Melissa Rose Bernardo tells us who she thinks will be taking home the prize in every category on Broadway's biggest night

By Melissa Rose Bernardo
June 03, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Cliff Lipson/CBS

A month ago, no one thought that Rock of Ages would get five Tony nominations (including one for hair-tossing American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis!). Or that DreamWorks’ swamp-dwelling Shrek would come away with eight nods, including Best Musical. Hey, sometimes our crystal balls are fuzzy. (Back in January, the media were forecasting nothing but gloom and doom for Broadway. Now that 43 productions have opened this season, they’re singing a slightly different tune.) But that won’t stop us from taking a crack at predicting the winners of the 2009 Tonys. Tune in June 7 to see how we did; Neil Patrick Harris hosts the festivities at Radio City Music Hall, broadcast live on CBS from 8 to 11 p.m.

Dividing the Estate, by Horton Foote
God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza
reasons to be pretty, by Neil LaBute
33 Variations, by Moisés Kaufman
Winner: God of Carnage
Possible spoiler: reasons to be pretty
Carnage is fast, funny, short, and relatively snappy. And while it isn’t quite as taut as Art, Reza’s 1998 Tony winner for Best Play, it’s a fine play made even better by a top-drawer cast — Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, and James Gandolfini, all nominated — and Matthew Warchus’ masterful direction. But the provocative pretty — though it will likely close soon after the Tony telecast — has many fans; it’s a new American play and it got terrific reviews.

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Next to Normal
Rock of Ages
Shrek The Musical
Winner: Billy Elliot
Possible spoiler: Next to Normal
They both have rich characters, compelling stories, and terrific music. And Normal is wholly original, while Billy is based on the 2000 film. So how does Billy have the edge? It’s big — and not in a showy, falling-chandelier way. In a chorus-of-ballerinas, massive-production-number, dancing-curtain-call way. And — with few exceptions (most notably, Avenue Q beating Wicked) — the bigger show usually wins.

Billy Elliot, The Musical (Lee Hall)
Next to Normal (Brian Yorkey)
Shrek The Musical (David Lindsay-Abaire)
[Title of Show] (Hunter Bell)
Winner: Billy Elliot
Possible spoiler: Next to Normal
Some argue that Hall shouldn’t win because he was working from his own Oscar-nominated screenplay. Didn’t Yorkey have the tougher job, crafting something entirely from scratch — particularly centering on the supersensitive topic of mental illness? But Hall did the most work — more than director Stephen Daldry, more than composer Elton John — in bringing Billy to the stage. Without his book — the bones of the piece — Billy wouldn’t fly. Plus, there’s another way to reward Yorkey, and that is…

Billy Elliot, The Musical (Music: Elton John; Lyrics: Lee Hall)
Next to Normal (Music: Tom Kitt; Lyrics: Brian Yorkey)
9 to 5: The Musical (Music & Lyrics: Dolly Parton)
Shrek The Musical (Music: Jeanine Tesori; Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire)
Winner: Next to Normal
Possible spoiler: Billy Elliot
Fair warning — I’m going out on a limb here. Book and Score tend to go together, but a split isn’t so strange — it happened last year when Passing Strange won book and In the Heights won score. Honestly, I think voters are going to want to reward Next to Normal. It’s rock, it’s pop, it’s country, it’s spectacular. And if I’m being honest, it gets much more play in my iPod than Billy. That said — Billy is Elton John’s best score to date. He may have won a Tony in 2000 for Aida, but Billy truly establishes him as a musical-theater composer. (As for 9 to 5 and Shrek: Dolly got a nom just for being Dolly, and though Shrek is smarter than you’d expect, it doesn’t have much drive.)

NEXT PAGE: Best Revivals, Best Special Theatrical Event, Leading Actor and Actress in a Play

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Mary Stuart
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot
Winner: The Norman Conquests
Possible spoiler: None
Any show in this category could win in any other year. But no show this season — nay, in recent memory — got more love than this smashing British import. I’d happily surrender another 7½ hours to see the entire trilogy (Table Manners, Living Together, and Round and Round the Garden) all over again.

Guys and Dolls
Pal Joey
West Side Story
Winner: Hair
Possible spoiler: None
Last year, Arthur Laurents brought back Gypsy, only to see South Pacific sail off with a boatload of raves and the Best Revival Tony. Unfortunately for Laurents and West Side Story, it’s happening again with Hair.

Liza’s at the Palace
Slava’s Snowshow
Soul of Shaolin
You’re Welcome America. A Final Night With George W. Bush
Winner: Liza’s at the Palace
Possible spoiler: You’re Welcome America…
Who ever thought you’d see Liza Minnelli in a Tony-night smackdown with Will Ferrell? Personally, my money’s on Liza. I think Liza could probably take down all of Soul of Shaolin‘s Chinese acrobats.

Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, reasons to be pretty
Winner: Geoffrey Rush
Possible spoiler: None
Every guy in this category is giving a Tony-worthy performance right now. But the rubber-limbed Rush — who also co-adapted the absurdist Ionesco play — has ruled awards season, winning the Outer Critics, Drama Desk, and Drama League awards for his flamboyant, acrobatic turn as a dying king.

Hope Davis, God of Carnage
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart
Winner: Marcia Gay Harden
Possible spoilers: Janet McTeer, Jane Fonda
Harden has the meatiest role in Carnage (despite Davis’ terrific projectile-vomiting trick). She beats down husband James Gandolfini — literally — every night. Pummels him! As for the Stuart women, though Walter gives the more nuanced performance as Elizabeth I, McTeer’s Mary rants, raves, and runs through a rainstorm. And though 33 Variations has closed, Fonda did a lot to endear herself to the Broadway community. Witness this hilariously self-effacing sketch at the Easter Bonnet Competition.

NEXT PAGE: Leading Actor and Actress in a Musical, Featured Actor and Actress in a Play, Featured Actor and Actress in a Musical

David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian d’Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal
Winner: David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish
Possible spoiler: Brian d’Arcy James
The Billy boys should be getting a special Tony. Very few people are going to see all three of them, and Tony voters were told that they only had to see one, so the question is — will they want to reward a performer they haven’t seen, and one who does only a few shows a week? I suspect yes, considering the huge challenges of the role (once Billy comes on stage, he rarely leaves!). But d’Arcy James is up there eight times a week under a mountain of makeup in Shrek. And all that burping and farting is harder than it looks.

Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical
Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story
Winner: Alice Ripley
Possible spoiler: Allison Janney
If going mental, getting shock therapy, and belting your guts out for two hours doesn’t get a gal a Tony Award, then seriously, what the heck does? Still, self-professed non-singer Allison Janney has slowly been gathering steam for her turn as sassy secretary Violet in 9 to 5. She likely won’t overtake Ripley, but it’s a flashy role, and she’s the best thing in the show.

John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests
Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests
Roger Robinson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Winner: Stephen Mangan
Possible spoiler: Roger Robinson
Come out onto that limb with me once again. Mangan’s Norman may be oversexed, overextended, and in dire need of a haircut, but darned if he doesn’t endear himself to every woman in the audience. No wonder his wife, her sister, and her sister-in-law find him completely irresistible. (Plus, Tony voters love Brits.) But Robinson’s chances are awfully good. August Wilson plays have earned lots of Tony Awards for featured actors: Viola Davis in King Hedley II, Ruben Santiago-Hudson in Seven Guitars, Larry Fishburne in Two Trains Running, L. Scott Caldwell in the original Joe Turner, Mary Alice in Fences.

Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate
Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests
Marin Ireland, Reasons to Be Pretty
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests
Winner: Angela Lansbury
Possible spoiler: None
Never mind that she already has four Tonys. Just because Blithe Spirit is a play about dead people doesn’t mean it has to be deadly dull — Lansbury seems to be the only person on stage who realizes that.

David Bologna, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical
Will Swenson, Hair
Winner: Will Swenson
Possible spoiler: Gregory Jbara
On the limb again…As Billy’s bigoted dad, Jbara makes a major impression in what could be a one-note role. But people love Swenson — who plays Hair‘s pants-dropping hippie Berger — more than they’re willing to admit. His performance is pure joy. And don’t get us started on his abs.

Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Winner: Karen Olivo
Possible spoiler: Haydn Gwynne
A very tight race: Gwynne — a leg-warming scene-stealer as the chain-smoking ballet teacher — has already won a heap of awards in both London and New York. Still, the women are the best thing in West Side Story, and Olivo is the best of the lot; she’s not a dancer — she’s a singer-actress who worked her you-know-what off to learn Jerome Robbins’ intricate choreography. It totally paid off.

NEXT PAGE: Scenic Design, Costume Design, Lighting Design for Plays and Musicals

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Michael Yeargan, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Winner: 33 Variations
Possible spoiler: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
33 Variations‘ set (projections of musical notes, sheet upon sheet of music) was completely inseparable from the Beethoven-focused play — precisely the definition of a perfect set. Yeargan’s mobile, minimalist Joe Turner set has its admirers, but some find it too modern.

Robert Brill, Guys and Dolls
Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Scott Pask, Pal Joey
Mark Wendland, Next to Normal
Winner: Billy Elliot
Possible spoiler: Guys and Dolls
I don’t understand all the love for Guys and Dolls‘ gaudy, generic set pieces, but they have a following. The best thing about MacNeil’s purposely-shabby sets is their mobility — actors can move bits and pieces to transition from scene to scene. That’s why Billy Elliot flows so smoothly.

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Jane Greenwood, Waiting for Godot
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Anthony Ward, Mary Stuart
Winner: Mary Stuart
Possible spoiler: Exit the King
Usually, the most lavish costumes win, but Ward’s designs — the two queens don period gowns, the multitudes of men wear business attire are a triumph of concept.

Gregory Gale, Rock of Ages
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Michael McDonald, Hair
Winner: Shrek
Possible spoiler: Rock of Ages
Shrek wins because this is the closest thing the Tonys has to a makeup-design category, and it’s a high-maintenance show. But I know people who have already checked the Rock of Ages box on their ballots. Never underestimate the power of crimped hair, blue eyeshadow, ripped fishnets, and pleather.

David Hersey, Equus
David Lander, 33 Variations
Brian MacDevitt, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart
Winner: 33 Variations
Possible spoiler: Equus
Sets and lighting often go together, so I’m betting on Beethoven. 33 Variations is also fresher in voters’ minds than Equus. Then again, it’s tough to forget a naked Daniel Radcliffe in moody blue lighting.

Kevin Adams, Hair
Kevin Adams, Next to Normal
Howell Binkley, West Side Story
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Winner: Billy Elliot
Possible spoiler: None
Can we also give Fisher — who won in 1994 for another Stephen Daldry-directed, Ian MacNeil-designed British import, An Inspector Calls — a prize for Most Creative Use of Headlamps in a Broadway Musical?

NEXT PAGE: Sound Design, Director, Chroeography, and Orchestrations

Paul Arditti, Mary Stuart
Gregory Clarke, Equus
Russell Goldsmith, Exit the King
Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Winner: Exit the King
Possible spoiler: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
The final scene of Exit the King is all about sound — Susan Sarandon’s soothing, disembodied voice guiding Geoffrey Rush’s fading monarch to his long-awaited fate. It’s positively hypnotic.

Acme Sound Partners, Hair
Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Peter Hylenski, Rock of Ages
Brian Ronan, Next to Normal
Winner: Billy Elliot
Possible spoiler: Hair
Voters are still wrestling with this two-year-old category. Generally, it’s about where they had the best listening experience: Were the lyrics comprehensible; was everything audible without being ear-popping?

Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Matthew Warchus, God of Carnage
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests
Winner: Warchus, The Norman Conquests
Possible spoiler: Warchus, God of Carnage
Between Norman and Carnage, there are 10 actors, and 8 of them got Tony nominations; one will win Best Revival, the other will win Best Play. It’s all a credit to Warchus, who has three previous noms (Art, True West, Boeing-Boeing) but no trophies. So why does he get it for Norman? Simple — three plays, three times the work.

Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Greif, Next to Normal
Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages
Diane Paulus, Hair
Winner: Stephen Daldry
Possible Spoiler: Diane Paulus
Paulus deserves most the credit for turning a show no one knew they wanted to see again into a must-see. But Daldry had more to wrangle with Billy Elliot — not the least of which was directing multiple actors in the title role.

Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Winner: Billy Elliot
Possible spoiler: None
Darling — whose work fuses tap, ballet, jazz, modern, and even gymnastics — had this category sewn up from Billy’s first pirouette.

Larry Blank, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Martin Koch, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, Next to Normal
Danny Troob and John Clancy, Shrek The Musical
Winner: Billy Elliot
Possible spoiler: Next to Normal
Score and Orchestrations tend to go together; still, I think Billy has an edge here. It’s a way to acknowledge Elton John’s terrific compositions. (Many voters think of orchestrations as a best-score consolation prize.)