It's one of four nominations for "Nine," the Rob Marshall-directed film inspired by the 1982 Broadway musical (itself based on "8 ½," a film by Federico Fellini), and Yeston said he's feeling in a very unusual way — he's walking on air. And why not? There were some 90 eligible songs vying for the five spots in the category.
His competition in the category (Music – Original Song) is two songs by Randy Newman ("Almost There" and "Down in New Orleans") from "The Princess and the Frog"; a number from "Crazy Heart" ("The Weary Kind" by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett); and "Loin de Paname" from "Paris 36" (music by Reinhardt Wagner, lyric by Frank Thomas).
Yeston told Playbill.com on Feb. 2, "My first reaction was that it's really an honor to have my work be singled out for distinction alongside the other terrific songs and the other terrific writers who were nominated this year. I think that, in itself, is a great award.
"I admire Randy Newman so much, I think T Bone is such a wonderful writer and wrote such a great song. But I think that's always been my experience: In my Tony experience, to have been nominated my first time [in 1982, for Nine] alongside Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber; my third time [for Titanic in 1997] to be nominated alongside Kander and Ebb and Cy Coleman! These are giants of musical theatre. Similarly, Randy Newman is a treasure. I've followed his work since his first album."
"Take It All" does not exist in the Broadway version of Nine, and replaces a related number called "Be On Your Own," in which Luisa, the wife of a selfish film director, Guido, pushes him away. Yeston explained, "Unlike what might be a typical song in a movie, which is often written to play over the credits, 'Take It All' really is a turnaround moment, a dramatic-function song. It's a turning point in the film. It's a…character reversal that is inexpressible in a scene and has to be expressed in music and lyrics if this is going to be a musical.
"[It] satisfies the criterion of the Academy, which is: To what extent does the song organically connect and have relevance to the film? It's particularly gratifying to me as a theatre writer to have delivered…all of the things that we yearn to do as musical theatre writers: to musically dramatize a moment."
The song is a fantasy section in which film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) imagines Luisa (Marion Cotillard) exposed on a runway in a strip-tease number, with men lusting after her.
Instead of "Be On Your Own," Yeston said, director Rob Marshall "wanted to explore the possibility of something that could have a visual concept and a level of surrealism because we are inside the fantasy of Guido."
The song is a nightmare to Guido: "The nightmare is the humiliation of having his wife literally stripped bare and humiliated, which is what he has done to her. So the song has to have a double function of simultaneously restoring to Luisa Contini her self-worth and her independence, and devastating Guido."
Did Yeston know immediately that "Take It All" would be the "hook" of the song? "The conversation [with Marshall] literally was a 20-minute conversation in which he and [choreographer] John DeLuca said, 'Would you consider the possibility of doing this another way: that in the mind of Guido she would be on the runway and that it would be a strip, and that it would be very raw?' I immediately said, 'I think that's an interesting idea, and perhaps the title of it would be 'Take It All,' because that's really what he's doing.' Then I said, 'If that were the title, then clearly what she could say at the end is: And here's how you will know you will have taken it all, because they'll be nothing left of me.'"
(This also makes it a riff on the intent of the original "Be On Your Own," which ends with Luisa saying, "And you'll take with you all you own from A to Z, and all of me.")
Yeston, as a longtime moderator of the advanced BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, is always telling rising theatre songwriters to be open to alternatives, to be flexible about rewriting. Knowing that he was able to practice what he preaches some 30 years after the creation of Nine was "a very gratifying moment for me as a writer."
Read the PlayBlog item about Yeston's upcoming projects.
The movie musical "Nine," based on the Broadway production of the same name, garnered four Academy Award nominations: Best Supporting Actress for Penélope Cruz, Best Art Direction for John Myhre; Best Costume Design for Colleen Atwood; and Best Music (Original Song) for "Take It All" by Maury Yeston.
The Academy Awards will be presented March 7 at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center and will be televised live by ABC beginning at 8 PM (ET).