A Class Act, the small-cast Broadway musical that has success, validation and the Tony Awards as major plot points, got five Tony Award nominations — including Best Musical — May 7.
Poignantly, composer-lyricist Edward Kleban was nominated posthumously in the category of Best Score. He previously won a Tony for writing lyrics to A Chorus Line, but the new biographical musical suggests he yearned for greater exposure and success as both a lyricist and composer. He finally gets that exposure and validation with a second Tony nomination.
The new musical at the Ambassador Theatre pays homage to late composer-lyricist Kleban, whose trunks songs are heard in the unique score. Marvin Hamlisch wrote music for A Chorus Line. "After Chorus Line nothing happened," sings the cast, playing friends and colleagues who look back on Kleban's life on the day of his memorial service. He died of cancer in 1987.
Kleban's other shows, such as Gallery, never materialized beyond readings and workshops. After he died, his friends, especially his partner Linda Kline, fought to keep his work alive.
The result was A Class Act, developed by Musical Theatre Works, nurtured by producer Marty Bell and premiered by Manhattan Theatre Club, which tells the fictionalized story of Kleban's life from college days until his death. Stand-alone songs and numbers Kleban wrote for various potential shows are used to tell the tale. The songs have not been heard on Broadway before, and were thus eligible for the nomination. Kline and co librettist Lonny Price (he also directed and stars) were nominated for Best Book of a Musical. Randy Graff, who plays lifelong pal Sophie (a fictional character inspired by a number of women in Kleban's life, including the real-life NPR radio anchor Susan Stamberg), was nominated for a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.
Larry Hochman was also nominated for Best Orchestrations.
The nominations, particularly the Best Musical nod, are good news for producers Bell, Chase Mishkin and Arielle Tepper, who have stuck with the show in lean weeks, when attendance hovered at 35 percent of capacity. Bell previously referred to himself and his co-producers as "bulldogs" who will stick with the show; a TV ad campaign began in recent weeks. The noms should boost both the profile and the box office of the show.
Plans were already afoot to move the show to Broadway back when the eight-actor tuner was playing at Off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club, in November and December 2000.
The company includes Lonny Price (playing Kleban), Nancy Anderson, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Donna Bullock, David Hibbard, Patrick Quinn, Sara Ramirez and Graff.
Graff's big musical moment comes in Act 2, when she sings a solo called "The Next Best Thing to Love," considered one of the score's strongest numbers. Observers pointed out before the noms were announced that her one solo number guaranteed her a nomination. Graff is a previous Tony Award winner for Best Featured Actress in City of Angels.
A Class Act began previews Feb. 14 (Kleban's favorite holiday) and official opening was March 11.