The 2022 Tony-Nominated Musicals at the Library

By Douglas Reside, Curator, Theatre Collection
May 13, 2022
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Photo by Martha Swope

The Tony Award Nominations have just been announced, and if my own memories from my childhood in St. Louis are any guide, there are theatre fans around the country looking for whatever they can find about the musicals that have just been nominated. Fortunately, those who haven’t been able to visit Broadway this season can still access quite a bit about the nominated shows to help them make up their own minds as to who and what to root for when the ceremony airs next month.

Those with New York Public Library cards can access a lot of this material for free, and so to help prepare for the big day, here’s a reading, watching, and listening list for the 2022 Tony Awards.

Librarians also like to provide book recommendations, sometimes called “read-alikes” among the library in-crowd. In that spirit, I have provided a few recommendations of shows I’m calling “applaud-alikes”—titles from previous seasons that I think may appeal to those who are fans of this year’s nominated shows.

Girl From the North Country

Playbill for Girl From the North Country

Girl From the North Country is one of the few musicals from this season that already has a Broadway cast recording. The show opened for previews in March of 2020 after runs Off-Broadway at the Public Theater and in the West End in London. The Broadway production closed before its official opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but reopened in October of 2021. Along the way, a London cast recording, a Broadway cast recording, and a special compilation of the Bob Dylan songs that comprise the score have been released. The libretto has also been published by Theater Communications Group. The Broadway Cast Recording on CD can be borrowed from our branches. The libretto is available to borrow both from our branches and for in-library use at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street. A videorecording of the original Broadway production was preserved for the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive and will be available for viewing onsite at the Library for the Performing Arts when the Broadway production closes.

Applaud-Alike: Once

Playbill for Once

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s melancholic stage adaptation of their critically acclaimed film is set in Ireland, an ocean away from Girl From North Country, but the mood and the music of both are remarkably similar. Two Irish playwrights, better known for non-musical work, contributed the books for both shows (Enda Walsh for Once and Conor McPherson for Girl From North Country), and perhaps for that reason both musicals seem to share a vocabulary of both language and emotion. Both musicals use song in similar ways, more often to comment on the action of the plot than to advance it. The cast recording and libretto can both be borrowed from the Library, and the original Broadway production is available to watch at the Library for the Performing Arts.

MJ The Musical

Playbill for MJ

As this Michael Jackson fan page has noted, the Jackson estate has been reluctant to release recordings of Jackson’s music used in theatrical performance. However, the MJ cast recording is reportedly coming soon. For now, though, neither the libretto nor the original recording has been released. The songs, of course, have been widely available for years and a song list is available in the Playbill.

Applaud-Alike: Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Playbill for Ain't Too Proud

Musicals built on the pre-existing catalogs of popular musicians, sometimes called "jukebox musicals," have been extremely popular in the 21st century. Both MJ The Musical and Girl From North Country are representatives of the genre in this season’s slate of Tony-nominated shows. Often, the plot is little more than an excuse to perform the songs that many in the audience came to hear. In recent years, however, some highly-respected playwrights have been tapped to contribute the book and provide a bit more dramaturgical heft. MJ’s book is by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, and Ain’t Too Proud’s by critically-acclaimed playwright and MacArthur "Genius" Fellow Dominique Morisseau (who is nominated this year for her play Skeleton Crew). The skill of the librettists can be noticed in both titles. Like MJ, the libretto is not yet published, but the original Broadway cast recording is available for purchase.

Mr. Saturday Night

Playbill for Mr. Saturday Night

This musical, with music by Jason Robert Brown and lyrics by Amanda Green, was the last new musical to open this season, and while the cast recording has been recorded, neither it nor the libretto are yet available. The movie on which the musical is based, featuring actors (Billy Crystal and David Paymer) who reprise their roles in the Broadway production, is currently available to rent or buy from Amazon and iTunes.

Applaud-Alike: Honeymoon in Vegas

Playbill for Honeymoon in Vegas

Although Jason Robert Brown contributed only music to Mr. Saturday Night, the last Broadway musical to feature one of his scores, Honeymoon in Vegas (2015), has striking similarities to Mr. Saturday Night. Both are based on movies from 1992 and star actors best known for their film and television work (Tony Danza appeared in the Broadway cast of Honeymoon in Vegas). Randy Graff’s song “Tahiti” in Mr. Saturday Night feels of a piece with the Hawaiian numbers in Honeymoon in Vegas. You can check out the original cast recording and the movie on which the musical is based from our branch libraries and view the libretto and the piano/vocal score onsite at the Library for the Performing Arts. 

Paradise Square

Playbill for Paradise Square

Paradise Square has been in development for over ten years, during which time it has been staged in various versions and under various titles around the country. It has not, however, yet been recorded in any commercially released form, although the cast album has been recorded and may even be released by the time you read this. The production has released extensive video of the cast recording on their YouTube channel.

Applaud-Alike: Newsies

Playbill for The Newsies

Many critics compared Paradise Square to another work produced by Garth Drabinsky, 1998’s Ragtime. Both musicals tell a series of intertwining stories about characters from different backgrounds seeking a more just society through forceful, sometimes violent, means. The connections are there, but while watching Paradise Square, I found myself more reminded of the stage adaptation of Disney’s 1992 musical film Newsies. Set around three decades after the events of Paradise Square, Newsies tells a similar story of social uprising for a more just society in New York City with a similarly heavy dependence on dance for storytelling and character definition. Whereas Ragtime sprawls across southern New York State with characters who only encounter each other in passing, Newsies, like Paradise Square, is centered in a more clearly defined neighborhood with characters who mostly know each other well.

If you want to compare the musicals yourself after seeing Paradise Square on Broadway, you can watch a recording of the stage version on Disney+, or check out a copy of the cast recording, original movie version, and the vocal score from the film from our branch libraries. You can also read the libretto or watch the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive’s videorecording of the Broadway production at the Library for the Performing Arts. 

SIX

Playbill for SIX

The Broadway transfer of the London hit SIX was to open on Broadway on March 12, 2020, the day the COVID-19 pandemic closed Broadway for over a year. The show finally opened in October of 2022 to audiences composed of many fans who already knew every song in the show. The Studio Cast Recording from the UK had been suggested to fans of Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen on streaming services like Spotify since its release in 2018, and had become familiar enough that sessions dedicated to the show during BroadwayCon 2020 (a Broadway fan convention) were enormously popular, even though the musical had not yet begun previews in New York. A live recording of the 2021 opening night has just been released. The vocal selections can currently be viewed on site at the Library for the Performing Arts.

Applaud-Alike: Heathers

Playbill for Heathers: The Musical

Much like SIX in early 2020, the musical Heathers has found an incredibly enthusiastic young audience via streaming music platforms, despite never having been on Broadway. The musical had a short run at Off-Broadway’s New World Stages in 2014, but its cast recording quickly gained popularity with young musical theatre-lovers around the world and led to a London production in 2018 that is currently running in the West End and reportedly will be filmed. Both employ a variety of contemporary music styles to tell a story about powerful women negotiating a violent, patriarchal culture. The Off-Broadway cast recording and the film on which the musical is based are available from our branches, and the libretto is available for in-library use from the Music Division at the Library for the Performing Arts.

A Strange Loop

Playbill for A Strange Loop

Michael R. Jackson’s musical A Strange Loop, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2020 based on the Off-Broadway production at Playwrights Horizons, and so there is already quite a bit of material available to document to show.  The Off-Broadway cast recording is available and the libretto can be checked out from our branches in both print and digital copies. Once the Broadway production closes, visitors to the Library for the Performing Arts will be able to watch the 2019 production in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive.

Applaud-Alike: [title of show]

Playbill for [title of show]

No, as editors sometimes try to helpfully tell me, I have not forgotten to supply the title of this last Applaud-Alike. The show is actually called [title of show] and shares with A Strange Loop the conceit of being a musical about writing a musical about writing a musical. The life experiences of Jeff, Hunter, Sarah, and Heidi are naturally different from those of Usher, the central character in A Strange Loop, but both musicals are, at heart, a chronicle of what Stephen Sondheim called “the art of making art.”

Other shows in this genre include A Class Act (a posthumous tribute to Ed Kleban, the author of A Chorus Line) and Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick…BOOM! The stakes in all of these musicals feel lower than Usher’s desire in A Strange Loop not just to write a show, but to find affirmation from a religious family that struggles to understand and accept not just his career but his sexual identity, but [title of show] feels closest in structure and musical style. The vocal selections can be checked out from our branches and the Off-Broadway cast recording and libretto can be accessed at the Library for the Performing Arts. A videorecording of the original Broadway production can be viewed in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive and a video of a 2020 London production is currently available to stream on BroadwayHD.