A part of being in the All Things Broadway Facebook group is seeing particular topics rehashed at a much higher percentage than others. Need a thread about bootlegs? Oh, we’ve seen plenty. Race/Gender/Inequality? Another hot button topic. Did I say bootlegs? Race? DID WE TALK ABOUT BOOTLEGS? Sarcasm aside, the introduction of new faces and perspectives in a continuously growing group is a blessing. Ranging from industry professionals to people who have just discovered Broadway and want to discuss their newfound love with thousands of people, there are SO many things to be discussed (especially when it comes to an artform we all adore).
That being said, there is a particular conversation that happens ad nauseum – “What’s your favorite underrated musical?” or “Most overrated show?” This is posted multiple times a week, and while I’ve mentioned above that this sort of active conversation is wonderful… I’m about to sound Grumpyä. This particular conversation absolutely blows my mind, mostly because of the premise that it is based on. The idea of underrated and overrated then denotes or implies that there is some sort of adjudication or rating system involved with the arts. What I mean by this is that, for example, in most competitions there is some sort of grading systems that are palpable. Broadway, Broadway shows, The Tony Awards, and other large regional awards are not subjected to such a standard in judging. This art in whole is absolutely subjective. There are plenty of INCREDIBLE productions/shows that don’t last long on Broadway, that don’t win a ton of Tony Awards, and don’t make the stupefying amounts of money that some of the other shows do. This does not worsen the quality of the work or the performances or adjudicate the art presented to us, the audience. Is Avenue Q not a good show because it beat Broadway megahit Wicked? No. Why did it beat it? Who knows, and while we can all put up some mightily high amounts of conjecture out about why it did or did not deserve such an award, it’s all subjective. At the end of the day, regardless of if you love or hate a show, its success on Broadway does not then adjudicate the work. Even if I love Ragtime so much, I know people who hate it. Heck, it didn’t even win Best Musical that year at the Tony Awards! Does that make Ragtime less beautiful? No. Does that then make the performances any less iconic? No.
You could then say that the success of musicals is the “rating system” of the art, but then how does that factor in the terrible productions of beautiful source material? Beautiful productions of shitty source material? Commercialism and supposed greatness of musicals aren’t really correlated. Are some of the longest running shows hypothetically/subjectively the “best” in the history of theatre? I certainly think so. Under what system do we then hold that infallible? Those categories are already very defined entities. If something made $10 and another thing made $5, the thing (or show) that made $10 objectively made more money. If a show ran for 4852703945872 shows, and another closed on opening night… the former objectively had a longer run (and probably made more money while we are at it). If I like score A more than score B… that doesn’t really objectively mean anything. My personal interests in the score can be coming from a lot of experiences, including but not limited to my upbringing, biases towards certain instrumentation, and so much more. How does any of that make one show better than another, in an objective sense? How does that then create a ranking that is the standard? Well, it doesn’t.
At the end of the day, the conversation I think that the people are attempting to have is “What musical do you think is underappreciated? Which of these do you enjoy the most?” All of that is absolutely subjective (to a damn point, let’s not try to explain how Hamilton is underappreciated), and no one would blame you for your opinion.