This is your year: Make your own Tony Awards predictions and beat the expert. Having been in England this winter, I saw only about half the 31 Tony-eligible shows, so I'm ripe for the picking.
Not that I'm totally clueless. London helped, because two of the much-nominated shows, "Copenhagen" and "The Real Thing," were there when I was. And I can call on a lifetime of sitting in the dark, seeing many of the nominated plays at other times, in other productions.
Counting London, I've seen about 60 percent of the nominations, enough to get me started, but this should be a fair comeuppance for last year, when I managed a best-ever 17 right out of 21. I'll settle for a dozen this year.
As usual, I compared notes with pal Michael Grossberg, drama critic of the Columbus Dispatch, who has elevated Tony predicting to the level once occupied only by Kremlinology. But as usual, we differ. So here goes.
Play: It ought to be between Michael Frayn's "Copenhagen," a triangular debate about personal responsibility and the atom bomb, and Claudia Shear's "Dirty Blonde," a docu-fantasy about Mae West and a couple of appealing losers. I suffer from having seen "Copenhagen" in London with a replacement class that lacked passion. I'm sure it's better on Broadway, so I'll predict it, but I'll root for "Dirty Blonde."
Musical: "Contact." Bet on it.
Play revival: "Amadeus" has had mixed reviews and "The Price" was a short run. "The Real Thing" is a very good play in a fine, cool staging imported from London. "A Moon for the Misbegotten" is a great play, which is apparently very well acted. But "Moon" gets done a lot; I think Broadway has been more impressed with "Real Thing."
Musical revival: One of the best horse races. I suspect "Kiss Me, Kate" will edge out "The Music Man" because it's trickier material and takes more chances.
Actor/actress, play: Tough calls. One is between Gabriel Byrne ("Moon") and Stephen Dillane ("Real Thing"), the other, among Jennifer Ehle ("Real Thing"), Cherry Jones ("Moon") and Claudia Shear ("Dirty Blonde"). I wasn't as impressed by Ehle as by Dillane, but Ehle has already won several lesser awards and is the daughter of Rosemary Harris, one of Broadway's beloved resident Brits. Since I've guessed "Real Thing" over "Moon" for best revival, I'll hedge my bets and go with Byrne and ...dither, dither ... Ehle. But I'm rooting for Shear or CMU's Jones.
Actor/actress, musical: Heather Headley should win for "Aida" because she really is remarkable, and I'd risk a fiver on Brian Stokes Mitchell for "Kate" over Craig Bierko's debut as "The Music Man."
Featured actor/actress, play: Roy Dotrice is a great actor who deserves to win for "Moon" and probably will, but I loved Kevin Chamberlain in "Dirty Blonde." Blair Brown should win for "Copenhagen"; Frances Conroy may be a sentimental favorite, but her role in "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan" isn't that good.
Featured actor/actress, musical: Triple nominations from "Kate" queers their chances, so it's Stephen Spinella ("James Joyce's The Dead") vs. Boyd Gaines ("Contact"). Both have won before -- Gaines twice. I'll take a flier on Spinella. Karen Ziemba will win for "Contact."
Musical book/score: Hard to say in a year when some musicals don't have either. So on book, I'll go with the accomplished Richard Nelson for "The Dead" (Joyce's book is pretty great to start). Score should be either "Marie Christine" or "The Wild Party," both by Michael John LaChiusa. Can I just predict he'll win, unless he knocks himself out and lets Elton John's "Aida" (shudder) slip in? Is that cheating? ... OK, let's say "The Wild Party" because it's still running, barely.
Sets, lights, costumes: Urggh. Bob Crowley will win for "Aida's" sets. Then it gets hard. For costumes, William Ivey Long's "Kate" should battle it out with Constance Hoffman's "Green Bird." I think the latter's costumes are overdone, but perhaps the voters will give Hoffman credit for Julie Taymor's masks and puppets, in which case she could snag the trophy. In lighting, I'm told Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer do their usual magic for "Wild Party," so let's root for that pair of CMU grads.
Choreography: Susan Stroman should win for "Contact," even though she's also nominated for "Music Man." But I'm rooting for Pittsburgher Kathleen Marshall ("Kate"). Since I once erroneously predicted Kathleen's brother, Rob, would win this award in a year he was nominated twice, I secretly hope that picking Stroman in a similar situation will help Kathleen triumph. Got that? (Kathleen will pick up "Tony Honors" for the Encores! series she artistic directs.)
Direction, play/musical: Stroman is nominated for both "Contact" and "Music Man," which gives her a rare four nominations. Her competition here is Michael Blakemore ("Kate"); I think he'll win and I buy my friend Grossberg's argument that Blakemore will score a unique double by also winning for "Cophenhagen," although any of the other three nominated plays could upset him.
Orchestration: I'm out of my depth, here. Just being able to read those squiggly symbols seems to me remarkable, let alone writing them. Let me guess that Don Sebesky ("Kate") will edge Jonathan Tunick ("Marie Christine"), but don't ask why.
Others: The regional theater Tony goes to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, thanks to the advisory vote of the American Theatre Critics Association. There are also special Tonys for T. Edward Hambleton (Phoenix Theatre) and Eddie Izzard's "Dame Edna." Of these three awards, I am, compared to the guesses above, perfectly assured.
Your reward for reading this far: My opening sentence is for real. Send me your Tony predictions by e-mail before 8 p.m. Sunday (firstname.lastname@example.org) and if you do better than me, I'll trumpet your victory to the world.
Myself, I'll be backstage Sunday, interviewing the winners.