NEW YORK — It was a season on Broadway that was bursting with brilliance and unpredictability. There was Shakespeare, Wilde and Stoppard, but who could have foreseen a musical with a song about the Mormon prophet becoming a giddy hit? Or a stage filled with horse puppets galloping into the winner's circle?
Now it's time to predict who will emerge victorious at Sunday's Tony Awards.
Will win: "War Horse." Should win: "Good People."
This one hinges on what Tony voters love more: writing or spectacle. David Lindsay-Abaire's darkly comic new play "Good People" is a little blue-collar jewel, but it's up against a brilliantly staged play with puppets and visuals that make grown men weep but betray its childlike heart.
Will win: "The Book of Mormon." Should win: "The Book of Mormon."
You're kidding, right? No one can stop this perfectly calibrated yet filthy homage to Broadway. Critics love it and it has become box-office gold by appealing to a demographic long sought after on Broadway: the young. This is smart and sassy and singable. Now we dare the cast to sing "Hasa Diga Eebowai" at the ceremony — CBS censors would be working overtime.
Will win: "The Normal Heart." Should win: "The Merchant of Venice."
One of the most difficult categories this year also included "Arcadia" and "The Importance of Being Earnest." Larry Kramer's stripped-down AIDS polemic, "The Normal Heart," showed up at the 11th hour with real heart and great acting, but "Merchant" back in the fall was simply brilliant from top to bottom.
Will win: "Anything Goes." Should win: "Anything Goes."
This is a 50-50 category, mainly because only "Anything Goes" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" were eligible. Both are exuberant and choreographed wonderfully, but only one had Sutton Foster. Sorry, Daniel Radcliffe, but she's cuter.
Will win: Joe Mantello. Should win: Mark Rylance.
Was that the sound of Al Pacino grumbling? He has reason if his raw, gritty Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" gets overlooked. Brian Bedford was also glorious as Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest" and Bobby Cannavale turned in the best performance of his career in "The Motherf---- With the Hat." Mantello's return to the stage as an actor in "The Normal Heart" showed real vulnerability and earned the loudest cheers, but Rylance is a virtuoso and he turned "Jerusalem" into a three-hour-plus victory lap. Plus, that was only the second mind-hurting performance of the season after his marathon of words in "La Bete."
Will win: Frances McDormand. Should win: Frances McDormand.
This category is more painful to figure out than a South Boston accent: Nina Arianda was a revelation in "Born Yesterday," Lily Rabe's Portia in "The Merchant of Venice" was sly and funny and brilliant, and Vanessa Redgrave in "Driving Miss Daisy" was heartwarming and, oh yes, Vanessa Redgrave. But McDormand, as a proud Southie in "Good People," deserves it.
Will win: Norbert Leo Butz. Should win: Joshua Henry.
Butz was at his hectic, shabby best while pursuing a con man in "Catch Me If You Can" and is the popular choice. He'll likely nudge out Tony Sheldon, who emerged as the real heart of the goofy "Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical." But Henry in "The Scottsboro Boys" was better than anyone, with a performance that was heartbreaking, muscular and urgent. The trouble was that not enough people saw it.
Will win: Sutton Foster. Should win: Sutton Foster.
Donna Murphy was grand this year, but her musical, "The People in the Picture," was poor. Same goes for Beth Leavel and her show, "Baby It's You!" Patina Miller made a great debut in "Sister Act," but Foster is so talented that it's scary. She's the top, she's the Eiffel tower. Just one Tony? Make it two.
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits