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My Bottom Ten

Just as it's hard to find my ten favorite musicals, it's difficult to identify the ten musicals in my collection that irritate me the most. Most musicals fall into a big bell curve that stretches from "disappointing" to "pleasant"; the ones on the left side of the curve are (thankfully) few and far between. Of course, I actively avoid buying musicals I know I dislike, such as anything by ALW, B&S, FW, or EJ, so the list is skewed away from those junk peddlers. Still, since I tend to obtain musical CDs "sight unheard," I have picked up my share of clinkers. The entries are in alphabetical order because I have a hard time quantifying which musical is the least attractive to me, though if pressed I'd probably choose Promenade as the worst, with They're Playing Our Song coming in second and Eating Raoul third.

Ben Franklin in Paris (music by Mark Sandrich, Jr., lyrics by Sidney Michaels)

Robert Preston lends his Harold Hill persona to the character of Ben Franklin in this 1964 flop. Why anyone thought that a quasi-operetta would succeed in the latter half of the twentieth century is beyond me. The music floats by at an even (low and slow) keel, with hardly any fast moments to rouse the listener out of her torpor. Putting a Swedish woman in the female lead was not the most inspired piece of casting in the world--her accent is, to put it kindly, distracting.

The Boy Friend (music and lyrics by Sandy Wilson)

Supposedly this musical is a spoof of 1920s musicals, but since I don't know much about 1920s musicals, the spoof is lost on me. All the songs sound pretty much the same and are at the same tempo. The best song from this show, "Nicer in Nice," is only just hinted at in the OCR; I guess it was added for the revival. The presence of a very young Julie Andrews is not enough to make this show any more interesting; it's not exactly a breakout role.

Can-Can (music and lyrics by Cole Porter)

It's no surprise that the main significance of this musical is that it was Gwen Verdon's breakout moment--which, of course, eluded the sound recording, leaving us to merely wonder what she did that was so spectacular. The music sure doesn't give us a clue. Can-Can's only other claim to fame was introducing the song "I Love Paris." The rest of the score is a big fat snooze and has many subpar lyrics to boot.

Darling of the Day (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg)

Styne called this notorious flop his "Lerner and Loewe score," but Loewe was rarely this tedious, with one pleasant/undistinguished number after another. And Vincent Price was no Rex Harrison! He might have passed muster as a supporting player, but he was a terrible lead. Patricia Routledge won a Tony for her role here, and she provides the score with its only real energy.

Eating Raoul (music by Jed Feuer, lyrics by Boyd Graham)

This show wants to be a modern Sweeney Todd but ends up being a grade-Z Little Shop of Horrors, with its weak rock songs and forced witty lyrics. The character of Raoul as played by Adrian Zmed is repellent--a stereotype of the worst kind, with a terrible fake accent. Everyone overacts like crazy.

The Gay 90s Musical (music and lyrics by various)

I expected a wickedly witty celebration of homosexuality. What I got was a mostly sentimental, distinctly preachy show that sounded like an apologetic. Thanks, but you don't have to tell me that "everyone's got a right to be different," and I bet you didn't have to tell your core audience, either. Also, how come the guys generally get the funny songs and the women get the boring touchy-feely ones?

Golden Boy (music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams)

The score has its moments, but not enough of them; also, the many by-the-numbers performances drag it down. Sammy Davis Jr. was hoarse and energy-free when he recorded his songs, and though they did re-record some of his vocals, enough of the crummy ones remain to make you want to kill the producers for not letting him recover his voice for this, his only major musical. Also featured is one of the most untalented kid singers you could ever hope to hear.

I Can Get It For You Wholesale (music and lyrics by Harold Rome)

Notable only for introducing Barbra Streisand, this musical is filled with wrongheaded moments--for example, it's a bad idea for the first line sung to be "He's not a well man." Elliot Gould is a terrible singer (does this surprise you?), right down there with Sydney Chaplin and Vincent Price. While the music is often decent, the lyrics are really, really bad (Harold Rome, how could you?), and the singers are forced to emphasize words weirdly to make them rhyme.

Promenade (music by Rev. Al Carmines, lyrics by Maria Irene Fornes)

It's rare that I can't finish a musical; Promenade is one of the very few I popped out of the CD player before it ended. This experimental 1960s off-Broadway show has pleasant, inconsequential music by a hip minister; an incomprehensible book constructed by drawing plot events out of a hat; and truly horrendous lyrics that repeat the same phrases over and over for no apparent reason. It's the kind of chaotic "arty" production much beloved by hippies and sham intellectuals back then, but one that has almost no reason for being in the 21st century. An immense waste of Madeline Kahn (who isn't on the CD, lucky her), Alice Playten (who is, poor thing), and Gilbert Price.

They're Playing Our Song (music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager)

This is a disco musical, which says it all right there. The only song that sounds like it belongs on Broadway is the entr'acte. Sager's lyrics are the worst kind of pop pap; they would embarrass Tim Rice. Robert Klein, who played the male lead, sounds like the voice of the conductor in "Conjunction Junction" which is, to say the least, distracting. God, I hope Neil Simon's book was better than the score!

All non-lyric material copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved

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