I've just about finished grading this semester's crop of papers in which my students defend their choices for the most "underrated" musical. As always, it's not really about the choice of show, but rather how well they present and support their arguments. But I always like to share the list of shows with my readers, as it typically brings to light a number of wonderful but under-appreciated musicals.
Here's the list of shows that received more than one "vote":
The following shows received one "vote" each:
Bat Boy, Children of Eden, Finian's Rainbow, Flora the Red Menace, Grey Gardens, The Last Five Years, The Light in the Piazza, The Little Mermaid, Miss Saigon, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Nine, Titanic, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The Sound of Music, Spring Awakening, Sunday in the Park With George
As always, the list breaks down into three main categories: little-known gems (Steel Pier, Violet), financially unsuccessful shows that may not have gotten their full due (The Wedding Singer, Passing Strange), and popular shows that despite their success have considerable detractors (Spring Awakening, Miss Saigon, The Sound of Music).
It's lovely to see Once on This Island get some love. I'm a big fan of Flaherty and Ahrens, and of Once on This Island in particular. It has a lovely score, a great deal of heart, and it's considerably more faithful to the Hans Christian Anderson "The Little Mermaid" than the Disney film and stage show.
I was a big fan of Steel Pier when I saw the show on Broadway during its original run. I found the characters alternately endearing and reprehensible, as befits their roles in the show, and the show featured a breathtaking amount of Susan Stroman's artful choreography. But then there's the score. It's certainly not top-drawer Kander and Ebb. There are a few pearls ("Willing to Ride," "Everybody's Girl") hidden among the costume jewelry ("Running in Place," "First You Dream"), but overall I find that I don't have the urge to play the CD very often, if at all. I feel much the same about Curtains. Thankfully, The Scottsboro Boys more than makes up for the previous fallow period in the Kander and Ebb canon, and represents a fitting cap to a fruitful and important partnership.
I really need to break out my Violet CD and reacquaint myself with this charming and heartfelt show. I saw it years ago and was thoroughly disarmed and impressed, particularly with the "Luck of the Draw" sequence. Violet comes up quite frequently in these "underrated" assignments, and it even pops up from time to time during the "Bestest Musical Ever" exercise. If you're not familiar with Violet, it's about a young girl who is the victim of a horribly disfiguring accident: her father accidentally hits her in the face with an axe. Talk about your bad ideas for a musical, right? But, as with The Elephant Man, the disfigurement is only suggested through the staging, giving the audience a chance to focus on the beauty within.
Every year, the "underrated" list features a few questionable choices. Like Spelling Bee. It ran for three years, made a considerable profit, and is now becoming one of the most performed shows in regional theater. That doesn't sound very underrated to me. But, again, the paper is about students defending their choices, so the grade here won't be based on the choice of topic, but rather the strength of the support.
So, dear reader, what do you think? What do you make of the list above? And what's your choice for the most underrated musical?