Wednesday, 5 August 2009

BONUS: 20 Musicals for the 2000’s

With the decade ending in a mere four months and little of inspiration (unless the final book for White Noise is somehow stunningly brilliant) from either the US or the UK, so we can start on these tributes to the naughts.

The list and commentary below reflect 20 new works of musical theatre which opened between 2000 and 2009 in a 1st class (read: Broadway/West End/Major Level) venue and provided either a major contribution or simply serve as the most memorable works of the decade. This isn’t to discount smaller productions, but this is one for the big boys. It’s in no particular order than rough chronology.

Also, I suck for not knowing more about original works coming out of Asia.

2000 - Contact (Broadway)
Starting out with a controversial bang is Susan Stroman’s dance play which, famously, won the Tony award for Best Musical despite not having a score: the music was played from CD and nobody in the cast sung. Still, with sequences like Simply Irresistible, it’s easy to see the piece’s allure and its strengths overcome the technicalities.

2000 - Aida (Broadway)
Elton John’s first musical (The Lion King doesn’t really count, that was all music for the film), and Disney’s first show which wasn’t an adapted from a cartoon.

2001 - The Producers (Broadway)
Winner of more Tony awards than any other show, The Producers can be seen as the touchstone of the film adaptation craze, although its flaws became increasingly visible with time and uninspired casting.

2001 - Urinetown (Broadway)
The first of the modern meta-musicals, we arguably wouldn’t have pieces like The Drowsy Chaperone or [title of show] without this little piddle which managed to go from the New York Fringe Festival all the way to Broadway. It also deserves points for the score’s satirical take on Weil.

2002 - We Will Rock You (West End)
The only show from the decade which can well and truly be called critic-proof (Wicked didn’t exactly get glowing reviews but WWRY was roundly trashed). WWRY shows that jukebox shows can have smart concepts, stunning design, and pack in the houses around the world.

2002 - Hairspray (Broadway)
The show which all fluff musicals are now judged against. O’Donnell, Meehan, Whittman, and Shaiman turned John Waters’ tamest film into a stage show which captures both the joy of the musical along with Waters’ sense of humour and anarchy in presentation. Too bad the film remake is so awful.

2002 - Jerry Springer: The Opera (London Subsidised/West End)
The most controversial musical to ever premiere in Britain, Springer spends its first act turning the freak show that is daytime television into a portrayal of tragic victims of their own making while sending up its inspirational material before pointing out that similar characters are to be found everywhere in society.

2003 - Wicked (Broadway)
We Will Rock You may have more international productions, but Wicked is the first show since RENT that can truly be described as a phenomenon.

2003 - Avenue Q (Broadway)
And then there’s the little show that could - proving that charm, wit, and truth (along with a savvy marketing campaign) can upset even the biggest juggernaut. For the recently graduated and those turned out by the current recession, Avenue Q speaks directly to the audience in a way few shows can.

2004 - Caroline, or Change (Broadway)
Despite being spurned in New York, Caroline has become a favourite in the regions and was vindicated with raves and an Olivier award for Best Musical in London. Tony Kushner’s tale of an impoverished Black maid working for a Jewish family in turmoil is a pressure cooker of a character piece backed by Jeanine Tesori’s masterwork of a score that reveals more of its depth with each new production and take on the title character.

2004 - In My Life (Broadway)
One of only two flops on this list, In My Life is the ultimate in vanity projects: written, directed, scored, and produced by creator Joe Brooks, In My Life was a bizarre look at heaven and Earth, of love and loss, and of gay angels singing about brain tumours. In all seriousness, In My Life is the best disaster I’ve ever seen - there’s plenty of good stuff in there and the hilarious awfulness of the rest guarantees that it’s never boring with a surprisingly coherent internal logic.

2005 - 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Broadway)
William Finn’s contribution for the decade, Spelling Bee is another intimate show that bucked the odds through savvy producing and a brilliant mix of audience participation and emotional honesty. There are some people out there who will hate me for including this instead of Grey Gardens, but everybody has felt like a Barfee or an Olive at some point, whereas I have never felt like a crazy screaming cat lady.

2005 - Billy Elliot (West End)
The only British mega-musical to conquer London *and* Broadway this decade. The Woman in White tried, but failed to come together, whereas Elton John’s take on striking coal miners and dancing youngsters hit a chord with West End audiences still embittered 15 years after Thatcher and its feel good underdog story resonates with Americans.

2005 - The Light in the Piazza (Broadway)
Adam Guetell’s most successful score to date, and the show many hold up as the great art musical of recent years.

2006 - The Harder They Come (London Subsidised)
This is cheating a bit, mostly so that I could get in a 2006 show in English (the show didn’t go to a proper big venue until 2008), this is the first musical in Britain with an all-Black creative team and cast.

2006 - Rebecca (Vienna)
Michael Kunze reunites with long-term writing partner Sylvester Levay, shifting away from their preference for historicals to adapt Daphne DuMaurier’s legendary novel of broken affairs. A stunning score with beautiful lyrics and the best show to come from the German-speaking regions since...well...Kunze’s last show (Tanz der Vampire)

2007 - Spring Awakening (Broadway)
A hit thanks to sweeping the Tony awards, Spring takes Frank Wedekind’s classic play and hurls it into the present and shows that perhaps we haven’t become as progressive as we might think. Bonus points for an actual pop-rock composer (Duncan Sheik) providing the score. We need more people from the Billboard charts in the theatre.

2008 - Passing Strange (Broadway)
Stew may not be a big name, but his introspective tale of a middle-class Black youth on an international journey of self-discovery was the art-rocker choice from the 2007-2008 season and with the upcoming film will hopefully find a further life in regional and international productions.

2008 - In The Heights (Broadway)
The first Hispanic-focused musical on Broadway and another reminder that Kevin McCollum knows how to pick shows from up-and-coming talent and stands by his choices and faith: nobody thought Heights would last three months on Broadway after mixed reviews off-Broadway, but it wound up winning Best Musical.

2009 - Next to Normal (Broadway)
A fully realised American family drama as a nearly sung-through musical, Normal uses our reactions to mental illness to look at the fallacies of the nuclear family with a catchy, intelligent score. There’s no flinching from pain or singing one’s way to happiness here, and it hits all the harder because of it.




Cortney Jacobs said...

wow...tough to choose just one from each year...what about Little Women in...was it 2005? And although I'm not mad at you for it, a decade-long list leaving off Grey Gardens is like a french fry without ketchup. Or is it catsup?

You should do another list of "revivals." Lord knows we have gone crazy with those the past few years.

thanks for the post!

Cortney Jacobs said...

I meant TWO from each year..sorry

Rogue Zentradi said...

Revivals are harder to judge, partly because there's so many of them and also because the criteria are so much looser. Do you look at truly new interpretations? General competence? A reflection of the original work? I can run off one of those for each off the top of my head (Doyle's Sweeney, Encores/Weissler Wonderful Town, ACL) but putting a best of list together? Very hard.

Re: Little Women....I heard it was nice (never saw it myself) but there wasn't anything particularly special or impressive about it. Grey Gardens....I think we'll have to wait a while to see if it really influences anything or if it was a blip on the radar with a small yet rabid fanbase (see: A Catered Affair).

RJ said...

Mary Poppins?