Now that “Matilda” has been robbed of the Tony Award for Best Musical by the far less worthy “Kinky Boots” (due mainly to an extensive PR campaign by “Kinky Boots” and industry politics), it joins the likes of many other great musicals that were unfairly deprived of the prize.
As it happens, Peter Filichia, one of my favorite theater journalists, just released “Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks,” an enjoyable look at the musicals that failed to win the Tony Award. (Perhaps “Matilda” can be discussed in a future edition of the book.)
Below is my own opinionated list of the five biggest upsets in Tony history over the award for best musical:
1. “Gypsy” loses to “Fiorello!” and “The Sound of Music” (1960) Never again has there been a tie for Best Musical. While “The Sound of Music” has become a perennial classic (mainly due to the film version with Julie Andrews) and “Fiorello!” is a wonderful, old-fashioned musical, “Gypsy” is widely considered the greatest musical ever written.
2. “Follies” loses to “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (1972) With all due respect to Galt MacDermot and John Guare’s spirited rock musical based on an early Shakespeare comedy, Sondheim’s “Follies” is a work of genius and the original production by Hal Prince and Michael Bennett was splendid.
3. “Ragtime” loses to “The Lion King” (1998) It may be beautiful to look at, but much of “The Lion King” is kiddie fare and fart jokes. On the other hand, “Ragtime,” based on E.L. Doctorow’s tome interlocking the stories of Protestants, African Americans and Jewish immigrants at the turn of the century, is stirring and ambitious.
4. “Parade” loses to “Fosse” (1999) “Parade,” a grim but powerful tragedy based on the true story of a Jewish man who was wrongfully accused of murdering a young girl due entirely to prejudice, had virtually no shot of winning. Nevertheless, losing to “Fosse,” a vapid revue of trademark moves by the late director-choreographer, was another embarrassment for Broadway and a disconcerting indication of its future.
5. “Urinetown” loses to “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (2002) While the hilariously anarchic “Urinetown” won awards for best direction, score and book, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a cute but schlocky tribute to 1920s style, received best musical due mainly to the perception that it would be a better sell on tour.