The Tony Awards are coming soon. Here are 5 Tony Award–winning scores to belt out in celebration.
Recognizing over seven decades of excellence in theatrical performance, the Tony Awards — named for Antoinette Perry, cofounder of the American Theatre Wing — are considered the height of prestige for a Broadway production. And the most important aspect of that recognition is a standout musical score. From the romanticized ballads of Rodgers & Hammerstein to the eclectic overtures of Andrew Lloyd Webber to the sharp-witted refrains of Lin-Manuel Miranda, a transcendent spark of unity, nostalgia, conviction and belief in the human spirit resounds from the crescendo of a poignant show tune. In fact, given the wide-ranging impact of Broadway on our public consciousness, these harmonies and lyrics have been the soundtrack to American culture for decades. With the Tony Awards approaching, here is a brief guide to some of the most belt-out-worthy scores that earned theater’s highest accolade during the past 25 years.
The cast of ‘Hamilton’ at the Tony Awards, 2016. Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
This worldwide phenomenon, masterminded by Lin-Manuel Miranda, claimed the 2016 Tony Award for Best Original Score based on its progressive fusion of 1990s hip-hop and colonial-era U.S. history. When this record-breaking sensation debuted at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2015, the immediate critical reception made Hamilton a buzzword across the globe, and its music became an empowering anthem of millennials. From a renegade rap battle punctuated by fierce rhetoric and staunch patriotism (“My Shot”), to an offbeat cohesion of jazz instrumentals, rabble-rousing lyrics and spirited banjo twangs (“The Room Where It Happens”), the Hamilton soundtrack is both socially relevant and intensely evocative.
2. Next to Normal
This authentic, even sobering, glimpse into mental illness shrouded by suburbia received the 2009 Tony Award for Best Original Score, commending its energetic pop-rock vibe that imitates the flux of manic depression. An unflinching narrative about ordinary people in extraordinary crises, Next to Normal critiques the stigma that surrounds issues like grief, suicide, hallucinations, substance abuse and bipolar disorder. From an impassioned, emotive refrain with high notes bordering on hysteria (“Didn’t I See This Movie?”), to a lilting, whispering cadence that sends a tremor down the spine (“Aftershocks”), the Next to Normal soundtrack addresses those traumatized corners of the human psyche that are often unacknowledged.
3. Spring Awakening
This sensual adaptation of an 18th-century drama garnered the 2007 Tony Award for Best Original Score in response to its unique, folk-infused brand of alternative rock, mirroring both the angst and ecstasy of teenage sexual awareness. Not just another coming-of-age adolescent romance, Spring Awakening probes the seductive theme of physical free expression through cross-genre music, which Entertainment Weekly deemed the “most gorgeous Broadway score” of the decade. From a defiant opening number intensified by drumbeat acoustics (“Mama Who Bore Me”), to haunting violin chords enmeshed with raspy vocals (“The Guilty Ones”), the Spring Awakening soundtrack echoes the progressive minds revitalizing our future.
4. Avenue Q
This eccentric and unapologetic comedy, known for a beatnik cast of both humans and puppets, earned the 2004 Tony Award for Best Original Score based on its lurid humor underscored with brazen lyrics and absurdly exuberant harmonies. Satirizing that well-intentioned but misguided “you’re special” childhood mantra, Avenue Q contrasts a whimsical Sesame Street–esque environment with adult motifs and jaded characters who don’t appear to belong. From a rollicking chant on the universal crusade for intention and significance (“Purpose”) to a fourth-wall-breaking parody of social consciousness directed by self-righteous motives (“The Money Song”), the Avenue Q soundtrack is a motley mosaic of upbeat witticisms and sardonic ironies.
This countercultural rock opera that recounts a year in the life of impoverished bohemian New Yorkers claimed the 1996 Tony Award for Best Original Score due to its visceral, tumultuous and heartfelt resonance of humanity unbroken. Through an organic depiction of urban blight, gender identities, drug addictions and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Rent examines that primal need to create meaning, artistry and connection as a medium for survival. From a flippant, however poetic, tribute to societal nonconformity (“La Vie Boheme”), to an empathic ballad wrestling with 20th-century disillusionment (“What You Own”), the Rent soundtrack offers a voice to those marginalized subcultures who discovered freedom in “going rogue.”
Which Tony Award–winning scores would you add to your Broadway playlist?