What the 2018 Tony Awards tell us about Broadway's biggest trends
We look at the biggest trends on Broadway based on the 2018 Tony Awards, and take a look where New York's theater scene could be headed.
After a wildly diverse 2016-17 season, Broadway has gone hard on nostalgia and escapism since the 2016 presidential election. Expect a lighter mood to the 72nd annual Tony Awards, which will be given out at Radio City Music Hall on June 10 and live on CBS starting at 8 p.m.
Before the lights come up on the show, we’re taking a look at some of the biggest trends on Broadway and how they’re shaping the theater scene, from more tourists coming to New York to the ripple effects of Hamilton — and what the future may hold.
Putting a beloved film on the stage has met with some decidedly mixed results on Broadway. For every Legally Blonde, there’s a Rocky. Tim Minchin’s Matilda enjoyed five Tonys and a respectable run, but his equally worthy follow-up Groundhog Day was snubbed and closed a year after opening.
This year’s most nominated shows, however, are both adaptations: Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants with 12 each (and musicals of Pretty Woman and Beetlejuice are already in the pipeline). They’re proof that when a musical builds on the plot and themes of a show, audiences can be convinced to experience an old favorite in a new way.
We wondered in 2016 whether Hamilton would bring more young people to Broadway — and the answer is a resounding yes. With Dear Evan Hansen continuing to be one of the top-grossing shows, Broadway doubled down on high school drama with Tina Fey’s musical of Mean Girls. The nominees also have some very fresh faces, among them Hailey Kilgore, making her debut at just 18 years old as the lead in Once on This Island, and 26-year-old Ethan Slater as SpongeBob.
There’s been much hand-wringing about more tourists leading Broadway theaters to commission more musicals than plays, possibly leading to a generation of lost talent. But four of this year’s most nominated shows prove there’s plenty of bank to be made without singing if you get creative.
Tony Kushner’s lauded revival of Angels in America became the most nominated play ever with 11 nods. Among the 10 nominations for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is an unusual nod for choreography. Staging the production by candlelight added an immersive element to Farinelli and the King, while The Play That Goes Wrong proves comedy is still a strong draw.
Then again, it’s worth remembering the short-lived 1984, which showed it’s possible to innovate too far out of the audience’s comfort zone.
The success of The Jersey Boys has spawned many mostly less successful jukebox musicals about famous singers’ lives, but this season might be the one to end the trend. The Jimmy Buffet-endorsed Escape to Margaritaville didn’t get a single nod and will close July 1 (though it is set to go on tour), while the Donna Summer Musical only scooped up two nods for its leading ladies.
However, if the famous singers themselves want to try a Broadway stage for a change, Springsteen on Broadway continues to be constantly sold out and has been extended through December.
The theater bug continues to bite a wider range of artists.
The trend of pop stars trying their hand at Broadway soundtracks started by Kinky Boots (Cyndi Lauper) and Waitress (Sara Bareilles) — and less notably The Last Ship (Sting) — added two new entries: Imogen Heap, who has already won a Drama Desk award for her music in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and SpongeBob, which outsourced almost its entire soundtrack to pop and rock performers like John Legend and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. If Let It Go can own the Billboard charts, why wouldn’t pop stars try their hand at musicals?
The talent behind the scenes is new, too. All the nominees for Best Book of a Musical and three of the five writers up for Best New Play are first-timers on Broadway, according to Playbill. Who could want a piece of Broadway next?