Elton John (music), Tim Rice (lyrics), for Aida
This opera-inspired new musical about the Egyptian prince and the Nubian slave (who is really a princess) is from the knighted songwriters who were previously nominated for their score of The Lion King. The John-Rice score ranges from tribal chant ("The Gods Love Nubia") to romantic ballad ("Elaborate Lives") to a saucy 1970s-style rock 'n' roll number (recalling "Crocodile Rock") that becomes a fashion show for the princess Amneris ("My Strongest Suit"). Rice may be best known as Andrew Lloyd Webber's collaborator on Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Shaun Davey (music) and Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey (lyrics), for James Joyce's The Dead
The songs in the intimate adaptation of the classic short story are presented, for the most part, as parlor tunes sung at an Irish Christmas party. Davey's strumming, strutting, lilting, reeling score has the feel of Ireland, and although some of the lyrics are new and original, other pieces are inspired by or adapted from the writing of Joyce and Thomas Moore and 18th- and 19th-century poems (and one anonymous music hall song from the 1800s). Nelson is the book writer and director of The Dead, and has penned such plays as Goodnight Children Everywhere, Some Americans Abroad and Two Shakespearean Actors. Davey is a newcomer to Broadway musicals.
Michael John LaChiusa (music and lyrics), for Marie Christine
Composer-lyricist LaChiusa has been saddled for years with the famous cover story in a now-defunct theatre mag that called him "The Next Sondheim," and the pressure has been unfair. For the sung-through Marie Christine, a break from his varied, sensual, character-rich Hello Again, he drew from many sources -- opera, jazz, blues -- to create a Medea-inspired tale of a Creole woman who broke family ties to love a man who had ambitions she was not invited to share in. The role was written for the singular talent of Audra McDonald, and during the limited engagement at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont theatregoers and arts writer debated anew the difference between opera and musical theatre.
Michael John LaChiusa (music and lyrics), for The Wild Party
LaChiusa is in competition with himself! You can imagine him on the aisle at the Tony Awards, hoping that Michael John LaChiusa doesn't get the Tony so that Michael John LaChiusa will get the Tony. He's also nominated for Best Book for both The Wild Party and Marie Christine, which, according to our count, is unheard of in a single Broadway season. The Wild Party is drawn from Joseph Moncure March's 1928 poem about a gin-soaked, sex-driven get-together hot with jazz and tension. The score is filled with "numbers," something LaChiusa has been accused of not writing (again, he stimulates that ol' opera-vs.-musicals debate). Tunes in the period-rich Wild Party score include "Queenie Was a Blonde," "Dry," "Gin," "Wild," "Breezin' Through Another Day," "When It Ends" and "Eddie & Mae."
Analysis: LaChiusa is expected to win for delivering genuinely muscular show tunes -- albeit dark, nasty and edgy -- in The Wild Party. A win for John and Rice would be something to see if only to hear what John has to say about the press and the Tony nominators who generally dismissed Aida. The show certainly brought a wide spotlight to Broadway (the Associated Press reported that John saw a preview of the show and called it, not surprisingly, wonderful). The richness and ambition of Marie Christine don't outweigh the fact that the show has closed. And although The Dead is rarefied, restrained and tasteful, its hodge-podge presentational score leaves some folks wondering just what the nature of the score is (and the show has also closed, although it has a special Los Angeles engagement this summer at the Ahmanson Theatre). -- By Kenneth Jones