Of course, one of the things that I look forward to the most is teaching my musical-theater history course, and this year I had something extra exciting to look forward to. For this academic year, my course is two-semesters long. Previously, it was only one semester for my freshmen sections, although last year I did get a chance to teach two semesters to the grad students for the first time.
And more students means more work, naturally, but for you, dear reader, it also means more robust lists. Every year, I start my course by asking students to write down the three best musicals of all time. We then make a list on the board of the shows that people have voted for, and then we start a discussion about what makes good shows good.
This year, I had 75 students in total voting, and here are their choices, as well as the number of students who chose that show as one of their top three:
West Side Story 25
Les Miserables 20
Into the Woods 14
The Phantom of the Opera 8
Sweeney Todd 8
South Pacific 5
A Chorus Line 4
In the Heights 4
My Fair Lady 4
Next to Normal 4
Singin' in the Rain 4
Spring Awakening 4
Sunday in the Park with George 4
Anything Goes 3
The Light in the Piazza 3
The Music Man 3
Porgy and Bess 3
Show Boat 3
The Sound of Music 3
Kiss Me Kate 2
The Lion King 2
Miss Saigon 2
Here are the shows that received one vote each:
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Cinderella, Company, Crazy for You, Damn Yankees, Follies, Fosse, Good News, Grey Gardens, Guys and Dolls, Jersey Boys, Jesus Christ Superstar, Little Shop of Horrors, Mary Poppins, Memphis, Passion, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Songs for a New World, Spamalot, The Fantasticks, The Producers, The Rocky Horror Show, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Scottsboro Boys, The Wild Party (Lippa), The Wizard of Oz, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Urinetown
So, what do we see here? Well, as always, the students' choices are partly governed by which shows are currently, or were recently, playing on Broadway and/or touring the country. The presence of West Side Story at the top of the list was no doubt influenced by the national tour, which recently ended its trans-continental traverse. The similarly high ranking of Les Miserables and Into the Woods is likely related to the number of regional and high-school productions of those shows.
Rent is ranking much lower than it has in the past. Not sure what to make of that, other than the fact that more people are getting a chance to see it regionally, and it's possible that the show seems less impressive without professionals performing the vocally challenging score.
Spring Awakening also seems to have slipped in recent years. I'm thinking this is because the show needs a very strong directorial concept to work, and even though the show has been getting a lot of regional play, it's possible that in the absence of a strong director, people are noticing that the show itself isn't really that strong.
Wicked is ranking a lot lower than it has in the past. Perhaps the Future Show Queens of America (FSQA) have finally moved beyond the whole "Wicked is Like the Fiercest Show That Ever Was" (WILFSTEW) stage and started including other shows in their general barometer of fierce-osity. (Don't get me wrong. I love Wicked. But I also love when show queens broaden their horizons beyond Elphaba worship.)
It's wonderful to see Ragtime place so highly on this list. For years, I was concerned that Ragtime would sort of fade from the national consciousness, mostly under the presumption that not many local theaters would put the show on because of the controversial subject matter as well as because of the need for large numbers of African Americans, who traditionally haven't been as involved in community and regional theater. Thankfully, that seems to be changing, which gives more people a chance to see this powerful and challenging show.
So many classic shows placed relatively strongly on this year's list, including a big thumbs-up for Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, including Oklahoma, Carousel and South Pacific. Regular readers will recall my deep and abiding esteem for the first two of these shows, and my relative disdain for the last.
Among the new shows, Next to Normal has been holding fast over the past few semesters. This will likely continue as the show continues to catch on regionally. Regular readers will also recall my ambivalence about Next to Normal: I admire the craft of the show, but have significant problems with its apparent message regarding psychiatry. One lovely new addition to the list is Once, the big winner this year at the Tony Awards -- and rightly so -- and a significant financial success, having recently recouped its investment, and continuing to perform strongly at the box office, even in the traditional post-Labor Day drop-off.
There are always a few oddballs and aberrations on the list each year. Who'd a thunk Gypsy would rank so low? And after the wonderful revival of Follies last season, you'd think the show would get more than one vote, right? Also, why are Singin' in the Rain and The Wizard of Oz even on the list? I guess I should have specified that we would be focusing on stage musicals as opposed to movie musicals. (Sure, both shows have been done on the stage, but never very well, at least IMHO.)
How about you, dear reader? What do you notice in the list year's list? Any surprises, pleasant or otherwise? Any glaring omissions, from where you sit? Any shows included here that warm the cockles of your heart? Do the choices of these FSQAs give you hope for the future, or do they make you wish ever more strongly for a musical-theater time machine? Lemme know, m'kay?