Each semester, I begin my musical-theater history course at the Boston Conservatory by asking students to write down the three best musicals of all time. We then tally the results on the board and use the list to spark a spirited discussion about what makes a good show good.
Since I started this blog in 2006, I've been posting the results of this exercise for my readers to enjoy, benefit from, disagree with, etc. (Click here to see previous posts.)
This semester's list is a bit different in a number of respects. First, it's longer than usual. This is because I have more students this semester. For the first time, I have two separate sections of the course, one for undergraduates and one for grad students. I also have more than my usual complement of visiting students from Berklee College of Music, with whose campus the BoCo's is intimately interwoven.
However, the additional students haven't simply increased the size of the list, they've also transformed its very character. Here are the shows that received multiple votes, as well as the number of votes each received:
11 West Side Story
6 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
5 A Chorus Line
5 Show Boat
4 Les Miserables
3 A Little Night Music
3 The Phantom of the Opera
3 Thoroughly Modern Millie
3 Anything Goes
3 Sunday in the Park With George
3 Next to Normal
2 Jersey Boys
2 In the Heights
2 The Mystery of Edwin Drood
2 My Fair Lady
2 Jekyll & Hyde
2 Guys and Dolls
2 South Pacific
2 Fiddler on the Roof
And here, in no particular order, are the shows that received one vote each:
The Music Man, Miss Saigon, Parade, Man of La Mancha, Legally Blonde, The Light in the Piazza, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Fantasticks, Hairspray, The Scottsboro Boys, Singing in the Rain, Little Shop of Horrors, Hello Dolly, Spring Awakening, Candide, [title of show], Little Women, Kiss Me Kate, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The Last Five Years.
Lots of really great stuff, huh? What really sticks out for me is how high Show Boat and Oklahoma rank this semester. They each usually make a nominal appearance, but I can't recall a time when they were both in the top ten. I don't think it would be condescending of me to point out that the relative maturity of the grad students accounts for this, especially considering all 5 of the Show Boat votes and 3 of the Oklahoma votes came from that class section. Are the grads simply making a more overt effort to impress, whereas the undergrads are simply voting their hearts? I'm feeling uncharacteristically charitable today, so I'm going to ascribe it to a genuinely refined sense of quality.
I also notice in the current list more of a sense of historical perspective. These lists are always influenced by which shows are actually playing on Broadway and on tour at any given time. But the only real evidence I see of that this semester is the presence of both In the Heights and Next to Normal. Now that both of those shows have closed in New York, it makes me wonder whether they'll continue to show up in future semesters, and indeed in future years. I genuinely think In the Heights will fade from memory rather quickly, at least until the movie comes out. Next to Normal will likely have a bit more staying power, particularly in light of its recent Pulitzer win.
One genuine surprise this time is the multiple votes for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a decidedly lackluster musical that nonetheless won the Tony Award (by default: it was a really slow year), and then proceeded to virtually disappear. I'm not sure how to explain its presence on the list this semester, except for the fact that the Speakeasy Stage put on a production of the show a few years back. But since these students are mostly freshmen, many of whom come from outside the Boston area, I can't really see that production as much of a factor.
So, whaddya think, dear reader? Anything in this semester's list that sticks out for you?