Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March Musical Madness!

Apparently there's some sort of sports tournament this month that's making everyone want to rank things in the form of brackets. I don't really get it, but when I saw this floating around the internet, I couldn't resist. 64 musicals are entered into this bracket, with many many one-on-one comparisons resulting in one musical theater winner. (Click on the bracket above to enlarge it.)

My method for filling this out was not to pick the "better" or "best" musical, because who am I to judge that? And with such diversity, from Oklahoma! to Book of Mormon, many comparisons are like apples to oranges. Instead, I chose the musicals that I enjoy the most, or that have meant the most to me, or that I see as important in musical theater history. I'm sure there are as many different results as there are people who fill this out. If this looks like fun to you, you can get a blank bracket here and fill it out yourself.

A few notes on some of the comparisons:
  • Of the 64 musicals listed, there are 12 I have not seen on stage or screen (marked with a question mark). In those cases I chose the musical I have seen. I concede that those are uninformed decisions, and I may change my mind if and when I see those remaining 12.
  • Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that RENT ended up as my ultimate winner. I'm not saying that RENT is the best musical ever written, but it's the one that's meant the most to me in my life, and continues to mean the most to me. When I first saw RENT on the Tonys in 1996 (where it won four awards, including best musical, book, and score), and then live on stage in 1997, I was fresh out of college, living on my own for the first time, going to grad school, with no car (literally "riding my bike midday past the three piece suits"), and it really struck a chord with me. I've seen it 13 times total, could sing the entire soundtrack, and will go see it any opportunity I get.
  • Sound of Music ranked pretty high for me for mostly sentimental reasons. I've loved the movie since I was a kid, it was one of the two musicals for which I played in the pit orchestra in high school, and I studied abroad in Salzburg for a semester in college. Watching the movie is very nostalgic for me on many levels. But still, it lost out to...
  • Wicked, which is one of those rare musicals that is both a huge success (it's been playing on Broadway for nine years and counting) and is actually really good. It's probably my favorite soundtrack to sing along with in my car.
  • West Side Story is another of my favorite musical movies, but the reason it went all the way to the final battle is because of its place in musical theater history. Firstly, it's a collaboration of four giants in the music-theater-dance world - Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), Leonard Berstein (music), Jerome Robbins (choreography), and Arthur Laurents (director). The choreography is iconic and the music has become part of our popular culture. That's the reason it took out Book of Mormon (really unfair of to put them head to head in the first round), Next to Normal (which I think is one of the best musicals written in this century), and ...
  • Hair. I love Hair, for itself and for its place in musical theater history. It's the first Broadway musical that reflected what was actually happening in the world right outside the theater. It may seem pretty safe today, but they were burning draft cards on stage in 1968, not to mention the drug use, nudity, and interracial relationships (shortly after the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia). And it's another one where the music crossed over from the musical theater world into pop culture.
  • For someone who often complains about jukebox musicals, Jersey Boys ranked pretty high on my bracket. Partly it's because of lack of competition, but I also think it's the exception that proves the rule. The clever book tells the story of the real musicians and their rise to and fall from fame, instead of some silly made up story to fit awkwardly into the songs.
I could go on and on, but it's Survivor night, so I'll leave it at that. Please comment below if you agree or disagree about a particular match-up!

2014 Update:
Of the 12 musicals I hadn't seen last year, I have seen one of them since - Phantom of the Opera. And I would still rank Oklahoma above it. Although after seeing a magical production of The Music Man by Ten Thousand Things recently, I would rank it above Oklahoma.

2015 Update:
Of the 11 musicals I hadn't seen last year, I have seen two of them since - Oliver! and Pippin. (And I plan to see two more this year - Damn Yankees at the Ordway and Carousel at Bloomington Civic Theatre.) As much as I loved Pippin, no way I'm ranking it above Hair. Oliver! vs. Billy Elliot is a bit tougher, I might have to say Oliver! because of the many familiar songs. In fact I may have to rethink that whole section in light of BCT's delightful production of Guys and Dolls last year. This bracket might look a little different if I filled it out today.

2016 Update:
Here it is, March again, and my CBS soaps are preempted. Must mean it's time to update this bracket. As I mentioned last year, I have checked off two more of those original unknown twelve, Damn Yankees and Carousel. And even though I enjoyed them both, I've still got to give it to The Full Monty (so fun!) and Company (probably my favorite Sondheim). The bracket is still available (although I wish they'd update it with new entries - hello Hamilton!) if you want to play along!