Mel Brooks, Music and Lyrics, The Producers
Fans of Mel Brooks' films always got a kick out of the way he injected songs into his pictures, goosing the comic proceedings to a higher level. "High Anxiety," "French Mistake," "The Inquisition," "I'm Tired" and "We're Men in Tights" are film favorites, but did anyone suspect he would create an entire Broadway score? "Springtime for Hitler" and "Prisoners of Love" from the movie, "The Producers," were the starting points for a big and colorful comic Broadway score that sounds both familiar and fresh — imagine Guys and Dolls as a vehicle for Zero Mostel and you get the picture. Brooks won a Drama Desk Award for his lyrics.
Paul Gordon, Music & Lyrics, John Caird, Additional Lyrics, Jane Eyre
The serious-minded score by pop writer Gordon (and co-lyricist Caird) has been in development for more than five years in various productions. Audiences who love Jane Eyre are entranced by the soaring melodies and alternately prosaic and lyrical sentiments, telling the 19th-century story of a plain governess and her mysterious boss.
Edward Kleban, Music and Lyrics, A Class Act
The most unique musical score of the season — or any recent season — is this one, cobbled together from trunk songs by the late Kleban, best known as the Tony Award-winning lyricist of A Chorus Line. Kleban wanted to be known as both a composer and lyricist, and his wish comes true with the new musical that tells the fictionalized story of his life. A cast album further preserves the work, which includes honest ballads and uptempo show tunes from a master craftsman. He died in 1987. "The Next Best Thing to Love," "Say Something Funny" and "Self Portrait" are the score's emotional standouts, but "Better" is the signature show tune of the piece.
David Yazbek, Music and Lyrics, The Full Monty
Rock 'n' roller Yazbek said he wanted to write a score that was funny and honest and entertaining, likes shows he knew as a kid. This is his commercial musical debut and his Broadway debut, penning contemporary sounding songs for a bunch of out of work steel workers who decide to strip for money. Critics embraced his score and his quirky lyrics, including the daffy "Big Ass Rock," a comedy song about suicide. Yazbek won a Drama Desk Award for his music, which displays an urban muscularity right for the tone of the show.
Analysis: Purists shudder at the false rhymes or anachronisms of the lyrics by Brooks (who uses the modern term "freaking out" in "Springtime for Hitler"), Gordon (who rhymes "pictures" and "mixtures") and Yazbek (who playfully bends the language, as Gershwin did, but also misrhymes). This points to Kleban as the Keeper of the Craft, lyrically, and perhaps the most deserving of the award. His fetching melodies work in his favor, too, but ultimately the voters may wish to encourage a living writer. Gordon's work has unfairly been dismissed as part of a pop-opera wash, so Yazbek and Brooks are the true contenders here, with Yazbek slightly favored for being a new kid whose pop-but-traditional-sounding score was cheered by critics early in the season. — By Kenneth Jones