Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Best of 2017: The Best Musicals I Saw Onstage

Obviously, all of my Best of 2017 lists--or those of any other year--are imprecise.

Not only are they based solely on my tastes, whims and often faded memories months down the road--though I do refer to my own reviews and ratings--they are unavoidably as dependent on what I didn't see or hear as what I did.

A wrinkle in this category--The Best Musicals I Saw Onstage--is that I'm really not judging the musicals themselves so much as the particular production and performance I saw.

Of course, any review I write is an assessment that inexactly blends the source material and the rendition.

But it seems worth noting here, given how I truly enjoyed Marriott Theatre's glorious production of The Bridges of Madison County--a musical I hadn't seen previously but which was far from a smash on Broadway--considerably more than a 2017 production of a musical that ranks among my Top 10 of all-time: My Fair Lady. And that was staged under the auspices of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which has done some outstanding musicals in years past.

The musicals I saw in 2017
Also, as with my Best Concerts of 2017 list, I am not considering Springsteen on Broadway officially part of this category.

Yes, within a Broadway theater, Bruce Springsteen accompanied scripted, biographical storytelling with musical performance, which doesn't make it so different from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical or Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill (about Billie Holiday).

And it was phenomenal, not just as a Springsteen concert--and I've been to dozens of those--but more so as theater. In fact, it's making a lot of lists chronicling the Best of Theater in 2017.

But while what constitutes a musical has wonderfully expanded over recent years--without any chorus lines or much choreography, the excellent Fun Home feels more like drama, albeit with songs sung as part of the storytelling--I don't believe Springsteen on Broadway belongs in this category.

Without it, there are 33 productions of musicals I saw in 2017, some new shows, some old, from which I am--unscientifically and imprecisely--selecting:

The Best Musicals I Saw On Stage in 2017:
(Note: All theaters in Chicago proper unless noted; in some cases the theatrical company is cited rather than venue. New shows are denoted with an *)

1. Les Misérables - Cadillac Palace (my review)
2. Hamilton* - CIBC Theatre  (my review)
3. The Bridges of Madison County - Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (my review)
4. Wicked - Oriental Theatre (my review)
5. Mamma Mia - Marriott Theatre (my review)
6. Rent - Oriental Theatre (my review)
7. The Phantom of the Opera - Majestic Theatre, New York
8. Marry Me a Little - Porchlight Theatre (my review)
9. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical - Cadillac Palace
10. An American in Paris - Oriental Theatre (my review)
11. Billy Elliot - Porchlight Theatre (my review)

Honorable Mention
In preference order
- Parade - Writers Theatre, Glencoe (my review) 
- Fun Home* - Victory Gardens Theatre (my review)
- The King and I - Oriental Theatre (my review)
- Newsies - Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (my review)
- Avenue Q - MTKC Pro, Kansas City, MO (my review in this piece)

As of this writing, Hamilton, Wicked and Beautiful are still running in downtown Chicago, as well as on Broadway in New York. Newsies is at Marriott Theatre through the end of 2017, and in January, The Phantom of the Opera celebrates its 30th straight year on Broadway. The excellent touring production of Les Miserables continues well into 2018.

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