Tony nominations in 26 categories were announced last Tuesday, but among diva-worshipping Broadway obsessives, only one award sets off brawls: Leading Actress in a Musical. Patti LuPone, in Gypsy, Kelli O’Hara, in South Pacific, and Faith Prince, in A Catered Affair, are all beloved musical-comedy lifers, and all three performances (and two of the three shows) drew wide-eyed raves. (Most agree that the other two nominees, Kerry Butler, in the fluffy spoof Xanadu, and Jenna Russell, in Sunday in the Park With George, turned in strong performances but don’t stand a chance.) We handicapped the race after consulting a panel of eight industry insiders, all anonymous and all of whom denied direct ties to the shows in question.
Painfully ready. Hasn’t won since 1980 for Evita; was nominated in ’88 for Anything Goes and came close in ’06 for Sweeney Todd. “She’s the biggest Tony loser [of recent decades], so it’s her turn.”
As usual, a vocal tsunami, if occasionally lacking clarity. “Gypsy’s the hardest show [of the three] to sing because of those two monster numbers.” “She does ‘Rose’s Turn’ brilliantly—breaks up in the middle and has a fit.” “From a purely vocal point of view, it’s rough going” for her.
Overcame a slight shtickiness in last year’s Encores! run to slam-dunk a visceral, complex Mama Rose, a huge, Lear-like role. “We saw vulnerability and flaws and cracks in the armor.” “You know you’ll see her go insane, hit those notes.”
Once flagging, now revived. “Sweeney Todd engendered a lot of goodwill; there she was, lugging that tuba around.” “The question is whether she’s annoyed enough people.” “This is probably her last big shot.”
Somewhat ready. Won in 1992 for her much-loved Adelaide in Guys and Dolls; nominated in ’01 for Bells Are Ringing. “We love that Faith Prince is back on Broadway.”
Fine, workmanlike performance of a quiet score. “She sings it nicely, but doesn’t have anything interesting to sing.” “She’ll say herself she doesn’t consider herself a real singer.” “Not particularly challenging compared to the competition.”
Unimpeachable, nuanced delivery of lead in glum anti-musical. “Very heartfelt, but perhaps the whole show is a little too sincere.” “When you’re sleeping, you can’t [judge] acting.”
Strong despite a stint in L.A. “People love her, but you can’t transcend a show that most people think, ‘Why is this on Broadway?’ ” “That’s not fair, but that’s how it works.”
Not urgently ready. No prior Tony, but nominated twice in recent years, for The Light in the Piazza and The Pajama Game. “I don’t think there’s a groundswell yet.” “She’s young—she’s not going anywhere.”
Lovely voice, in a role sung with some understatement and minimal brass. “The best vocal performance of the three—Kelli is a real singer.” “Pitch-perfect—I think she’s flawless.” “I thought she was boring. I don’t love her voice.”
Brought winning self-awareness to a dated role; perhaps a bit too low-key. “Delightful, but Nellie Forbush requires a lot less Sturm und Drang than Mama Rose.” “A little dull.” “There was no way that man would’ve fallen in love with her. Too chipper.”
Very high; folks call her a hardworking, kind, brainy Broadway sweetheart. “There’s a new crop of blonde sopranos who all come from farms; she’s managed to rise above them.”
Whom They’d Vote For: Six of eight said Patti. (One said Kerry Butler: “She nailed the Olivia Newton-John accent, and she’s doing it on skates!” And one said Jenna Russell: “She makes you totally forget Bernadette Peters” in the role.)
The Likely Winner: Every single respondent said LuPone’s going to win. “She got the New York Times on her side, and now it’s hers to lose.” “Not giving it to her—it’s a slap in her face. Every queen in the world will rise up and shout. Truly.”