Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2011 Tony Awards: Best Book of a Musical

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winner will be in orange.

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL

1. The Book of Mormon
R
obert Lopez, Matt Stone, Trey Parker

2. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Alex Timbers 

3. Sister Act
Bill & Cheri Steinkellner, Douglas Carter Beane

4. The Scottsboro Boys
David Thompson

David Thompson’s work on The Scottsboro Boys is erratically dark and acute and earnest and sentimental — and regrettably, rather insubstantial (not unlike his work on Steel Pier and that other huge debacle,Thou Shalt Not). The musical tells the true story of nine African American boys accused of rape in 1930s Alabama, and of the boys’ innocence, there is no doubt  – neither in history nor in this musical re-telling of that history.  As Thompson portrays them, they are so innocent that little else matters — including who they are beyond Wrongfully Accused Black Men. These two-dimensional innocents would work if the creators had stuck with what is an inspired concept —  telling the story of the Scottsboro boys as a minstrel show — but the majority of the musical consists of incredibly earnest tragedy in which the boys are equal parts self-pity and indignation.

Apparently Bill and Cheri Steinkellner’s original book for Sister Act was such a mess that the producers were forced to bring in a show doctor, Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu, The Little Dog Laughed), to assist in adapting the screenplay of the tremendously popular film. Beane’s mark is all over the place, with lots of funny quips one right after another, but the effort here is obvious — he’s pushing too hard for the jokes. And while the writers make sure to hit all the pertinent plot points of the movie, character development is nearly non-existent, leaving the performers, including the superb Patina Miller as Deloris Van Cartier, not much to build on.

Old Hickory gets all emo on us in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which represents the smartest and most ambitious book in this category, if a slightly erratic one. Creating strong parallels to present-day politics, writer-director Alex Timbers pulls references from all over the place to tell the tale of one of America’s most controversial presidents. The result is a sharp, irreverent spoof that is as shrewd as it is hilarious, but that also tackles too much and veers into preachy-earnestness at the end.

Strange how the year’s most offensive offering is also one of its most traditional. From the straight (well, you know what I mean) leading man with his second-act confidence-booster; to the comic, scene-stealing supporting man; to the wide-eyed ingenue love interest with her “I want” song (“Sal Tlay Ka Siti” — say it out loud), Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone ‘s The Book of Mormon faithfully adheres to the traditional book musical structure. It’s a super-tight libretto that carefully follows a pair of mismatched, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Mormons are sent on a mission to squalid and violent Uganda. The characters are distinctive, the journey is clear and the jokes are hilarious.  This is certainly the most confident and consistent of the nominees.

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This entry was posted on June 11, 2011 by in Award Predictions, Broadway, Musical, Theatre, Tony Awards.

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