a theatre, film & pop culture review
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.
This is always a strange category, because are we awarding the best musical, really, or the best production of a musical? We’ve already covered the book and score, so you’d think that we’d be focusing on the creative mechanics of getting the show on its feet — but who can tell what voters are really rewarding? And so, I offer you my picks based on each production as a whole.
The Tony committee clearly had trouble filling the fourth nomination slot, and they had two options: Lysistrata Jones or Leap of Faith. Both are laughable — why nominate a fourth at all? — but Menken is on a hot streak, so why not take a Leap (or something…)? The stage adaptation of the Steve Martin film ups the feel-good antics a notch (or ten), mixes derivative pop-gospel with edgeless musical theatre rock, and pairs it with banal lyrics. With this its only nomination, Leap of Faith’s chances here are non-existent (like you didn’t already know).
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, but quickly becomes overcomplicated with rusty mechanisms and overstuffed with with every song by the Gershwins that wasn’t already taken for Crazy for You. This musical throwback lacks the light bounciness and fluffy appeal that it requires.
The quiet, romantic Once should be whimsical and slim, but be here it’s jokey and overstuffed, clocking in at a ludicrous two-and-a-half-hours. Boasting a minutely sketched and interchangeable cast of characters, Cristin Milioti’s Girl suffers the most, offering one deadpan one-liner after another. Under John Tiffany’s direction and Steven Hoggett’s movement, the songs and story flow in one non-stop dreamy sequence, but as Backstage‘s Erik Haagensen hilariously puts it: “Once is the Ghost for would-be hipsters.” It’s not art, but it sure is trendy to think it is.
When you get right down to it, there’s nothing really wrong with the loving and largely faithful stage adaptation of Newsies. You either like a good ol’ fashioned Disney stage musical or you don’t, and this is the Mouse House’s glorious return to its play-by-the-numbers family-friendly form. The sing-a-long score is still intact, there’s lots of energetic dancing by a stellar ensemble, and the show is finally focused on the one newsboy we really care about (hello, Jeremy Jordan!). What’s not to enjoy?
History dictates that Best Musical goes to the big crowd-pleaser that’s easiest to put up on the road. Well, Newsies is the family-friendly favorite, but Once is the one with the touring plans, so what to think? There’s a very good chance that Once might be the exception and beat the odds here, but it’s always best to stick with your gut, and mine says Newsies is gonna seize the day.