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.
Only a category since 1997, Best Orchestrations is a bit of a sticky wicket for me, much like that pesky Sound Design. But I shall do my best, which essentially means I’m going to offer you my most educated wild guess.
This is Chris Nightingale’s first Tony nomination. His previous work includes Ghost: The Musical (for which we shall not judge him), and Lord of the Rings Musical (which I managed to sleep through despite copious amounts of pyrotechnics and for which Nightingale should also not be judged here. Let us also remember that Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman wrote the score, so no one is immune from poor decision-making). His orchestrations for Matilda The Musical are rather inspired, pairing robust jubilance with dark undercurrents that captures the complexity of Roald Dahl’s perception of children as mini-adults with big dreams and deep sorrows. Just listen to “When I Grow Up” for the best example of this sweet-sad sound, and it’ll be no wonder that he’s the frontrunner here.
Stephen Oremus’s first concert, when he was 13, was Cyndi Lauper’s “She’s So Unusual” tour, so it’s only fitting that years later, he’s nominated for his work on her first musical theatre effort, Kinky Boots. His job was to blow up the vocal lines into poptastic harmonies in addition to creating all the incidental music linking the scenes together, and the result is pure Lauper with all its bouncy, catchy sounds, and with added flairs of funk and tango. Oremus earned a Tony just two years ago for The Book of Mormon, so while his work here is solid, it’s doubtful he’ll add another gold guy to his mantle so soon.
I have a hard time believing anyone would vote for Motown The Musical here, though Ethan Popp (Rock of Ages) and Bryan Crook’s arrangements of Motown’s finest are brassy and explosive (or maybe that’s just Peter Hylenski’s overpowering sound design — we’ll get to that). They seem to think they were arranging a pop album and not a theatrical performance; nearly every song weirdly fades out and into the next one, with no button to land it home (just one sloppy aspect in an altogether sloppily constructed musical).
While this award is unlikely to go to anyone but Nightingale, if voters remember one thing from Cinderella while marking their ballots (besides Laura Osnes’s sweetly sung performance), it’ll be Danny Troob’s shimmering, gorgeous orchestrations. They can’t reward Rodgers & Hammerstein for their classic score — though many will want to — so there’s a decent chance this statuette will be bestowed upon Troob, who has been nominated thrice before (Newsies, Shrek, The Pajama Game), but has yet to win.