As a fun change of pace from talking about my favorite games, blockbusters, and arthouse movies of the last decade, I wanted to also highlight something that is much more uniquely Trevor for the site. As I was reminded recently when I jotted down a quick highlight reel of major moments in my life during the 2010s, theatre was a huge part of my life for the first half of the decade.
And while I gave up a more direct involvement in performing on stage in favor of blogging and podcasting in the video game and entertainment space, I still try and see a lot of live theatre here in town so I wanted to celebrate some of the biggest musicals from the last ten years.
I have not been back to New York since my sister and I visited in 2005 to celebrate her high school graduation so I haven’t actually seen anything on Broadway in nearly fifteen years but enough of the big shows from the last decade have come through Phoenix on tour or have been locally produced that I felt I could make this list. As such, I’m only going to rank shows that I have seen so apologies to something like Hadestown, which I hear is quite good, but I just haven’t checked it out yet. Anyway, here are my top ten musicals of the 2010s.
10. School of Rock
Admittedly, when I had the idea to do this, I thought I might have a few more musicals to pull from but reviewing the list of Tony nominated musicals revealed that I’ve probably only really seen a handful of new shows from the decade so School of Rock sneaks in here at number 10. A mostly by-the-numbers film adaptation (I’m guessing anyway, I’ve only seen the Jack Black film once and I barely remembered it) but it makes for a fun musical that lives or dies based on two main factors: how strong the main character is and how strong the kids are. Fortunately, when I saw the touring production a few years back, both were excellent and it made for a great night out.
9. Kinky Boots
I first saw the filmed version of the show in the middle of last year when a local movie theater presented it as a special engagement. I then decided to catch a live production at my old workplace The Phoenix Theatre Company a few months later. This is another show that can really easily be swayed by how strong some of the central characters are. For example, at Phoenix Theatre, I absolutely loved the Lola they cast, who stole the show, but the production’s Charlie was one of the weaker aspects of the show (he was fine, I just thought he was miscast). But the Cyndi Lauper soundtrack definitely has some standout numbers.
8. Something Rotten!
A musical about a comptemporary/rival of Shakespeare trying to one-up Shakespeare by inventing the musical, Something Rotten! is filled to the brim with references to other musicals, as well as nods to the Bard’s work and it is a ton of fun. This definitely isn’t a show for everybody but as a fan of the intersection of that Venn diagram, I had a blast seeing this one when it toured through town a few years back and I’ll probably check out a locally-produced version of it here in Phoenix in a couple months.
7. American Idiot
I fully cop to the fact that this one could be considered a bit of a cheat as it originally premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2009 but it didn’t make it to Broadway until 2010 so I’m counting it. American Idiot is the rare jukebox musical that I enjoy, mostly because the genre almost always has a terrible plot and relies on your enjoyment of the band/music first and foremost. And I won’t lie, the plot of American Idiot is incredibly thin to loosely tie the songs together. But I absolutely adore the soundtrack and I even prefer a lot of the musical-based versions of the songs better than the original album. And I don’t do karaoke but if I did, this rendition of “Give Me Novacaine” is one of the songs I would try to perform.
While I was working at Phoenix Theatre years ago, a friend and co-worker was ridiculously excited about Newsies and even got to see it on Broadway. She came back ecstatic at the notion of Phoenix Theatre eventually producing it one day. I eventually was able to see the filmed version of the stage production, like with Kinky Boots above, at a local movie theatre. It featured a great performance from Jeremy Jordan as the lead Jack Kelly (originally portrayed in the film version by a young Christian Bale). Fun fact: you can catch this version now on Disney Plus as Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical (there’s a good chance I’ll feature it on That D+ Show in a future episode). Eventually, Phoenix Theatre did produce a local version of it (after both my friend and I had moved on from the company but we still went back to see it and share our thoughts on it). It’s a fantastic opportunity to showcase some quality dancing but it is admittedly a bit of a male-dominated cast so that dinged it a bit.
5. Fun Home
Another entry on this list that I’ve seen in multiple forms, having attended the touring production that came through and then a local production a year or two later. Fun Home tells the story of cartoonist Alison Bechdel (also of the movie “Bechdel Test” fame) looking back at her childhood in a family-run funeral home and her complicated relationship with her father. Swinging wildly from hilarious to heartbreaking, there’s an incredibly relatable story at its core: that of the things we leave unsaid until it is too late.
4. Dear Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen is a complicated musical for me, mainly because I view it as a musical at war with itself. One of the central themes of the show is built around the idea that “no one deserves to be forgotten” but it explores that theme by literally forgetting who a character was in favor of rewriting their history for a more idyllic one. It drives me crazy. I remember jokingly thinking “of course this is the show that would win the 2017 Tony Award for Best Musical: it’s about a guy who tells this lie that spins out of control and faces virtually no consequences for his actions. Of course that would be celebrated in the year that President Donald Trump took office…”
But dammit if I don’t love the music anyway. I can often be heard belting out very poor renditions of “Waving Through a Window” and “For Forever” in my car.
3. The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon took years longer to tour through Arizona than it should have, most likely because one of ASU’s biggest donors is a Mormon and probably threatened to pull funding if Gammage hosted the tour. But when it finally did come through, I got to see it and laughed my ass off the whole time. As a bonus, the actress playing Nabulungi on that tour was a Phoenix-based performer prior to landing the gig so the whole theatre community here was beyond excited to get to show their support of her (and she freaking killed it). As an extra bonus for me, A.J. Holmes – who I knew from his work with the YouTube-famous theatre company Starkid Productions (A Very Potter Musical, Holy Musical B@man!, Twisted) – was also in the production as Elder Cunningham (he killed it too). I got to see the show again a few months ago when the tour came back through and was reminded of just how hilarious it is.
I don’t remember why I sought it out, but I remember seeing Once in theatres back in 2007. It stands out to me because I wasn’t particularly a movie-going guy at the time and I almost never went to movies alone back then. But I saw Once and was blown away by it. So when they turned it into a musical, I knew I was going to have to see it. When it came through Gammage in 2014 I got a ticket to see it seated near the sound booth. The acoustics can be a bit tricky there so I find the best seating to be near the sound booth (where the sound operator is going to be mixing the audio based off what they are hearing) or in the first couple rows. I was so moved by that first performance that I bought another ticket in the first couple rows a few days later. An absolutely breathtaking show, all of the performers sing, dance, act, and play their own instruments to create the music of the show. I remember casting it in my head for the eventual Phoenix Theatre production and was pleasantly surprised last year when I was able to see that version and it even had some of the folks I had envisioned five years earlier. I love that show dearly. But alas, there is one more.
1. Hamilton: An American Musical
Duh. Of course it’s Hamilton. The whole reason I decided to do this list was to celebrate Hamilton as the best musical of the decade (and – as with pretty much all of these decade lists – my all-time favorite). Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the greatest artistic minds of our time and the way he uses every single word to craft the narrative of Hamilton is an astounding feat. His passion for musical theatre and hip-hop history shines through with so many subtle nods and references to both cultures sprinkled throughout the piece. I’ve loved seeking out behind-the-scenes works on the creation of the show and the art that the musical has itself inspired. My old review of The Hamilton Mixtape is among one of my favorite pieces I have ever written. I loved getting to see the show twice when it toured through Arizona and I can’t wait to see the kind of productions we get when the performance rights are released to local theatres and schools. It is a phenomenal story, told in a phenomenal way by phenomenal artists.