How Can You Have a Best Musical Without a Best Score?

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11 Jun 2014

Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale
Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale
Photo by Joan Marcus

A musical score is at the heart of what separates a Broadway musical from a Broadway play—or so it would seem.

How, then, is it possible for one show to win Best Score, as The Bridges of Madison County did June 8, but not be named Best Musical—an award that went to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder?

In this year’s case, voters didn’t have a chance to give Best Musical to Bridges, as it was not nominated in that category, a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence for a Best Score winner. A similar situation happened in 2000, when the Elton John musical Aida won for Best Score, but was not nominated for Best Musical. The top honor went to Contact, a dance musical that used a pre-recorded score of existing musical material. 

Nominators obviously felt that Jason Robert Brown’s score was of special quality, whereas the show as a whole apparently fell short, especially given the competition. The voters as a whole agreed with the exceptional quality of the Bridges score, but felt the sum of the Gentleman’s Guide quality, including its Tony-winning Best Book of a Musical, was greater than its parts and put it on top.

Brown, who also won this year’s Tony Award for Best Orchestrations, must have felt déjà vu about the 2014 awards. Back in 1999 his musical Parade also won Best Score, only to lose Best Musical to another show, Fosse. That loss may have been even tougher, since Parade also won Best Book.

Sometimes the separation of the categories makes sense. Contact won Best Musical in 2000 despite having no real book and a score of mainly old standards. Critics at the time carped that a show with no book and no original score didn’t deserve to be called Best Musical. But the majority of Tony voters disagreed.

In 1978 another revue of old songs, Ain’t Misbehavin’, also won Best musical while On the 20th Century took Best Book and Best Score.

However, sometimes it’s just a matter of voters feeling that one show may have the best book and score, but one of its competitors put on a better or in some way uniquely special show overall. Two of the most eyebrow-raising examples were 1998 when Ragtime won Best Book and Best Score, while the visually arresting The Lion King took the Best Musical crown. Proving it can happen to the best of us, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods earned them Best Score and Best Book, respectively, but Best Musical went to the epic (and still-running) The Phantom of the Opera.

Click to the next page for a year-by-year survey of the distribution of these three important Tony Awards since 1976:


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