This year’s race to the Tony Awards may be the most intense in recent memory, with Broadway veterans facing off against newcomers in nearly every category. Though the nominations won’t be revealed until April 29 (by Jonathan Groff and Lucy Liu, no less), I’ve selected the most likely nominees for the major categories.

Leading Actress in a Musical: One of this year’s sure-fire nominations (and my predicted win) is Kelli O’Hara of The Bridges of Madison County. There’s enough chemistry between her and leading man Steven Pasquale to set the stage ablaze (see their performance of “One Second and a Million Miles”), and her gorgeous soprano soars over Jason Robert Brown’s romantic score.

But O’Hara will have to fight tooth and nail against several Tony favorites, including Idina Menzel, Marin Mazzie, and Sutton Foster. Foster is sure to receive her fifth nomination for her turn as the title role in Violet, where she belts her way through Jeanine Tesori’s score with her typical girl-next-door pluckiness. Menzel, who is returning to the Great White Way for the first time in a decade, is the bright light at the end of the confounding tunnel that is If/Then. And even though Mazzie is the underdog amongst this group, Tony nominators are sure to remember her diva performance Bullets Over Broadway.

The final nominee is sure to be Jessie Mueller from this season’s runaway hit Beautiful. Her turn as Carole King is absolutely stunning, and if that isn’t enough, she even learned how to play piano for the part.

Margo Seibert and Andy Karl in Rocky, a musical adaptation of the 1976 Sylvester Stallone film. During this scene, audience members are invited on stage to be part of the “fight crowd.”

Margo Seibert and Andy Karl in Rocky, a musical adaptation of the 1976 Sylvester Stallone film. During this scene, audience members are invited on stage to be part of the “fight crowd.”

Leading Actor in a Musical: It’s become a Tony tradition for the leading actor to become a closed show’s sacrificial lamb. Last year, this actor was Rob McClure (of Chaplin fame), who stunned Broadway execs on nomination day and, in my opinion, would have been the sure-fire win if Chaplin had stayed open until June. We may see this same phenomena occur this year with Norbert Leo Butz, who starred as Edward Bloom in the short-lived Big Fish. In the show, Butz portrayed Edward over the show’s forty-year span while tap dancing his way through Susan Stroman’s intricate choreography and soaring over Andrew Lippa’s fairly dry score. Just like with McClure, there’s no chance that Butz will win his category – if anything, his nomination will be a gracious nod to Big Fish’s down-and-out producers.

Other Broadway vets who might be included in this category are Andy Karl, of the technical triumph Rocky, and Neil Patrick Harris, who rocks out eight times a week as the title trangender musician in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Several newcomers should also get their first nominations this year, including British eye candy Ramin Karimloo (Les Misérables) and former Rescue Me star Steven Pasquale (The Bridges of Madison County).

Leading Actress in a Play: The contestants of this race still hinges upon a decision the Tony committee will make prior to nomination day. If the committee determines that Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, a new production of the 1986 play with additional music, will be eligible for nominations in the play categories, leading actress Audra McDonald will be sure to pick up her eighth Tony nomination and knock all of the other nominees to last place.

Other nominees should include Cherry Jones, for her critically acclaimed performance as matriarch Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie; Debra Messing, for her Broadway debut as the heartwarming Rosemary in Outside Mullingar; Rebecca Hall, from the revival of Machinal; and Toni Colette, who surprised both me and the critics with her hilarious performance in The Realistic Joneses.

Leading Actor in a Play: With three plays still left to open, the Tony nominators’ short list of this season’s best performances is subject to change at any moment. Bryan Cranston’s performance as Lyndon Johnson in All the Way is among the season’s best, and consider him the only lock for the category at this point. Other nominees should include Zachary Quinto, who starred as the heartbreaking Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie; Denzel Washington, from the latest revival of A Raisin in the Sun; past nominee Tony Shalhoub of Lincoln Center’s Act One; and Brian F. O’Byrne of Outside Mullingar.

Best Revival of a Musical: This category is still up in the air, even with nominations just around the corner. The Tonys committee must decide on the eligibility of Roundabout Theatre Company’s (RTC) revival of Cabaret, which resembles the show’s 1996 revivalright down to starring Alan Cumming as the Emcee, as well as Violet and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, both of which made their New York debuts off-Broadway in the 90’s.

If Cabaret is shut out of the category, it’ll be the fourth time in the award’s history that less than four shows were eligible for nominations. What’s even worse is that if the committee decides the show can stay, the RTC will be competing against itself (as Violet is their other show this season), which will no doubt create problems for their Tony campaigns and almost guarantee that Roundabout will come out with the win for the first time since 2011.

Best Score: Few of this season’s musicals have original scores, making it easy for shows that may not have a chance anywhere else to swoop in and win the award. The score of Rocky, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, may be worse than the duo’s Seussical, but nominators might feel bad if they shut them out of the category altogether. Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s If/Then doesn’t hold a candle to their Tony and Pulizer-winning Next to Normal, but with little competition, they’ll pick up their second Tony nomination this spring. The real competition is between Jason Robert Brown, who was widely praised for his gorgeous The Bridges of Madison County score, and Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s hilarious music and lyrics for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.

Best Revival of a Play: John Tiffany’s revival of The Glass Menagerie. There’s no contest. Since its opening in September, critics have been calling for this breathtaking production to take home the win. The New York Times critics can’t even resist reminding readers of the show’s greatness in their reviews of this season’s flops.

Because I have to pick three more nominees, I’ll say that the revivals of Machinal, A Raisin in the Sun, and Of Mice and Men (despite the fact that James Franco flirted with an underage girl at the show’s stage door) should pick up nominations on April 29.

Best Play: Terrence McNally’s new play Mothers and Sons may have opened to less-than-stellar reviews last month but is making theatre history by portraying the first married gay couple on Broadway. For that reason alone (and simply by the principle of McNally’s name being attached to the project), Tony nominators will be sure to remember the show on nomination day. Other nominees should include Tony favorite Harvey Fierstein’s new play Casa Valentina; James Lapine’s homage to the late Moss Hart, Act One; and the recent New York Times Critics’ Pick, The Realistic Joneses.

Best Musical: Though eleven shows are eligible in this category, few have gathered enough rapport to rise to the top of the pile and will no doubt create a nail-biting race to the finish. If’/Then is a hot mess, but has enough big names attached to it to possibly take the top prize. The Dylan Farrow scandal might not be enough to hold Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway down. Even Carole King, who swore off seeing the biopic on opening night, couldn’t stay away from Beautiful. The final nominee will no doubt be A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which might just suprise everyone, including me, by not only getting a nomination but also take home the Best Musical award.

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