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Inside the Wide-Open 2023 Grammy Race for Best Musical Theater Album

todayJanuary 20, 2023

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Unlike seven years ago, when Hamilton’s Grammy win for best musical theater album was a foregone conclusion, this year’s contest appears to be wide-open.

The award could go to the cast album from the latest revival of one of Stephen Sondheim’s most beloved musicals, or to the album from a musical that celebrates the legacy of pop legend Michael Jackson or to the album from a show (A Strange Loop) that has already won a Pulitzer Prize and two Tony Awards, including best musical.

The Grammys have presented an award for best musical theater album every year since they started in 1959 (though the name of the category has changed over the years). This year, 42 albums were entered and eligible in the category, from which six were nominated.

Four of the nominated cast albums are from newly-produced shows – MJ: The Musical, Mr. Saturday Night, Six and A Strange Loop. The other two are from revivals – Into the Woods, which first opened on Broadway in 1987, Caroline, or Change, which first opened on Broadway in 2004.

Voters in this category are asked to focus on the cast album, not their memories of the show. (The Rules and Guidelines handbook for the 65th Annual Grammy Awards states: “This award honors excellence in the performances(s) in and production of musical theater recordings. Elements of the corresponding stage production should not be considered in evaluating the recording.”) 

The award is presented to the principal vocalist(s) and to the album producer(s) of 50% or more of the playing time on the album. The lyricist(s) and composer(s) of 50% or more of a score of a new recording are eligible if no previous recording of said score has been nominated in this category. Caroline, or Change had not previously been nominated in this category, so its composer, Jeanine Tesori, and lyricist, Tony Kushner, are eligible. Into the Woods had been, so its composer/lyricist, Sondheim, is not. 

A few category quirks: Recordings of revues that reflect a dramatic theme are eligible, but benefit/tribute concerts featuring performances of various musical show songs are not. Non-musical theater performance albums are likewise not eligible.

Let’s take a closer look at the six nominees:

Rebecca Milzoff and Keith Caulfield assisted in preparing this list.

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todayJanuary 20, 2023

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