Monday, May 23, 2016

2016 Tony Award Predictions: Book and Score

The 2016 Tony Awards are less than 3 weeks away, which means it's time for me to get cracking on my annual prediction articles. Many people in the industry are assuming Hamilton will sweep the awards, and while I expect the hip-hop musical to do extremely well on June 12th I think several of the big categories are a lot more competitive than you might expect.

As I do every year, I will be predicting the winner in all of the non-design categories, discussing the pros and cons of each nominee before making my official choice. However, since who will win is an entirely separate concept from who I think should win, whenever those two artists don't line up I will be sure to mention it in my analysis. With that said, let's start out easy and look at two categories that feel like foregone conclusions at this point, Best Book and Best Score.

Warning: Occasional snark and plenty of speculation to follow.


Best Book of a Musical

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton

Nominees: Steve Martin, Bright Star; Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton; Julian Fellowes, School of Rock; George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along

There's a bit of misunderstanding among many theatre fans about what a musical book writer actually does, to the point where the head of the Dramatist Guild actually felt the need to write in to the New York Times to clarify. Many people equate a musical's book with its spoken dialogue, and while that is a part of it a musical's book is really its structure, which is why through-composed works like Rent, Les Miserables, and a little show called Hamilton all have them. And Lin-Manuel Miranda's book for Hamilton is nothing short of genius, effortlessly balancing the sweep of the historical narrative with the emotional journeys of the story's various characters. Every single principle and supporting character has a narrative arc, and they are so deftly handled that you never have trouble tracking the various storylines even when a character disappear for long stretches of time. 

I haven't seen all of the nominees in this category, but I have trouble imagining any of them carrying off the immense difficulty of such a task with the ease and finesse of Miranda (indeed, George C. Wolfe's ambitious but unwieldy book causes a lot of Shuffle Along's more glaring problems). Broadway's favorite writer/composer/performer has this one in the bag.

Will & Should Win: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Best Score

Tony nominees Christopher Jackson and Lin-Manuel Miranda as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton.

Nominees: Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, Bright Star; Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton; Andrew Lloyd Webber & Glenn Slater, School of Rock; Sara Bareilles, Waitress

There are some incredibly worthy nominees in this category, and in a year without a juggernaut like Hamilton any one of them could be a frontrunner to actually win. Bright Star didn't get amazing reviews, but even the naysayers all singled out the bluegrass score as a highlight. School of Rock has been hailed as a return to form for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who love him or hate him has proven repeatedly that he knows how to write hummable, instantly recognizable melodies. And Sara Bareilles' brand of story-driven pop rock always seemed like a natural fit for the world of musical theatre, so it's no surprise to see the Broadway neophyte represented here.

But Hamilton is another beast entirely. Anyone who has heard the cast album can tell you it is compulsively listenable, drawing you in the way few shows can. Lin-Manuel Miranda took musical styles not normally associated with Broadway and made them insanely theatrical, showing a melodic and rhythmic genius that In the Heights only hinted at. The breadth of the score is astounding, from the giddy girl-group excitement of "The Schuyler Sisters" to the Brit pop of "You'll Be Back" to the soulful R&B influenced "Satisfied," a song which may be the most bravura example of musical theatre composition from the past ten years. The endlessly inventive score sees US Cabinet members debating via rapid fire rapping and secret government meetings backed by a pounding club beat, all wrapped up in some of the most brilliant lyrics to grace the Broadway stage. The score reveals new layers upon each hearing, be it a sly lyrical reference to Gilbert and Sullivan or a melodic motif that appears in an unexpected bit of underscoring, making Miranda the clear favorite here.

Will & Should Win: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton


Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments, and check back throughout the next few weeks for more Tony predictions.

20 comments:

  1. I saw the Hamilton cast perform on the Grammy Awards back in February, and I really loved it, which is saying a lot for me because I usually dislike most rap music.

    Given Hamilton's popularity, I wonder if that will make the Tony Awards producers have the book and score categories be presented live on the air again instead of during the commercial breaks. I remember the outcry last year when Fun Home didn't get to celebrate its score and book wins live on the air.

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    1. I expect they will give out at least Best Score on air, but I think next year the category will be moved back to the commercial break, and I think that is ultimately what is so upsetting about it to so many people. They only air the speech when it is someone they deem important.

      Ideally, I would like to see the award aired every year. But if they truly just don't have time for it and are unwilling to make trims somewhere else to get it on air, then it should be permanently presented off air. Moving it back and forth based on the fame level of the presumed winner is insulting.

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    2. I think you are right, although I understand the American Theatre Wing's stance on the issue.

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    3. Then what should be done is that the Tony Awards should determine which categories must always be presented on the air, no matter what. The Oscars have the exact same number of categories as the Tonys, yet they always present every single category live on the air.

      Perhaps in the future the Tonys should present all the categories live on the air, and do what the Oscars do, by presenting two or three awards at a time, particularly in the technical categories. To do that in enough time, the show should only feature musical performances from the nominees for Best Musical and Best Revival Of A Musical, and not have performances from shows that go no nominations or one or two nominations in technical categories. IF that were being put into place this year, that would mean shows like Tuck Everlasting, Disaster!, Dames At Sea and On Your Feet would not be allowed to perform. To make up for that (I know some people would think that's unfair), perhaps there should be a tribute montage video of the past Broadway season, where they can show a quick look back at the past Broadway season. The Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes do that all the time.

      Anyway, those are my thoughts on how to improve the Tony telecast. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my ideas.

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    4. The difference between the Tonys and the Oscars is that even with the limitations you suggest (which I personally support), there are still significantly more performances for the Tonys to get through in the same amount of time. Those numbers are one of the main draws of the telecast for many viewers, so if you aren't going to cut down on them then you have to increase the length of the telecast, which CBS is unwilling to do thanks to the low (compared to the Oscars) ratings.

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    5. Again, that's why the Tonys must cut out performances from shows not nominated for Best Musical or Best Revival of A Musical. Having non-nominees perform would be like the Oscars presenting a tribute to an individual film from the previous year that wasn't nominated for Best Picture. It's important to celebrate the actors and directors, but if costume designers, cinematographers, editors, and makeup artists can give their speeches live on the air at the Oscars, then why can't the same be done at the Tonys with lighting designers, costume designers, choreographers, etc. They can do that if they cut out musical numbers from non-nominees, have two or three actual nominees perform one right after the other, and present the technical awards in pairs of two or three at once. Then, boom, all your time problems are solved.

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    7. I don't think that's a good idea in theory but unworkable in practice. In your example from earlier this year you named "Diaster!," "Tuck Everlasting," and "On Your Feet" as examples of shows that shouldn't be allowed to perform, but only "On Your Feet" made this year's telecast to begin with; booting it saves you 5 minutes at most.

      Furthermore, it is logistically impossible to have the nominated musicals perform back to back as you have to load the sets in and out. And you are still looking at an average of 8 performances versus the 3-5 songs performed at the Oscars. And even if you have the technical awards presented in groups of 2 or 3, that's 6+ additional categories to find time for in the telecast, which would take 2-3 minutes each by the time the names are announced, the winner takes the podium, and gives their (in theory) 45 second speech.

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    8. You're right; I don't know how I could have been so naive to not consider that. But I guess that shows why you're the theater expert and I'm the film expert. But one thing the Tony Awards can fix without having to overhaul the entire ceremony is the In Memoriam sequence. Too often, when someone is singing during that part, the camera focuses too much on the singer, and it becomes hard to read the names in the background behind them. Or, as in the case this year with the musicians playing "Seasons Of Love", the names were shown so fast most people didn't have time to process them. And at least twice, I can recall the Tonys having no In Memoriam sequence at all. If there's anything the awards prediction website Gold Derby always complains about the Tony Awards, it's the In Memoriam sequence and that it wasn't respectful enough of the deceased.

      I know complaining about the In Memoriam sequence might sound petty, but it bugs me whenever not enough proper tribute is paid to those who died in the previous year. And again, I hate to compare this to the Oscars and the Emmys, but at least they do a good job most of the time with their In Memoriam sequences. That's where the Tonys can really take some pointers from.

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  2. If Lin-Manuel Miranda should win an Oscar next year for his work on Moana, he will not only be the youngest inductee into the EGOT Club ever, but he'll also have won all 4 awards in the shortest amount of time.

    If Moana is a huge critical and box office success, do you think it will immediately be turned into a Broadway musical like Frozen?

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    1. I think it is unlikely that "Moana" will have the success of "Frozen," just like it is unlikely any new musical will have the kind of impact "Hamilton" did for a few years at least. That isn't to say it won't be good or make money; it just seems unlikely it will be a phenomenon.

      "Frozen" isn't just a popular movie; it is the highest grossing animated film of all time. They have sold billions of dollars of Anna and Elsa merchandise; it is a cultural juggernaut, and that is why it was fast tracked (relatively speaking) for Broadway.

      Don't get me wrong, I think Disney honestly believes it has an artistically viable version of the property, or they wouldn't be putting it on Broadway. But to pretend economics aren't a huge factor in their decision would be silly.

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    2. Oh believe me, I know economics is the main reason they agreed to put Frozen on Broadway so quickly. Do I think Moana will make as much money as Frozen? No, but it comes out Thanksgiving weekend, which is a goldmine for box office results most of the time, and if it is successful, it would be interesting to see if it could transfer to the stage, which by doing so, could certainly add to the much needed increased diversity on Broadway. The film itself has a mostly non-white voice cast, which will undoubtedly draw in a diverse audience. The same could happen for a stage version of Moana.

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    3. I think part of it depends on how musical "Moana" ends up being. Will it be a full-fledged musical like "Frozen" or "Beauty and the Beast" where the characters burst into song, or more along the lines of a "Tarzan" where there are multiple songs played over scenes but not actually sung by the characters. The former is much more likely to provoke discussion of an adaptation than the latter.

      I know "Tarzan" was adapted for the stage, but it also didn't do particularly well on Broadway and Disney has been very conservative with their Broadway-aimed adaptations lately. They definitely have a Broadway brand at this point, with big budget musical spectacles for all ages, and if "Maona" doesn't obviously fit that mold it will really hinder its chances. That's part of why "Hunchback" was never really considered for a Broadway transfer despite very vocal and passionate fans.

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    4. Moana at least seems much more family friendly than The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. It's being directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, who directed the original film versions of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.

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    5. Now that Moana is out, I must say I really enjoyed the movie and Lin-Manuel Miranda's songs, particularly "How Far I'll Go" and "You're Welcome." Like Frozen, you'd have to overcome the challenge of recreating the effects on stage. Like Frozen, a stage show of Moana would need a lot more songs written to be successful on stage, and given that Lin-Manuel Miranda's schedule is going to be busy for the next few years, I bet a Moana musical on Broadway may not be happening in the near future. But it'd be interesting to see if it did.

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  3. What are your thoughts about the upcoming movie musical La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and directed by Damien Chazelle?

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    1. I don't really know anything about it. I've heard the title, but I have no idea what it's about and haven't seen any footage from it.

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    2. It's a love story of a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone). There's two teaser trailers out, one with Gosling singing, and another with Stone singing. Go check them out. I should also mention some Broadway talent like Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are involved in this movie's songwriting team.

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    3. It looks like, based on early reviews, that La La Land is a bona-fide Oscar contender that can't be missed, and one of the best movie musicals in years!

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    4. I will have to check it out, then!

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