Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2014 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

a_gentlemens_guide_to_love_and_murder

1. A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER
Robert L. Freedman

2. BEAUTIFUL — THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL
Douglas McGrath

3. BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
Woody Allen

ALADDIN*
Chad Beguelin

It’s important to note that there were only two completely original musicals (ie. non-adaptations) this season, and they were shut out of this category: If/Then and First Date. That’s not to say that they deserve Tony Awards, mind you, but that does speak to the category — and current state of musical theatre — as a whole.

Woody Allen, on the other hand, has adapted his own 1994 film about art and commerce in the form of gangsters on the Rialto, so clearly he deserves his first Tony nomination for that. The musical Bullets Over Broadway (it hasn’t an original score) is the silliest of shtick: eye-rolling puns, goofy visual gags, and more stock characters than you can shake a stick at. I’ve never seen the film, but one assumes it operates in much the same way: If you like leggy chorines and slapstick, this is your type of show. But Allen doesn’t have much of a chance here.

Constructed around the back catalog of Carole King, Beautiful — The Carole King Musical, gives cursory attention to character development in between all the #1 hits. The dialogue can be funny, if a bit sitcom-y, and King’s journey to stardom is always pleasing, though sanitized and rather cliché. But Douglas McGrath’s (the screenwriter of Bullets Over Broadway, interestingly enough) sketching of King’s struggle with domestic duty versus artistic fulfillment lacks any kind of real dramatic conflict, and if the show is completely enjoyable — it is — it’s because of Jessie Mueller‘s über-engaging presence and those songs we all love so much.

That leaves us with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Robert L. Freedman’s adaptation of Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal (which was also adapted into the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets starring Alec Guinness) takes inspiration from a myriad of theatrical and comedic sources, including Monty Python, Sweeney Todd, P.G. Wodehouse, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Oscar Wilde. Gentleman’s Guide follows Monty Navarro, a disinherited relative of the super-wealthy and powerful D’Ysquith family, as he, after learning he’s ninth in line to inherit the earldom, sets out to secure his financial future by, well, eliminating those familial obstacles. The result is a book chockfull of over-the-top antics, both of the low and high brow variety. But the result is a choppy one: The jokes, visual and aural, aren’t always as funny as the writer wishes them to be (but it seems I’m in the minority on this one). Nevertheless, first-time nominee Freedman juggles dozens of characters and plot lines, and does a nice job of weaving them together into a likable product. He’s pretty much the guaranteed winner here.

 

*A conflict of interest — I won’t be remarking specifically on any of Aladdin’s nominations. Chad Beguelin, however, is the only nominee with previous nominations (for The Wedding Singer).

 

 

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