The different tuners, same contest.
The race for best musical always comes down to two basic struggles: the Davids vs. the Goliaths, the originals vs. the jukeboxers. The Tony nominating committee tends to favor small and original, while the voters (consisting of a lot of out-of-town presenters) go for big-name talent and titles.
In musical theater, it doesn’t come much bigger than George and Ira Gershwin, and “Memphis” scribe Joe DiPietro has taken a slew of their classic songs and fashioned a brand-new book about a 1920s playboy around them. No tiny jukeboxer, “Nice Work if You Can Get It” stars Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara.
“Nice Work” opens April 24, and is book-ended that week with a two other potential Goliaths — these two with movie pedigree: “Leap of Faith,” with an original score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, and “Ghost,” with new songs by David Stewart, Glen Ballard and Bruce Joel Rubin, who adapts the book from his 1990 screenplay.
In the tuner category, “Ghost” is the season’s lone transfer from the West End, where it continues to play. “Leap of Faith” had a less-auspicious beginning, at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, where it met with bumpy reviews. Much retooling, a new director (Christopher Ashley) and leading lady (Jessica Phillips) could mean success for the show’s sophomore stint. Raul Esparza, playing the con-artist reverend, remains on board. Among the show’s scribes, Warren Leight joins the L.A. team of Janus Cercone, Glenn Slater and Menken, who could nab two Tony noms for score (a feat Michael John LaChiusa achieved with “Marie Christine” and “The Wild Party” in 2000).
When it comes to behemoths, nothing quite compares to the $60 million-plus “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.” Yes, it only seems like it opened last season. How the nominating committee treats the tuner and its score by Bono and the Edge will spill much ink come May 1.
As for the Davids, there are significant contenders. “Once” by Edna Walsh, Glen Hasard and Marketa Irglova lifts its story and score from the 2006 pic, and auds and crix are loving it even more the second time around.
It’s difficult to imagine any Disney show as small-scale, but “Newsies” has emerged as the little tuner that could. Originally envisioned as a touring show, “Newsies” received such promising reviews at its Papermill Playhouse preem, it convinced the Mouse to burnish the brand with a limited Broadway stint.
And don’t count out the well-received but already shuttered “Lysistrata Jones” by Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn. Should a Goliath stumble, this David with a Greek twist — cheerleaders withhold sex from a losing basketball team — could end up a winner.