October 2003 | Volume 54, Issue 5
Overrated There’s a joke I heard in the eighties that goes: Two musicians are being put to death but are given a last request. The warden asks the first musician what that might be. “Could I see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical before I die?” The warden replies that this might be doable and turns to the second musician. “And what is your final request?” “Kill me first!”
Many musicians believe that Mr. Webber, who is considered the most successful musical composer of all time, has been guilty of cranking out overblown and sometimes derivative musical scores. Cats , which had the longest Broadway run in history, certainly has much to recommend it, but by being so enormously successful, it probably stands as a symbol for Mr. Webber’s excesses. In an informal survey I did, it came up the most often as the most overrated musical of all time.
Underrated This is a tough one. Do we include musicals that appeared only on Broadway, or do we also include off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, and perhaps even workshops and stage readings? Further, underrated by whom?
First we have to acknowledge that with a few exceptions, a musical doesn’t exist unless it’s performed in New York. Also, there is only one opinion that counts—that of the reviewer for The New York Times . Whatever one guy thinks on one night, subject to his theatrical, geographical, intellectual, political, musical, sexual, religious, racial, or whatever preferences and prejudices—that’s what generally determines what survives as a musical. No other reviewer has that power. Not even all the others collectively. So maybe the question should be, Who are the most overrated reviewers?
I, like any casual consumer of musical theater in New York, have innumerable examples of wonderful musicals that the Times has strangled at birth. Two of my recent choices were the charming and crowd-pleasing One Mo’ Time and the off-Broadway production of The Wild Party , which by all reasonable standards should have lived to have a respectable Broadway run. Of course that’s only my opinion.