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Grammy nominations for musical theater: TV's 'Jesus Christ Superstar' is a surprising challenger to Broadway's 'Band's Visit'

Grammy nominations for musical theater: TV's 'Jesus Christ Superstar' is a surprising challenger to Broadway's 'Band's Visit'
John Legend as Jesus and Sara Bareilles as Mary in a scene from "Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert." (Peter Kramer / NBC)

A surprise challenger infiltrated the musical theater album category when the Grammy nominees were announced Friday: The television special “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” starring Sara Bareilles, Alice Cooper and John Legend, landed a nomination next to Tony Award winners “The Band’s Visit,” “Carousel,” “My Fair Lady” and “Once on This Island.”

Long considered Broadway’s Grammy category, the winner is often a cast album for whichever show won the best musical or best musical revival Tony Award. “Dear Evan Hansen” won last year. In 2016, “Hamilton” took the Grammy.

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Thanks to this year’s twist, the Tonys’ best musical, “The Band’s Visit,” and musical revival, “Once on This Island,” are not exactly shoo-ins for a Grammy win.

Here’s a closer look at the nominees:

“Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” was broadcast on NBC on Easter Sunday, April 1, as a staged concert of the cult-favorite rock opera from the 1970s. The music was composed by Andrew Lloyd-Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice. The TV special featured Legend in the titular role, Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and Cooper as King Herod. The production received largely positive reviews, with The Times’ TV critic Lorraine Ali calling it, “a great TV production.”

“The Band’s Visit” is a musical version of a 2007 Israeli film of the same name. While the critically praised film played largely in art houses, the stage adaptation with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses nabbed 10 Tony Awards, including the aforementioned best musical as well as best score, best book, best actor, best actress and best direction. The show — about traveling Egyptian musicians who find unexpected human connections in a small Israeli town — was considered a rare bright spot in the Broadway season. Times theater critic Charles McNulty called it “exquisite.

“Once on This Island” was the surprise winner for best revival of a musical this year, emerging victorious overly heavily favored classics “Carousel” and “My Fair Lady.” With a book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, the show originally opened on Broadway in 1990. Staged with ramshackle charm and a live goat, this production sings the story of a dark-skinned young orphan who falls for a lighter-skinned aristocrat.

“Carousel” is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s second musical. It opened on Broadway in 1945, and notable revivals include the 1994 production that won the Tony for best musical revival. The 2018 version received 11 Tony nominations, triumphing in one category: best performance by a featured actress in a musical (Lindsay Mendez). The story is about the cost of a romance between a carousel barker and and a mill worker. Times theater critic Charles McNulty called this 2018 revival “rapturous.”

“My Fair Lady” is another classic that received high praise from McNulty, who wrote that it, along with “Carousel,” rescued him “from the brink of Broadway despair.” The show is based on “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw, about the Cockney girl Eliza Doolittle, who works to shed her accent with the help of professor Henry Higgins. With a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, the musical opened on Broadway in 1956. The 2018 revival was nominated for 10 Tony Awards but won only for best costume design (Catherine Zuber).

The 61st Grammy Awards are scheduled for Feb. 10.

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