Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Greatest... Ever?

My friend Mike sent me an email with a link to this article from New York Magazine.  Considering the panel - experts, all, in the arts - their ideas are difficult to dismiss.  In it, the likes of Frank Rich, Nora Ephron, George C. Wolfe and Jonathan Tunick had to create a list of the Greatest Broadway Musicals of all time.  What I found most interesting is that they had some trouble coming to a consensus about what exactly makes a musical a musical (I agree with what they say for the most part, though I don't think it matters that a show is through-composed or does or doesn't have dancing per se...).  And I found it amusing that even as I was reading, I was trying to compile my own list of 6, AND that, like their's my list is pretty much devoid of the"happy", "light and frothy" musical.

No matter how you slice it, Sweeney Todd
seems to make every "best of" theatre list!

I've kind of touched on this territory before - the best musicals of the 21st century, so far; the best musicals by Stephen Sondheim, etc.  But to try and think of the 6 greatest musicals EVER?  Phew!  That is daunting.

Now and Forever, maybe... but GREAT?

Mike came up with this observation, too, which I think is worth considering:  their lists pretty much ignore anything contemporary, though there is a healthy banter about Caroline, or Change.  I think, ultimately, that there needs to be some distance between then and now. See what stands the test of time, etc.  I mean, at the time, Cats was a phenomenon and certainly changed the business of theatre (merchandising, branding, etc.), but ultimately, is it a GREAT musical?

Mike also offered up what he considers to be the 6 greatest musicals of all time - not a happy-go-lucky one in the bunch:
  • Carousel
  • The Light In The Piazza
  • The Most Happy Fella
  • Sunday in the Park with George
  • Sweeney Todd
  • West Side Story

Old enough to revived and considered great...

My list of 6: 
  • A Chorus Line
  • Guys and Dolls
  • Gypsy
  • South Pacific
  • Sweeney Todd
  • West Side Story

Interesting that we both picked a Rodgers and Hammerstein show and three shows connected to Stephen Sondheim, and two of THOSE the exact same.

...maybe great some day, but too soon to tell.

Now, understand we were emailing back and forth, and both of us realized simultaneously that while we recognized these as GREAT musicals, neither one of us would put all 6 on a list of our most favorite list.  He talked about how he pretty much enthused over Avenue Q, American Idiot, next to normal, and Spring Awakening over most of the ones on his list of GREAT musicals.  I almost at the same time said that while I recognized my choices as great pieces of the art form, I didn't really obsess, love or adore most of them, citing Spring Awakening, next to normal as "current" shows that I LOVE, ADORE and OBSESS over, as well as the notion that I'd run to a revival of Company, Cabaret, She Loves Me and Fiddler on the Roof.  But, if I never see South Pacific again, I'm OK with that, too.  You know?

Perfectly marvelous AND great!
Again, not many really cheery pieces among all of those, either.  I guess ultimately, that one can recognize any piece of great art and appreciate it, but the art that really becomes a part of your soul is that which speaks to you, makes you reevaluate, reconsider and rethink how you see life.  And it has to entertain you and needs to transport you away from your life that day, and stick with you.

One of my favorite times in the theatre, ever!

And that's where the "happy" shows come in for me.  Give me a Mystery of Edwin Drood, Mamma Mia!, The Full Monty, Hello, Dolly!, even a Movin' Out anytime.  They take me away in different ways, but they really take me away.  I laugh, cry, cheer, sing along, and marvel at the artistry of art/entertainment, which is just as, if not more, valuable than the artistry of more serious art.  (And understand that I am in no way diminishing the less serious shows as less "art.")

Twenty years from now, I have to wonder, will any of today's shows get on that list of GREAT musicals?

What do you think?  I'd love to run a blog with your lists of the 6 (or less) GREATEST BROADWAY MUSICALS, EVER.  I hope to hear from you!

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