The Tonys Best Musical Winners Ranked Part 1

In celebration of the Tony Awards I thought it might be fun to dip into musical theatre history and rank what I think were the best musicals to win the Tony for Best Musical. This is going to be both extremely fun and extremely nerdy. 

65. 1991: The Will Rogers Follies 

I've always thought this musical was overrated and its awarding of Best Musical was a complete joke. For me, the win was more of a lifetime achievement for the Comden and Green team. If anything is ranked 4th behind the other nominees that year, Once on this Island, The Secret Garden and Miss Saigon.

64. Kinky Boots 

Call me a hater but I never found anything truly special about this musical. To me it was an above average staging of an above average film with an above average score. I thought Matilda was the far superior choice.

63. 1989: Jerome Robbins' Broadway

1989 was a bleak year for Broadway. It was a year after Phantom of the Opera and Into the Woods opened and a year before Grand Hotel and City of Angels. So it was slim pickings for Tony worthy work between Jerome Robbin's Broadway, Starmites and Black & Blue. A choreography revue is a clear sign of how worthy the other choices were.

62. 1972: Two Gentlemen of Verona

In the 1970's, we got a lot of disco/rock/pop adaptations. While Verona isn't the worst of them, in the group of fellow Best Musicals, it doesn't rank right, especially since it beat out Follies for the prize. However the original cast did boast the talents of Raul Julia and chorus members Jeff Goldblum and Stockard Channing. 

61. 1959: Redhead

A spinster who models for the wax statues models for a recently murdered young woman and winds up solving the murder's mystery with the deceased woman's brother, with whom she falls in love.....yeah that's Best Musical material. But it did beat out Rodgers & Hammerstein's worst work, Flower Drum Song and La Plume de Ma Tante.

60. 1958: The Music Man 

If you skim the "Best Musicals of All Tine" lists or just ask any musical theatre expert, you will constantly hear "West Side Story", and they would be right. West Side Story features a trio of perfection, music, lyrics and choreography. But it didn't win the Tony for Best Musical, The Music Man did. I'm not saying that Meredith Wilson's classic is a bad musical, but the injustice by the American Theatre Wing puts it near the bottom of the list.

59. 2010: Memphis

Memphis isn't a bad musical, but compared to the rest of the winners, it's not memorable. It stood out from a list of otherwise so so musicals, American Idiot, Million Dollar Quartet and Fela!, the last of which I thought should have won.

58. 1960: Fiorello! 

Again, not a bad musical, but how did this possibly beat Gypsy?!?! Can we get a 50 year recount?

57. 1970: Applause

Applause's best number is the one that's the show's title, and that's about it. I would have liked to see the American Theatre Wing go with Purlie instead but oh well.

56. 1983: Cats

I've always felt Cats was a bit overrated. It's one of those musicals I feel is better listened to than seen. It faced a weak field which only increased its likely hood of winning. 

55. 1961: Bye Bye Birdie 

While I give this piece credit for getting me into theatre, I can't rank it very high among other Best Musical winners. The music is so-so with only "Baby, talk to me" sticking out in my mind as a truly good song. 

54. 2014: A Gentleman's Guide To Love & Murder

Creative, original, hilarious. A future classic. 

53. 1992: Crazy for You 

I'll always give this piece credit for bringing American power back to Broadway. It felt like the decade leading up to this was dominated by Cameron Makintosh and his British dream team. But Crazy for You feels like more of a reminder of how great the Gershwin's were rather than presenting a great musical. If you need proof of that, this musical was based on another Gershwin musical Girl Crazy with songs from other Gershwin material. I would have loved it if the under performed and under recognized Falsettos had won.

52. 1999: Fosse 

Again, choreography revues are going to rank pretty low on my list, but I thought Fosse was well conceived and featured more obscure selections from his choreography catalog. 

51. 1951: Guys and Dolls

Having Guys & Dolls crack the top 50 seems about right. The lyrics were daring for 1951 and many of the songs have entered Broadway's songbook.

50. 1974: Raisin 

A musical version of Raisin in the Son? I didn't have high hopes but some of the music is quite good. They're Tony performance also is surprisingly good as well. Although one could argue that Seesaw would have been the better choice. 

49. 1995: Sunset Boulevard 

While it's not the worst of Lloyd Webber's work to win Best Musical, it's probably the most undeserving. Smokey Joe's Cafe was a far better production that year. 

48. 2000: Contact 

I love the concept of Contact and much of the original material throughout, but it's not a musical. The award was controversial because Contact contains no original music or live singing, and in response, a new award for Best Special Theatrical Event was introduced the following year. The Wild Party was the true winner that night. 

47. 1986: The Mystery of Edwin Drood 

Drood has always been a mystery to me. It starts out with material that should put it in the upper part of this list, but the piece falters in Act 2. It seems the revival production fixed this issue.

46. 1977: Annie

I hate Annie. I really do. But given it's competition that year, it's hard to deny that they were the best choice that year. 

45. 1956: Damn Yankees

It's the greatest baseball themed I'll give it that. 

44. 1978: Ain't Misbehavin' 

Normally a musical revue would rank pretty low on my list. But I love that the music of Fat Waller was brought to Broadway. Since then it's become a standard for how to make a successful musical revue. 

43. 1954: Kismet

In 1954, the Tony's were simply awarded to the winners, there were no other nominees. If there had been, I don't know if this would have won. While the story and music are strong, the script falls flat. Funny story, it opened during a newspaper strike so the critics had no way of getting their reviews published. So the producers used the new invention of television to promote the show where the public responded kindly. 

42. 2002: Thoroughly Modern Millie

Based on the 1967 movie-musical, this production launched the careers of Sutton Foster, who won her first Tony for the role, as well as Gavin Creel. Interestingly enough, Kristin Chenoweth was set to play Millie but pulled out before previews to star in her own short lived sitcom and was replaced by then chorus girl, Sutton Foster. While thoroughly entertaining, I always felt Urinetown was the better option. 

41. 1990: City of Angels

The musical weaves together two plots, the "real" world of a writer trying to turn his book into a screenplay, and the "reel" world of the fictional film. The musical is a homage to the film noir genre of motion pictures that rose to prominence in the 1940s. While it has a ingenious concept and one of the best overtures I've ever heard, City of Angels falters on its script and score. 

40. 1973: A Little Night Music

I once had an epic debate with a fellow musical theatre lover about who should have won the Tony in 1973, A Little Night Music or Pippin. I've always believed that Pippin should have taken home the trophy. However I will concede that two of Sondheim's greatest songs are in this piece.(Weekend in the Country, Send in the Clowns)

39. 2005: Monty Python's Spamalot

While incredibly funny, is there anything truly remarkable about Spamalot? I've never felt so. In fact I've always thought it should have been the 3rd place finisher behind The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and The Light in the Piazza.

38. 1968: Hallelujah, Baby! 

While some critics have blasted this piece for presenting a too soft portrayal of racism in the south, I really like the piece. It was the first time that the Tony for Best Musical was awarded to a piece with a African American star, a young Leslie Uggams who would later go on to butcher "June is bustin out all over". 

37. 1953: Wonderful Town 

I've always called this Bernstein's "hidden gem". The songs, while not popular, are great and Ruth Sherwood is one of the great female leading roles of all time.

36. 1964: Hello, Dolly! 

I'm not a Jerry Herman fan, but it's hard to deny this shows place in history. A place that wouldn't have happened had they not cast Carol Channing in the title role. 

35. 1985: Big River 

I've always really liked Big River. Even though it beat out weak competition, I felt it really deserved best musical. In 2004 the Roundabout Theatre Company and Deaf West Theatre revived a fantastic revival. featured both deaf and hearing actors performing together. About half the characters, including the leading role of Huck, were played by deaf or hard-of-hearing performers. All dialogue and lyrics in the production were both spoken or sung and signed, making the production equally accessible to hearing and deaf audiences.

34. 1997: Titanic 

While Steel Pier remains my favorite show from that year, it's hard to deny that Titanic was deserving of the award. The score is fantastic and the design was extraordinarily innovative. 

33. 2003: Hairspray

Just the case with Spamalot, I've never felt there was anything particularly special about Hairspray. The music is good, the characters toned down from the original movie, and the message cliche. Going by quality not box office success, A Year with Frog & Toad would be the choice for me that year.  

Part 2 tomorrow!

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