NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Billy Elliot, The Musical" led the race for U.S. theater's top honors with 15 Tony Award nominations on Tuesday, while Geoffrey Rush, Angela Lansbury, James Gandolfini and Jane Fonda were among the actors up for honors.
The Tony Awards winners, voted by about 750 industry professionals, will be announced on June 7.
Based on Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry's 2000 film about a ballet dancing schoolboy in a northern England mining town, "Billy Elliot" has already won several Laurence Olivier Awards in London and played in Australia.
The show is competing against "Shrek the Musical," "Next to Normal," and "Rock of Ages" for best musical while "Dividing the Estate," "33 Variations," "God of Carnage" and "Reasons to be Pretty" are nominated for best play.
Daldry is nominated for best direction of a musical, while Sir Elton John, who wrote the music for "Billy Elliot," is up against Dolly Parton, who wrote the music and lyrics for "9 to 5: The Musical," based on the 1980 movie starring Parton, Fonda and Lily Tomlin, in the best original score category.
"Billy Elliot" matched the record number of Tony Award nominations set by "The Producers" in 2001. "The Producers" went on to win a record 12 awards.
"Next to Normal," a musical about a suburban family coping with a crisis, has 11 nominations, while the revival of 1960s production "Hair" and "Shrek The Musical," based on the 1990 book and 2001 Oscar-winning Dreamworks film about a green ogre and a princess, nabbed eight nods.
"Mary Stuart" and "The Norman Conquests" picked up the most nominations for plays with seven each.
Oscar winner Rush is nominated for best performance by a leading actor in a play for his Broadway debut in "Exit the King," competing against Gandolfini and his "God of Carnage" co-star Jeff Daniels, Raul Esparza for "Speed-the-Plow," and Thomas Sadoski for "Reasons to Be Pretty."
Fonda is nominated for best performance by a leading actress in a play for her role in "33 Variations," her first Broadway role in more than 40 years. She is up against "God of Carnage" co-stars Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis, and "Mary Stuart" co-stars Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter.
David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish, the child actors who share the role of "Billy Elliot," are nominated together for best performance by a leading actor in a musical, competing against Gavin Creel from "Hair," Brian d'Arcy James from "Shrek The Musical," Constantine Maroulis from "Rock of Ages," and J. Robert Spencer for "Next to Normal."
Stockard Channing is nominated for best performance by a leading actress in a musical for "Pal Joey," and is up against Allison Janney for "9 to 5: The Musical," Sutton Foster for "Shrek The Musical," Alice Ripley for "Next to Normal" and Josefina Scaglione for "West Side Story."
Lansbury is up for best performance by a featured actress in a play for her role in "Blithe Spirit."
The best theatrical event award pits comedian Will Ferrell's show "You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush" against entertainer Liza Minnelli's "Liza's at The Palace," "Slava's Snowshow" and Chinese production "Soul of Shaolin."
The full list of nominees can be seen at www.tonyawards.com.
The Broadway League says 39 Broadway theaters contribute $5.1 billion per year to New York's economy, on top of ticket sales, and support 44,000 jobs. Broadway had gross earnings of $941 million in 2008 calendar year, up from $938 million the previous year, although theaters were dark for 19 days in 2007 by a stagehand strike, data from the league shows.
Editing by Claudia Parsons