Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (part 1)

The Tony awards, originally scheduled for June 7, are delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 crisis. You can still check the potential nominees for Best Musical and Best Play (original and revival) at tonyawards.com.

YouTuber Katherine Steele created a March Madness-style Broadway musical tournament titled Which Broadway Show is the Best?, which I recommend watching. Fair warning that Katherine’s energy will make you feel lethargic by comparison. I decided to create my own tournament to determine my pick for the best musical of the 2010’s decade. I will be presenting this tournament over four posts, with each post featuring four pairings. For those who prefer a verbal run down of my choices, I created a video. Check out the video here.

The Methodology

I started by including the Best Musical winner from each year from 2010-2019. Unfortunately, a glowing omission exists because I have not yet seen Hadestown, so the 2019 Best Musial winner is not in the tournament. However, the other nine Tony winners from the decade are included along with seven wildcards–my seven favorite nominees that did not win Best Musical in their respective years.

The Bracket

Consider playing at home before reading my pics. The first-round pairings are based on a commonality between the two shows. If you have not seen one of the musicals, you can give its competitor a bye for the round. Also, I included links to each show’s performance at its respective Tony Awards ceremony, so you can see a small piece of each for yourself.

Pairing 1: Set in High School

Dear Evan Hanson vs. The Prom

Ben Platt; Caitlin Kinnunen & Brooks Ashmanskas

Of the shows on this list, The Prom (2019) is the musical comedy that made me laugh the most (more so than even Book of Mormon). Four down-on-their-luck Broadway actors attempt to regain relevance by traveling to a rural Indiana town to create publicity regarding a Lesbian teen being told she can not attend the Prom with girlfriend. The result is a classic “Don’t help me” scenario that also tastefully addresses the central social issue. I will be watching the Netflix movie version starring Meryl Streep, James Corden and Nicole Kidman on the night it premiers (slated for this fall). However, Dear Evan Hanson (2017) reaches a new pinnacle for expressing the modern teenage mindset. The song “Waving Through a Window” is an ode to the fear of not existing in an era consumed by social media.

Advancing: Dear Evan Hanson

Pairing 2: The Comedies

The Book of Mormon vs. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

Andrew Rannells; Lisa O’Hare, Bryce Pinkham & Lauren Worsham

How memorable are the songs in The Book of Mormon (2011)? I will never again meet someone named Arnold without the song “Making Things Up Again” running through my head. I now think of Joseph Smith as the “All-American Prophet.” And, thanks to “I Believe,” I have learned that the year I was born happened to be the year that “God changed his mind about black people.” A Gentleman’s Guide… (2014) also has its funny moments. Lord Montague D’Ysquith Navarro, realizing that he is the ninth heir to the Earldom of Highurst, takes out the other eight heirs on his path to inherited fortune. The highlight of the Broadway production was Jefferson Mays performing one ridiculous D’Ysquith after another on their path to death. The low point was the music. The writers decided that upper-crust Brits must always sign in piercing falsettos to the point that A Gentleman Guide… is easily the most tedious viewing experience in this tournament.

Advancing: The Book of Mormon

Pairing 3: Distance History

Hamilton vs. Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Lin-Manuel Miranda; John Grobin and cast

Natasha, Pierre… (2017) and their comet received 12 well-deserved Tony nominations in 2017 (the best Broadway season of the decade). The show ran for nearly a year on Broadway despite having to compete for audiences against powerhouses like Hamilton, Dear Evan Hanson, and Come From Away. Not bad for an adaptation of a 70-page section from War and Peace focusing on a character having an existential crisis, but sadly this deeply moving musical by Dave Malloy has not seen a major production since closing on Broadway. The opulent “Prologue” and the rhythmic “Letters” are two highlights of the score. Natasha, Pierre… might deserve more love, but Hamilton (2016) is the theatrical phenomenon of a generation. With too many strengths to count, one of my favorite aspects of Hamilton is the evolving dichotomy between Hamilton who is “Not giving away my shot” and Burr who continues to “Wait for It.”

Advancing: Hamilton

Pairing 4: Human Connection

Once vs. The Band’s Visit

Steve Kazee and cast; Katrina Lenk & Tony Shalhoub

Neither Once (2012) nor The Band’s Visit (2018) is the ideal choice for someone looking for light entertainment. Both musicals are about heart-broken people yearning to find meaningful connections and struggling in the pursuit. Once, set in Ireland, explores the relationship between “Guy,” whose girlfriend has moved to America, and “Girl,” a Czech immigrant whose husband is still in her native country. The Band’s Visit, set in Israel, follows members of a the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra marooned for the night in the painfully uneventful desert town of Bet Hatikva. Both musicals are extraordinary and Once takes an early lead based on its powerful anthem “Falling Slowly” and the choreography performed while the actors sing and play their instruments. Yet, The Band’s Visit counters midway with Dina’s haunting memoir song “Omar Serif” and ends with the more enduring glimmer of hope when the entire cast joins Telephone Guy in “Answer Me.”

Advancing: The Band’s Visit (by a slim margin)

I hope you enjoyed the first four pairings. Check back soon for the remainder of round 1. Here are the pairings.

  • Memphis vs. Million Dollar Quartet (Rock and Roll History)
  • Matilda the Musical vs. Fun Home (Children Take the Lead)
  • Kinky Boots vs. Shuffle Along (Bill Porter)
  • An American in Paris vs. Come From Away (The Aftermath of War)

Is you agree or disagree with any of my choices, please weigh in with a post.

Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (part 1)

4 thoughts on “Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (part 1)

  1. Bravo! So interesting to hear your take on these shows. So far, the only one I don’t agree with in The Band’s Visit over Once. That being said, I did not have the good fortune to see The Band’s Visit on Broadway which should not make a difference but, I think, probably did in this case. I will say the I absolutely loved the The Great Comet, but I must agree that Hamilton has become a theatrical phenomenon and deserves the winner slot.

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  2. My favorite shows in that decade are Dear Evan Hansen, Kinky Boots, Book of Mormon, and the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening. I could not possibly pit any of them against the others. They are all unique. Of all of them, Dear Evan Hansen had the most impact on me.

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    1. I agree about Dear Evan Hansen. What really stood out to me was the the ending. About 30 minutes to the end, I remember thinking, “They will never be able to tie up this complicated plot,” but the flashforward helped communicate that important idea that we all grow… particularly after we leave high school.

      I really wish I had seen the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening — I saw the original production on Broadway, and then I saw a local production in Chicago that was not as strong.

      Thank you for reading and for posting a comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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