12 Days of Sketchies: Day 3: Outstanding Achievement in Musicals

I may be a horror fan now, but my love of musicals cannot be superseded. I remember growing up and having musical theater thrust upon me. I was forced to audition for my first show through a brilliant performance by my one grandmother (still kicking 18+ years later, she laid it on thick with the "I won't be here much longer and I would love to hear you sing on stage" schtick) in conjunction with a grand multi-generational conspiracy to get me out of the house. I then spent three years devouring every musical film I could get my hands on. I watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for the Broadway performances (I can still playback Chita Rivera in Kiss of the Spiderwoman) and still sneak into NYC whenever I can for whatever live musical I can afford.

Every few years, America claims the musical has died. Then there's a resurgence and everyone gets excited that it's back. It's dizzying and unnecessary. The musical as we know it is a largely American invention that isn't going anywhere.

First, and honorable mention. I sure hope the Tony Awards learned not to invite non-theater performers up on stage in a techy broadcast after Bret Michaels was knocked out flat by showboating this year.

I knew nothing good could come from an 80's jukebox musical.

Our first honoree for Outstanding Achievement in Musicals is a long-gestating show that I first encountered years ago at the New York Musical Festival: Next to Normal. The whole thing is so far removed from typical musical territory I could pick any aspect of the show and be justified in honoring it. I refuse to choose between focusing on the entire cast (phenomenal) or the best song in the score (audition song in another four years if I can still pull off far, far younger than I am (if? I'm 24 and still get callbacks for mid-teen parts)), so I won't. Here are dueling videos of "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" and "I'm Alive," featuring Alice Ripley, Aaron Tveit, and Jennifer Damiano killing it outside of the show.

And "I Miss the Mountains" to show you how much Alice Ripley deserved her Tony.

Why yes, this is a show about a damaged family dealing with the mother's bipolar disorder and other major issues. Why do you ask? Stunning. The whole show is an Outstanding Achievement In Musicals.

Our next honoree is rather hit or miss in quality, which is expected since it's breaking new ground for television in America. Glee is an hour long musical-comedy series about a high school glee club. Once you get past the conceit that these are the most gifted musicians in the history of the world, perfectly capable of sight-reading complex musical arrangements every episode with flawless choreography and studio-magiced voices, it's entertaining. Jane Lynch is phenomenal as the cheerleading coach bent on destroying the glee club. Hopefully she gets her wish and has the opportunity to strut her own musical stuff on the show in 2010. For now, we have to settle for Broadway veterans clamoring to appear on the show, like Kristen Chenoweth. In one of the best episodes, Chenoweth is brought in as a ringer to compete with the seedier methods of rival schools. Apparently some schools like to fail students who are a bit too talented to lose. Chenoweth plays a former glee club member who dropped out of high school and comes back for another moment in the sun. Here's a Fox-created recap to demonstrate just what the show's like.

For being so funny, refreshing, and soon to be stuffed to the gills with Broadway veterans (Idina Menzel coming in 2010), Glee is clearly an Outstanding Achievement in Musicals.

Revivals made a big comeback on Broadway in recent years, and 2009 was no exception. West Side Story is our next honoree, for bringing a musical back to Broadway with a serious downer of an ending and not shuttering rapidly. The bilingual experimentation was interesting, but ultimately the production has gradually reduced the number of Spanish-language songs in the production to open the show up to a wider audience. If they stuck to their guns, they might have won this category. It's an honor just to be nominated. The true standouts were Karen Olivo as Anita, George Akram as Bernardo, and Josefina Scaglione as Maria, as well as the gorgeous lighting design by Howell Binkley. Here's "The Dance at the Gym" from the 2009 Tony Award performance.

The singing, the dancing, the acting, and the design are all top notch, making this production a natural honoree for Outstanding Achievement in Musicals.

The winner of the category is a show I never anticipated becoming a fan of. However, the musical was given a whole new life for a new generation thanks to the brilliant direction of Diane Paulus: Hair. The cast is tremendous. Their energy is infection. And the interaction with the audience is done well in this context.

 
It was the bonus points for actually using genuine smelly hippies that pushed this one over the edge. The cast gets the show, and for that, it is truly an Outstanding Achievement in Musicals.