So it's back to school for me and for my students. This semester promises to be even more zany-kooky-crazy than ever, and I couldn't be happier.
Of course, one of the things I look forward to each semester is the opportunity to utilize my new musical-theater history students to help me create more lists. As you may have noted from my recent posts, I'm kind of a nut about lists.
One of the first things I do each semester in my musical-theater history course is ask my charges to write down the three best musicals ever. The criteria: theirs. Then we use the compiled list as an opportunity to start a conversation about what makes great musicals great.
Here's a list of the shows that received multiple votes:
West Side Story 14
Sweeney Todd 12
Les Miserables 8
Into the Woods 6
A Chorus Line 4
Funny Girl 3
Next to Normal 3
The Sound of Music 3
The Music Man 2
The Phantom of the Opera 2
South Pacific 2
Sunday in the Park With George 2
And here are the shows that received one vote each:
Anything Goes, Big River, The Book of Mormon, Cabaret, Candide, Caroline or Change, Cats, Damn Yankees, Fiddler on the Roof, Glory Days, Grey Gardens, Guys and Dolls, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hello Dolly, La Cage aux Folles, The Last Five Years, The Light in the Piazza, A Little Night Music, Memphis, The Pirates of Penzance, Rent, Show Boat, Singin' in the Rain, The Spitfire Grille, Songs for a New World, Spring Awakening, Starting Here Starting Now, [title of show]
The shows that I've placed in bold text are the outliers, the ones that I find interesting either because they're ranked higher or lower than usual, or because they're making their first appearance on the list. (Click here to see a sampling of lists from previous semesters.)
Funny Girl has never ranked as high as this. In fact, it usually only shows up once, if at all. The show is rarely done regionally or in high schools, so the students would likely only have been exposed to the show thus far through its marvelous movie version with what's her name. I think we can reasonably attribute the show's position on this semester's list to the upcoming revival of the show, and the attendant publicity on the casting of Lauren Ambrose and Bobby Cannavale in the leads.
I can't recall Next to Normal ranking this high before. I get the feeling that this is the last gasp for the show on this list, given that the show has closed on Broadway and the tour has wound down. Then again, the show is starting to catch on regionally, so it's possible that the show will continue to stay in the public's mind, and therefore on this list in the future.
The Book of Mormon makes its first appearance on the list, which is understandable, because it only opened last spring. I think we can attribute the fact that it didn't get multiple votes to two things: the show is sold out through the new year, and the tickets are pretty darned pricey. We're talking poor students here, after all.
It's a bit of a surprise that Rent only got one vote, as it's usually quite the sentimental favorite among my students. Plus, the show just re-opened Off Broadway, giving a new generation a chance to catch a professional version of the show. (Read my review.) Also, the show is pretty popular now among regional theaters, but that make in fact have worked against the show. Although powerful, Rent is chockablock with flaws and inconsistencies. It's possible that repeated exposure to the show has lessened its luster in the eyes of my students.
Then there are the one-offs, shows that rarely appear on the list, and probably only make an appearance when some regional theater decides to do it, and the students get a chance to appear in or see a relatively obscure show. I think this explains the presence of The Spitfire Grill, Starting Here Starting Now, and Songs for a New World. The last of these is very popular with students looking for songs to add to their rep books, so it's possible that the person who voted for Songs has never actually seen it, but only listened to the recording.
And then there's Glory Days, the one genuine WTF on this year's list. The show is a bit legendary among Broadway types, as it's the only one-performance Broadway flop in recent memory. I was scheduled to see the show the weekend after it opened (and closed), so it was the one show that season that I didn't get a chance to see. But my fellow bloggers tell me it was embarrassingly bad, and the cast recording, while revealing a certain naive charm, nonethless exhibits very little genuine craft. The subject matter - four high school buddies get together one year after graduation and discover they've grown apart - is certainly appealing to those of the incoming-freshmen mindset, but rather ridiculous to those of us of a certain age, who understand that one year out of school is hardly a prime vantage point for gaining wisdom or perspective.
Oh, well. At least no one voted for Jekyll & Hyde.