Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top Musicals of the Teens

To close out 2019, I'm making a list of the best new American musicals of the teens. I'm only including new American musicals (so no Matilda) that premiered in New York between 2013 and 2019.

No doubt many people will take issue with some of my choices, and wonder why some shows were left off the list. (Sorry, Allegiance and Amazing Grace! There was only so much room. And I never saw The Band's Visit.) Here they are:

10. Something Rotten - Okay, the egg joke runs a little too long, but this musical send-up of Shakespeare practically had me rolling in the aisle.

9. Fun Home - I honestly hated this show when I first saw it, but that was due to Sam Gold's horrible direction. The more I think about it, though, the more I think it might be Jeanine Tesori's best score yet.

8. Dear Evan Hansen - I have reservations about this show as well, but I still think it's far more clever than the critics who praised it blindly. Plus, it's hard to get "You Will Be Found" out of your head.

7.  A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder - This musical managed to escape from development and copyright-law hell in order to win the Tony in 2014. It remains one of my favorite shows of the decade.

6. Desperate Measures - This Off-Broadway gem in one of the smartest shows of the decade, and it deserves to have a long life on the regional circuit. I never would have thought of turning Measure for Measure into a Wild West musical comedy... but it works!

5. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 - I saw the Off-Broadway incarnation of this play in 2013, and loved it just as much when I saw in on Broadway four years later. Dave Malloy's music is enchanting, and the show manages to craft a small portion of Tolstoy's novel into a stage show that packs a major punch.

4. Unlock'd - Like Desperate Measures, this show had a brief Off-Broadway run, but needs to be seen by far more people. Its source material, Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, was equally unpromising for a musical comedy, but in addition to being as witty as Pope, it also manages to find adventure, pathos, and even wisdom.

3. Tamar of the River - This epic piece by Marisa Michelson and Joshua H. Cohen is one of the most ambitious shows to premiere in New York during the teens. Nothing else sounds quite like it, and if you don't believe me, buy the cast album. The story, taken very loosely from the book of Genesis, remains as important today as it was when the show premiered Off-Broadway in 2013.

2. Hadestown - Though I've yet to see the Broadway version of Hadestown, and the London production left me rather cold, when I saw the show at New York Theatre Workshop it blew me away. The cast recording of that production remains a frequently visited place on my iPod, and not just because of Patrick Page's amazing performance of "Why We Build the Wall." Anais Mitchell's play is one of the best explorations of tragedy the American theater has produced in recent years.

1. Hamilton - This choice should come as no surprise. Lin-Manuel Miranda came into his own with this show, crafting both music and lyrics that resonate on multiple levels. Sometimes the show has to play a little fast and loose with history, but rather than being simply a glorification of Alexander Hamilton, it recognizes his flaws, and even pays tribute to the musical's villain, Aaron Burr. Perhaps most movingly, it rescues Eliza Hamilton from the dustbin of history, writing her back into the narrative.

Who will write the top musicals of the '20s? Miranda? Mitchell? Michelson and Cohen? Maybe all of the above.