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The Worst Broadway Musicals I've Ever Seen

I've been attending the Broadway productions that pass through Denver for about a decade now. I've seen most of the biggest New York hits, a bunch of revivals, and several touring flops of varying quality. I think it's safe to say that I've seen every major touring production except Big and the revival of Annie. These are my thoughts about the productions that really pissed me off, in order from worst to least worst.


My parents and I have unanimously chosen this stinker as the worst musical we've ever seen. It's the only one where all three of us walked out at intermission. The production we saw had Sally Struthers as some teacher or other and Mickey Dolenz as a DJ whose purpose seemed only to play music before the show and during intermission. They were absolutely the only good parts of the show. I can only dimly recall the production, as the music was so uninteresting, and the performances by the rest of the cast so terrible, that I was squirming in my seat well before the end of the first act. The best part about the afternoon of this production was that as we were driving away from the downtown area, I saw huge clouds of dust blow out between the city buildings in a big doughnut-shaped wave. The news later said that it was possible a small microburst had hit the downtown area. Anyway, compared to Grease, Footloose is fresh and exciting--that's how bad Grease is.

The Civil War

This one is second on the crap list only because my parents refused to walk out at intermission with me; they liked the singing. This is the only other musical I've ever walked out on. There's a really good reason why this thing flopped on Broadway and lost millions of dollars: It sucks. No, it doesn't just suck; it hoovers. The concept was bad (covering the whole Civil War in two hours?); the execution was asinine (imagine a story about the Civil War where the only historical names mentioned are Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Frederick Douglass); the choreography was either ultra-stupid or nonexistent (don't get me started); the songs were the blandest kind of MOR pop and country garbage; there are more mentions of "God" in the lyrics than in all the other musicals I've been to combined, except for Les Miz; there was little attempt at providing costumes (often the actors looked like they'd just walked in off the street) or even making a visual distinction between Union and Confederate soldiers; and the "actors" were just singers (obvious from their inability to sway in time together, much less perform even the slightest coordinated motions with competence). Granted, some of the singers had very nice voices, but I spent that agonizing first act wishing I could rescue them from this piece of shit and put them into something more worthy of their voices--though in retrospect it would have been wasted effort, given that they were hardly Broadway actors. According to my parents, the ending consisted of giving the Confederate flag equal status with the U.S. one--a big insult in many ways, and possibly added because of the presence of good ol' Southern boy Larry Gatlin, who I believe partially financed this miserable tour.

Les Miserables

I saw this one on its sixth trip through Denver. Nice voices, but Jesus, the sheer melodrama and pretention of this production made me want to gag. Every emotion isn't just conveyed, it's announced and repeated and drawn out until you're clawing at the armrests with frustration. The music is bombastic, poppish, uninvolving, and repetitive--it makes me crazy when people claim Sondheim is cold and emotionless and then slobber all over this manipulative tripe. I can't remember a thing about the lyrics except that they didn't contain a shred of wit, and they mentioned religious matters much too frequently. Broadway is traditionally a humanistic medium, bursting with songs about raising oneself up, relying on oneself and one's friends to get things done; it's VERY RARE to have characters who passively accept whatever fate God has in store for them. By the end of the show, when [what's-his-name] is singing about dying and taking a damn long time to do it, I wanted to shout, "Hurry up and die already so I can get out of here!"


I managed to piss off several of my gay friends by not liking this show, but oh, there are so many better gay musicals out there! My dad hated Rent because it glorified "ne'er-do-wells," and while that wasn't the main reason I hated it, it didn't help. I mean, I can deal with "ne'er-do-wells" as sympathetic characters, but NOT when they DELIBERATELY live that way--I recall that at least two of the characters blew off opportunities so they could continue to live in squalor and "be themselves," and after that I had no sympathy for them whatsoever. (In my entire life I've only met one artist-type person, a writer, who actually bought into that purity-of-starving-artist crapola. Not only was he a pompous idiot, he was also a lousy writer.) But my main problems with the show were: annoying and overloud rock music in the score that drowned out the lyrics; many musical moments obviously ripped off from prior musicals; useless love songs between the heterosexual couple (the two gay couples were much more interesting); baffling plot points (e.g., why did the rich young slum lord allow the kids to stay in the building in the second act when in the first act he had locked them out?), and an infuriating and dishonest ending that resurrected the comatose AIDS girl, who got up and walked around as if she'd never been ill. Maybe La Boheme was like this--if so, it's also stupid. There were a few good moments in the show, such as the "Maureen Tango" (though I later found out that that scene probably ripped off the tango scene from Follies) and the love affair between Angel and Collins--these moments kept me from walking out. But this was an amazingly overrated show.

The Phantom of the Opera

Admittedly, our lousy seats didn't help my impression of this one: my parents and were crammed into three very narrow seats in the back of the balcony, so that not only was the chandelier scene a complete joke to us, but we were also in a lot of physical pain because we couldn't stretch our legs out. Also, we couldn't hear most of the lyrics, though much of the fault there lay with the singers and the music rather than our distance from the stage--the singers simply weren't enunciating carefully enough, and sung-through musicals are hard to understand at the best of times. But this was the first musical I'd been to where the set was much more important than the music or the plot, and wow, yeah, it was cool to see X, Y, and Z, but if I cared that much about special effects I'd go to the movies, not the theater. As is standard with ALW music, it was completely unmemorable and even stupid at times (face it, he's a pop composer, not a Broadway one), and we probably didn't miss much by not hearing the lyrics. And lately I've heard that he ripped off huge chunks of The Girl of the Golden West to insert into Phantom, which lowers my estimation of him even less, if that's possible.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

This one combines three of my least favorite things: ALW music, religion, and pseudo-pop sensibilities. A mindless and pointless extravaganza that my parents inexplicably enjoyed, but that I should have abandoned halfway through. Any production that contains an Elvis impersonator can't help but be bad....

Miss Saigon

If the story had focused mainly on the Engineer, I would actually have liked this B&S offering, which I saw before Les Miz and so had no idea how similar the two stories were. (Apparently Martin Guerre is yet another rewrite of the same story. B&S clearly have nothing else to offer the stage.) The music is inferior and bombastic, of course, but at least it was lively in spots. The trouble was the love affair between the Vietnamese woman and the American soldier. Since the musical was sung-through (a technique that should be banned from the Broadway stage; even Sondheim's no good at it any more), these two bland individuals spent much of their time repeating "I love you. And I love you. And I love you." When they actually sang a "song," it was hard to tell; the "song" blended too closely with the sung-through "dialogue" to distinguish one from the other. Is it any wonder that I preferred the dark-edged Engineer? At least his songs displayed a modicum of humor, and his character was two-dimensional rather than one.

See also: Really Crappy Lyrics

Dishonorable Mention

A Chorus Line. This musical used to be my favorite, but since my tastes have expanded in the last few years, its status with me has dropped dramatically--I wouldn't even put it in my top thirty now, and I'd probably downgrade it further given a review of my collection. I've seen it more often than any other musical by far (four times, I believe, plus the crummy movie). The last time I saw it, a few years ago, I was struck by how dated the show was--not so much the themes as the lyrics and the dancing. I can't put my finger on why, but every move just screamed "1970s." If any show is in desperate need of a tune-up, it's this one.

Sunset Boulevard. For me, this has been the least annoying ALW production to date (and hopefully the last). The music was mostly negligable, and the set was outrageously overelaborate, but the story itself was good (though it couldn't help but be good, given the source material). What a waste, though--I was in the third row center for this thing, and way in the back for The Sound of Music.

Titanic. Overall I enjoyed this musical--at its best it had grandeur and sweep--but it could have been much, much better. There was too much explanation in both the dialogue and the lyrics, and way too many characters overall; the dreams of the poor people were hammered at you constantly ("Oh! Life will be so much better in America!") and were a clear set-up designed to make you feel sorry for them; the lyrics were largely cliche; and the songs didn't capture the feel of the urgency and tragedy of the story. Indeed, in some cases it seemed the wrong moments were musicalized. Also, the sets were too minimal, though the one where several of the characters are looking "down" at the audience was quite nice. However, the voices of the touring cast were superior to those on my OBC CD. The two people playing Isidor and Ida Straus were much better in the touring cast.

Cats. I saw this when it toured after hitting it big so many years ago, and I was just a wee lass. (Well, I was probably in my early to mid teens.) I remember the critics were pretty down on it, but that we left having enjoyed it, though the only memory I retain is of several cat-actors running down the aisles singing. However, as a much more experienced adult, I watched the Cats moments on the otherwise wonderful video of Hey, Mr. Producer! and was struck by how repetitive the songs were, how uninspired the choreography, and how distracting the costumes. Why would anyone want to bury Terrence Mann and Betty Buckley under all that stupid fake fur? Oh, well, I will give ALW this: "Memory" is really a nice song, though it has no Broadway sensibility whatsoever--it's just a pop song. (If you want to hear Betty Buckley sing a good Broadway-style song, check out "He Plays the Violin" from 1776. It's also on her Betty Buckley's Broadway album.)

All non-lyric material copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved

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