I thought it might be interesting to look at the Tony nominees for Best Musical over the last 10 seasons. In doing so, I have found that, more or less the shows can be divided into 5 categories, with the understanding that many shows have characteristics that make them overlap categories.
- The Traditional: Singing, dancing, book scenes. Comedy, a little drama, with an emotional component, and elements of spectacle.
- The Artistic Boundary Pusher: Often the musical that people say belongs "off-Broadway," is usually a critical, not commercial success, that has most agreeing that it has pushed the art form into a new, challenging direction.
- The Jukebox: Whether it is a biographical trip down memory lane or an original story has been crafted, this type includes a songbook of popular music . Often critics and passionate fans jump on the lamenting the death of originality bandwagon, but the truth is, about half the time, the shows work.
- The Family Show: Again, fans seem to automatically dismiss these shows... "too Disney" blah, blah, blah, BUT when these shows offer both an emotional quality and stunning spectacle, the crowds keep coming.
- The Crowd-Pleaser/Spectacle: These shows are often described as "critic proof." And more often than not, there is one big element that is the draw despite a wholesale dismissal for the rest of the show. And nearly 100% of the time, these shows are a triumph of style over substance.
How did the nominees and winners shake out over the last 10 seasons? The winner is in red. An astrix (*) indicates which show I thought should have won. Here's chart for your consideration:
|Hairspray *||Traditional||Crowd-pleaser||Still some of the best song and dance in years; off beat enough to be fun, but still accessible; longest-running|
|Amour||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Very unusual plot...; Already closed at Tony-time|
|Movin' Out *||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Jukebox||Artistic, creative, stunning|
|A Year with Frog and Toad||Family||Traditional||A kid show that requires imagination on the part of the audience proved a tough sell; already closed at Tony time|
|Avenue Q *||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Edgy, smart, sophisticated and still emotional; Still running|
|The Boy from Oz||Jukebox||Crowd-pleaser||What would it have been without Hugh Jackman?|
|Caroline, or Change||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Completely original; definitely an artistic achievement; Already closed by Tonys|
|Wicked||Crowd-Pleaser||Spectacle||Still Running; a cultural icon at this point|
|Monty Python's Spamalot||Traditional||Edgy just to be edgy; my last choice of all 4[ longest-running|
|Dirty Rotten Scoundrels||Traditional||More sophisticated than The Full Monty; not as beloved|
|The Light in the Piazza *||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Traditional||Definitely the artistic achievement of the season|
|The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Traditional||Completely original|
|Jersey Boys||Jukebox||Crowd-pleaser||Biographical; Still running|
|The Color Purple||Traditional||Crowd-pleaser||Stunt casting and Oprah should have been enough. It wasn't.|
|The Drowsy Chaperone *||Traditional||Crowd-pleaser||Completely original|
|The Wedding Singer||Traditional||Crowd-pleaser||This 80'sfunfest was better than its run suggests|
|Spring Awakening *||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Crowd-pleaser||The show's fans are legendary; a whole new generation of actors in one show|
|Grey Gardens||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Biographical|
|Mary Poppins||Family||Spectacle||Longest-running of the four|
|In the Heights *||Traditional||Original story, longest runner of the four|
|Cry-Baby||Traditional||Odd ball John Waters characters|
|Passing Strange||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Way out of the box; original story|
|Xanadu||Jukebox||Traditional||Silly fun with lots of style; surprise hit|
|Billy Elliot: The Musical||Traditional||Family Show||Uber-talented child actors rule this show|
|Next to Normal *||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Bi-Polar disorder shouldn't sell, but did; Pulitzer Prize; original story|
|Rock of Ages||Jukebox||Traditional||You can drink at your seat. What else could it be? Only show still running|
|Shrek: The Musical||Family||Spectacle||Some spectacle. Too many different things at once?|
|Memphis||Traditional||Longest runner of all; original story|
|American Idiot *||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Jukebox||Modern, edgy rock on Broadway; Original story|
|Fela!||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Biographical|
|Million Dollar Quartet||Jukebox||Traditional||Historic event|
|The Book of Mormon||Traditional||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Mega-hit!|
|Catch Me If You Can||Traditional||Highly stylized; biographical|
|The Scottsboro Boys *||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Traditional||Historical Event; Already closed by Tonys|
|Once *||Artistic Boundary Pusher||Traditional|
|Leap of Faith||Traditional||Already closed by Tonys|
|Newsies: The Musical||Traditional||Crowd-pleaser||Rabid fans|
|Nice Work If You Can Get It||Traditional||Jukebox||Star Vehicle|
Notice any patterns? Notice that more often than not, traditional shows win, but that they have unique hooks? Notice that family musicals rarely take home the prize, but run the longest?
Who'll take the 4 nominations this season? A crowd-pleasing family show or two? A boundary-pushing artistic endeavor? A jukebox musical? Or a traditional show with a twist? Which shows won't make the cut? We'll see in a few days!