The Tony nominations are in – and by the looks of it, it was a boy’s life on and off Broadway this past year. The raucous musical “The Book of Mormon” – co-written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the duo behind TV’s raunchy “South Park” – led the pack with 14 nods, followed by “The Scottsboro Boys,” with 12, despite having closed early in the season.
“War Horse,” a British import about a boy and his pony, scored a special recognition for its eye-popping use of puppetry in bringing the lead equine character to life.
But despite the glaring deficit of women, particularly in the writing category, the nominations reveal heartening trends, especially in the musical theater realm, says Robert Meffe, director of the BFA musical theater program at Pace University.
For one, they've gone native.
In the musical categories, especially for best musical, Professor Meffe sees a new and exciting trend in that the four new musicals were written by established American musical theater composers. Each of these composers has won Tony Awards for their previous shows, he points out via email.
“This was commonplace in the 1950's and 1960's during the age of Rodgers & Hammerstein, but it has mostly been supplanted in the 1980's by British productions (like the Andrew Lloyd Webber behemoths) and then more recently, by composers taking their first crack at Broadway shows," he says, pointing to “In the Heights,” and “Avenue Q.” He notes that while the favored winner (“The Book of Mormon”) is partially written by the South Park crew of TV fame, Robert "Bobby" Lopez, composer of "Avenue Q," is their third co-writer. The very short list of revivals – only two, this year – is a sharp departure from the conventional wisdom that audiences only support what they know, notes Meffe.
Musical theater will always have to argue for its relevance, Meffe says, but Fox’s “Glee” and Disney’s “High School Musical” have brought a new high point of popularity. The audience for musical theater is younger than it has been in decades, he adds, and the box office bears that out: gross revenues have broken records in most of the previous eight seasons. Furthermore, musical theater college programs have witnessed a sharp increase in demand and enrollment in over the past few years, he says.
“This spring at Pace we auditioned over 300 people for the 25 open slots in our class of 2015," says Meffe. "This is in a program that started out eight years ago with six students.”