While Broadway audiences have embraced the juke-box musical form – think Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages, Million Dollar Quartet and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – which brings back the songs of yesteryear on a nightly basis, many theatre lovers have longed for a new Broadway melody.
The 2011 Tony Award nominations in the Best Musical category may signal that the original musical still takes the last bow. Not since 1997 has the category included four musicals with completely original scores, and theatre purists should be satisfied to see two veteran songwriters on both lists.
In 1997 the Tony nominees for Best Musical included the Cy Coleman-Ira Gasman musical The Life, about the seedy underside of New York City in the 1980's; Julie Taymor's puppet musical Juan Darien, with a score by Elliott Goldenthal; John Kander and Fred Ebb's Depression-era dance musical Steel Pier; and the sweeping Maury Yeston musical epic Titanic, which took home the top honor that year.
This year's nominees for Best Musical include the critical-favorite The Book of Mormon, with a score by "South Park" writers Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Avenue Q's Robert Lopez; the suavely scored Catch Me If You Can from Hairspray writers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman; Alan Menken and Glenn Slater's disco-propelled Sister Act; and Kander and his late writing partner Ebb, who first collaborated on Broadway in 1965, for their dark, racially-charged work The Scottsboro Boys.
With the exception of Catch Me If You Can, it should also be noted that each of the 2011 Best Musical nominees also went on to receive nominations for Best Original Score. The committee gave the fourth slot to David Yazbek's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. (Our list excludes the 2001 Ed Kleban musical A Class Act, which incorporated material from the songwriter's trunk; and 2005's Monty Python's Spamalot, which included several pre-existing songs from the Monty Python films.)