NEW YORK — While the success of “Spamalot” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” in the Tony nominations appears likely to put wind in the sails of other screen-to-stage transfers, the cold shoulder shown to jukebox musicals in all categories this year sends a clear message.
No one was expecting now-closed critical punching bag “Good Vibrations,” based on the Beach Boys’ songbook, to recover its dignity by cleaning up in the noms. But the Tony committee’s refusal to acknowledge “All Shook Up” even in technical fields speaks of a growing industry prejudice against the much-maligned jukebox genre.
Based on the songs of Elvis Presley, the $14 million tuner drew critical reactions ranging from raves to pans, but the show’s muscular production values made it easy to assume it would draw Tony noms for David Rockwell’s sets and Donald Holder’s lighting. Instead, it scored zero — bad news for a box office underperformer.
Also passed over in favor of shows with arguably weaker dance elements were choreographers Ken Roberson and Sergio Trujillo. Similarly unrecognized were the show’s orchestrations by Michael Gibson and Stephen Oremus, the music supervisor from “Wicked,” who pumped up Elvis pop standards into robust Broadway musical numbers for “All Shook Up.”
And while they were by no means shoo-ins, leads Cheyenne Jackson and Jenn Gambatese had been frequently touted in the season’s pre-nom roundups.
So was the blank nomination slate part of the same Elvis apathy that landed mediocre results for CBS’ splashy biopic Sunday night? Probably not.
Jukebox tuner bias
As anyone who regularly reads the Web sites and chatrooms populated by Broadway musical fans knows, each announcement of another jukebox tuner in the works sets off a collective groan, along with cries of despair for the endangered species of the American musical.
While “Mamma Mia!” proved that the formula of stitching together a show around a popular song catalog could work commercially, few other similarly conceived musicals have struck the same gold. A Rod Stewart tuner died an early death in London, while the Queen musical “We Will Rock You” headed straight from the West End to Vegas, bypassing the unforgiving turf of Broadway. Twyla Tharp’s “Movin’ Out,” which sets dancing to the songs of Billy Joel but has no dialogue, is a sui generis case apart.
Whether the chilly receptions given to “Good Vibrations” and “All Shook Up” this season will impact the future of the genre remains to be seen. But it may curb investors’ enthusiasm, especially for shows some distance down the pipeline such as those based on the songbooks of Johnny Cash and Neil Sedaka.
Imagine ‘Lennon’ fate
Due this summer is “Lennon,” whose tryout run in San Francisco was tepidly received and which scratched plans for its pre-Broadway Boston engagement.
“Jersey Boys,” a show built around the hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, drew a positive response in its La Jolla Playhouse debut and is shopping for a Broadway berth for the fall, while Tharp’s untitled new project set to the music of Bob Dylan is scheduled to bow at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater in January, en route to a possible Broadway run.