A Play on Words

Best Book Nominated and Still on Stage

In many ways, a Broadway musical is like a well-oiled machine, made up of many moving parts coming together to create the thrilling pieces of theatre that attracts visitors from near and far. And while it’s often the score that audiences remember as they leave, humming their favorite tunes at the end of the night, the book of a musical is one element of the final whole which is just as important. A book of a musical is essentially everything that isn’t sung. However, it’s not just spoken dialogue; oftentimes the book of a musical provides the structure for the soaring numbers to stand on. This month we take a look at musicals which all feature Tony-nominated (and sometimes Tony-winning) books.


Before it was an Academy Award-winning film and a smash hit revival, the musical Chicago was a Tony nominee for Best Book back when the original production opened on Broadway in 1976. That year, the book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse lost to another little musical by the name of A Chorus Line. In a rather stellar consolation prize, Chicago has gone on to become one of the most beloved American musicals of all time.

The musical is based on a 1926 play by journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins from her experiences covering the crime beat in Jazz-era Chicago. The satire on corruption and celebrity follows the murderesses Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart as they rise to the height of stardom after murdering their husbands and lovers. With the help of the scheming lawyer Billy Flynn, the two work the system and turn their criminal woes into success. With Bob Fosse’s signature and seductive choreography and Kander and Ebb’s scintillating score featuring the hits, “All That Jazz” and “Cell Block Tango,” Chicago is a darkly humorous twist on the American Dream. Those familiar with the lm will delight in the revival’s minimalist staging, which highlights Fosse’s iconic choreography and jazzy score. (Ambassador Theatre, 219 W. 49th St.)

Hello, Dolly!

Arguably the biggest hit of the season is the Bette Midler-led revival of the classic golden age musical Hello, Dolly!, which won Best Book of a Musical in 1964 for writer Michael Stewart’s work on the original production starring Carol Channing. This year, the hit production won 2017 Tony Awards for stars Bette Midler and Gavin Creel, costume designer Santo Loquasto, and Best Revival of a Musical. The book draws inspiration from the Thornton Wilder play The Matchmaker and tells the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a meddlesome matchmaker who brings together the young clerk of a wealthy Yonkers merchant with a widowed milliner, as well as their assistants, as she herself pursues the merchant.

Jerry Herman’s beloved score features some of Broadway’s most cherished melodies including “Hello, Dolly,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and “Put on Your Sunday Clothes.” In addition to its several awards, the production has garnered unanimous raves from audiences and critics alike for Midler’s pitch-perfect portrayal of the title character and for its thrilling production numbers and dazzling ensemble. Bette Midler’s iconic comedic timing and undeniable heart help this Dolly truly sing. Tony winner Jerry Zaks directs the legendary star in this hot-ticket production, which also features David Hyde Pierce, Gavin Creel, Kate Baldwin, and a literal award-winning story. (Sam S. SIhubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St.)

The Phantom of the Opera
Inspired by Gaston Leroux’s classic novel of the same name, The Phantom of Opera was nominated for Best Book of a Musical in 1988. The production has since become the longest- running musical in Broadway history with its impressive 28-year run at the Majestic Theatre. In addition to creating its haunting score, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the book with Richard Stilgoe and in the process created a worldwide phenomenon.

The Phantom of the Opera is set in Paris near the turn of the century and tells the story of the burgeoning opera diva Christine Daae whose love for the dashing Raoul Vicomte de Chagny is threatened by her enigmatic tutor, the infamous Phantom of the Opera. When her star begins to rise, so does the opera ghost’s jealousy, leading to a thrilling and romantic conclusion. Known for its lavish production values and stunning visual effects, The Phantom of the Opera whisks audiences on a journey through the famed Opera Populaire with its opulent grand staircase, sparkling chandelier, as well as the mysterious world underneath its stage. The sumptuous score features the celebrated songs “Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You,” and “Masquerade,” providing a thrilling soundtrack to one of the greatest gothic horror love stories ever told. (The MSajestic Theatre, 247 W. 44th St.)

Dear Evan Hansen
Steven Levenson took home the 2017 Tony for Best Book of a Musical for his heartfelt work on the daring and immediate new musical Dear Evan Hansen. The production also nabbed the coveted title of Best New Musical, Best Original Score for Benj Pasek and Justin Paul–the Oscar- winning composing team behind La La Land— and a Best Leading Actor in a Musical win for star Ben Platt. Platt’s performance as the title character has been hailed as transformative as he takes audiences on a harrowing emotional journey night after night with his soaring vocals and astounding acting.

The musical is the timely story of high school outcast Evan Hansen who finds himself at the center of attention after an unexpected tragedy rattles his community. The ensuing series of events affords the once outsider the opportunity to truly find and redefine himself. Actress Rachel Bay Jones also took home a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Evan’s mother. Michael Greif, the acclaimed director behind Rent and Next to Normal, leads this winning production. In addition to his award-winning script, Steven Levenson has been hailed for his mature and honest handling of the sensitive issues of social anxiety disorder and disillusionment in the age of social media, in the process creating a hit and instant classic, and our interview with him can be found here. (Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.)