Over the past year, I've had opportunities to take in over 70 performances of a wide range of musicals, plays and "special theatrical events" both on Broadway and off, as well as productions from Melbourne and Sydney to London with plenty of stops in between.
Thankfully, I've enjoyed so many more shows than the ones that left me groaning. Yet, it takes seeing those bad productions to make me truly appreciate the good ones. And on the whole, I would much rather see a terrible show live on stage than take in virtually any other form of entertainment. It's that in-the-moment communal experience with other theatre lovers that makes every stage performance worth seeing. Or almost.
As a completely independent theatre blogger beholden to no one -- I pay for every ticket and I still take no advertising -- I'm exercising my freedom of speech by presenting my fourth annual list of the "5 Worst" shows I've seen during the 2008-09 Theatrical Season.
5 - To Be Or Not To Be (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York, New York)
Daring to ask Shakespeare's famous question To Be Or Not To Be right up front in the title of a play is a risky proposition, to be sure. But since there's no shying away from responding, the answer is a simple, "No." Why playwright Nick Whitby and director Casey Nicholaw ever decided this was Broadway ready? Well, that my dear reader is the real question.
4 - The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (Bailiwick Repertory Theatre, Chicago, Illinois)
While I have no doubt that The Hunchback Of Notre Dame has been a labor of love for Dennis DeYoung of Styx fame, it’s almost as if he has spent a little too much time studying the musical techniques offered by Andrew Lloyd Webber or the team that gave the world Les Misérables. The world of musical theatre has long since moved on. Could this Hunchback someday prove to be the bell ringer DeYoung envisioned? The answer is a qualified "yes." But this incarnation took its toll.
3 - Annie (Providence Performing Arts Center, Providence, Rhode Island)
Leapin' lizards, what a dog! The current touring production of Annie is a pale imitation of the original show I loved so much. Bet your bottom dollar, because it looks as cheap as it is bad. There's absolutely no magic. With its heavy use of scrims, no wonder this revival falls so flat. This warmed-over Annie marks the worst, most disappointing musical revival I’ve seen over the past year. It’s a hard knock, but someday, if not tomorrow, a dazzling revival worthy of the exceptional core show will come along.
2 - You're Welcome America. A Final Night With George W Bush (Cort Theatre, New York, New York)
Rather than too little, too late, this occasionally funny retread of the last eight years feels like far too much so soon after the eponymous president left office. So much for mission accomplished. While You're Welcome America. A Final Night With George W Bush has some genuine laughs and moments of inspiration, this Will Farrell vehicle tries to shock with purported images of the Commander-in-Chief's chief of staff. It's ironic that a show about a president often accused of intellectual laziness suffers from too much of the same. While that may work on television, it wasn't really ready for a prime Broadway berth.
1 - Eddie Izzard: Stripped (State Theatre, Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Stripped seemed like an apt metaphor for this threadbare show that was bereft of articulate, cogent thought I had come to expect from comedian/actor Eddie Izzard. Also largely missing was the humor. But Stripped instead unintentionally came off as a pseudo-intellectual's desire to have his rambling and often incoherent thoughts -- which he's constantly interrupting himself, only to ask the audience, "Where was I?" -- taken seriously. Feeling truly trapped during an appallingly unpolished performance, the only thing I felt stripped of was the money I paid to sit through this tedious slog.
So, there you have them: SOB's choices for the "5 Worst" shows I endured, I mean enjoyed, during the 2008-09 Theatrical Season. As I've stated in previous years:
Of course, this is all in the eyes of the beholder. You may vehemently disagree or wonder whether I even have a clue as to what is artistic and what is not. But since my goal in life is to enjoy it rather than simply being a dilettante, I’m going to tell it like I see it by naming the five productions that I enjoyed less than any others.If you saw any of these shows, let me know what you thought. And please feel free to share the worst shows you sat through (or walked out of) during that past year!
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).