By Marc Snetiker
June 05, 2012 at 02:39 PM EDT
Joan Marcus

As we look ahead to the Tony Awards on Sunday, June 10, EW is taking a closer look at this season’s nominated selection of new musicals, plays, and revivals, all of which will be competing for Broadway’s highest honor! Today, we dive into this year’s nominees for Best Musical:

Joan Marcus
Newsies

Opened: March 29, 2012

Starring: Jeremy Jordan, Ben Fankhauser, Kara Lindsay, Andrew Keenan-Bolger

Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Jack Feldman; book by Harvey Fierstein; choreographed by Christopher Gattelli; directed by Jeff Calhoun

Synopsis: Disney’s latest outing is an adaptation of the 1992 film, which brings to full singing and dancing life the Newsboy Strike of 1899. The story follows a gang of paper-hawking ‘newsies’ — led by restless street vet Jack Kelly (Jordan) — as they launch a workers’ strike against newspaper bigwig Joseph Pulitzer.

EW’s Review: “Stop the presses! Disney has produced a winning, high-energy musical for family audiences that doesn’t include a single flying witch, talking animal, or dancing teacup. A– ” (Thom Geier)

Musical math: (Oliver!Annie) + (West Side Story – In the Heights)

Download this“Seize the Day”

Tony nominations: 8 — Best Musical; Best Book of a Musical (Harvey Fierstein); Best Original Score (Alan Menken and Jack Feldman); Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Jeremy Jordan); Best Scenic Design of a Musical (Tobin Ost and Sven Ortel); Best Choreography (Christopher Gattelli); Best Direction of a Musical (Jeff Calhoun); Best Orchestrations (Danny Troob)

Odds on winning: Disney has had its share of Broadways hits (The Lion KingBeauty and the Beast) and misses (Tarzan, The Little Mermaid), but Newsies stands to take home quite a haul at the Tonys. For Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical, the show (and lead charmer Jeremy Jordan) faces direct competition from Once, which is small in stature but large in threat. The surest bets are Menken, Feldman, Gattelli, and Fierstein, who should easily walk away with the Tonys for Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Book of a Musical.

Choreographer Christopher Gattelli on stunts that didn’t make it in: “The boys actually joked about it, because I did say to them, ‘Show me what you all can do physically.’ I was that age, I went through that process. I could do some of that stuff they can do, so I wanted to feature them. I wanted to show the audience how hard these boys are working, [that] this is what they can do, this is what lifts them to that next level. So one by one it was like, ‘Okay, let’s see what you can do.’ The boys called it Circus McGurkus, because it is. It’s almost like there are fireworks happening. There were a ton of stunts that we could have done, but I tried to be really mindful about what you can do eight times a week. I said, ‘I want you all on stage. I don’t want anyone injured.’ I don’t want anyone sidelined, because then I would feel horrible. And we did learn: At Paper Mill [Playhouse, the New Jersey theater where the show had a trial run last fall], we did some stuff that eventually, throughout the course of the run, they were like, ‘Oof.’ So we refined it, and it evolves.”

Jeremy Jordan on what he’d tell his younger self about his Tony nomination: “He would probably freak out. I mean, I don’t think he ever expected this. When I was 15, it was still just an inkling of a dream. I wasn’t a kid who dreamed about it since he was 5 years old. Oh, I was a computer nerd and I loved science and things like that, but I was always a singer. I got into acting a little bit later, but I always loved Newsies, so if I had said that I would be originating Newsies on Broadway, I would have been like, ‘Can I get in a time machine and go right now?’ I don’t think I could wait 10 years. What surprised me is that people didn’t think we were going to make it this far. I always knew, from the very first time I read it, I was like, this is going to be huge, it’s gonna be big. And maybe it’s just me being over-sentimental because I was in love with it as a kid, but everything that I’ve expected should happen because of this piece, because of the group that we have, has happened. I’d be surprised if we weren’t where we are.”

NEXT: Once

Once

Opened: March 18, 2012

Starring: Steve Kazee, Cristin Milioti

Music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova; book by Enda Walsh; movement by Steven Hoggett; directed by John Tiffany

SynopsisOnce brings the Oscar-winning 2006 film to the stage with the story of two lost musicians — one Irish, the other Czech — who meet and fall in love at a Dublin pub over the course of a few days.

EW’s Review: “Little has been altered from the show’s successful Off Broadway run, and the smaller charms don’t wither under the brighter spotlights. The cozy pub that acts as the sole set is still open for business during intermission, and the actors (all of whom play instruments) still kick off with an energetic preshow recital of Irish tunes. In all, it’s like getting beaten over the head with a bowling-ball bag full of whimsy. You may wince, but eventually you’ll succumb. ” (Keith Staskiewicz)

Musical math: Finian’s Rainbow + John Doyle’s CompanyPassion

Download this: “Gold (A Capella)”

Tony nominations: 11 — Best Musical; Best Book of a Musical (Enda Walsh); Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Steve Kazee); Best Leading Actress in a Musical (Cristin Milioti); Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Elizabeth A. Davis); Best Scenic Design of a Musical (Bob Crowley); Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Natasha Katz); Best Sound Design of a Musical (Clive Goodwin); Best Choreography (Steven Hoggett); Best Direction of a Musical (John Tiffany); Best Orchestrations (Martin Lowe)

Odds on winning: Leading the pack with the most nominations for a musical this year, Once will score at least a few Tonys — although it’s difficult to discern exactly what it will win. Steve Kazee brings incredible heart to the show and could be the show’s sole acting victor. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if Once wins in a category like Best Direction, Best Sound Design, or Best Orchestrations.

Cristin Milioti on the road to Broadway: “It’s been magical but it’s been a blur. I mean, this was this little gem that we performed in a bar in Boston a year ago. Just a year ago! In fact, the day the Tony nominations came out, a year ago that day, we were getting back on the bus from Boston to New York, [and we weren’t sure] what was going to happen with this. To love something so much, to be a part of something you love so much and to have other people react to it in the way they’ve reacted, it’s a dream come true. We hear [the audience’s reaction]. And the audience is the most important thing, and they’ve been loving it and they’ve been affected by it and it’s why we do what we do.”

Steve Kazee on other shows featuring actors who play their own instruments: “This is my own personal opinion, and I mean this with no disrespect to other shows, to Company or Sweeney Todd — I saw both of them and they’re actually two of my favorite Sondheim shows. My only feeling about actor-musician shows is, if it’s not a part of the story, it’s sometimes a little distracting. Why does an actor walk into a room playing a tuba? In our show, it’s organic. It’s a part. I often tell people, we’re not really a musical, we’re a play with songs in it, and the songs are because it’s a play about musicians. So it works. It’s honest and it’s real and I don’t think it’s distracting as much as it could be otherwise.”

NEXT: Nice Work If You Can Get It

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Opened: April 24, 2012

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Kelli O’Hara, Michael McGrath, Judy Kaye

Music by George Gershwin; lyrics by Ira Gershwin; book by Joe DiPietro; choreographed and directed by Kathleen Marshall

Synopsis: In the vein of the madcap, screwball comedies of the 1920s and 1940s, Kathleen Marshall and Joe DiPietro have created a Prohibition-era tale about a bootlegger (O’Hara) who hides her stash in the Long Island mansion of a goofy, wealthy playboy (Broderick), all set to the iconic music of George and Ira Gershwin.

EW’s Review: “The musical flits between delightful and exasperating on a second-by-second basis — boosted by terrific supporting players (especially Judy Kaye as a zealous teetotaler) and dragged down by Broderick, who waltzes alongside his costars with the good-natured boredom of a tipsy wedding guest. Luckily for him, the show has a built-in fail-safe: the Gershwin songbook, a portable fireworks kit of dazzlers guaranteed to charm just about anyone, theater fan or not. ” (Adam Markovitz)

Musical math: (The Drowsy Chaperone Girl Crazy) ÷ Thoroughly Modern Millie

Download this: “Delishious”

Tony nominations: 10 — Best Musical; Best Book of a Musical (Joe DiPietro); Best Leading Actress in a Musical (Kelli O’Hara); Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Michael McGrath); Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Judy Kaye); Best Costume Design of a Musical (Martin Pakledinaz); Best Sound Design of a Musical (Brian Ronan); Best Choreography (Kathleen Marshall); Best Direction of a Musical (Kathleen Marshall); Best Orchestrations (Bill Elliott)

Odds on winning: Nice Work boasts a whopping 10 nominations, but stage veteran Judy Kaye is the show’s best shot to win for her turn as a tipsy, chandelier-swingin’ prohibitionist.

Bookwriter Joe DiPietro on Nice Work‘s homage to classic musicals: “I say we give you old-school Broadway thrills. It’s got comedy, great music, a large orchestra, big stars, and this big old-fashioned screwball comedy. When Kathy Marshall and myself put it together, we wanted to do something that was an homage to old-school Broadway but still very contemporary and fresh, so that’s what Nice Work If You Can Get It is, and audiences are having a great time. People roar with laughter at the stage. As a writer, you always have these total neuroses like, “It’s not going to be funny!” Audiences roar with laughter at every show I’ve been — even Wednesday matinee audiences, which are notoriously known as quieter. But folks love it! It’s been really fun.”

Costume designer Martin Pakledinaz on his approach to the wardrobe: “Nice Work is actually classic. I’m not doing any new concept that hasn’t been seen before. It was refreshing to go back to the classic musicals. I love the music and I love the book, and I loved helping tell the story.”

NEXT: Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith

Opened: April 26, 2012

Closed: May 13, 2012

Starring: Raul Esparza

Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Glenn Slater; book by Janus Cercone and Warren Leight; choreographed by Sergio Trujillo; directed by Christopher Ashley

Synopsis: Based on the 1992 Steve Martin movie, the show centers on a traveling, swindling faith healer (Esparza) who brings his cash-sucking revival tent to a drought-ridden Kansas town, but complications arise when the “reverend” falls for the town’s sheriff.

EW’s Review: “Broadway producers, apparently having exhausted all the hit films that could be adapted into stage musicals, have now taken to raiding the studio vaults for clunkers. How else to explain the arrival of Leap of Faith, a musical based on a 1992 flop starring Steve Martin as a charlatan preacher who brings his cash-sucking revival tent to a depressed, drought-ridden Kansas town? … Composer Alan Menken, a veteran of spinning stage gold from cinematic straw (Little Shop of HorrorsNewsies), has written a rousing new score with frequent lyricist Glenn Slater… But there’s a second-hand quality to the show that’s hard to escape — and not because it’s based on a movie. B– ” (Thom Geier)

Musical math: 110 in the Shade The Music Man

Download this: “Leap of Faith”

Tony nominations: 1 — Best Musical

Odds on winning: Despite a triumphant score from composer Menken, the show doesn’t fare very well against crowd favorites Newsies and Once, which are widely thought to be the only frontrunners in the Best Musical race at this point. Perhaps the consolation prize is that Esparza and Co. will perform on the Tonys telecast with show-opener “Rise Up!”

Composer Alan Menken on being the first person to have two original shows nominated for Best Musical in the same year: “I’m really excited about that! The distinction feels wonderful. The experience is occasionally joyful and sometimes stressful. Newsies has been sort of the easy child, and Sister Act is now doing great. Leap has been struggling, and that’s always hard. It’s a more adult show, it’s a tougher show, but audiences love it, so what happens is my attention goes to the one that needs my attention more. I’m going in with eight nominations for Newsies and so much excitement, and I’m going in with one (but one very important) nomination for Leap. As somebody who’s been through the roller coaster, I know that things are out of my control, so I’ve learned to step back from trying to influence things too much and just go with it.”

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