Towards the start of each semester, the students in my musical-theater history course at the Boston Conservatory embark upon two writing projects: the Most Overrated Musical and the Most Underrated Musical. See below for the results to the former. Herein lie the results to the latter.
Major caveat: my students are unquestionably influenced in their choice of shows by my impassioned in-class rhetoric, as well as my previous posts and lists on the subject on this very blog. So this is a decidedly skewed sampling, one that doesn't even begin to approach scientific validity. Nonetheless, I like to post the results to give my readers a glimpse into what the theater queens of tomorrow are thinking with regard to overall show quality.
Here are the shows that received more than one "vote" each:
And here are the shows that received one vote a piece:
Annie, Beauty and the Beast, Brigadoon, Bye Bye Birdie, Footloose, The Last Five Years, Legally Blonde, Les Miserables, The Light in the Piazza, The Most Happy Fella, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Secret Garden, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Tick Tick Boom, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Now, I know what you're thinking: "Wicked?! How could anyone call Wicked underrated? It's one of the biggest hit shows in the history of ever!" Well, I offer my students a number of essential categories into which an "underrated" show might fall: an undiscovered or forgotten gem (She Loves Me, 110 in the Shade), a financially unsuccessful show that may have deserved a longer run (The Wedding Singer, A Catered Affair) or an overblown spectacle that doesn't get the credit it deserves (Wicked, Les Miserables). The idea isn't for students to make a watertight, unassailable case for the show in question. It's to get them thinking more analytically about the artistic value of the shows that they see and perform in.
I've always been a big fan of Wicked. I happen to think that it has a whole lot more going for it than simply a spectacular production and flying green witches. It also reflects a lot of the topics, tactics, and techniques that I cover in my musical-theater history course, including believable and compelling character arcs (Elphaba, Glinda, Fiyero, and Nessa Rose), ambitious extended musical sequences ("No One Mourns the Wicked," "Dancing Through Life"), dramatically motivated reprises ("I'm Not That Girl"), political allegory ("Popular," "Wonderful"), as well as leitmotifs ("...unlimited...," "...I'm limited..."). To me, Wicked is very similar to Cabaret or Chicago in the sense that you can enjoy the show purely for its entertainment value, or you could listen more closely and maybe learn something.
I'm also totally on board with The Wedding Singer. It was one of the first shows I ever reviewed on this blog, and at the time I thought it was fairly mediocre. But in the years since the show bowed (and bowed out) on Broadway, the cast recording has made me a genuine fan. There's some really smart writing in the book and the lyrics, the songs are tuneful, and the orchestrations instantly transport me back to my distant youth in the 1980s. It also employs contrafactum ("Letter From Linda," "Letter From Grandma"), extended musical sequences ("Not That Kind of Thing," "Saturday Night in the City"), and leitmotifs ("...tell the night to save its moonlight..."). Plus, the show has its heart in the right place, and it seems to be catching on in regional and high school theaters. I know I'd much rather see The Wedding Singer proliferate than, say, Fame or Footloose. High schools need more than just Grease and Bye Bye Birdie in their repertoire.
So, whaddya think, dear reader? Any of my students choices surprise? Appall? Anything missing that you'd add to the list?