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Share the Excitement of First-Time Tony Nominees for Best Book of a Musical

For theater artists, a Tony Award nomination is the ultimate recognition, an honor that’s especially exciting the first time it happens. This season, seven composers and writers — six making their Broadway debuts — joined the ranks of first-time nominees in the categories of Best Book of a Musical. You can see their work on the Great White Way right now in Ain’t Too Proud, Beetlejuice, and Tootsie. Below, the four newly minted nominees for Best Book share favorite memories of the Tony Awards and chart their paths as theater artists.


Scott Brown and Anthony King

2019 Tony Award Nominees for Best Book of a Musical, Beetlejuice

First Look | Beetlejuice The Musical

Career highlights: Scott Brown and Anthony King have been collaborating since they costarred in high school musicals in Durham, North Carolina. Coauthors of the 2007 Off-Broadway hit Gutenberg! The Musical!, they have written for TV series such as Sharp Objects (Brown) and Silicon Valley (King). Brown began his career as a journalist at Entertainment Weekly and a theater critic for New York magazine; King spent many years as artistic director of the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy theatre. 

Before you began writing for the stage, what was your most memorable experience as a theatergoer, and why did it affect you so strongly?

Brown: When I was 13 or 14, my parents took me to a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I had been in a couple of musicals at that point, but this was the first time a show came together before my eyes. It was a way to interface with a grown-up story [presented] with style and energy and presence. It just blew my little mind.

King: Neil Simon’s play Laughter on the 23rd Floor had a pre-Broadway run at Duke University when I was in high school, and I got to see the show as a volunteer usher. I stood in the back and watched Jerry Zaks pace and mutter under his breath about what he liked and didn’t like. This was after Guys and Dolls, and watching this famous director and amazing actors like Nathan Lane and Mark Linn-Baker — that was the moment when I thought, “This has to be my life.” 

When did you become aware of the Tony Awards? What’s your favorite memory of watching the Tonys?

Brown: The Tonys were never more fun than when we watched them in high school, when the Nathan Lane/Jerry Zaks Guys and Dolls revival was happening. We had just done Guys and Dolls at school — Anthony played Nathan Detroit, and I was Nicely-Nicely Johnson — and the Tonys helped us feel connected to what was happening in professional theater in New York.

King: I grew up in North Carolina, so watching the Tonys was the only way to get a glimpse of Broadway. Every year, you got a two-hour window into this world that you wanted to be a part of. Basketball is a huge thing where I come from, so I am one of the rare people on earth who watches the Tonys and the NBA playoffs picture-in-picture!

What has been the biggest or most pleasant surprise about working on Beetlejuice

Brown: The surprise is that the show happened, that we were part of it, and that it made it to Broadway. It’s been nine years since [director] Alex Timbers first brought the idea to us, and we have written and discarded more versions than you could imagine. When you get to the point where you can hand your material to people of this caliber, who can pick up a script and add a completely new dimension to it, you realize how special Broadway professionals really are. 

King: The cast — they are just extraordinary. Every single one of them wants to play and find the best possible way to do every single moment. Some of them are making their Broadway debuts, but all are theater pros, and it’s a delight to work with them.

What excites you most about being a 2019 Tony nominee?

Brown: One of the most gratifying things is to be recognized alongside my best friend in the world, after 30 years of collaborating. To be honored at this level is a huge gift, nothing I ever expected to happen.  

King: It’s [feeling] like “I get to be in the club!” I do a lot of television stuff now, but theater has always been my No. 1 love, so a Tony nomination is the biggest thrill possible. If I could tell teenage me that this is happening, I would slap myself in disbelief.

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Robert Horn

2019 Tony Award Nominee for Best Book of a Musical, Tootsie

Tootsie The Musical - Broadway Montage

Career highlights: Robert Horn honed his comedic skills writing for TV series such as Designing Women and Living Single as well as Bette Midler’s 2016 world concert tour. On Broadway, he cowrote the book for the 2008 original musical 13 and the 2004 comedy Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance. Other theatrical credits as a book writer include Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical, Lone Star Love, and Dandy.

Before you began writing for the stage, what was your most memorable experience as a theatergoer, and why did it affect you so strongly?

The second show I ever saw, when I was about 8, was the original production of Fiddler on the Roof. I sat in the rear balcony, and I have this incredible memory of my life being changed at that moment. The story had such specificity — of community and family and faith — but it also spoke about the broader humanity in all of us. The book and score worked as one, with both comedy and drama. It’s the first time I understood and connected with “real pretend,” and I knew that this was what I wanted to create. 

When did you become aware of the Tony Awards? What’s your favorite memory of watching the Tonys?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of the Tony Awards. My mom had worked for Ed Sullivan, so we would watch the Tonys together, she would tell me who everybody was, and I would cheer for musicals I knew nothing about. My career path was ordained! When I moved to L.A. in the 1980s, watching the Tonys connected me to with what I wanted to do. I might be 3,000 miles away from what I loved most, but when the Tony Awards came on, I felt like I was part of it. 

What has been the biggest or most pleasant surprise about working on Tootsie

The most pleasant surprise has been the joy in collaborating and making lifelong friendships, and the acceptance of this community, which is something I’ve always been hungry for. Also, there’s this feeling you get when an audience of 1,600 people harmonizes with erupting laughter. The first time you hear that, it takes the wind out of you — it makes you forget the hundreds of hours of rejection you’ve endured. That collective laughter is one of the most wonderful surprises. 

What excites you most about being a 2019 Tony nominee?

It’s a bucket-list moment, the fulfillment of a childhood dream. Being in the company of these fellow artists is just so humbling and validating. What excited me the most was the shriek my mother made when she heard my name being called [as a nominee]. We lost my twin sister just shy of a year ago to pancreatic cancer, and it was the first real moment of joy for my mother after a year of being in a lot of pain. I believe I got nominated for a Tony because my sister was looking down.

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Dominique Morisseau

2019 Tony Award Nominee for Best Book of a Musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Ain't Too Proud on Broadway

Career highlights: Playwright Dominique Morisseau received critical acclaim for a cycle of three works set in her native Detroit (Detroit ’67, Paradise Blue, and Skeleton Crew), all of which were produced Off-Broadway. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” an OBIE Award, and two NAACP Image Awards. Morisseau makes her Broadway debut with the book of the biographical musical Ain’t Too Proud.

Before you began writing for the stage, what was your most memorable experience as a theatergoer, and why did it affect you so strongly?

The Off-Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at Signature Theatre back when it was in its old space between 10th and 11th Avenues was one of my most memorable theater experiences. I remember expecting doom the entire play, and when it ended with the characters getting many of the things they wanted without paying the cost of death or devastation, I realized with shock how conditioned I was to seeing stories that reflected the African American experience end in despair. August’s work showed me that sometimes in our own narratives, we can be the winners.

When did you become aware of the Tony Awards? What’s your favorite memory of watching the Tonys?

I can’t think of when I heard of the Tonys. It feels like they’ve just always been somewhere in the subconscious and the social zeitgeist, and eventually I see one air and I’m like, “Oh. Yep. That’s the Tonys.” My favorite memory watching is when LaChanze won for The Color Purple. I was at a Black 2 Broadway Tony Watch event that the amazing performer Kevin Anthony had orchestrated, and Jennifer Holiday was the host. This is the same event where I received a scholarship as an early career writer by Black 2 Broadway, so it was filled with all of the aspirations of Black artists making their mark on The Great (Not-Just-White) Way. It was a powerful evening for my own trajectory.

What has been the biggest or most pleasant surprise about working on Ain’t Too Proud

Well, the day I learned that a workshop in musical theater is very different from a workshop for plays. I was expecting music stands and scripts and was blown away when I saw the first 30-page run of the piece in our workshop rehearsal space. I was thinking, “This isn’t a workshop. This is a show!”

What excites you most about being a 2019 Tony nominee?

Being able to stand up here in this visible moment with so many of my beloved peers and paradigms and show the wide range of voices that all have significant meaning and relevance on Broadway. We are literally part of an engine that is continually changing the normative of commercial theater, and I’m thrilled to be included in that mission!

Learn More About Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations

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