We’re still a good two weeks away from the Tony Awards nominations, but it has been proven scientifically impossible to be too early on awards speculation. There are still a few Broadway productions that have yet to officially open, but all of them are at least in previews. Therefore, every show is out there, just waiting to be considered.

This year’s Tony campaign is without a runaway sensation among the new plays or musicals. There’s no Book of Mormon, no History Boys, no easy crutches for the nominating committee. Bad news for Broadway, sure, but it makes for a fun exercise of trying to predict who will find their names called by Jonathan Groff and Lucy Liu on April 29.

To help filter out the noise and arrive at the most accurate predictions on the internet, I've procured the services of Mark Blankenship, editor of TDF Stages magazine.

Best Play

Mark Blankenship: Whoo boy! It's always difficult to predict an award with no real precursor that also requires its nominating committee to see every show, but this year, a rule change makes the waters even muddier. If there are 9 or more eligible shows in any of the four production categories (Original and Revival for Musical or Play), then the committee can select up to five nominees. Note that I said "can." They can also limit the slate to the customary four.

Will that fifth slot factor in this category? I  think it could. There are just too many strong contenders.

Joe Reid: Okay, as far as I see it, the one near-guarantee for a nomination for Best Play (and likely the win? Correct me if you disagree...) is All the Way, about Lyndon Johnson trying to pass civil rights legislation. It’s important, it’s selling like hotcakes thanks to buzzy Bryan Cranston in the lead role, and it comes from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle). After that, we’re rolling the dice on certain prestige over others. “Written by Harvey Fierstein and directed by Joe Mantello” sure doesn’t hurt the chances for Casa Valentina, a play whose plot appears to boil down to “transvestite Dirty Dancing,” so that should be fun. Outside Mullingar comes from playwright John Patrick Shanley and received his best notices since Doubt. Terrence McNally hasn’t seen a Tony nomination since 2001, but he won four of them before that. Will his Mothers and Sons, treading the well-worn territory of Upper West Side apartments and withholding matriarchs, manage to scratch out a nomination?

Mark, I know you're high on the chances of two other productions: Act One and The Velocity of Autumn. If one or both of those are headed for a nomination, which of Valentina/Mullingar/Mothers will falter?

Mark: I agree that All the Way is a lock, and as you noted, I also feel good about The Velocity of Autumn, a tough-minded and well-executed play about the indignities of aging. I'd say these two are the frontrunners to win.

Beyond that, I'm calling it for two feel-good shows: Mullingar, which stands out as the season's only true romantic comedy, and Act One, which is not only written by a Broadway legend (James Lapine) but also is about a Broadway legend (Moss Hart)Voting for the latter means voting for the power of the theatre itself.

For the fifth slot, it depends on how the nominators want their queer politics: Contemporary and straightforward gets you Mothers and Sons. Vintage and slyly filtered through a heterosexual POV gets you Casa Valentina. Both are quite deserving, but my gut tells me Fierstein, who's also on Broadway with the books for Newsies and Kinky Boots, makes the cut.

Predicted Nominees: Act OneAll the WayCasa ValentinaThe Velocity of Autumn [if there is a 5th: Outside Mullingar]

Best Revival of a Play

Mark: Since roughly everyone in New York said it redefined the Gentleman Caller scene, I'd say The Glass Menagerie is a shoo-in. The same goes for Twelfth Nightthe more universally beloved half of the Globe's repertory Shakespeare event. Meanwhile, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart's endlessly charming press tour—not to mention the strength of the production—will lead Waiting for Godot to the ballot as well. 

So that's three. In my heart, I want Machinal and The Winslow Boy to get nominated, but I worry they closed too long ago to be remembered, especially since neither play is a household name. Instead, the Denzel-fronted, well-received remount of A Raisin in the Sun will probably get the attention.

What do you think? Am I wrong to dismiss the starry revivals of Betrayal and Of Mice and Men? Can one of my dark horses pull to the front? Or will the committee go wild and nominate the other halves of the Shakespeare and McKellen/Stewart reps? 

And finally... will there be five?  

Joe: I think maybe we shouldn’t count on the Tonys to be so generous across the board. Were there really so many great revivals this year that the category needs to be expanded? Probably not. I feel like of the two closed shows you champion, more people still talk about Machinal, and maybe Raisin suffers from a too-many-revivals-too-close-together backlash. But President Obama was in attendance at Raisin last week, so you have to figure it’s a pretty hot property at the moment.

Predicted Nominees: The Glass MenagerieA Raisin in the SunTwelfth NightWaiting for Godot

Best Lead Actor in a Play

Joe: This is an incredibly crowded category, yet also one that seems largely set in stone. After all the hoopla this year about their repertory work, I can’t imagine a universe in which Mark Rylance, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart aren’t all nominated for Best Actor, right? Figure Rylance is a lead in Richard III and supporting in Twelfth Night, so that makes it a lot easier on those doing the nominating. McKellen and Stewart will most likely get nominated for Godot, though anyone with a sense of humor would nominate one for Godot and one for No Man’s Land. All three of them are likely going to lose to Bryan Cranston (right) for playing Lyndon Johnson in All the Way, is my guess.

Which leaves the fifth slot for … and incredibly crowded bottleneck, I would say, yes?

Mark: Rylance might be on shaky ground, since his work in Twelfth Night was more universally adored. The nominators could funnel their support to the Featured Actor category, clearing the way for the other major players here: Denzel Washington (A Raisin in the Sun) and Tony Shalhoub, who plays three roles in Act One.

But remember how Meryl Streep was supposed to be on shaky ground for August: Osage County? I'm thinking Rylance is just as bulletproof. Since Washington won a few years ago for Fences—and since Shalhoub has to create two full characters PLUS a winsome narrator—it's Tony's Time. 

Predicted Nominees: Bryan Cranston (All the Way), Ian McKellen (Waiting for Godot), Mark Rylance (Richard III), Tony Shalhoub (Act One), Patrick Stewart (Waiting for Godot)

Best Lead Actress in a Play

Mark: Even though it features over a dozen songs, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is technically a play, which means Audra McDonald gets to travel from the overflowing Actress in a Musical category to a guaranteed nomination here. Will her eerily accurate work as Billie Holiday win her a record-setting sixth Tony at the tender age of 43? Some people have already engraved her name on the thing. But Estelle Parsons is on fire in The Velocity of Autumn. She's never won before, despite decades of great work as both an actress and a director, so look for a real challenge, with Cherry Jones also making noise for her work in The Glass Menagerie.

As for the other two slots: You've gotta figure Tyne Daly, in a role Terrence McNally wrote specifically for her, is in for Mothers and Sons. And then...? Debra Messing in Outside Mullingar? Rebecca Hall in Machinal? Who am I forgetting?

Joe: First of all, I love how, if she wins for Lady Day, two of Audra’s six Tonys will be for plays that heavily featured singing (this and Master Class). But I’m not ready to engrave her name on the trophy quite yet. Second of all, can you just be with me that “The Velocity of Autumn” is a hilarious title that sounds like something you’d make up when your sitcom characters are headed to a show? It’s the “Cry Cry Again” of theater.

ANYWAY, beyond Messing and Hall, I guess you could say Toni Collette could ride her star power to a nomination for The Realistic Joneses? I mean, I wouldn’t say that. But one could. It’s a bummer that Mary-Louise Parker couldn’t make more of a ripple in The Snow Geese. I think if I were picking between Messing and Hall, I’d give the slight edge to Hall, just because I feel like Messing has her detractors. That said, it would be just my luck that now that I’ve decided to cynically give myself over to the truth that Tyne Daly is an awards magnet (I still haven’t forgiven her for beating out Lauren Ambrose and Lena Olin at the 2003 Emmys), she’d get snubbed this time.

Predicted Nominees: Tyne Daly (Mothers and Sons), Rebecca Hall (Machinal), Cherry Jones (The Glass Menagerie), Audra McDonald (Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill), Estelle Parsons (The Velocity of Autumn)

Best Featured Actor in a Play

Joe: We are really getting into dice-rolling territory when it comes to the featured categories. So many possibilities. So many odd choices over the last few years, making it nearly impossible to be completely confident that you know which way the voters will lean. This is just about playing the odds.

And the odds say that Tony voters love that Mark Rylance (right).  Two nominations in the same year seems like a lot, but in this year of repertory madness, it would be fitting.  What do we think of  Rylance’s co-star Paul Chahidi, who by most accounts stole the show as Maria?

I’m going to let you go into the chances for Brian J. Smith as The Glass Menagerie’s Gentleman Caller, but also: who else makes this field? I feel like beyond Tony faves like Billy Crudup (Waiting for Godot) and Gabriel Ebert (Casa Valentina), we’re kind of grasping at straws.

Mark: Welcome to Your Guess Is As Good as Mine, now in its 10th record-breaking year! I DO think that Paul Chahidi is joining Rylance in this category, because who else has made Maria so memorable? That's also why I feel good about Smith. His work as the Gentleman Caller made a typically overlooked role feel incredibly important. 
Meanwhile, there are loads of talented actors in Casa Valentina, but since Reed Birney is a well-liked guy who's never been nominated before, I'm (somewhat arbitrarily) giving him the edge. (I haven't even seen the play yet, so what do I know? He may be submitted as a lead!) Beyond that, Peter Maloney did cracking good work in Outside Mullingar, so why not?

Predicted Nominees: Reed Birney (Casa Valentina), Paul Chahidi (Twelfth Night), Peter Maloney (Outside Mullingar), Mark Rylance (Twelfth Night), Brian J. Smith (The Glass Menagerie)

Best Featured Actress in a Play

Mark: At its final meeting this week, the nominating committee will determine the eligibility of certain ambiguous productions and performances that arrived late in the season. Is Hedwig an original musical (since it's never been on Broadway before) or a revival (since it premiered Off Broadway in the 90s)? That sort of thing. If they decide that Andrea Martin (right) is a Featured Actress for playing multiple key roles in Act One, then I'm counting her in. I'll also add Dearbhla Molloy, the salty matriarch in Outside Mullingar. And for her part in that revelatory Gentleman Caller scene, Celia Keenan-Bolger is almost certain to net her third overall nomination. 

From there we've got Marisa Tomei in The Realistic Joneses (which once again depends on where she's slotted) and Mare Winningham in Casa Valentina (though like I said, I haven't seen the play.) What do you think about the ladies of A Raisin in the Sun? Or is it possible that a left-fielder like Jayne Houdyshell is going to ride in for her turn as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet?

Joe: I feel like Jayne Houdyshell is one of those “don’t count her out” actresses, so who knows? (Though nobody liked that Romeo & Juliet production, did they?)

A Raisin in the Sun features two very interesting Tony prospects: Tony-winner Anika Noni Rose and Oscar-nominee Sophie Okonedo (in the role that won Audra McDonald a Tony in 2004). Rose has been singled out by most critics, and a win for her would seem the least like repeating the accolades for the 2004 production (Sanaa Lathan played Beneatha back then and was the only one of the three main actresses not to win a Tony).  Also, so long as we’re sweeping in stars of the 1980s like Mare Winningham, why not some love for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Winslow Boy?

Predicted Nominees: Celia Keenan-Bolger (The Glass Menagerie), Andrea Martin (Act One), Dearbhla Molloy (Outside Mullingar), Anika Noni Rose (A Raisin in the Sun), Mare Winningham (Casa Valentina)


We'll be back tomorrow with a look at the musicals.