Close behind with 11 was "The Color Purple," the Oprah Winfrey-produced musical based on Alice Walker's novel about a determined woman's triumph over adversity.
The revival of "The Pajama Game" got nine bids, while tied at eight were "Jersey Boys," the gritty show-biz tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and the revival of "Awake and Sing!"
"The History Boys," Alan Bennett's London success about a group of boisterous students trying to get into Oxford or Cambridge, received seven nominations, including for best play.
The other best play nominees: "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," Martin McDonagh's comic splatterfest about a crazed Irish terrorist; "Shining City," Conor McPherson's ghost story set in present-day Dublin; and "Rabbit Hole," David Lindsay-Abaire's look at a suburban couple attempting to deal with the death of their young son.
Besides "The Drowsy Chaperone," "Jersey Boys" and "The Color Purple, "The Wedding Singer" a celebration of the 1980s and based on the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore movie, will compete for best musical.
"`Jersey Boys' truly is a phenomenon," said Des McAnuff, the Tony-nominated director of the musical. "People leap up and are on their feet during the show. They know the music, but now they are learning the story behind the band."
The actor-play candidates included Ralph Fiennes who plays the title character in Brian Friel's "Faith Healer," and Richard Griffiths, a beloved teacher in "The History Boys." Their competition is Oliver Platt, the haunted husband in "Shining City"; David Wilmot, a crazed terrorist in "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and Zeljko Ivanek, an intense naval officer in "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial."
The actress-play hopefuls were Cynthia Nixon, the distraught mother in "Rabbit Hole"; Judy Kaye, a tone-deaf diva in "Souvenir"; Lisa Kron, an embattled daughter in "Well," and two performers from the revival of W. Somerset Maugham's "The Constant Wife," Kate Burton and Lynn Redgrave.
It was Redgrave's niece, Natasha Richardson who announced her aunt's nomination Tuesday at Lincoln Center and who called her mother in London, Vanessa Redgrave, who relayed the news to sister Lynn.
Said Lynn Redgrave, who was about to take a nap: "What a wonderful thing to dream on!"
Julia Roberts, who received gently scathing reviews for her performance in Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain," did not get a nomination. Neither did her two co-stars, Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper.
Harry Connick Jr., however, did get a nod for his Broadway debut in "The Pajama Game." He'll be up against Michael Cerveris, the bloody barber in "Sweeney Todd"; John Lloyd Young, who portrays crooner Frankie Valli in "Jersey Boys"; Bob Martin, the co-author and narrator-star of "The Drowsy Chaperone"; and Stephen Lynch, the lovesick hero of "The Wedding Singer."
Kelli O'Hara, Connick's co-star in "The Pajama Game," received a nomination for actress-musical, as did Broadway veteran Patti LuPone, the industrious pie-maker in "Sweeney Todd." Also nominated in the category: LaChanze, the beleaguered heroine of "The Color Purple"; Sutton Foster for "The Drowsy Chaperone"; and the legendary Chita Rivera for playing herself in "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life."
The special regional theater Tony will go to the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, while director-producer Harold Prince will receive a special lifetime achievement award.
Who takes home the awards will be settled June 11 at Radio City Music Hall, where the winners will be announced in a three-hour telecast, beginning 8 p.m. EDT on CBS.