Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Tony Awards: Anatomy of the Best Musical Nomination

With only 4 slots open in the Best Musical category, and (usually) several more shows than that eligible, some shows just can't make the cut.  Every year, it seems, at least one show makes the cut unexpectedly; the rest are deemed "givens" or "space fillers," depending upon who is doing the talking.  Last year, there was plenty of shock when Leap of Faith got a nod, but Bonnie and Clyde (a fan favorite) and Lysistrata Jones (the best reviewed musical of most of the season) were left out.  Though it always seems to register as a surprise, one thing that is not unusual is that, like Leap of Faith, at least one of the nominees has closed already.  It isn't an every year thing, but it isn't all that unusual, either.

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.

Bonnie and Clyde didn't make the cut

  • 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 BeeArtistic Boundary PusherTraditionalCompletely 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
Curtains Traditional

Grey Gardens Artistic Boundary Pusher
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
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
Sister Act Traditional


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!


1 comment:

  1. What a great post! So interesting to look at shows in categories like this.


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