Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012 Tony Predictions: Book and Score

Before I continue my 2012 Tony Award predictions, here’s a quick recap of the two caveats I elaborated on in my first article:  1) I have not seen all of the nominated shows; and 2) I am predicting who will win, which may be different from who should win (reasons for any variance in the two will be elaborated in the article).

Since Tony night is fast approaching, let’s not waste any more time!

Best Book of a Musical

Nominees:  Douglas Carter Beane, Lysistrata Jones; Harvey Fierstein, Newsies; Joe DiPietro, Nice Work If You Can Get It; Enda Walsh, Once

I died a little inside when I read that Douglas Carter Beane was nominated for his atrocious book to Lysistrata Jones.  Beane managed to completely remove the anti-war allegory that’s allowed the Greek Lysistrata to withstand the test of time, and replaced it with poorly developed characters and painfully unfunny one-liners.  He doesn’t deserve to be nominated, and rest assured there is no way he can possibly win (the fact that Lysistrata closed months ago is the final nail in Beane’s coffin).

I would put Harvey Fierstein’s libretto for Newsies and Joe DiPietro’s book for Nice Work on the same level artistically.  Both are perfectly serviceable scripts, free of any glaring plot holes or structural weaknesses.  Both segue nicely into their respective musical numbers while simultaneously crafting characters with the illusion of depth, even if many of them lack actual substance.  Unfortunately, neither libretto takes the extra steps necessary to qualify as Tony-worthy.  The book scenes in both shows primarily serve as filler in between the musical numbers, rather than adding much of substance to their respective shows.

By contrast, Enda Walsh’s book for Once approaches the depth and quality of a play script.  Despite some very long scenes (at least by musical theatre standards), the Once libretto remains engrossing and provides information that greatly enhances the already strong emotional impact of the show’s songs.  Once relies on such a delicately established mood that it would not work without the Walsh’s first rate contributions, and he will deservedly take home the Tony for his efforts on June 10th.

Will & Should Win:  Enda Walsh, Once

Best Original Score

Nominees:  Frank Wildhorn & Don Black, Bonnie and Clyde; Alan Menken & Jack Feldman, Newsies; Grant Olding, One Man, Two Guvnors; Wayne Barker & Rick Elice, Peter and the Starcatcher

I could (and probably should) write an entire blog entry about the sorry state of musical theatre composition.  The fact that two of the four Best Original Score nominations went to plays instead of musicals proves how little good work is being done in this area.  Unfortunately, the year’s strongest score – the haunting and beautiful Once – was written for another medium and is therefore ineligible.  But while the Tony committee has shown a willingness to nominate play scores in the past few years, I don’t think they are prepared to actually give the prize to a non-musical, which rules out both One Man, Two Guvnors and Peter and the Starcatcher. 

Which leaves Bonnie & Clyde and Newsies, with their oft-nominated but so far unrewarded composers.  Now, if you had told me a year ago that Frank “Modulation” Wildhorn would be the most deserving of a Best Score Tony, I would have laughed in your face.  But this time round Wildhorn wrote a genuinely theatrical score, with many of the songs containing actual narrative action rather than an endless series of ever-higher money notes.  He has successfully fused the bluegrass and folk idioms with show music, and many of the show’s ballads are genuinely beautiful as opposed to his usual manufactured bombast.  All of this, combined with weak competition, makes Bonnie & Clyde legitimately the strongest work nominated this year.

Unfortunately for Wildhorn, there’s clearly no overcoming the tarnished reputation his past work has earned him.  Having his name on the marquee caused Bonnie & Clyde to be unfairly trashed by critics, and the show closed within a month of opening.  Meanwhile Newsies was embraced by critics and has been playing to near sell-out business, and its composer Alan Menken has managed to maintain a high reputation among the theatre elite despite some questionable shows of his own.  For all of its repetitiveness and overly-earnest emotion, Newsies does feature several catchy numbers and one genuinely inventive solo for its leading lady.  And since Menken has never won the big award, the committee will likely give him a Tony statuette that will in name be for this show, but will really be for his body of work.

Will Win:  Alan Menken, Newsies
Should Win:  Frank Wildhorn, Bonnie & Clyde (yes, I really just typed that)

That’s it for now.  Join me next time as I begin dissecting which performers have done award-worthy work this past season.

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