Papers, papers, papers. I recently sat down to calculate how many pages I would be reading and grading this semester. I have 79 students, who will engage in a total of 15 writing projects. That's 1,185 papers. And let's say the papers are an average of 3 pages each. That's 3,555 pages. And that doesn't take into account various midterms, finals, and quizzes.
Don't *nobody* bring me no bad news.
But, even though yet another pile of papers awaits, I couldn't resist the temptation to share with you, dear reader, this semester's crop of my students' choices for "The Most Overrated Musical." In my course on The History of Musical Theater, I assign students two writing topics as a sort of ramp up to the midterm and the final. This gives them a chance to see what I'm looking for, and for me to see how they think and write.
Every semester, I publish the list of shows that my students choose to write their papers on, with editorial comments from yours truly. A few caveats, though:
- I guide the students quite heavily in their choices, so the list is clearly influenced by my own preferences and prejudices. Also, they clearly read my blog looking for ideas, and check out my own list of "overrated" musicals for inspiration.
- I strongly suggest that they only write about a show for which they, or I, have access to the libretto. So even though numerous students express the urge to lambaste Mary Poppins, Billy Elliot, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King, I don't have copies of the libretti for those shows, so I usually try to steer these students towards another show.
- I discourage students from writing about certain shows - for instance Cats and Grease - not because I think they're good, but because experience has taught me that students have a hard time pointing out exactly what's wrong with them.
- I also discourage other shows that are just so bleeding awful that calling them "overrated" would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Examples here include Footloose, Fame, and High School Musical.
So, all that said, here's this semester's Most Overrated Musicals:
The following choices received one "vote" each: The Addams Family, Blood Brothers, Brigadoon, Carousel, Hello Dolly, Next to Normal, Pippin, Rent, Sunday in the Park With George, Sweet Charity, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Wicked, The Wild Party (Lippa).
Very few surprises here. Again, it's pretty clear that my students read my blog, which accounts for the strong presence of South Pacific. Regular readers will recall that I consider SoPac to be the most overrated musical of all time.
And I make specific mention of Spring Awakening quite frequently in class, particularly when I'm talking about integration - A.K.A. the extent to which elements of a musical propel the plot, reveal character, establish time and place, or just in general serve some kind of thematic or dramatic function in the show. No matter how you feel about Spring Awakening, the first three numbers of act 2 - "The Guilty Ones," "Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind," and "Left Behind" - are of questionable relevance at best, at least in as much as the lyrics connect to the story and the characters.
The big surprise this semester is Two Gentlemen of Verona. Few people have heard of this show, let alone seen or performed in it, but this unbearable little clunker has the notorious distinction of beating out Stephen Sondheim's Follies for the Best Musical Tony Award in 1972. And Two Gentlemen is awful. Awful, awful, awful. The cast recording is virtually unlistenable, and the show has fallen into well-deserved obscurity, while Follies has rightfully attained the status of, if not a masterpiece, then a deeply flawed but nonetheless fascinating experiment, with one of the best scores in musical-theater history.
You might ask, well, why focus on the negative? Why not have the students write about The Most Underrated Musical? Well, I do. I'm of the opinion that students can sharpen their critical-thinking skills through constructive analysis, but in the positive and negative realms. And the next batch of papers on the Most Underrated Musical sits right next to me as I type, looming large upon my blue-penciling horizon.