Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Best of the Decade: The Worst Musicals

Let's just get the ugly out of the way, OK?  I had no trouble coming up with 10 musicals from the past 10 years that I didn't like.  And that is a decent fete when you factor in that I am only choosing from those I saw. 

Dance of the Vampires

From what I hear, I could do an entire Blogspot dedicated to just the rottenness of the "Vampire Trilogy" - and I'm not talking Twilight, either!  No, I'm talking about Lestat, Dance of the Vampires and Dracula: The Musical.  And there are a number of fast flops I missed that might have also made the list: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Hot Feet, Jane Eyre...

In the interest of fairness, I should also be upfront with you when I say that had even less trouble naming 10 flops that I loved anyway.  That list will be out soon enough. 

But for now... the 10 worst musicals I saw on Broadway in the last 10 years are:

10.  The Color Purple
On the upside:  I liked the scenery, and you can't help but love La Chanze no matter what she does, but...
Why I hated it:  Maybe it was disappointment more than anything.  I loved the book, I loved the movie.  The musical not so much.  Maybe I went in with a bad attitude:  Oprah's ego dressed up as charitable philanthropy annoys me enough, but when, at one point she wanted the official title to be Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple, I wanted to throw up, much as I do when Mel Brooks puts his name in the official title of his shows.  God Oprah, though, was also negating the Pulitzer Prize winning Alice Walker.  Different story had Oprah lobbied for the show to be called Alice Walker's The Color Purple.  Wiser heads prevailed and she was just a name above the title.  Of course, if I were a producer who actually put in more money than she did, I'd want my name up there, too.  But, ultimately, what did it for me was the unevenness of the book, the score that is stylistically all over the place, and an inexcusable amount of American Idol style histrionic singing - and that was before Fantasia came on board to do eight 3 or 4 shows a week.

9.  Monty Python's Spamalot
On the upside:  I did laugh heartily at the coconut shell "clip-clops".  And I worship at the altar of Sara Ramirez.
Why I hated it:  Because the coconut "clip clop" joke, like everything else in the show was done to death.  But mainly, I didn't like it for the same reason I wasn't popular in middle school: fart, boob and gay jokes just aren't funny to me.  Not even a crack of a smile.  Maybe it is a character flaw.  But BEST MUSICAL?   Please...  Don't get me wrong.  I love mindless entertainment (wait til you see where Mamma Mia! ranks).  But there has to be more to it than a pervading smugness that "we are funny to everyone."  Trust me.  You weren't.

8.  Sweet Charity
On the upside: PLEASE come back Christina!  Really, we love you...
Why I hated it:  For the same reason no one wants to do a truly original revival of Pippin.  Half of what makes Sweet Charity one of the best musical comedies ever (besides the hilarious book and flawless score) is the direction, edge and darkness of Bob Fosse.  Never dick around with "Big Spender."  See Rob Ashford's "Turkey Lurkey Time" to see why you should never change iconic Broadway moments.

7.  The Little Mermaid
On the upside: Sierra Boggess.  Period.
Why I hated it:  How could Disney spend a zillion dollars on something so unbelievably ugly and cheap looking?  And I could totally buy the wheelies for the fish that scurry at the bottom of the sea, but could there be SOME fish between the floor and sea level?  Disney learned, though they'd never admit it: Finding Nemo: The Musical is the gold standard for shows about the deep blue see.  It makes The Lion King close to dull to look at.

6.  Bye Bye Birdie
On the upside:  Maybe they will stop hiring Brynn Williams for Broadway shows after this.  And Allie Trimm continues to be a girl to watch in the future.
Why I hated it:  I have never been so disappointed in a cast in my life.  The caliber of that cast is nearly untouchable, but director Robert Longbottom really blew it (I still say Gina Gershon wasn't as bad as everyone says, though).  It may be the biggest sin of the Musical Theatre Commandments: Thou shalt not waste mega-potential.

5.  Taboo
On the upside: Rosie (so far) has returned to the right side of the footlights since this debacle.  And Euan Morton ended up staying over here and is becoming a decent stage star.
Why I hated it:  P-R-E-T-E-N-T-I-O-U-S.  To the point of being boring.  Who knew being "taboo" was less exciting than being a "geek"?

4.  Oklahoma!
On the upside: It gave us another (increasingly rare) chance to see Patrick Wilson on stage.
Why I hated it:  I think the opening image says it all:  during the interminably long overture, we watch Aunt Eller churn butter. The show turned out to be an equally slow, boring process.  At least butter leaves a pleasant taste in your mouth.

3.  Passing Strange
On the upside: The show gave us Daniel Breaker and Whatsername.  (And while I'm thinking about it, God, please give these talented actors decent shows to be in.)
Why I hated it:  Another way to spell "pretentious"?  S-T-E-W.  Oddly enough, that's also apparently how you spell self-serving, smug and the word for "not nearly as great as everyone tells you you are."  Critics told us to love it, which is as bad as critics telling us to hate something.  But audiences know good when they see it (most of the time), and Passing Strange was fleeting.  (The film of the stage version is equally STEW, it's called SPIKE LEE.)

2.  The Producers, the New Mel Brooks Musical
On the upside:  I no longer get a little "throw up"in the back of my throat when I pass the St. James Theatre.  And I paid $26.50 for standing room, and had a better view than they guy who sat in the seat in front of me.  He paid over $200 for his seat.  But even better, time is finally starting to show that the show wasn't really all that.  The cast made it great. 
Why I hated it:  I hate over acting.  They say Nathan Lane is "pushing" in The Addams Family.  If that's the case, he either had a hernia or hemorrhoids by the time he was done "pushing" the stupidity of this show.  I remember the exact moment I laughed during the entire 2 hours, 45 minutes of the show:  when the kick line formed a swastika in a Busby Berkley-style ceiling mirror.  And I felt guilty about that.

And the worst musical of the first 10 seasons of the new millennium is......

1.  The Pirate Queen
On the upside: There isn't one.  OK.  Linda Balgord's costumes were beautiful.
Why I hated it: Stephanie Block never changed her facial expression - I was in the 2nd row, center orchestra - not once.  Bad Botox series, Steph?  But the single most unintentionally funny thing that I have ever witnessed in any theatre at any time happened in The Pirate Queen:  Her ship is being attacked, and she's in the middle of an apparently difficult childbirth.  There is blood dripping down and off her dress, and she is so weak she can't move.  The baby is born to the loud sound effect of something squishy, the midwife knots up a piece of material to make us think she really had the kid, and the good old Pirate Queen, instantly refreshed stands up, and, sword in hand, goes back up on deck to kill some bad guys.  I literally laughed out loud so loud that the midwife made nasty eye-contact with me.  It was the only time in all ten years that I wanted to leave at intermission, and had I not been on a charter bus trip, I would have.

So there you have it.  Bring it on Spamalot fans!  At least you can't say my "worst" list doesn't cover the full range here - 2 Best Musicals and several critically acclaimed shows are right up (or down in this case) there with crappy flops.

Comments?  Leave one here or email me at (Note the spelling!)


  1. Interesting list. I saw The Producers long after Nathan Lane left it. I can't say I loved it, but I enjoyed it. I saw Spamalot in London about 3 years ago, and I did really enjoy that. I love Monty Python humor though. I didn't see Passing Strange live- just the DVD- which I had a hard time getting through. I didn't like that one at all. I just saw a wonderful production of Sweet Charity in London. I absolutely loved it. I haven't seen the others on your list. And I think I'm OK with that :)

  2. The Pirate Queen's score, however, was arguably among the best of the first half of the decade, even if the show wasn't.


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