In this post I am going to declare the winners for the remaining four first-round pairings. My previous post explains the methodology I used to choose these 16 musicals as candidates for the best Tony-nominated musical of the 2010-2019 decade. If you would like to hear me explain my choices for each pairing, check out this video.
Pairing 5: Rock and Roll History
About nine years have passed since I saw Memphis (2010) on Broadway. I remember enjoying it and thinking that Chad Kimball was excellent as Huey Calhoun, a white DJ in the early 1950’s who plays rock music sung by African-American artists for white audiences (Memphis is a clear example of the white-savior trope). I also remember seeing the Tony nominations for 2010 and thinking, “Wow! 2010 is a weak year for original musicals.” In contrast, I’ve seen Million Dollar Quartet (2010) four times–three during its historic six-year run at the Apollo Theater, where Million Dollar Quartet became the longest-running musical in Chicago history. The Johnny Cash rendition of “Sixteen Tons” alone is worth the price of admission, and the book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux is another bonus.
Advancing: Million Dollar Quartet
Children Take the Lead
Maybe referring to Small Alison as “the lead” of Fun Home (2015) is a stretch, but my first exposure to this brilliant musical was watching Sydney Lucas perform “Ring of Keys” at the Tony awards. I was mesmerized both by the performance and by the lyrics, which express her feelings upon seeing an “old school butch” woman for the first time. “Raincoat of Love” is another memorable recollection song, in this case reflecting Alison’s wish that she could live in a 70’s-style sitcom family far from the reality of her father’s difficult mood swings. Matilda the Musical (2013) offers an equally compelling take on childhood perspectives although it is less based in realism. This musical won me over early in Act 1 with “School Song,” in which Big Kids express the terrors of school by working through the alphabet. The children in Matilda prove that they can find power by banding together against those who want to push them down. Both musicals are insightful literary adaptations, but Fun Home is the more emotionally gripping.
Advancing: Fun Home
Billy Porter Musicals
Everyone I know who has seen Kinky Boots (2013) loves it, including people who are not usually theater lovers. Yet, I struggled to find anything that I liked in this musical other than Billy Porter’s Tony-winning performance as Lola. I never quite bought into the premise that Charlie Price could save his town by focusing on the niche market of high-heeled boots, but audiences cheered for every overly-sequined article of footwear during Kinky Boots‘ six-year run on Broadway. Shuffle Along (2016), on the other hand, was sadly not a hit. Starring the amazing talents of Audra McDonald, Brian Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Billy Porter, Shuffle Along recounts the story of a ground-breaking all-black vaudeville production that was a surprise New York hit in 1921. Highlights include the jazz score and the intriguing behind-the-scenes conflicts.
Advancing: Shuffle Along
The Aftermath of War
I’m always concerned when I walk into a show with high expectations. With Come From Away (2017), I already loved the songs “Welcome to the Rock” and “Me and the Sky.” Factor in recommendations from friends and family, which were beyond glowing. Thankfully, Come from Away is the rare show that manages to exceed the highest of expectations. The tight, emotional storytelling is a perfect tribute for the events of 9-11 and the Newfoundland communities who supported stranded airline passengers. My expectations for An American in Paris (2015) were not nearly so high, but I was quickly captivated by the story line of four people trying to rebuild their lives in a post-WWII Paris, and (of course) the dancing is spectacular. An American in Paris is a winner, but Come From Away has much more to offer audiences looking for something more modern than Gershwin.
Advancing: Come from Away
That concludes round 1. Make sure to check back soon to see who wins in the semifinals. Please leave a comment to express your opinions about any of the musicals featured in this tournament.