This is how I started my morning on Tuesday: sitting on the couch sipping a mug of tea and refreshing the live Tony nomination updates. I sent this text about thirty seconds after Joe Iconis was nominated for Best Score, because my friend Roberto and I have had a joint Be More Chill obsession for nearly a full year now. In fact, we recorded a podcast about it…
Yikes. I usually love being right but not this time. I’ll dive more into the distress of Be More Chill’s snubs (featuring more texts with Roberto—you know, once he gets out of his final), but let’s cover some more cheerful topics first. As you may expect, I will be talking exclusively about the musicals, not plays.
This is the year of Hadestown. This adaptation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth snagged 14 nominations, close to the all-time record of 16 (a coup that has only been achieved by Hamilton, due to almost every major cast member getting nominated). Only two other shows (Producers and Billy Elliot) have gotten 15 nominations, so the incredibly impressive 14 puts Hadestown in elite company. They were nominated in every single category except for Lead Actor. All I can say to that is… sorry, Reeve Carney. But a huge congratulations to what is by all accounts a phenomenal and creative show. I can’t wait to scream with joy at my TV when the extraordinary people who worked on Hadestown win their deserved Tonys.
Interestingly, Hadestown is also a show that received a fervent fan base from an early cast recording—this one a live concert of the Off-Broadway workshop in 2017. If you don’t know why I said “also” in that sentence, we will get to Be More Chill LATER.
The “Best (new) Musical” category is always interesting because the only qualification is that it has not been staged on Broadway before. Adapted from a book, a movie, a tv show? Still counts. Transfer from London? Still counts. Jukebox musical with no new music? Still counts. That leads to some hilarious “Best Musical” nominations, like last year when all four nominations were adapted from existing movies or television shows. But musicals are such a singular medium that adapting a movie into a musical, or writing an original script to fit existing music, can be incredibly creative and original in itself. Therefore, the ranking no one asked for: Quinn Rose’s Scale of Musical Theater Originality, Featuring Every Show That Qualified For The “Best Musical” Category This Year. (star indicates that they were nominated)
1: Purely Original
The plot and music of this musical did not exist in any previous form.
Gettin’ the Band Back Together
2. Original Adaptation
This category is for shows that are adapted from existing material, but that material had little to no box office push. It’s not a popular Disney movie, it’s something very few people know OR it’s material that’s so old it doesn’t have mainstream pop culture draw.
Be More Chill
*Tootsie (this could certainly be put in category 3 as well, but I put it here for now because I didn’t know Tootsie before the musical—I think its mainstream appeal faded years ago)
3. Mainstream Adaptations
Adaptations of popular pieces of pop culture, the title on the marquee will ring a bell with the general public.
4. Jukebox Musicals
This is not to say that all jukebox musicals are the same level of original, because some certainly have much more work put into creative plots and reimagined arrangements, but that analysis is so individual that I just need one category for all.
Head Over Heels
The Cher Show
*Ain’t Too Proud
Diversity & Representation
Hadestown is only the second show in Broadway history to have an all-female creative team: Anaïs Mitchell as score and book writer and Rachel Chavkin as director. The first was Waitress in 2016. Chavkin is the only woman nominated for best director of a musical. She was also the only woman who directed a musical on Broadway this year. Mitchell is one of only two women nominated in the writing categories—Dominique Morisseau is also nominated for writing the book for Ain’t Too Proud. Again, they were the only women who wrote book or score for any musicals this year. Morisseau is also the only person of color in any of those categories, and thus the only person nominated.
Diversity on Broadway is fine, y’all. Definitely no issues to examine here.
These numbers are not an anomaly, they are the norm. It somehow feels especially egregious this year because of the number of shows that pull from pretty gross source material and market themselves as “feminist” reimaginings… while having an all-white, all-male creative team. Tootsie and Pretty Woman are the standouts in that particular category, but I don’t recall the King Kong movie being a feminist masterpiece either. I haven’t seen Pretty Woman or King Kong so I can’t comment on their transformations, but I have not heard great things. I did see Tootsie in Chicago, and while it was delightful in many ways, I would not describe it as a feminist achievement.
It’s a shame, because there were some great shows this year for onstage representation. Hadestown and Ain’t Too Proud are obvious entries here, but there’s also shows like Oklahoma! with its reimagined race dynamics—and my eternal love for Ali Stroker, who just became the first wheelchair user to be nominated for a Tony. The Prom is one of the few shows in Broadway history to center a lesbian couple (much of the show is more about the Broadway performers than the couple in question, but I’m going to give it to them). Be More Chill and Head Over Heels have exciting representation in race and gender… and were almost 100% ignored by the Tony nominations. Oops. We’re almost to that conversation, but first:
A Special Note on Jeremy Pope
Jeremy Pope originated two different roles on Broadway this year, a serious accomplishment in itself, and was nominated for both roles—best featured actor in a musical for Ain’t Too Proud and best lead actor in a play for Choir Boy. He’s only the sixth person to be nominated in two performance categories ever, and if all of that wasn’t impressive enough, Choir Boy was his Broadway debut. I’m not saying Pope is going to become a Broadway superstar… actually yes, I am saying that.
Alright, Now We’re Talking About Be More Chill
For those unfamiliar with the show, Be More Chill is unusual because it got to Broadway through a young, online fanbase. After a New Jersey run in 2015, the show died and was never expected to be revived. Then years later, the musical theater teens of the internet found the cast recording and became completely obsessed with it. Their passion for the show drove it to Off-Broadway and then a Broadway premiere in March. It’s a strange science-fiction musical about teenagers, featuring a creative score imbued with electronic music. It received exactly one Tony nomination, best score for Joe Iconis.
Let me start by saying that I personally think the score is best part of Be More Chill, so if there was only nomination for them, I’m glad it was for score. That said, I will go to my grave convinced that George Salazar deserved a Best Featured Actor nomination. He does not have a panic attack in a bathroom eight times a week for this kind of disrespect!
So if Be More Chill had so much buzz and opened in the spring awards season, why was it so overlooked? There are two options here: one, it didn’t deserve any nominations. Two, the Tony nominating committee is full of old dudes who don’t appreciate art aimed at younger audiences.
I think it’s a mix of both… kind of. I haven’t seen it in person (although I have tickets for July!) so I can’t comment on if it deserved any of the production categories, but I can see how some of the book and acting can be considered awkward and over the top.
Counterpoint: that is, in fact, the point. Be More Chill is an awkward show. It’s over the top. It’s a bit cringey. So are teenagers. It was created for people going through puberty, not people dining at Michelin starred restaurants. There’s a difference between being cringey and out of touch and being cringey because you are completely in touch, and the young people this show is aimed at absolutely love it. They love the music, they love the characters, they love the actors playing those characters, they can quote the show by heart and create music and memes to share their love with others.
I don’t think Be More Chill is “objectively” worse than the shows that were nominated. I think it’s worse at achieving what the Tony nominating committee is looking for. Does that matter? Maybe. Awards can significantly impact the longevity of a show. Maybe not. It already has a strong and dedicated fan base, which hopefully will be enough to propel it to a long Broadway career anyway.
No matter what happens with Be More Chill, no matter what happens to all the nominated shows on June 9, my sincerest congratulations to everyone that was nominated. I’ll leave you with two thoughts: musicals are incredible and I love them so much, and young people are amazing and I believe in them over everything else.