More and more I hear rumblings of the possibility that "American Idiot" can pull off an upset for best musical at the Tonys over "Memphis" and "Fela!," the two presumed front-runners. (See breakdown of pundits' predictions here.) Lots of voters are confessing that they've checked off their ballots for it.
"Idiot" was believed to be the early Tonys front-runner, up until two glitches occurred. First, it didn't get nominated for best director (Michael Mayer). Just like at the Oscars, that's a nomination that usually must line up. Secondly, "Memphis" won the precursor prizes bestowed by the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.
But those prizes aren't really crucial forecasters. Examples: the Drama Desk Awards recently picked "The Drowsy Chaperone" and "Wicked" over Tony champs "Jersey Boys" and "Avenue Q." Curiously, "Wicked" was considered to be the front-runner at the Tonys too — even though it wasn't nominated for best director. However, "Avenue Q" pulled off a jaw-dropper. (Undeservedly, I think — but that's another matter.)
There's one example in recent years of a show winning best musical without its helmer being nominated. It was "Titanic," which pulled off a surprise win in 1997.
Most pundits are currently betting on "Memphis" because it's a "book musical" with a traditional format of story, dialogue and songs. Voters are a conservative bunch — they usually like that. Also, those kinds of tuners usually tour well and, as every Tony pundit knows, that's important. Producers comprise the largest bloc of voters, and they want their best-musical champs to be winners at the box offices in St. Louis, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.
"Fela!" doesn't fit those bills, but still several of our Tony gurus are betting on it to prevail anyway. It's got the most nominations and a noble focus, telling the heroic story of Nigerian composer and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
But "America Idiot" is really the best musical. It got the best reviews and whips up the most enthusiasm among attendees. It's got some drawbacks, sure — like little plot and dialogue — but it's the coolest, hippest contender.
Remember, the Tonys have a schizophrenic voting system. A small committee decides the nominees. Winners are chosen by more than 700 Broadway folks. Often the two groups disagree.
Photos: "American Idiot" (St. James Theatre), "Titanitc" (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre)