Mary Kaye Schilling
June 04, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

More stress for Tony — and we don’t mean that guy who hangs at the Bada Bing. We’re talking the annual awards given to Broadway’s best shows, which came under fire again this year for ignoring the action off and further off Broadway — arguably the most creative work in theater (imagine the Emmys ignoring cable!).

That said, as Tony nods go, it was a pretty good year. No one show is likely to dominate as ”The Producers” did in 2001; there are close races, a couple of Pulitzer winners, even a chance for some, well, drama when the statues are presented on CBS June 6. Herewith, our bets on the winners.

BEST MUSICAL (”Avenue Q”; ”The Boy From Oz”; ”Caroline, or Change”; ”Wicked”) Only eight new musicals opened this season, but 80 percent of all Broadway tickets sold are for musicals, which makes this the evening’s big draw. For smaller shows (like ”Caroline”), a Tony win — and, perhaps more importantly, a good musical number performed on TV — can make the difference between staying open and closing. WHO WILL WIN ”Wicked”’s the year’s big fat moneymaker, even though many critics rightly yawned. It’s also the show most likely to tour, which, given a big percentage of the voters are touring producers, makes it the favorite. WHO SHOULD WIN We love ”Q,” but ”Caroline” is the risk-taking heartbreaker.

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL (Hugh Jackman, ”The Boy From Oz”; Alfred Molina, ”Fiddler on the Roof”; John Tartaglia, ”Avenue Q”; Hunter Foster, ”Little Shop of Horrors”; Euan Morton, ”Taboo”) WILL WIN A slam dunk for returning Tony host Jackman, widely seen as a good guy who carried a crappy show on his back and sold zillions of tickets. SHOULD WIN ”Q”’s talented multitasker Tartaglia.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL (Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, ”Wicked”; Donna Murphy, ”Wonderful Town”; Tonya Pinkins, ”Caroline, or Change”; Stephanie D’Abruzzo, ”Avenue Q”) WILL WIN In the most competitive race, it’s anybody’s guess. If they play it safe, Menzel. If they play it smart… SHOULD WIN Pinkins, for her fearless Louisiana maid.

BEST PLAY (”Anna in the Tropics”; ”Frozen”; ”I Am My Own Wife”; ”The Retreat From Moscow”) A snooze of a year for new plays, with none of the nominees a crowd-pleaser and despite the odd fact that last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner (”Anna”) is competing against this year’s Pulitzer winner (”Wife”). WILL WIN ”Wife” is favored, since ”Anna” flopped and closed. SHOULD WIN The well-acted serial-killer pedophile drama ”Frozen.”

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY (Simon Russell Beale, ”Jumpers”; Kevin Kline, ”Henry IV”; Frank Langella, ”Match”; Jefferson Mays, ”I Am My Own Wife”; Christopher Plummer, ”King Lear”) WILL WIN & SHOULD WIN In the other nail-biter race, two Shakespeare stars (Kline, Plummer) battle against a hot newcomer (Mays). It’s a tough call, but we’ll go with Mays, whose tour de force performance (he plays 35 characters) is actually better than the play.

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY (Eileen Atkins, ”The Retreat From Moscow”; Tovah Feldshuh, ”Golda’s Balcony”; Anne Heche, ”Twentieth Century”; Swoosie Kurtz, ”Frozen”; Phylicia Rashad, ”A Raisin in the Sun”) WILL WIN & SHOULD WIN Rashad. She’s smashing, not to mention ”Sun” is the only play you could call a hit right now, attracting a huge, new, young, integrated audience to Broadway (thanks to P. Diddy’s, well, ”acting”).

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