2012 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 winners will be in orange.
BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL
3. NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
4. LYSISTRATA JONES
The concept has serious comedic potential: Take Aristophanes’ bawdy political 411 BC comedy and transfer it to a contemporary college campus where the cheerleaders refuse to “give it up” until their b-ball guys stop giving up on the court. Unfortunately, Lysistrata Jones is just that: a funny concept that, as crafted by Douglas Carter Beane’s (The Little Dog Laughed, Xanadu) book, does not a funny new musical comedy make. The stakes are low to non-existent, characters revel in racial stereotypes, and there aren’t nearly enough zippy one-liners amidst all the predictable pop culture references. And why, oh why, in a musical comedy about sex is the word sex utilized but once? Aristophanes certainly would’ve been appalled by the almost complete lack of raunchiness. This is Beane’s fourth nomination, and it shall be his fourth loss.
Nice Work If You Can Get It isn’t exactly nice work. A tribute to 1920s musicals, Joe DiPietro’s (Memphis) set-up is simple — mayhem ensues when a gamine bootlegger meets-cute with a wealthy playboy — but quickly becomes overcomplicated with rusty mechanisms and overstuffed with with every song by the Gershwins that wasn’t already taken (and some that were) for Crazy for You. DiPietro does a decent job with melding song and scene (only a couple feel entirely dropped in), but the musical style is all over the place, and he offers at least three different endings. Where’s the dramaturg to cut, cut, cut when you need her?
Enda Walsh: I want to love you, Enda, I really, really do, but you just make it so hard for me sometimes. When you take a beloved slip of a film, and you add shtick and alter the female lead from charmingly awkward to the dreaded “quirky,” I just can’t get behind you, or your book for the stage musical Once. What should be a 90-minute-or-less one-act is a two-and-a-half-hour (!) full-fledged musical, and Once simply doesn’t warrant it. The humor is over-amplified (do we even think “jokes” when we think Once??) and the new cast of supporting character-musicians is obviously there to fill in the chorus void (we’ve had two-hander musicals, Mr. Walsh, or hadn’t you heard?), and what’s more, they’re minutely sketched and interchangeable. The quiet, romantic Once should be whimsical and slim, but be here it’s overstuffed and jokey. So let’s just watch the beautiful film instead. (Voters won’t agree with me, obviously.)
Though I’m still not entirely sure how Newsies is eligible for this award (Once‘s book is more clearly altered from its source material), but that aside, Harvey Fierstein does an admirable job in fixing some of the problems with the original story. It’s officially become Jack Kelly’s story: Disney mainstays, writers Bob Tzudiker and Noni White (The Lion King, Hunchback, Tarzan) were under the impression that we cared more about working class Davey and li’l cutie Les than we did about hardened, dreamy newsboy, Jack Kelly, and Fierstein fixes this misstep by minimizing the family boys’ roles and making it orphan Jack’s story from moment one — even if the “Santa Fe” prologue is a little misguided (for such a peppy show, it’s a snoozer of a start). Harvey could definitely have used a dramaturg — see the impossibilities of a female reporter and an African-American owning an establishment of the capacity of Medda’s — and he layers on a bit too much of his signature cheesy humor, but otherwise, this is a nicely compact, straightforward book that honors the original film — and its fans — and should — and even might — be awarded for it.