Best "I Want" Song: "Naughty" from Matilda
music and lyrics by Tim Minchin
In musical theater, an "I Want" song establishes the long-term goals of the principal character, which they will then try to achieve throughout the course of the show. In Tim Minchin's Matilda, this song is sung by the title character, a little girl whose main goal is to change the presumed path of her life and escape from the confines of her horrible parents. This delicious number, with lyrics of unparalleled intelligence, sets up everything we need to know about the title character in two minutes and expertly establishes the direction of both the character and the show. Besides, who hasn't wanted to act up a little bit if it meant being able to change their life?
Best Finale: "Raise You Up/Just Be" from Kinky Boots
music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
Kinky Boots culminates in a fashion show during which beleaguered shoe-factory owner Charlie Price, having alienated everyone from his life, must don a pair of knee-high red boots, designed by and for drag queens, and strut down the runway to premiere this new footwear line. This being a musical, he is quickly joined by a chorus of booted drag queens and Lola, who help him create the new product as they become the toast of Milan. Not since Hairspray has there been such an ebullient and genuinely exciting closing number as "Raise You Up/Just Be," which sends the audience out on the natural high that only musical theater can produce. It also encapsulates the noble moral that writers Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein set out to create: If you change your mind about something or someone, you can change the entire world.
Best Character Song: "All Falls Down" from Chaplin
music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis
Chaplin was a mixed bag, but "All Falls Down" succeeds greatly in both defining the character of Hedda Hopper — the gossip columnist determined to bring down protagonist Charlie Chaplin — and setting up the second half, in which Chaplin falls from grace in the United States and is exiled to Switzerland. It's a simple tune that allows performers to sink their teeth in and run wild — which is just what Jenn Colella did as Hedda. And she won't be the only one, either. This song's gonna become the next big audition song.
Best Ballad: "Used to Be" from Hands on a Hardbody
music and lyrics by Amanda Green
On the surface, "Used to Be," is a quiet and simple second-act song where a group of disillusioned Texans participating in an endurance contest to win a new truck recite a list of chain stores as a reflection of America's consumerism. Yet this ballad, which Keith Carradine says convinced him to join the cast, is more than just a patter song of names like "Walmart's, Walgreens, Wendy's, Applebees…" In this tune, composer-lyricist Green, who penned the number without cowriter Trey Anastasio, captures a changing America, one that is happy and eager to trade mom-and-pop stores for homogenized mega-marts, and poses the question "what is home when everything looks the same?" How scarily profound, and thoroughly heartbreaking, it is to hear lyrics like "Now this town's just a collection of some old guy's memories, just a ghost upon a ghost of all these used-to-be's."
Best Dance Number: "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" from A Christmas Story, The Musical
music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
A Christmas Story, The Musical was noteworthy for how book writer Joseph Robinette and songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul managed to breathe theatrical life into one of the most beloved holiday films of all time. Rather than just rehash Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clarke's classic screenplay and add a few songs, this trio used the film's classic moments (like the ever present leg lamp) as a jumping-off point. One of the results is the imaginative and exemplary jazz-age number "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," led by the big-voiced Caroline O'Connor, a chorus of children in fedoras and pin-striped suits, and four-foot tapper Luke Spring, who, with the help of Warren Carlyle's choreography, danced rings around even the most experienced pros.