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A recap of the 2023-2024 Broadway season: musicals

On April 30, Tony nominations for the 77th Tony Awards will come out. That is when the public will find out the best of the 2023-2024 theatre season. This season was a particularly crowded one, which means that this year’s Tony Awards will likely be fairly competitive. In particular, this spring has seen a lot of openings in the musical realm, and they have all been rushing to open before the cut off date of April 25. After the height of the pandemic, people have been nervous about Broadway fully coming back. Based on everything that has premiered in this season, Broadway is back in full force. There is a wide variety of musicals that have opened, both new and old. There should be something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you are a fan of comedies or dramas, you will find a musical on Broadway that will entertain you. It is good to know about these productions before the actual Tony Awards, which will air on CBS on June 16, as tickets are bound to go up after awards are given out. So until then, here is everything you should know about the musicals from this Broadway season so you know about what you should see and what the Tony Awards may be seeing.

Premiering new musicals soon after the previous Tony Awards can be risky, as the shows may not be on people’s minds by the time voting for the next Tony Awards come around. Nevertheless, there are plenty of musicals that take that chance. The season had an interesting start in terms of the first musicals that premiered. One of the musicals was “Once Upon a One More Time,” a take on fairy tales where the classic princesses decide to read “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan and apply it to their lives while singing popular songs by Britney Spears. Another one of the first musicals of the season was “Here Lies Love,” the story of Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, set in a partying disco club atmosphere with music by David Byrne. Needless to say, these musicals closed before 2023 ended. It is great when musicals take risks and bring excitement. However, there are some stories that people can tell just from hearing the plots that they will not work well. The former musical also has the risk of being a jukebox musical, as some people can be turned off by the concept. The latter’s risk was choosing to tell the story of a controversial figure in the setting of a colorful disco. Also, as said before, there is the risk of opening early. Usually the better and more refined ones open later, so it is never that shocking when the so-so musicals open the summer before. Other musicals that suffered from the curse of opening the year before are “How to Dance in Ohio” and “Harmony.” “How To Dance in Ohio” is based on the documentary of the same name of a group of autistic young adults who are planning their own prom amongst their counseling group, which is meant for improving social skills. “Harmony” is about the Comedian Harmonists, a musical comedy group from Germany in the 1920s that went through controversy through their inclusion of Jewish members. The original score of this musical was done by Barry Manilow. These two musicals made it into the new year, but not that much into the new year. These two musicals were very unfamiliar stories without big actors attached, which can be difficult for bringing in crowds. Furthermore, they both needed work on the advertising. Fortunately, there was a musical that made it past the fall slump: the musical adaptation of “Back to the Future.” The classic time-traveling film has made for an electrifying musical that attracts tourists right away. While it may not be the most critically well-received musical, it is the type of musical that will keep bringing in audiences who want to see a familiar story with eye-catching set pieces.

Once 2024 began, that is when the opening of musicals kicked into high gear. It seemed as if there was a new opening announcement every week. It could be partially due to a clear frontrunner not being clear immediately, so all of these musicals felt like they had a chance. Since there are so many musicals that have premiered this spring, it might be easier to divide them into categories in terms of what kind of musicals they are. First, there are the musicals that are adaptations of previously written stories. For starters, there are musicals like “Days of Wine and Roses,” a musical about the strain alcoholism can put on a relationship, which is already closed. This musical, starring Brian d’Arcy James and Kelli O’Hara, is based on a popular film and may have been too depressing for certain audiences. Nevertheless, the performances have been widely praised, which is a key part of all musicals. There is also “Water for Elephants,” which is about a man who runs away to join the circus, and “The Outsiders,” which is about a rag-tag group of boys from the wrong side of the tracks. Both musicals have been well-received by audiences and critics, with the latter being in talks to win Best Musical. It appears that these musicals could both last a while. There are also some romance adaptations, like “The Notebook,” which is a love story over decades, and “The Great Gatsby,” a musical that shows love during the height of the Jazz Age starring Jeremy Jordan and Eva Noblezada. The two are both stories with devoted followings, which means fans are expecting a lot from these shows. While they do not appear to be at the top in terms of new musicals, they have not been total disappointments either. Although, “The Great Gatsby” better watch out, as there is another musical version doing tryouts at the American Repertory Theater that may be competition. Then, there are the musicals that have some basis in truth. Those musicals are “Suffs,” about the women’s suffrage movement, and “Lempicka” about the Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka. The former is the one that has been getting a great buzz in terms of the whole production, but the latter has had a lot of talks for the acting. Since there are true stories at work, sensitivity needs to be taken. Fortunately, there seems to be no problem there. Then there are musicals being worked on by famous musicians. There is “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” which uses the music of Huey Lewis to tell a story of making it in rock and roll. Then there is “Hell’s Kitchen,” which uses Alicia Keys’ music to tell a loose story of her life. Finally, there is “Illinoise,” a dance revue musical with the music of Sufjan Stevens. While Lewis’ musical has not been doing so great, which is unsurprising due to the predictability of his music, the other two have higher hopes. These two have just begun, but their stories and scores are already leaving impacts. As is clear by all of the descriptions, there are so many different original musicals premiering this season and many of them have a chance to win Best Musical. We will just have to wait and see which musical will reign supreme.

While the new musicals get most of the attention, as they are full of fresh stories and scores, there were plenty of revival musicals this season that people have been buzzing about. For instance, one of the hottest tickets this Broadway season has been for the revival of “Merrily We Roll Along.” It is an unusual situation, as the original production from 1981 was a total flop, even though it was written by the legendary Stephen Sondheim. Fortunately, this revival production was able to help raise this musical’s reputation and make the story new again. The musical is told in reverse and is about the tragedy of success and the people that may be left behind. The production has revamped the original one to make the show look and flow better. It also has an all-star cast with Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsey Mendez. The musical is a limited production and tickets have been difficult to get, so make sure to buy one as soon as you can. Another fun, but very different revival, from the fall was the revival of “Spamalot.” Based on “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” this hilarious musical was a big hit in the mid 2000s and has now come back to bring laughs again. It is especially timely considering there was a revival of “Camelot” last season. This revival is set to close soon so it was not as successful as the original production, but it has still brought joy to many crowds. Speaking of joy, another exciting fall revival was “Gutenberg! The Musical!” This limited production reunited “The Book of Mormon” stars Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad. It tells the story of Bud and Doug who want to write a musical about Johannes Gutenber, inventor of the printing press. The problem is that they do not know much about him, so they make up most of the details. Technically, this musical has never been on Broadway before, but it has had its own notable production before off-broadway years ago, so the Tonys consider it a revival. It might be a little silly and simple for the Tonys, but it captivated audiences for months, which is what these shows hope for at the very least.

Along with the thrilling productions from 2023, there have been some exciting musicals revived in 2024. What is great about these revivals is that they are not just telling the same story over again, but they are trying to add some fun spins on the material. That includes the revival of “The Who’s Tommy” this musical about a young boy is deaf and blind yet really good at pinball, which came from a concept album by the rock band The Who, was a large success when it premiered in the early 1990s. Still today, the musical is full of energy and the story is full of thrills, which leads to an enjoyable production. Another enjoyable revival has been “The Wiz,” the musical retelling of “The Wizard of Oz” through modern African-American culture. The musical was a huge success when it premiered in the 1970s, which included a win for Best Musical. Now, it is back and is ready to electrify audiences once again. Since it is a popular story with some popular songs, the musical should be able to easily bring audiences in to experience this classic. So, in terms of the revivals of musicals, it is only fair to save one of the best ones for last. That revival is of the smash-hit “Cabaret,” which stars Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee. “Cabaret” has already been revived several times, so there has been a lot for this production to live up to. Luckily, it looks like this production is successfully living up to those expectations. This revival is rebranding the musical as “Cabaret at the Kit-Kat Club,” giving audiences an immersive feel to this story of performers at a cabaret show in 1930s Germany. Audience members are expected to arrive early for a musical pre-show to really make them feel like they are in this environment, setting themselves up for a wonderful production. This musical that knows the meaning of go big or go home. Even though these musicals have all been seen before, every production feels fresh in its own way.

Compared to some previous seasons, the 2023-2024 season for Broadway musicals feels especially competitive. There are a lot of musicals that have opened on Broadway this season and there are not too many clear front runners. Some facts of the situation should be revealed on April 30 when the Tony nominations come out. While some shows are expected to get a lot of nominations, like “Merrily We Roll Along” or “Cabaret,” there could be other shows that pleasantly surprise us with nominations. There is also bound to be some unexpected snubs along the way, so keep an eye out for what may shockingly be left out. There are still some musicals waiting to officially premiere the week of the cutoff date, so we still do not have the full picture. Nevertheless, the buzz is already spreading for many productions, which is what is giving the ideas for nominations. I am looking forward to what will get recognition in this exciting Broadway season and which ones will walk away from the Tonys with some awards.

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