Over the past few months I’ve been overwhelmingly positive regarding plays and musicals. I have published a list of the one hundred musicals that you should see before you die. I have written a lauding review of a recent production that I saw at a regional Shakespeare festival. However, even though I try to go easy on Broadway musicals for the most part, every once in awhile I come across one that I simply cannot defend, one that I walked away from feeling just awful, one that I would be happy never to have to see again. To be clear here, everyone has seen at least one musical that was poorly acted, poorly directed, or poorly sung; I am not concerned with any of these. The reasons that I will never actively seek out the following musicals again is because I don’t think that any company could make me like it, just because the writing and the premise are so cringeworthy. I am not asking that you agree with me; I am merely asking that you listen and read all the way through while I justify my utter disappointment with the following productions. So, while I fully acknowledge that I may stir up some controversy with this list, let’s begin…
5. The Rocky Horror Show
Before you begin fantasizing about tearing me limb from limb, please look away from your device, give yourself a quick break, and take a deep breath...please. Okay? Okay. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would like this musical. When I first saw the film, my first reaction to it was utter boredom, but when I noticed that a local company was putting on the show I decided that I would give it a shot. I had heard so many people tell me that seeing it live was much more enjoyable than watching the movie, and to be fair, they were right. In fact, when I saw Rocky Horror at my local theater, the performances were undeniably phenomenal. But in the writing and score of the show I can find nothing that would make me want to see it again, not even for the bizarre costumes that both the actors and the audience wore. For those that will tell me that this is the perfect “so bad that it’s good musical,” I can see where you’re coming from, but I just cannot agree. Unlike the other shows on this list, I was glad that I saw it...but once was enough.
I’ll be honest, some days I cannot decide whether I like this musical or not. Part of me really wants to give this one a pass just because the music is enjoyable and it’s meant to be a good time...but I just can’t. For one thing, the premise is just terrible. Before I wrote this article, I did a quick Google search and noticed that the story is actually based on an actual town in America that outlawed dancing,but I still don’t understand why anyone would want to write a musical about this. And to be fair, although the story itself is not laughable, the resolution of the plot absolutely is. That coupled with the rest of the characters feeling very caricature-ish makes me cringe whenever I think about it, especially because Footloose tries so hard to make you take it seriously. I had fun when I saw this musical, I promise that I did, and I suppose there is a small part of me that would go see it again, but for the most part I just need to let it go and accept that it probably won’t be any better the second time that I see it.
3. The Music Man
Speaking of ridiculous premises, we must now turn to The Music Man. What separates this musical from Footloose in my mind, besides the fact that it’s not a jukebox musical, is that if someone asked me to summarize the plot of The Music Man, I would really struggle. I have seen this show a couple of times, and the sheer ridiculousness of it baffles me every single time. Admittedly, this could definitely work if the musical did not feel like it had to take itself seriously. In fact, it has worked in the past for musicals like Spamalot. But the tone and the writing of Music Man makes me seriously question whether I’m actually supposed to care about any of the characters, especially when the show turns to its twist in the second act. Music Man is so superficial that I have most definitely thought way too much about what it means and whether or not I should like it. Let’s just go with a profound “no,” and move on.
2. Once Upon a Mattress
I know that this one is based on an actual fairy tale and that many, many people find it to be cute and fun. But (and you know where I’m going to go here) if you’re going to embrace your weirdness, you need to go all in, not just with the story, but with the music, the acting, the choreography, etc. Once Upon a Mattress does not do this; it feels like the writers wrote a song about the birds and the bees with a seriously incompetent man-child and expected me to laugh because of how goofy and silly it was. I can’t find anything to like about the score, and really a lot of it just sounds the same to me. I know that a lot of people will defend it by saying that it wasn’t trying to be phenomenal, that it knows just how stupid it is, and that alone makes it funny. To those people, I say more power to you. Just because I want something just a little bit more from my comedy musicals doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it.
1. Legally Blonde
This one...this musical...I will simply say this: notice how with every musical on this list I have tried to justify why other people might like it while explaining explicitly all the reasons that I cannot. I just can’t find the strength to do that with Legally Blonde. It is the one and only Broadway musical over which I will argue with anyone that tries to find anything of value in it. Every single negative thing that I have written about the previous four musicals can be found in this one: it’s poorly written, all the characters are incredibly annoying caricatures, the premise is stupid, the plot is absurd, at times it takes itself seriously and falls flat on its face, and it rolls with the most predictable, mundane, unfunny, and cliche jokes and stereotypes that you have ever seen. I don’t care if it was supposed to be a satire; I don’t care if it’s supposed to be dumb fun; I don’t even care if it’s just going for the cheap laugh. I can’t find one positive thing to say about this musical, and the fact that I of all people can’t find any reason to be forgiving of it should really tell you something about how terrible it is.