During March, we ran something of an experiment on our Instagram account and hosted a couple of polls asking our followers to choose between the various musicals that opened on Broadway in 2019. What you’re going to read below includes some brief thoughts on the shows in the order they were ranked by you, dear readers. Yes, the placement of the shows on this Saturday List is all you! So let’s get started….
The four musicals that missed the vote boat were Tina, The Lighting Thief, Jagged Little Pill and Tootsie. Tina is the one that rises to the status of being an honourable mention. The show earned its original Tina, Adrienne Warren, both a Tony Award and a Drama Desk and it shows all signs of picking up steam as it heads towards becoming an international juggernaut. The Lighting Thief may be a casualty because it’s probably just not the kind of show that can find an audience on Broadway and so it pales in comparison with its peers. Jagged Little Pill and Tootsie are two shows that found themselves embroiled in the middle of fairly controversial discussions, the former around the erasure of a nonbinary character and the subsequent management of that situation by the show’s producers and the latter using various aspects of gender identity as pretty poor punchlines and cliched plot devices. As such, it’s understandable that they didn’t receive major support from the majority of the Musical Cyberspace readers who took part in our polls. On to the top five!
5. Ain’t Too Proud
Ain’t Too Proud is the story of The Temptations, a bio-musical that uses the music made popular by the group and a couple of other artists who were their contemporaries to tell their story. A huge number of hits – from “Shout” and “Ball of Confusion” through “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “War” – punctuate the evening, sometimes in very inventive ways, although overall the show tends to fall a little into the pattern of “and then…”, “and then..”, “and then…”. Although it is probably most interesting to fans of The Temptations, there is a deeply human element that book-writer Dominique Morisseau to the stories of the individual members of the group which gives it a wider appeal.
4. Be More Chill
This is a show that a lot of people wanted to do well as the buzz of its opening drew near. Despite a long run-up on the road to Broadway via a regional premiere and an off-Broadway run though, it lasted only 177 performances in its main stem run. Adapted from a YA sci-fi novel by Ned Vizzini by Joe Tracz with a score by Joe Iconis, it does seem like something of a long shot and is probably destined to be a cult show. The score pulses with energy as it lights up key moments in the fairly high-concept plot and it yielded a couple of good bops like “More Than Survive” and “I Love Play Rehearsal” and one really great song, “Michael in the Bathroom.” With a West End run coming up in June and a film in development, perhaps Be More Chill will yet find its stride.
3. Moulin Rouge
People have wanted an official stage adaptation of Moulin Rouge for a long time. The original Baz Luhrman film was released in 2001 and the adaptation duties insofar as the book is concerned fell to Josh Logan. The show was a big winner at the 74th Tony Awards, winning 10 awards out of 14 nominations, and is the first of two “Best Musicals” on this list. Like the film, the approach is something that stimulates something of a sensory overload, but the specifics of the stage show are its own, including the interpolation of many new pop songs into Logan’s restructured storyline. It is certainly the kind of celebration of performance that feels apt coming out of the COVID19 pandemic.
Someone must have said “Beetlejuice” three times because following its closure after 366 performances in 2020, the production is set to reopen on Broadway later this month. Based on the 1988 Tim Burton, the stage show has a book by Scott Brown and Anthony King with a score by Eddie Perfect. Perhaps the best thing that could happen in this adaptation was the throughline given to Lydia, a character who observes and rather hovers around the edges of the film’s narrative, which runs out of steam in its third act, as many of Burton’s films do. On the other hand, not everything in the same show works at the same level – but it moves so fast, that there’s barely any time to notice.
Shows with one person behind the book, music and lyrics are relatively rare and Hadestown is one of them, with folk singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell being the mastermind behind the show. Having first premiered what would eventually hit Broadway in 2006, Mitchell has chipped away at her artwork bit by bit – an approach that saw the show take home eight awards – including Best Musical and Best Original Score – at the 73rd Tony Awards. There’s only one way to describe Hadestown and that is as an experience. As a storytelling vehicle, it is just totally immersive and draws you into the tale of Orpheus, Euridice, Hades, Persephone, Hermes and The Fates fully. Emerging from that experience, you really feel like you’ve been through something transformative. It’s magical.
Well, that’s that! Would you have ranked the musicals of 2019 in this order? Head to the comment box and sound off!