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.
Missing: Bring It On: The Musical, music by Tom Kitt & Lin-Manuel Miranda and lyrics by Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Though first-time musical composer Cyndi Lauper’s effort for Kinky Boots is more akin to a string of high-spirited dance songs and rather generic pop ballads — with the exception of the stellar, hilarious standout “The History of Wrong Guys” — than an integrated score, it is still more effective than that of Hands on a Hardbody.
With more embarrassing clichés than you can shake a stick at, Hands on a Hardbody, based on the 1997 documentary film about ten hard-luck Texans attempting to win a truck by keeping their hands on it the longest, quite rightly didn’t receive a nomination for Best Musical. While Phish-frontman Trey Anastasio crafted a nicely earnest country-rock-with-a-tinge-of-gospel score in what was by far the show’s best asset, Amanda Green’s hackneyed lyrics brought the whole enterprise down. Way down. The best example is a musical lament about how chain stores and restaurants have taken over the country, erasing any sense of community. The lyrics literally consist of a list of those chains — “Walmart’s, Walgreens, Wendy’s, Applebees, Starbucks, Stuckey’s, Best Buy” — repeated ad nauseam. My co-worker tortured me for days afterwards by singing that list over and over again. The fact that this show wasn’t panned based on that song alone baffles me. Sorry, Trey, but Amanda has ruined your shot at a Tony this time around.
If “Used to Be” epitomizes why Hands on a Hardbody has no shot at this award, the sweet-sad gem “When I Grow Up” embodies all the reasons why Matilda The Musical will take it home. Matilda opens with a winking take on the über-doting, overly-proud parents whose kids aggressively gush, “My mummy says I’m a miracle / One look at my face, and it’s plain to see /Ever since the day doc chopped the umbilical cord /It’s been clear there’s no peer for a miracle like me!” From there, Minchin’s lyrics expand and contract, with wordy witticisms piled high, one on top of another. The comedian-musician doesn’t pull any punches with his tongue-tying lyrics that are cleverly matched with jaunty, catchy tunes sporting dark Dahlian undercurrents. Of course, there are those who complain Minchin overstuffs his lyrics, making comprehension difficult, but this is far and away the most inventive and cheeky score of the season — if not the past few seasons. While the growing backlash to the British import may damage Matilda‘s chances in other categories, she’s no underdog here.
But if Matilda‘s musical naughtiness is too snarky and British for voters, they’ll likely look to A Christmas Story for a more traditionally appealing pop score. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the team behind last summer’s Off-Broadway Dogfight) provide a bright and buoyant, and very likable, score that nicely adapts all major plot points of the holiday classic film into suitable musical moments. (There is, indeed, a song titled “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”) I didn’t see the show out of a severe dislike for the film, but listening to the recording is rather delightful (if somewhat generic) — though perhaps for the wrong reason. The score unabashedly embraces sentiment rather than the original material’s overabundance of snark, resulting in a folksy charm that won over nearly all critics — both fans and detractors of the film alike. If A Christmas Story nabs the Tony, it’s more of a victory for tradition and nostalgia, rather than skillful innovation.