Tony Awards: 5 Burning Questions Swirling Around Broadway's Big Night

Tony Awards: 5 Burning Questions Swirling Around Broadway's Big Night

Can Tom Hanks beat a Broadway favorite? Transvestites or little British schoolgirls?

Will a pint-sized troublemaker or a group of dancing drag queens score Broadway's top prize?

Will a Hollywood star move one tantalizing step closer to achieving EGOT?

These are just a few of the questions swirling around the Great White Way as the theatrical community prepares to honor its own on Sunday night's Tony Awards.

It promises to be a tight race, and even the strongest front-runners can topple over, as was the case last year when heavily favored "Death of a Salesman" star Philip Seymour Hoffman found himself applauding from the audience as " One Man, Two Guvnors" funnyman James Corden nabbed the Best Actor in a Play statue.

To help make sense of the rivalries, top contests and potential upsets bubbling up around the big night, TheWrap takes theater fans through five burning questions consuming producers, actors and other top talent as they wait for the envelopes to be opened.

1. Can "Kinky Boots" Beat Out "Matilda"?

The safe money had been on "Matilda" adding a Best Musical statue to the tote-bag full of Olivier Awards the adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book picked up when it opened in London.

Lately, its lead is looking shaky with the sprightly, pop-culture laced "Kinky Boots" nipping at its heels.

Getty ImagesWith rapturous reviews (The New York Times compared it to "Oklahoma!") and sizzling box-office returns, "Matilda" was the presumptive front-runner going into the Tony nominations, but it was "Kinky Boots" that racked up the most nods.

That lead is somewhat illusory, however. "Kinky Boots," the story of a factory producing fetish footwear for drag queens, did score 13 nominations to "Matilda"s' 12, but the four young girls playing the title role were deemed ineligible for a competitive Tony and were instead given a special prize.

Some Tony voters resent the Royal Shakespeare Company, the producers behind the show, and fault "Matilda's'" creators for being overly aloof while campaigning. In contrast, "Kinky Boots" co-creators Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauperhave been witty and engaging presences on the awards circuit.

2. Will Tracy Letts Play Spoiler to Tom Hanks?

Tom Hanks ignited the box office by making his Broadway debut in Nora Ephron's love letter to tabloids, "Lucky Guy." The Oscar and Emmy winner earned strong reviews and is the favorite to add a Tony Award to his mantelpiece.

As with past winners like Denzel Washington and Scarlett Johansson, Hanks gets points with voters for foregoing the big paychecks that come with film work in favor of the weekly grind involved with performing a demanding role several shows a week.

Getty ImagesHowever, the play itself has been criticized as overly episodic and half-baked. That could pave the way for Tracy Letts to nab the acting prize for his revelatory turn as a combative and wily George in the acclaimed revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" 

The big stumbling blocks for Letts is that he already has a Tony and a Pulitzer for writing "August: Osage County" and "Virginia Woolf" wasn't able to translate those raves into strong ticket sales.

But if Tony voters decide to reward the performer who took on the tougher role over a Hollywood star roughing it out on Broadway, Letts will find himself making another acceptance speech.

3. Will Tony Voters Really Honor a Wacky Comedy Over One of Nora Ephron's Final Works?

The outpouring of sympathy that greeted the shocking news last year that Nora Ephron had died of cancer at age 71 made "Lucky Guy" a must-see on Broadway this season. Reviews for what will be one of her final completed works were respectful, but not exactly rapturous.

On film, Ephron had a magical touch in movies like "Sleepless in Seattle," but on stage her footing has been less certain and though "Lucky Guy" has powerful moments, its pleasures are ephemeral.

Despite the opportunity to honor Ephron's body of work, it looks increasingly like Tony voters will hand the prize for Best Play to Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike." The hilarious send up of Chekhov is an idiosyncratic choice.

When it comes to Best Play winners, they are a decidedly serious bunch — with dramas like "War Horse" and "Clybourne Park" earning top honors in recent years. When the Tony has gone to comedies, as it did in 2009 with "God of Carnage" and in 2006 with "History Boys," they tend to be of a more genteel variety.

Getty ImagesThat description doesn't fit "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," which is an out and out farce and boasts a foul-mouthed flip out from David Hyde Pierce and the sight of Sigourney Weaver dressed up as Snow White as set pieces.

This year tickling the funny bone may be more important than pulling on the heart strings.

4. How can Neil Patrick Harris Keep Viewers' Attention?

This isn't Neil Patrick Harris' first rodeo. It's the fourth time the "How I Met Your Mother" star has hosted the Tony Awards. For good measure, Harris has brought his singing, dancing and quipping abilities to gigs as host of the Emmy Awards and key appearances on the Oscars.

With all that awards show ubiquity, does he have anything left up his sleeve?

5. What Musicals Will Benefit Most From the National Exposure?

Nothing helps ticket-sales like a boat load of Tonys, but barring some big wins, musicals can also benefit from getting a chance to highlight a show-stopping number on national television.

As expected, the show's producers plan to offer up performances by the casts of "Matilda" and "Kinky Boots," but the two other Best Musical nominees, "A Christmas Story: The Musical" and "Bring It On: The Musical" have already closed. Likewise, Best Revival of a Musical nominee "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" has shut its doors.

That means that shows like "Motown: The Musical," which found themselves shut out of the hunt for the top musical prize, but which will get air-time during the show, could generate box office heat even without much in the way of awards attention. Clearly, there's more than one way to go home a winner.