Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Best of 2013: The Best Musicals I Saw on Stage

With a relative scarcity of new musicals making big Broadway splashesonly Kinky Boots, Matilda and Motown the Musical seem to be successes worth notingand the relative mediocrity of Big Fish, which was Chicago's big world premiere production before heading to a disappointing run on Broadway, 2013 doesn't instantly strike me as a great year for musical theater.

Yet even without a trip to New York this year—seemingly theatrically unnecessary due to having seen Kinky Boots in its 2012 pre-Broadway Chicago run, catching Matilda while in London this summer and already having tickets to Motown next year as part of my Broadway in Chicago subscription—I wound up enjoying a good number of musicals I saw on stage over the past 12 months.

From the Lyric Opera's glorious staging of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma to a terrific touring production of Anything Goes to a resplendent, full-octane Les Miserables in London's West End, plus satisfying takes on Cabaret and Evita, I was reminded how mirthful "classic" musicals can be. Not too surprisingly, I was also fully satisfied with another viewing of The Book of Mormon before it left Chicago, and of Wicked in its return.

Oklahoma - Lyric Opera of Chicago
In terms of anything new, I largely loved Mary Zimmerman's lush staging of The Jungle Book at the Goodman Theatre (likely to wind up on Broadway), tremendously enjoyed the laudably rocking and rebellious Matilda and liked the recent Tony-winning Once, though wished I could have seen it in a more intimate setting than the cavernous Oriental Theatre.

Big Fish had much to appreciate--including Norbert Leo Butz in the lead role and inventive staging by Susan Stroman--but the songs were largely forgettable, an issue that also relegated Catch Me If You Can to just "so-so."

Once Upon a Dream starring the Rascals wasn't much of a "musical," but enjoyable nonetheless, as were Hank Williams: Lost Highway and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.

The Jungle Book - Goodman Theatre
I appreciated getting to see Barnum for the first time ever, in a strong Mercury Theatre production, and enjoyed the stage musical of Elf despite never seeing the movie.

All in all, out of 27 musicals seen on stage this year, from London's West End to Skokie's Devonshire Playhouse for community theater, there was really only one I didn't much like: Flashdance the Musical, and even that had its moments.

But after having cited virtually everything on it, here is my list of...

The Best Musicals I Saw On Stage in 2013:

(Note: My rankings are based on my enjoyment of the particular productions, but blend in the quality of the source material as well. I included a couple shows that were staged as operas.)

1. Oklahoma - Lyric Opera of Chicago (my review)

2. Les Misérables - Queen's Theatre, London 

3. Wicked - Oriental Theatre (my review)

4. The Book of Mormon - Bank of America Theater (Broadway in Chicago) 

5. Matilda - Cambridge Theatre, London

6. Anything Goes - Cadillac Palace (Broadway in Chicago) (my review)

7. The Jungle Book - Goodman Theatre (my review)

8. Next to Normal - Drury Lane Oakbrook (my review)

9. The Grapes of Wrath - Northwestern University Opera Theater (my review)

10. Once - Oriental Theatre (my review)

Honorable Mention (in order of preference)

Barnum - Mercury Theatre (my review)
Barnum - Mercury Theatre

Buddy - Cadillac Palace (Broadway in Chicago) (my review)

Evita - Oriental Theatre (Broadway in Chicago) (my review)

Mary Poppins - Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (my review)

Hank Williams: Lost Highway - Greenhouse Theater (American Blues Theater) (my review)

Opera in Focus
Now & Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber - Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (my review)

Jekyll & Hyde - Cadillac Palace (Broadway in Chicago) (my review)

Special Mention  

Opera in Focus (Puppet Opera) - June production featuring opera & musical selections (my review)

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