Friday, June 11, 2010

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Best New Musicals

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Best New Musicals

During the 2009-10 Theatrical Season, I've had the opportunity to see over 80 performances of a wide range of new and revived musicals and plays, as well as other theatrical events.

For the third year in a row, I've been the least enthusiastic about the quality among new musicals. But as disheartening as the last two seasons prior to this one were, the season just ending was particularly dismal, as even The New York Times' Charles Isherwood has so eloquently asserted.

That's not to say that there weren't new musicals I've enjoyed over the past year, but the offerings I've seen had me really reaching for a full complement of my five favorites.

While it was tempting to completely shelve by usual "5 Best New Musicals" list altogether, I've opted instead to do away with my "5 Worst" list of shows because it would just be a tad too depressing.

So, without further ado, here is my list of the "5 Best New Musicals" over the 12 months ending April 30, 2010:

5 - Everyday Rapture (American Airlines Theatre, Roundabout Theatre Company, New York, City, New York)

Dismiss Sherie Rene Scott’s Everyday Rapture as nothing more than Broadway navel-gazing at your own peril. It’s Scott’s very soul that’s laid completely bare in this most improbable of Great White Way shows.

Wearing her enormous heart on her sleeve, Scott manages to win ours as she shares her semi-semi-autobiographic journey in a very winning, surpising and often poignant way. Scott enraptures you throughout with talent that’s anything but everyday.

4 - Memphis (Shubert Theatre, New York City, New York)

With a whole heck of a lot of hockadoo, the rhythmically-infused Memphis is a dazzling destination worth the trip. As one of the year's only original musicals, Memphis is, if not entirely fresh, a solid crowd pleaser that will have you cheering.

Two principal reasons are Chad Kimball and Montego Glover. With a folksy swagger, Kimball's Huey is a great ball of fire who can't be extinguished. Then there's Glover's Felicia in which we witness an amazing ascent both for a captivating character and an immensely impassioned new Broadway star. Glover took my breath away. The boundless soul within Memphis has the power to rock your heart.

4 - Caroline, Or Change (Wurtele Thrust Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Finally! Change I could believe in. While Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's Caroline, Or Change may not truly fit the definition of "new," I'm including it here since I had never seen it until it played Minneapolis last summer. This intensely profound, mystical musical as directed and choreographed by Marcela Lorca transfixed and even tranported me.

Greta Oglesby's brave turn as Caroline alone was worth the price of admission. She wrung every last drop of pathos out of her performance, making her Caroline infinitely sympathetic. As Oglesby transformed during this musical, she broke my heart.

2 - Chita Rivera (Birdland, New York City, New York)

If the 77-years young Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero, better known as Chita Rivera, hadn't been born the Broadway Baby she is, the Great White Way would have had to invent her. The fact that she's the genuine article who's still going strong after all these years not only becomes her tenacity, but it's a testament to her courage and talent.

What really becomes Chita Rivera is that she continues to mesmerize adoring audiences as she had proven yet again during her all-too-brief cabaret stint late last year at Birdland. Sure, we've heard many of the enchanting anecdotes before. But when the enduring and endearing Ms. Rivera can still run circles around gifted performers half her age, she effortlessly retains the mantle as the singular consummate entertainer of our time. If you've never seen Chita Rivera perform live, you simply haven't lived.

1 - Fela! (Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York City, New York)

Bill T. Jones' sublime Fela! dares to dream its own stylized mantle of "most original new musical on Broadway." Infused with the rascally Fela Kuti's radicalism and rhythms, this revolutionary tuner is almost all originality, with little artificiality.

In what has to be the most transcendent musical to descend upon a Broadway stage in years, Fela! envelopes the senses in this most unusual of jukebox musicals that simply defies description and exceeds all expecations.

Jones has conceived a living, breathing, pulsating and truly magical musical monument to a man most in America may never have heard of. In telling Kuti's story and showcasing his infectious music, it's a tribute to Jones that he makes us feel Fela! so deeply.

Fela! is one of the most compelling and affecting musicals you're likely to see this or any other year. As an equally entertaining piece of musical theatre, I can't fail to strongly recommend this captivating and worthy show. Long live Fela!

So what were the best new musicals you saw over the past year? I invite you to join the conversation by sharing your theatre experiences with me.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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