Tony Awards favorites: ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ could pull off upset win

Broadway’s roaring into the homestretch with the Tonys next weekend, and I’ve never seen so many nervous people in Shubert Alley. Many races are up in the air, which should make for an exciting Tony telecast June 9.

I’m not making any predictions yet — many of the 800 voters are still jamming in shows this week and next — but here are some snapshots.

Two weeks ago, I thought “Tootsie” was unbeatable. But “Hadestown” has emerged as a potent rival, and “Ain’t Too Proud,” the Temptations musical, can’t be ruled out. “The Prom,” which is delightful, is the long shot. If it wins, the entire audience at Radio City Music Hall will gasp.

“Ain’t Too Proud” is coming on strong because of its box-office prowess. It grossed $1.5 million last week, and its advance, which was just so-so when it began previews, is now $15 million, far ahead of the other nominees. Its tour starts in July and is already booked for two years. Oprah, Gayle King, Glenn Close and Bette Midler have all been in to see it, and I’m told Bette wants to come back.

I still think the race is between “Tootsie” and “Hadestown,” but as one Tony voter says of “Ain’t Too Proud”: “It’s already a big hit, but if it wins the Tony, it’s ‘Jersey Boys’ — a juggernaut.”

Should “Tootsie” win, a good deal of credit is owed to Scott Ellis, its director. He’s taken some unfair knocks from critics for what they think is a pedestrian production. Tony-nominated performances such as those given by Santino Fontana and Sarah Stiles don’t come out of nowhere: Ellis is the captain of this ship.

Here’s an exclusive: The elusive and reclusive Elaine May is going to the Tonys. The 87-year-old legend is up for Best Actress for her performance in the beautiful and harrowing revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery.” It was anybody’s guess if she’d be at the awards ceremony, since “showbiz nonsense,” as Elaine Stritch called it, isn’t May’s bag. But I’m glad she’ll be there, because she’s going to win. I’ve seen a handful of performances where the actor and the character are indistinguishable: Vanessa Redgrave in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (she won the Tony that year), Brian Dennehy in “Death of a Salesman” (he won too) and Michael Gambon in the original production of “Skylight” (he was nominated). May, playing a woman suffering from dementia, did that in “The Waverly Gallery” — so much so that you could feel the audience squirm with exasperation when she couldn’t remember, after being told again and again, where her keys were.

If Elaine doesn’t have a date for the Tonys, I’m available. It is going to be a crowning achievement in a great career.

The race for Best Revival of a Play is between “Waverly” and Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band,” the first openly gay play in the history of American theater. It opened off-Broadway in 1968 and was revived with great fanfare last spring with a starry cast: Jim Parsons, Andrew Rannells, Matt Bomer, Zachary Quinto. Crowley, dapper and delightful as ever at 83, has been on the scene charming voters.

Let the nail biting begin.

You can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR radio 710.

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