Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Random Top Ten!!

Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Musicals

10. Evita - Lloyd Weber's best and most dramatically and musically sophisticated work, Evita is very overdue for a major revival. The problem, and it's one faced by several of the shows on this list, is that its original staging, here by Hal Prince, is legendary, and firmly ensconced in the theatrical imagination. And yet like any play, to be truly successful for future generations and in future productions, to be truly artistically interesting, it must be reinterpreted by new directors, new designers, new artists. Only through successive new and different interpretations--whether successes or failures--can a play truly become cemented as a classic. At some point, hopefully, a daring producer will take a chance on an Evita that owes nothing to Prince's original staging--and from there, again hopefully, the ball can start rolling. All that said, this is a fine, fine play, with two stellar, wonderfully written, and challenging roles at its center. And Weber's gambit of employing distinct musical styles for different types of scenes (Latin-influenced music for the plot scenes and a more modern style for the Che-led more theatrical scenes) pays off in spades.

9. Cabaret - Cabaret has successfully overcome the problem listed above. The late 90s Broadway revival was new, creative, and owed nothing to the original, and it amply showed that Cabaret was a play that was standing the test of time. A great example of a "serious" musical that still delivers real entertainment through a great, almost traditional, score.

8. Carousel - Carousel never had a "defining" production to overcome. Still, the mid-90s revival showed very clearly what a creative director could do with the material. This is Rodgers & Hammerstein's finest score, with dark tones that modern directors can really dig into.

7. Follies - Sondheim's towering score, a brilliant combination of pastiche and perfectly realized character songs, all in the service of what is really a sad story about the inevitability of aging and how we become different people as we get older. Still waiting for that definitive production, the piece has already shown it can offer new insights through a host of presentations.

6. Man of La Mancha - The pervasive success of the show's signature song, "The Impossible Dream," has given the show itself a whiff of cheese. 'Tis a pity. "The Impossible Dream" stands with The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" as prime examples of misunderstood songs. Hundreds of lounge singers, benefit singers, cabaret singers, and talent show singers have sung the song as if it were a simple paean to trying harder--as if the song's message were "try hard and your dreams can come true!" It's not. The song's message is darker and more complex, and when sung right, it can be immensely powerful. The song's -and the play's - real message is that hope is powerful, not because hopes can come true but, almost paradoxically, when they can't. The song and play tell us that when your dreams will not come true, when a happy ending is not possible at all, hope for one in spite of the facts can be a remarkably powerful agent. A strong, and for some unfathomable, message.

5. Fiddler on the Roof - The play has been done in hundreds of countries by hundreds of different cultures, and the commonality of all is that in every culture, when the play is produced, the audience wonders how it could be so specifically about them. Bock and Harnick tell a story about the first Japanese production, and how the director was astonished that the two men had written such a Japanese story. That is the key to this play's power.

4. West Side Story - See number ten above. No musical in the canon in as desperately in need of a new, fresh approach as this one. The score is beyond reproach and the story universal and timeless. But until someone abandons Jerome Robbins (admittedly wonderful) original staging and choreography, this brilliant play will continue to get staler and staler.

3. My Fair Lady - The perfect marriage of songs and story, with one of the great male-female roles in the canon. I'm still waiting for a Henry Higgins who will abandon the Rex Harrison approach and sing the entire score, and well. Some of those Higgins songs are beautiful.

2. Gypsy - Mama Rose is probably the greatest female role ever written for a musical, and many a great actress has dug her teeth into it. This play gets revived, and well, consistently precisely because it's so well-constructed, and because the role of Mama Rose is such a great one. And Jule Styne's score is a masterpiece, and easily the highlight of his career. And for a bonus? The greatest overture ever.

1. Sweeney Todd - The pinnacle of the form, and Sondheim's masterpiece. Boldly theatrical, with soaring, dark melodies, great choral pieces, a twisty, compelling, blackly humorous story, and big, bold, melodramatic drama, all mixed to perfection. And, as the current, and wildly enthusiastically received, Broadway revival is demonstrating, wonderfully open to reimagining. The greatest musical ever written.

Until Whenever


Roger Owen Green said...

Evbery time I hear Anatevka from Fiddler, I cry.

Tosy And Cosh said...

A few years back I served as a judge for the Paper Mill Playhouse's Rising Stars program--they send reviewers to school musicals (any school can ask to participate) and the reviewers give constructive feedback to the schools. At the end of the year, they do a big ceremony at the Paper Mill, with nominations for the Best in the State in a whole slew of categories. Anyway, a local high school did Fiddler, and while the performers weren't great, the orchestra wasn't great, and the set wasn't great, the show still, damn it worked--and wonderfully. It's a solid, solid show.

And did you see the Stars Hollow elementary school production on Gilmore Girls? Priceless.