The start of another school year means another crop of freshpersons to induct into the world of musical theater. And the first thing I always do in my History of Musical Theater course is ask the students to write down the three best musicals of all time. The criteria: theirs. We list the results on the board and then start to discuss what these shows might have in common, if anything. The point: to get them to start thinking about what makes a quality musical.
Every semester I make it a point to share the list with my readers. It's hardly a scientific sampling, of course, but it does serve as a nice touch point on what shows are part of the theater queen zeitgeist. (I use the term "theater queen" in an egalitarian sense. It has nothing to do with sexuality: women and straight men can be TQs, as far as I'm concerned.)
Here are the shows that received multiple votes this semester:
8 Les Miserables
8 West Side Story
6 A Chorus Line
5 Spring Awakening
3 Into the Woods
3 Next to Normal
3 Sweeney Todd
2 Billy Elliot
2 The Color Purple
2 The Lion King
2 The Phantom of the Opera
2 The Wild Party (Lippa)
And here are the shows that received one vote each:
42nd Street, Aida, Anything Goes, Blood Brothers, Cats, Chicago, The Drowsy Chaperone, Fiddler on the Roof, Guys and Dolls, In the Heights, Jersey Boys, La Cage aux Folles, The Light in the Piazza, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, Nine, Parade, Ragtime, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, South Pacific, Sunday in the Park With George, Urinetown
On the whole, a fairly august crop of musicals, no? I feature most of these shows on my list on the 100 Best Musical of All Time. Most of the rest I include on my 100 Next-Best Musicals. What's more, refreshingly few of them show up on my lists of The Musical That Suck or The Most Overrated Musicals. This augurs well for the burgeoning aesthetic of my new troupe of charges.
This is the highest that I recall Wicked ever ranking on this list. Usually the show receives a few votes, but I don't think it has ever received 7. As always, the current list is clearly influenced by recent shows and revivals. Hair wasn't even on the list a few semesters back, so the recent Broadway production and the upcoming national tour have undoubtedly given the show a higher profile. The list also tends to be dependent on the shows that these students have performed in and seen in high school and community productions. This partially explains the high ranking for Les Miz, but it doesn't account for why Guys and Dolls only came up once, considering how frequently it's performed. And how good it is.
Sweeney Todd is also ranked surprisingly low, especially considering we're doing it here at the BoCo this semester. Perhaps folks who weren't cast in the show were reluctant to select it as one of their best?
One final unusual feature of the present list is the absense of oddballs or outliers, except perhaps for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In previous semesters, there has usually been the occasional High Spirits or Little Mary Sunshine throwing off the curve. Such abberations are usually dependent on some adventurous director out in the hinterlands who's sick of doing Bye Bye Birdie and Grease and looking for something a little offbeat to break the monotony.
I guess we all need that sometimes.