by CBS NEWS
The Tony Awards race is on between two of the year's most celebrated musicals: "Matilda: The Musical" and "Kinky Boots."
The Cyndi Lauper-scored "Kinky Boots" is up for a leading 13 Tony Award nominations, while the British import, "Matilda: The Musical," is close behind with 12. So, a lot of the evening will be guessing which of these two newcomers will pick up honors.
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"It's kind of an unusual year in that it appears to be an actual race...there's no clear front-runner. Like in the year of 'The Book of Mormon' or the year of 'The Producers,' it was sort of clear that they were the one and only front-runners," said Gordon Cox of Variety. "This year, I think going into the season a lot of people thought 'Matilda' given the strength and critical praise for it would have been the clear front-runner -- and it's one of them. But I think a lot of people are surprised by the strength of 'Kinky Boots.' So it seems like there's quite a bit of affection out there for that show. I think it's actually sort of a nail-biter."
According to The Associated Press' predictions, "Kinky Boots" will win. But The AP believes "Matilda: The Musical" should win, though, noting, '"Kinky' is unabashedly sentimental with a classic message of acceptance, while "Matilda" is rebellious and edgy, a place Tony voters don't naturally feel comfortable."
Cox echoed those sentiments, telling CBSNews.com, "'Matilda is very kind of...strange, but quite touching. It's challenging. It's not the most welcoming experiences. It's smart and spiky and weird -- in a very British way. It's not off-putting by any means. It feels like a very British take on the American musical tradition. Whereas 'Kinky Boots,' which was inspired by a British indie film, feels like the opposite of that. It's written by Harvey Fierstein with music by Cyndi Lauper, who sort of everyone in the country loves, and it's welcoming and warm and the message is unabashedly -- love yourself and you will go on to love others. It's warmth versus chilliness, which I think is very interesting. 'Kinky Boots' is from the American school of Broadway musicals whereas 'Matilda' very clearly has the London grey skies in it, while also be quite moving in its own right."
Although many eyes will be on the best new musical category, plenty of other honors will be handed out at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, including best play.
Even the play category is also kind of a tough call. "'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' has won a lot of awards from other organizations leading up to the Tonys...It was written by Christopher Durang, who's the beloved theater figure, and he's never won a Tony before...but then there is 'Lucky Guy,' the last Nora Ephron play, which many New Yorkers have a great fondness for her," said Cox. "And it was a really stellar production and Tom Hanks was in it. And it's selling really well. And that seems like an actual contender as well."
As for best actress in a musical, that's considered a toss-up as well. "A lot of people think that Patina Miller, who's the star of 'Pippin,' is going to win actress in a musical," said Cox. "But there are enough people rooting for Laura Osnes in 'Cinderella' to make that a not sure thing."
Many signs are pointing to Billy Porter of "Kinky Boots" to win best actor in a musical. But there's also some buzz around Bertie Carvel from "Matilda: The Musical." According to The AP, "Both men are deserving of the honor and, believe us, both actors look sensational in skirts, but Billy Porter in "Kinky Boots" bares his heart a little more and pushes his poor body a little more than his rival in 'Matilda the Musical.' Bertie Carvel won the Oliver Award -- Britain's equivalent of the Tony -- in the role of Miss Trunchbull and brought his terrifying skill to Broadway without being cartoonish, but Porter can make tears fall down your cheeks."
Attention is also centered on Tom Hanks for his role in Ephron's play, "Lucky Guy." "Everybody loves Tom Hanks. He is just so darn lovable," The AP pointed out. "In 'Lucky Guy,' he gets to be funny and poignant and noble while dying. What kind of monster are you if you don't like Tom Hanks?"
Regardless of who wins or loses this weekend, the Tony Awards are shaping up to be a star-studded affair. Neil Patrick Harris, who's hosting the ceremony for a fourth time, told "CBS This Morning" that the opening of the show will be "pretty epic."
"People are just waiting for him to come back," Cox said of the "How I Met Your Mother" star. "I think in the theater community, it's a great thing and he's quite a big star on TV and many people recognize him."
The three-hour ceremony will feature appearances by the 2013 Tony-nominated musicals "A Christmas Story, The Musical," "Annie," "Bring It On: The Musical," "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella," "Kinky Boots," "Matilda The Musical," "Motown The Musical" and "Pippin."
Casts from other hit musicals will also appear, including "Chicago," "Jersey Boys," "Newsies," "Once," "Mamma Mia," "Rock of Ages," "Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark," "The Lion King" and "The Phantom of the Opera."
Other stars set to attend include Alan Cumming, Jon Cryer, Jesse Eisenberg, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sally Field, Barrett Foa, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Hanks, Megan Hilty, Scarlett Johansson, Anna Kendrick, Cyndi Lauper, Audra McDonald, Matthew Morrison, Martha Plimpton, Hal Prince, Zachary Quinto, Andrew Rannells, Mike Tyson, Sigourney Weaver, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Steven Van Zandt.
After all the awards are handed out on Sunday, there's sure to be a few more musicals on people's radars. With droves of tourists visiting New York City during the summer, Cox noted that the Great White Way typically sees an uptick in sales during June, July and August. And many eyes will be whichever production takes home best musical.
"It's generally thought -- and it seems to be true -- that the only award that affects tickets sales is the best new musical award -- that's the one 'Matilda' or 'Kinky Boots' can win.
The Tony Awards air live Sunday night starting at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
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