HERE'S WHAT'S NEW:

"I want any kid who is watching to know that your biggest may turn into your purpose."

- Ari'el Stachel, Best Featured Actor in a Musical - The Band's Visit

"Just because you are a minority doesn't mean you're only meant to play roles that are a minority."

-Lindsay Mendez, Best Featured Actress in a Musical - Carousel


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Monday, April 16, 2018

Where Do Best Musicals Come From?

As we inch ever closer to the end of another Broadway awards eligibility season, I thought it might be interesting to look at the ultimate winners of the last 20 years. What were their primary sources?  What was their path to the Great White Way? How might these trends bode for the 7 potential "Best Musical"s from this season? Let's take a look.

By "primary source," I mean the most significant place the idea came from. As an example, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera draws from the original novel by Gaston Leroux. There are, of course, many film versions of this story, but the primary source of the 1988 Best Musical is a book. As far as "path to Broadway," the categories are more self-explanatory, though I distinguish between "regional theatre" and "out-of-town."  The former generally means venues that the Tony Awards may honor (and in many cases below, has honored) with a Regional Theater Award; the latter refers to commercial venues, aka touring houses, that often host "pre-Broadway engagements."  The sub-genre/sub-source of "jukebox musical" is based on the broad definition of shows whose score was not deemed eligible for a Tony Award, whether it is a score made up of a catalogue of songs (Jersey Boys) or a majority of songs from a pre-existing score (Once).

Best Musical 2015: Fun Home
Based on a book, off-Broadway tryout
Here are the Tony Award-winning best musicals from the last 20 seasons, their primary source, and the way they got to Broadway.

WHERE DID THE BEST MUSICALS OF THE LAST 20 YEARS COME FROM?
SHOW
SEASON
PRIMARY
SOURCE
BROADWAY
OFF-BROADWAY
REGIONAL
THEATRE
OUT-OF-TOWN
LONDON
Dear Evan Hansen
2016-2017
Original

X
X


Hamilton
2015-2016
Book

X



Fun Home
2014-2015
Book

X



A Gentleman’s Guide…
2013-2014
Book



X


Kinky Boots
2012-2013
Film



X

Once
2011-2012
Film^^

X
X


The Book of Mormon
2010-2011
Original
X




Memphis
2009-2010
Biographical


X
X

Billy Elliot
2008-2009
Film




X
In the Heights
2007-2008
Original

X
X


Spring Awakening
2006-2007
Play

X



Jersey Boys
2005-2006
Biographical^^


X


Spamalot
2004-2005
Film



X

Avenue Q
2003-2004
Original

X



Hairspray
2002-2003
Film



X

Thoroughly Modern Millie
2001-2002
Film


X


The Producers
2000-2001
Film



X

Contact
1999-2000
Original^^

X



Fosse
1998-1999
Revue^^



X

The Lion King
1997-1998
Film



X

TOTALS

5 Original
3 Book
1 Play
8 Film
2
Biographical
1 Revue
1
4.16%
8
33.34%
7
29.17%

7
29.17%
1
4.16%
40% - Film; 25% - Original; 20% - Book/Play; 10% - Biographical; 5% - Revue
^^ - 15% - “Jukebox”

Well, we all know that the winner of the Best Musical prize doesn't mean the best musical won. We also know that a big win on Tony night doesn't automatically translate to a financial boon and decade long runs. But, it is interesting to look at long term trends.

Best Musical 2006: Jersey Boys
Biographical, jukebox, regional tryout
I know a lot of people lament the steady stream movies-to-musicals, but there is definitely something to producing them, beyond the "obvious cash grab" I often hear talk of. Not that that isn't at least partially true, either. For every The Lion King, there's a Groundhog Day.  Jukebox musicals clearly aren't the easy path to award recognition, and neither are shows based on famous people.  For every Jersey Boys, there's an On Your Feet! Even given the economics of riskier projects, I'm surprised more musicals based on books and plays aren't being produced. Three years in a row, a property based on a book took home the Tony. And we can't forget that the top 5 (soon to be 6) longest-running shows off all time are based on books or plays.

Best Musical 2011: The Book of Mormon
Bucking the trend: original story, cold open
Given the high stakes of opening a new show on Broadway, not to mention the even more immediate, intense glare of social media, I guess it's not surprising that more musicals don't open cold; only one Best Musical winner has done that in the past 20 years, and history has shown that The Book of Mormon, a risk from the start, was a huge gamble that really paid off.  Of course, these days, for the same reasons as above, the out-of-town tryout certainly doesn't offer the buffer it used to.  But it still clearly pays off - nearly 60 percent of the 20 shows had such productions. London imports have sure slowed down from their heyday in the 80's.  Only Billy Elliot came in first from across the pond (though I think Matilda should be on this list), and other London imports have been pretty brutal flops. The Woman in White or Groundhog Day, anyone? Off-Broadway seems to offer both the economic and artistic freedom needed. A full 1/3 of these shows had off-Broadway runs.

Considering these trends, it's interesting to look at the seven (!) new musicals to have opened or will be opening this season:

WHERE DID THE NEW MUSICALS OF THE 2017 - 2018 COME FROM?
SHOW
SEASON
PRIMARY
SOURCE
BROADWAY
OFF-BROADWAY
REGIONAL
THEATRE
OUT-OF-TOWN
LONDON
Prince of Broadway
2017-2018
Revue^^



X

The Band’s Visit
2017-2018
Film

X



SpongeBob SquarePants
2017-2018
TV*



X

Escape to Margaritaville
2017-2018
Original^^


X
X

Disney’s Frozen
2017-2018
Film



X

Mean Girls
2017-2018
Film



X

Summer
2017-2018
Biographical^^


X


57.1% - Film; 14.3% - Original; 14.3% - Biographical; 14.3% - Revue
^^ -  42.9% - “Jukebox”
* - will count TV as a Film for statistical purposes

In microcosm, this season has shows that fit source type, with a high average of film-based and "jukebox" shows. At least this season, one of the original scores could really be a jukebox - every song in SpongeBob SquarePants is by a different songwriter!  Not surprisingly, there are no "open cold" or London imports.

Best Musical 2018: Escape to Margaritaville ???

Best Musical 2018: The Prince of Broadway ???
All analysis aside, the bottom line is that most of the time, the best show - the artistic ground-breakers, and/or the lavish crowd-pleaser wins.  And even if, on any given year, we lament that the "best musical" didn't win, in the long run, quality rules.

Given the 20-year trends, it looks like The Band's Visit will be the likely winner in 2018.  See? Sometimes the "best" musical of the season can be the Best Musical of the season. :-)

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