Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2013 Tony Awards Predictions: 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

Matilda-The-Musical-005

1. MATILDA THE MUSICAL
Dennis Kelly

2. KINKY BOOTS
Harvey FIerstein

3. RODGERS + HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA
Douglas Carter Beane

A CHRISTMAS STORY THE MUSICAL
Joseph Robinette


I suppose there’s a chance Joseph Robinette could take this home for A Christmas Story — I wouldn’t really know since I didn’t see the show — but I doubt it. Folks seemed to like it as an earnest bit of fun holiday fare, not because there was anything particularly remarkable about it.

That leaves three. And you know the competition is slim when two of the remaining nominees boast books that were overwhelmingly criticized as the weakest links in their respective shows.

Cinderella marks playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s fourth nomination, no wins, and if he keeps overstuffing his shows with irrelevant jokes, he’s not going to win one anytime soon. He’s amped up Oscar Hammerstein II’s book for Cinderella with his signature hammy style, and the result is a lot of (mostly cheap) laughs, but also a musical that’s tone is as bumpy as as a pumpkin-coach ride at midnight. Snark isn’t part of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s vocabulary, of course, so the musical duo’s sincere and gorgeously retro score is at odds with Beane’s contemporary gags. He’s a funny guy, but he’s trying too hard, which means a lot of forced jokes and redundant plotting. We have two balls, when we need just one, and there’s an entirely superfluous politically progressive subplot (something generic about government stealing from the poor, etc. etc.) that’s unrelenting. It’s not that injecting politics into R&H is unheard of, it’s that it simply doesn’t work in this incarnation. He has absolutely no shot at this award.

Harvey Fierstein fares a bit better, but not much. Kinky Boots is predictable and riddled with clichés, though it’s largely faithful to the 2005 film it’s based on. The real problem is not that the setup is sugar-sweet, but that there’s absolutely no conflict except when Fierstein bafflingly creates one out of thin air, muddling up Charlie’s (Stark Sands) character mid-act II, when suddenly he’s a bigoted asshole for no real reason (but only for about the length of a song, whew!). There’s also that incessant father-son issue that rears its ugly, unnecessary head every so often, as well as a love triangle between Charlie, his shallow fiancé and the factory worker (Annaleigh Ashford) he tries to fire, but ends up falling for instead. It’s kind of a mess, but you don’t really notice because of all the fabulous drag queens parading on and off stage in six-inch heels.

And so that leaves us with Matilda. Bookwriter Dennis Kelly remains faithful to Roald Dahl’s  original, perfectly capturing the author’s dark, adult-like tone while cheekily adapting many of the book’s most memorably sadistic moments: little Bruce is forced to eat an entire chocolate cake; a little girl is swung ’round and ’round by her pigtails into the orchestra. There are problems, though: Matilda is largely introverted, and her big moment of self-realization doesn’t come until the show’s nearly over. There’s also a narrative-within-a-narrative that isn’t necessary. But the cast of characters is so vividly and gleefully drawn, and the source material so rich, that all the flaws just seem nitpicky — especially when compared to those of Matilda‘s competitors here. Expect first-time nominee Kelly to  be a first-time winner.

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