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Entertaining Debate about 'The Best Musical of All Time'


by Jerome Weeks 13 Jan 2011

Unlike what seems to be the entire planet, I generally don’t like lists or picking a single ‘best of’ winner. On the other hand, arguing about this stuff can be enlightening and entertaining. Hence, my pointing out that New York magazine convened a terrific debate about that unanswerable question, What has been the greatest Broadway musical ever?

CTA TBD

Unlike what seems to be the entire planet, I generally don’t like lists or picking a single ‘best of’ winner. That’s one reason, when establishing the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum two decades ago, we opted to pick several ‘finalists,’ however many we felt deserved applause — it’s a more honest reflection of a season’s worth or artistic efforts and of the critics’ different viewpoints.

On the other hand, arguing about this stuff can be enlightening and entertaining. Hence, my pointing out that former NYTimes theater critic Frank Rich, screenwriter-director-author Nora Ephron, theater director-author George C.  Wolfe, actor Jesse Green and several other theater folk sat down at Sardi’s last month and tried to hash out an answer to one of those impossible questions to answer:  What has been the greatest Broadway musical – ever?

New York magazine chronicled the back-and-forthing-and-comic-kvetching. “Jesse Green: Oh, Caroline or Change  is certainly a musical, not an opera. No opera singer could possibly sing it.”

“George C Wolfe:  My theory is that really great musicals have something scary and frightening underneath them that are threatening to eat the musical, and that’s what motivates the singing.”

Oh, almost forgot. My personal preferences? Sweeney Todd, Carousel, Guys and Dolls. And maybe Chicago and A Little Night Music. Don’t ask me to choose among them.

Photo from New York magazine, credit Danny Kim

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