthur Miller’s masterpiece is timely, and there is so much to like – the re-created original set and music, the directing of Mike Nichols and the performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Linda Emond and Andrew Garfield – that even if one part leaves you cold, the others will not. The revival of Gore Vidal’s "The Best Man" was also timely and had the season’s most insane collection of talented stage actors ever assembled, but it attacked your head; Miller’s play took your guts.

REVIVAL-MUSICAL

Will win: "Follies." Should win: "The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess."

The only thing certain in this category is that the two revivals from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber – "Evita" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" – will cancel each other out, leaving the prize between a proud, confident Stephen Sondheim revival against the show he denigrated before it opened. That was uncool, especially when the re-imagined opera turned out to be rather stunning as a musical. But Sondheim’s dirt-throwing might make Tony voters squeamish, leaving "Follies" the win. "I Loves You, Porgy," indeed.

ACTOR-PLAY

Will win: Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Death of a Salesman"). Should win: James Corden ("One Man, Two Guvnors").

That sounds insane, right? A deeply affecting Willy Loman losing to a British clown? But, if you recall, Hoffman’s performance wasn’t universally cheered, while Corden’s has been. Corden might be brimming with humor as much as Hoffman is stalked by sadness, but in terms of MVP, imagine taking Hoffman out of "Death of a Salesman." Now imagine "One Man, Two Guvnors" without Corden. Miller’s play would still float, but the farce would probably sink.

ACTRESS-PLAY

Will win: Someone who deserves it. Should win: Tracie Bennett ("End of the Rainbow").

Sorry, but anyone trying to find sunlight among the five women in this category is doomed. Like last year, it’s just too hard. Nina Arianda is painfully delicious in "Venus in Fur," Tracie Bennett is insanely good in "End of the Rainbow," Stockard Channing is brilliantly brittle in "Other Desert Cities," Linda Lavin is arch and hysterical in "The Lyons," and Cynthia Nixon was heartbreaking in "Wit." No offense to any of them, but Bennett’s performance is the complete package – acting, singing and descending into pill-popping madness. Perhaps the wisest course is to abandon the attempt and cheer the sheer strength of women on Broadway.

ACTOR-MUSICAL

Will win: Steve Kazee ("Once"). Should win: Norm Lewis ("The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess").

This category is also pretty wide open, with the veteran Danny Burstein of "Follies" and the up-and-coming Jeremy Jordan of "Newsies" leading most polls. But Burstein might lose votes to his "Follies" co-star Ron Raines, and it might be too soon this year for the talented Jordan, who will undoubtedly have many Tony ceremonies to come. The effortless ease in which Steve Kazee played the aw-shucks hero in "Once" acts against him, especially against Norm Lewis, who shuffles across the stage and belts out his songs in "The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess" from a deep, vulnerable place. But Kazee should benefit by riding his musical’s winning Tony wave.

ACTRESS-MUSICAL

Will win: Audra McDonald ("The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess"). Should win: Audra McDonald.

Audra McDonald is this year’s Sutton Foster – the clear leading candidate. But Jan Maxwell in "Follies" was astonishing and is an honorable silver to McDonald’s gold. McDonald has four Tonys, but never for a lead actress. That will change tonight, and deservedly so. She is graceful and tender and strong – and simply the best thing about Catfish Row. Tony voters will sing "I Loves You, Bess."

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