A veteran theater critic (Newark Star-Ledger) walks us through the Hall of Not-So-Much Fame, speculating why some musicals win Tonys and others lose.
The subtitle is accurate: Filichia is indeed “very opinionated.” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream he calls “godawful,” and the 1980 film of Xanadu was “such a turd.” Still, the author’s tour is careful and well-researched. For many of the shows, he offers a summary of the plot—often running to several pages—and his knowledge of Broadway history is both wide and deep. He begins with a troubling decision: How did West Side Story not win Best Musical? And Gypsy? And Follies? Having raised the question, Filichia offers chapters that deal with the principal reasons for shows’ failures. Some, for example, are just too good—the cause of Sondheim’s suffering, he believes. Others are “lame ducks”: They closed before the voting. Leap of Faith had only 20 performances. Some losers, as he notes, eventually won by reaping fine profits—Grease, Pippin, Beauty and the Beast among them. Sometimes, it’s the producers who seem to annoy voters (David Merrick won far fewer times than one would think); sometimes, fortune does not favor a show. Dream Girls won performance awards but not Best Musical. Still others might have done better in other years (Into the Woods lost to Phantom), and some were apparently just too small for the voters’ show-time appetites—High Spirits and The Me Nobody Knows, for example. Filichia’s longest chapter deals with shows that were generally good but flawed in some serious way—e.g., Funny Girl, Coco, Over Here!, The Color Purple and Rock of Ages, “the latest in the parade of stupid musicals, meant for crowds that think musicals are innately moronic.”
Full of information and attitude—will appeal more to aficionados than to casual fans.