Tony Award forecast 2014: Best Actor in a Play

Hollywood stars and longtime stage troupers vie for top thespian at the Tonys

As part of our run-up to the Tony Awards on June 8, we recently studied the field for Best Actress in a Musical. Now we turn to the big nonmusical acting category for leading men. While it wasn't a great year for new plays, there were plenty of top-notch revivals and more than enough outstanding male thespians to fill the category. (Below you'll see how many big names weren't even nominated.) While nothing is ever sure (we were pleasantly surprised when Tracy Letts beat Tom Hanks last year), this is a race we feel pretty confident handicapping.

RECOMMENDED: Read more about the Tony Awards

All the Way

All the Way Photograph: Evgenia Eliseeva

The deserving star

Predicting Tony winners isn’t a science, but everyone’s money is on Bryan Cranston. Playing President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the first tumultuous year of his “accidental” first administration, Cranston devours the scenery and his fellow actors—then asks for seconds. It’s a wily, swaggering and outsize performance, and Cranston pulls it off. A couple of other considerations: No one in this category has to carry their show quite like Cranston does. All the Way is not a great play, but it’s a terrific vehicle for him. Most of the roles are pallid and thin compared with LBJ’s living, fire-breathing portrait. Also, while Cranston’s Breaking Bad fame could open him up to Tony anti-Hollywood backlash, he is no slumming celeb.

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men Photograph: Richard Phibbs

The natural

Reviewing Of Mice and Men, one critic implied that Lennie was a fairly easy role to pull off, which is patently stupid. Chris O’Dowd did a smashing job as the mentally impaired migrant worker who kills the things he cherishes most. Unfortunately, O’Dowd’s performance was so skillfully wrought and believable, the craft and intelligence might sail right over the heads of Tony voters.

Richard III

Richard III Photograph: Joan Marcus

Ye olde Elizabethan players

It’s not just that folks might be tired of handing gold statues to Mark Rylance so he can recite daffy poetry for his acceptance speech; they probably admired his village-idiot take on Richard III more than they loved it. The production that Richard III played in rep with—an utterly enchanting Twelfth Night—was anchored by Samuel Barnett’s sweetly sensible Viola/Cesario, but chances are awards will go to the Shakespeare’s Globe twofer as a whole, not to individual (however marvelous) members of the ensemble.

Act One

Act One Photograph: Joan Marcus

Your grandma’s fave

Tony Shalhoub gives a wonderfully tetchy, arch, squirming-in-his-skin turn as playwright-mentor George S. Kaufman in writer-director James Lapine’s stage adaptation of Act One. Trouble is, that’s not the only character he plays. He also appears as older Moss Hart and (least felicitously) Hart’s discontented English-immigrant father. If Lapine’s play had more of Kaufman onstage, or less of the others, maybe the actor’s semi-leading performance would give him more of an edge. Still, we hope Shalhoub (so excellent in Golden Boy, too) sticks around for many more seasons.

No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot

No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot Photograph: Joan Marcus

The snubbed A-listers

If you hear someone grumble that Tonys go to whatever star is clomping over the boards that season, hand them this list: Denzel Washington (A Raisin in the Sun), Daniel Radcliffe (The Cripple of Inishmaan), Michael C. Hall (The Realistic Joneses), James Franco (Of Mice and Men), Zachary Quinto (The Glass Menagerie). Lastly: Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. For their fine work in the rep revivals of No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot? They’re still waiting.