Two weeks before the Tony Awards! To continue with our series of chats I phoned our resident critic, Fergus McGillicuddy, to get his words of wisdom on the acting categories.

V.J. Well, Fergus, I have to agree with you on some of the acting categories, the givens, if you will. Brian Dennehy for Best Actor in a play Death of a Salesman seems like a shoo-in, although if Kevin Spacey wins for Iceman, that wouldn't surprise me. And in the musical supporting categories, Kristin Chenowith and Roger Bart for Charlie Brown are likely winners. Let's hit the musical categories first. In view of the recent Drama Desk Awards where Bernadette Peters and Carollee Carmello tied for Best Actress in a musical, what are your thoughts?

F.M. They won't tie for the Tony; it's a whole different set of voters. Bernie will win. Carolee has about as much of a chance as Dee Hoty or Sian Phillips, and for the same reason. The roles Carolee and Sian were playing, and Dee is playing, just aren't up to par. Don't get me wrong; all three women did the absolute best they could with what they had to work with, but it's not enough compared to what Bernie is doing with Annie.

V.J. Well, I suppose you're right and I really want Bernadette to win, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Carolee takes it home. As for Best Actor in a musical (and it could be the same argument), you have to bear in mind that Parade is closed, and don't think this doesn't go through the Tony voters brains, assuming they have any.

F.M. With the men, it's just the opposite. All four nominees are playing strong, leading roles. I picked Brent Carver for the same reason I picked Bernie; he filled out his role - carried the weight of Parade - in ways the other three nominees didn't or couldn't. Adam Cooper, in spite of his surprising ability to act and dance at the same time, didn't carry Swan Lake. Martin Short tried to carry Little Me, but the effort showed. Had Tom Wopat been given better direction and choreography in Annie Get Your Gun, he would be a serious threat to Carver. But that didn't happen and with the legend of the musical that was Parade growing grander in everyone's mind by the day, I think Carver has a lock on this category.

V.J. Interestingly, I did find Wopat to be a real surprise. He sings well, does a nice acting job and overall is one of the best things about Annie Get Your Gun. So, I'm going with him, although, if Parade were still open, I might think differently. A Tony to Carver would be nice, but it would serve no purpose to the business side of show.

F.M. True, but with Bernie's Tony for Annie a foregone conclusion, I think the voters will allow themselves to look beyond the box office just this once. If there is a surprise upset this year, I think it will come in the Best Actress category. I - and just about everybody else on earth - picked Judi Dench to win for Amy's View. However, over the last couple of weeks I'm hearing more and more people say they are voting for Stockard Channing because of her strong performance in The Lion in Winter and because something of a backlash does seem to be developing against all the British imports this spring. You are particularly fond of Zoe Wanamaker (Electra), aren't you?

V.J. Oh yes. She was thrilling, but because it's closed, I think it's maybe out of sight, out of mind, but assuming the voters remember, I think her Electra is the performance of the year. Stockard Channing? What?...she wage a campaign or something? Forget it. What do you think of this thing called British Backlash amd just what are the feelings on the Great White Way?

F.M. Well, I don't know if Stockard has been campaigning for the Tony or not, but I'm sure if you ask her she would say she would like to win it. As for the British Backlash, it's real, but it's more of a sense of embarrassment and unease, a disappointment that so few critically successful productions this year are home grown. There are stories of a few producers attempting to promote their own productions under an "All American" banner, but these efforts don't seem to have gotten them anywhere.

I think it is time to finally acknowledge the Broadway and West End theatre scenes are inexorably linked, two sides of the same coin, and future productions with contributions from both sides of the pond will inevitably increase in number. The only hold up on this is the short sighted, belligerent attitude of American Equity and those absurd and unrealistic quotas they continue to attempt to impose on the free movement and employment of both Brits and Americans between the two countries. To my mind Equity is doing more harm than good.

But, let's get off this tangent and back to the nominations. I picked Finbar Lynch (Not About Nightingales) to win Best Featured Actor. Can you honestly say that any of the other nominees, Kevin Anderson and Howard Witt (Death of a Salesman) and Frank Wood (Side Man), good as they are, are more deserving of the Tony?

V.J. Our Tony Poll here picks Kevin Anderson, but I thought Frank Wood was great. To me, this is a toss-up category and I wouldn't be surprised if Howard Witt picked up the statue. Still, I'm sticking with Wood in Side Man.

As far as Equity goes, I do have to agree with you. The rules need to be relaxed, or at least become friendlier. I was hoping for Oklahoma! this upcoming season but because of Equity not allowing the British cast to come here, I guess we won't be seeing that. It's all a matter of employing our own actors here in the states where jobs are scarce, so it's a double-edged sword I guess. Imagine, though, if they opened the borders, we wouldn't have our yearly snob hit.

F.M. Well, if you would really miss the snob hit, we could always arrange for a yearly revival of any of Sondheim's musicals.

V.J. I don't believe you said that. Have we missed anyone?

F.M. Best Featured Actress in a play. Elizabeth Franz (Death of a Salesman) will win. If she were competing in the Best Actress category, where she by right belongs, and where she would be going up against Judi Dench, she wouldn't. I can't say that I approve of the Theatre Wing policy which allows producers to move actors around to any category where they have the best chance. (If an actor demands above the title billing in their contract, then they should be prepared to compete in the Best Actor or Best Actress category, regardless of their chances of winning.) However, it's a done deal. It's a pity we'll never know how Claire Bloom, Samantha Bond, and Dawn Bradfield would have done in a fair race.

V.J. That's another thing I could never figure out. Why does billing dictate where someone is nominated? For instance Alan Cumming won for Best Actor in a Musical last year as the Emcee in Cabaret. Yet, when Joel Grey originated the same role 30 years ago, he won a Tony for Best Supporting Actor, so go figure. Anyhow, if that's the game, then the producers called it right with Franz.

Well, Fergus, thanks for the chat. Any final parting shot or words of wisdom on the Tony Telecast?

F.M. Just that when they begin to play that overture and announce all the presenters, all bets are off! Every year people say how predictable the Tonys are and every year we're hit by surprise after surprise. Absolutely nobody can accurately predict the Tony Awards - not even me - and, to my mind, that's one of the most wonderful things about them.

See you next Sunday with a special column on the closing of The Scarlet Pimpernel. And then the following Sunday, we'll have our final Tony predictions and Poll results.

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