March Madness of Musicals

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Editor’s note: This is one installment in a ten-part March Madness series. These rankings were voted on by The Daily Californian arts & entertainment staff.

The first round of the musical adaptation bracket saw few upsets. Classics such as “Chicago,” “Les Misérables” and “Hairspray” deservedly breezed through their matchups with lower seeds, in keeping with what seems to be an overall pattern of more familiar musicals beating more niche ones fans of “Rent” or “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” may be ardent, but they are few in number. One lone cult classic, however, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” did manage to beat out the more traditional musical “Sweeney Todd,” but would eventually lose steam in the next round. The biggest shock of the first round was 11 seed “Cabaret” beating out 6 seed “Grease,” a beloved musical favorite that many may have expected to go the distance in the bracket.

“Cabaret” would fail to ride the wave of its surprise win, losing out to the old “razzle dazzle” of 2002 Best Picture winner “Chicago” as Rob Marshall’s tale of merry murderesses made its way to the Final Four. “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music” took up the next two slots in the Final Four, eliminating “Hairspray” and “Rocky Horror” from consideration. Though it’s undoubtedly sad to see Tracy Turnblad and Dr. Frank N. Furter bite the dust, the charm of Julie Andrews and the masterful craft on display in “West Side Story” separate these films as the rightful winners.

“Mamma Mia!,” in what some may consider to be an appalling twist, took out “Les Miserables” to complete the Final Four. “Les Misérables” may be a juggernaut of musical theater, but the 2012 film comes up short in properly translating the musical onto the medium of the screen, a possible explanation for its surprise loss.

Another explanation would be that the film forces audiences to listen to Russell Crowe’s substandard rendition of “Stars.” On the other hand, “Mamma Mia!” seems tailor-made to delight audiences. The film’s bouncy musical numbers and fluffy romantic plot continue to be indulgent treats.

“Mamma Mia!” was rewarded for its spirit all the way through the final rounds, where it earned the championship title. After coming down to that film and “West Side Story,” voters ultimately went with the colorful and carefree story of Amanda Seyfried and her three dads over the tragic “Romeo and Juliet” redux. While “West Side Story” is a pinnacle of the cinematic musical tradition, “Mamma Mia!” had the advantage of its crowd-pleasing character and added momentum from the recent release of its sequel this summer. Its victory is proof that one should never ever bet against ABBA or Meryl Streep.


Grace Orriss covers theater. Contact her at [email protected].