Our choices in the top categories—at least until the nominations are announced on May 5.
Next to Normal
9 to 5
Shrek the Musical
Verdict: Billy Elliot wins, on a swell of good feeling during bad economic times. If there’s a spoiler, it’s Next to Normal, which could theoretically do what Avenue Q did in 2004, when it came from behind to vanquish Wicked.
Revival of a Musical
Guys and Dolls
West Side Story
Verdict: Hair is a critical and commercial smash, and a musical that (like Billy Elliot) feels as if it showed up at just the right moment. It’s a near lock; all the others have been, to varying degrees, tepidly received.
Dividing the Estate
God of Carnage
Reasons to Be Pretty
Verdict: Irena’s Vow could snatch Estate’s spot. But it won’t matter: Carnage is a runaway hit—rare for a straight play—and heavily favored over 33 Variations (which some see as a great star turn).
Revival of a Play
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot
Verdict: Hard to say, with so many other possible nominees, from Exit the King to The Seagull to All My Sons to Speed-the-Plow. But Turner—a terrific revival of the late August Wilson’s masterpiece—should squeak to the front.
Lead Actor: Musical
The three Billys, Billy Elliot
Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian D’Arcy James, Shrek
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal
Verdict: The fifth spot is completely up for grabs, though we have a hunch about West Side Story’s Matt Cavenaugh. In any case, those three boy dancers in Billy Elliot are nearly unbeatable in this weak field.
Lead Actor: Play
Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
Bill Irwin, Waiting for Godot
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to be Pretty
Verdict: Wild cards include Raúl Esparza (screw you, Piven!), David Hyde Pierce, and Nathan Lane. Anyone could win, but Rush is getting the most chatter.
Lead Actress: Musical
Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek
Allison Janney, 9 to 5
Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story
Verdict: A thin category this year. Channing, Foster, Ripley are the only sure nominees, and Ripley is in the only critical hit. (And she deserves it!)
Lead Actress: Play
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Carla Gugino, Desire Under the Elms
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Tovah Feldshuh, Irena’s Vow
Verdict: Fonda will likely win this very tight race, with an outside shot for Gugino, if voters go for sex appeal. Wild cards include Kristin Scott Thomas.
And the rest: Among the featured-actress categories, look for Martha Plimpton to pull out Pal Joey’s only win for musical, and as much as we loved Mercedes Ruehl in The American Plan, Angela Lansbury (Blithe Spirit) is the sentimental favorite. Among featured actors, John Glover will outrun his excellent Waiting for Godot castmate John Goodman (they’re both great, but Glover was the big surprise), and either Billy Elliot’s Gregory Jbara or Hair’s Will Swenson will win.