At the 2015 Tony Awards, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori's complex musical Fun Home ( based upon lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel's acclaimed 2006 graphic memoir of the same name ) bested some more populist choices like An American in Paris and Something Rotten! for the top prize of Best Musical.
Conversely, Lincoln Center Theater's sumptuous production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's reliable 1951 warhorse The King and I beat out the two critically acclaimed musical rarities of On the Town and On the Twentieth Century for the Best Musical Revival Tony.
Some will argue that the Tonys have a major influence on what shows end up as hits or misses. Just look at how the producers of Best Musical nominee The Visit starring Chita Rivera immediately closed this final Broadway show by John Kander and Fred Ebb after it failed to win any Tony Awards.
But others will argue that it's time and subsequent productions that will be ultimate arbiter of what shows will endure. The producers of Something Rotten! are certainly using this tact in its advertising by proudly proclaiming it a "Best Musical Loser" in the same company of popular shows like West Side Story, Miss Saigon and Wicked that also failed to win the top Tony Award.
So with this in mind, here's my take on four Broadway musical "losers" from the 2014-15 season that I saw during a recent trip to New York. And clearly there's an "apples vs. oranges" argument to be made in some cases about what shows are award worthy.
You can bet that the artistic directors of many a Renaissance Faire or Shakespearean theater festival are already salivating for the rights to Something Rotten! to become available. This irreverent musical comedy by theater newcomers Karey Kirkpatrick, Wayne Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell no doubt will have a future life, since it is full of modern-day ribbing of Elizabethan characters mixed with smart-alecky references to a pantheon of other musicals.
But to my tastes, the authors of Something Rotten! aimed for the low-hanging comic fruit in their writing, which felt like a series of sketches with cartoonish types rather than constructing fully developed characters.
Oh, sureit's great fun to view Christian Borle depicting William Shakespeare as a preening modern-day rock star or to see Brooks Ashmanskas underline the repressed gay leanings of the anti-theater puritan Brother Jeremiah. And musical-theater fans will love finding all the shout-outs to other shows in the brassy production number "A Musical," led by the enthusiastically demented Nostradamus of Brad Oscar.
Instead of being concerned for the creative plight of playwriting brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom ( Brian d'Arcy James and John Cariani ) who argue about the merits of creating a hit versus being genuine, Something Rotten! feels more concerned about in-the-know theater gags. But if that's all you want in a musical comedy, director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw's fleet and bright production is certainly suitable.
There are also book issues to An American in Paris, in which gay playwright Craig Lucas has done his best in adapting the 1951 Academy Award-winning Gene Kelly film to the stage. Songs sometimes feel inserted willy-nilly, though the cut-and-paste feel of the show stretches back to its source material which was a precursor to subsequent shows like My One and Only and Crazy for You that raided the heavenly tune stacks of George and Ira Gershwin to create new properties.
The principal star of An American in Paris is the Tony-winning choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, who also fleetly directs the production. The dancing truly advances the plot along, and it's beautifully executed by ballet crossover stars like Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope who both show how they are great triple threats.
From my balcony seat, Bob Crowley's Tony-winning set created with the projections from the firm of 59 Productions probably wasn't as impressive as it could have been on the main floor. But the set vitally allows for all of Wheeldon's great dancing, and that is prime for this production.
The dancing was also a prime reason to celebrate the revival of On the Town, the 1944 musical by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green that is all about three WWII sailors on 24-hour shore leave trying to find love ( but mainly lust ) in New York City. Choreographer Joshua Bergasse teamed extremely well with director John Rando to find the show's brassy musical comic style to make On the Town work.
On the Town also wows due to some great performances, particularly Tony Yazbeck as the wistful sailor Gabey who dances like a dream. The show also provided a fine vehicle for the comic character work of Jackie Hoffman.
True, some of Beowulf Boritt's primary color sets looked like they were manufactured by Playskool, but otherwise this is a production of On the Town that won't likely be bettered any time soon.
Low ticket sales might spell and early closure for On the Town, but On the Twentieth Century is set to shutter since it's just a limited run centered around its raison d'etre: the leading lady Krisitin Chenoweth. Oh sure, you can see the Glee and G.C.B. star Chenoweth locally as part of her upcoming concert tour, but time is running out to see her star as Lily Garlanda role that fits all her amazing talents like a tailor-made glove.
Written in the style of a comic operetta by Cy Coleman, Comden and Green, On the Twentieth Century is a madcap musical adaptation of the 1932 screwball comedy set aboard the luxury train traveling from Chicago to New York.
Director Scott Ellis' revival for the Roundabout Theatre Company is not as lavish as Harold Prince's original 1978 production, but it's still full of great magic from performers like Peter Gallagher as the failing producer Oscar Jaffee, Mary Louise Wilson as the religious nut Letitia Primrose and especially the hunky Andy Karl as the insecure Hollywood leading man Bruce Granit. This revival is also a sight to behold thanks to the dreamy art deco sets of David Rockwell.
But really the reason to see On the Twentieth Century is to revel in Chenoweth's performance. Madeline Kahn may have originated the role of Lily Garland, but she couldn't maintain the quality levels that Chenoweth clearly possesses in spades.
Something Rotten continues in an open run at the St. James Theatre. Visit www.rottenbroadway.com .
An American in Paris continues in an open run at the Palace Theatre. Visit www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com .
On the Twentieth Century continues in an open run at the American Airlines Theatre. Visit www.20thCenturyOnBroadway.com .
On the Town continues in an open run at the Lyric Theatre. Visit www.onthetownbroadway.com .