It’s the middle of awards season here in NYC, and the name on everybody’s lips is “Tony.” Last time I predicted who would win the coveted statuette in the Choreography and Direction categories; today, I pick who will and should win the awards for Best Book and Score. At this point I should mention that I have still not seen Matilda, which is obviously one of the major competitors in these races, so there will be some speculation and possible bias going on here. I reserve the right to change my predictions after seeing the show, and if I do, look for an updated entry at a later date. But if I don’t start on these articles now I’ll never finish before June 9th, so let’s get down to business!
Best Book of a Musical
|The team behind Matilda must have spent weeks taking courses on how to best impress the American press, because the critics certainly *adored* it.|
Nominees: Joseph Robinette, A Christmas Story; Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots; Dennis Kelly, Matilda the Musical; Douglas Carter Beane, Cinderella
In case you’re new to this blog, I want to make it very clear that I despise Douglas Carter Beane’s libretto work, and think Cinderella is the most offensively awful writing he’s done to date. Not only is his post-modern snark in complete opposition to the overwhelming earnestness of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score, but Beane fails to make his additions funny or compelling in their own right. His attempt to develop characters beyond their fairytale archetypes falls flat, leading to personality inconsistencies and confused motivations that the talented cast struggles to make sense of. And the less said about his entry-level lecture on the wonders of democratic rule the better. A three time Tony nominee, Beane clearly has his fans among the Tony voters, but there are an equal number who thought this Cinderella was a train wreck of epic proportions, and I can’t imagine him winning this category.
Joseph Robinette’s adaptation of A Christmas Story was serviceable but nothing special, and the long-closed show will have major difficulty competing with its still running rivals. Harvey Fierstein is one of the most consistently excellent librettists in the industry, and his work on Kinky Boots once again demonstrates his uncanny ability to couple witty one-liners with genuine heart and solid story structure, creating honest if exaggerated characters that propel the narrative forward at an effervescent pace. I imagine that Dennis Kelly’s book for Matilda is equally solid, as the Brits have a knack for strong story structure thanks to their familiarity with the classics of dramatic literature. I am cheering for Fierstein, but I think this is one category where Matilda has the edge.
Should Win: Harvey Fierstein, Kinky BootsWill Win: Dennis Kelly, Matilda the Musical
|Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets. And Lola wants a Tony for Kinky Boots|
Nominees: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, A Christmas Story; Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, Hands on a Hardbody; Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boot; Tim Minchin, Matilda the Musical
Kudos to Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green for getting recognition for the underrated Hands on a Hardbody, but this is a case where the nomination is the win, as I can’t imagine a scenario where the pair beats their higher profile competition. With twelve total nominations and lots of critical love, Tim Minchin is certainly a contender for his work on Matilda, although from a merit-based perspective I think this is one of the British import’s weaker categories. The score is rarely the strongest element of any British musical, and I think a win for Minchin would likely be viewed as an upset.
I’m torn about who I want to win among the remaining two nominees. I certainly liked Cyndi Lauper’s score for Kicky Boots, which managed to fuse her distinct pop sensibility with more traditional musical theatre idioms. She is also the biggest name in this category, and the Tony voters have a habit of rewarding celebrities from other mediums who make credible Broadway debuts. But in the grand scheme of things, Lauper is unlikely to write another musical anytime soon, if at all, whereas University of Michigan graduates Benj Pasek and Justin Paul would most likely dedicate their lives to writing excellent shows. Not only is A Christmas Story the most inventive and exciting score of the season (at least in my opinion), but Pasek and Paul are the most promising songwriting team to emerge in years. I wholeheartedly believe that they could become the next Kander and Ebb or Ahrens and Flaherty, and a Tony win would give them the clout to get future projects off the ground and into production. Broadway needs to do more to nurture the next generation of musical theatre songwriters or eventually we’ll be left with nothing but revivals and jukebox musicals, and a win for the young duo would definitely be a step in the right direction. The smart money is on Lauper, but I’m really hoping Pasek and Paul manage to pull an Avenue Q-level upset.
Should Win: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, A Christmas StoryWill Win: Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots
That’s all for now. The supporting acting categories are up next, and don’t forget to check out the previous articles in my Tony Predictions series: