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And the Winner Isn’t… American Idiot

This is what’s annoying us right now.

American Idiot is ineligible for the Best Original Score Tony.

How is this even happening? I mean. We understand why Come Fly Away doesn’t count as an original score.  Even FELA!—with songs drawn from Afrobeat artist Fela Kuti’s expansive catalog—seems like a poor fit for the Best Original Score category.

But American Idiot?  That we don’t understand. Yes, it was a Grammy Award-winning pop album before it had a life on the stage, but it was initially conceived with staging in mind. Billie Joe Armstrong has said so on numerous occasions, though he never had specific ideas about what kind of staging it would be. The album is distinctly narrative. It has characters and consistent themes. How is it so different from something that was only envisioned as a stage piece? Have we forgotten about the 1980 concept album that became Les Miserables? Jekyll and Hyde was a bestselling concept album—and a favorite of Miss America contestants everywhere—long before it was staged.

Really, though, the committee ruling feels like it’s about something else. It’s not really about how “original” the music in American Idiot is or isn’t. It’s about the Tony committee’s terrible fear of jukebox musicals. We get it. We all want to see new, original musicals thrive, and the idea of a Broadway filled with secondhand, non-narrative pop songs that have been shoehorned into musicals is indeed scary.

But Broadway’s fear of the Jukebox has made the Tony committee awfully forgetful. What about the 1993 musical Tommy, which began in 1969 as rock opera by The Who? It won Pete Townshend the Tony for Best Original Score, and deservedly so. Why is American Idiot so different?

The true bummer of all this is that the other options for Best Original Score are so incredibly grim; are we really stuck with The Addams Family or Memphis? Pickings are so slim this season that even plays—Enron, Fences, and The Royal Family—seem like genuine contenders for the Tony.

If those are our only choices, that doesn’t look so good for the future of the American musical either. Including American Idiot in the pool of nominees might have been an ideological stretch—but it would have been a vote for a newer (and louder!) idea of Broadway, and a nod to change and growth—two things necessary to survival in any form. And in a world where we can’t find even three new musicals to nominate for Best Original Score, that might be more than just a smart idea. It might be a lifeline to the American musical, and the Broadway that we’d all like to see in the future.

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