Groundhog Day and The Great Comet have earned raves in the theater but their reliance on the staging makes for dull albums. Day repeats the same underscoring under Andy Karl's physical comedy. The solos are filled with vulgar lyrics as if Minchin was shaking free of the kid-friendly Matilda in a rage. The result is that most of the characters sound alike. Comet is a mix of impressive singing (Lucas Steele in particular) and harsh, untrained voices. The character songs in act one give way to loads of narrative exposition in act two.
After seeing some parallel themes I thought I'd screen this year's musicals through Christopher Booker's "Seven Basic Plots." Booker writes of archetypal struggles that fictional protagonists have faced for centuries. The following seven plots can mixed and matched.
Overcoming the Monster - Protagonist must defeat an antagonistic force to save themselves and/or their homeland. (A common plot in video games and superhero films)
- Not this season but in the upcoming Spongebob Squarepants Musical. Spongebob must save his town from a volcano.
Rags to Riches - Protagonist achieves success only to lose it and grow as a person.
- War Paint. The rise and fall of Arden and Rubinstein's corporations.
- Dear Evan Hansen somewhat though his journey is closer to "rebirth."
- A Bronx Tale: The Musical.
The Quest - Protagonist and companions travel towards a place or object. They overcome obstacles on the way.
- Anastasia's journey to France in search of her family.
- In Transit. The train is a metaphor.
- Do backstage musicals fit here? When characters are putting on a show does the opening night serve as their destination? In that case Bandstand and Holiday Inn fit the bill.
Voyage and Return - The protagonist travels to a strange land, overcomes adversity, and returns home changed.
- Groundhog Day. Phil's journey through Punxsutawney.
- Come From Away. The American tourists in Newfoundland.
- Spongebob again. The journey to and from the volcano.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie magical visit to the murder factory of doom.
Comedy - A messier definition than the others. Protagonist overcomes adverse circumstances that grow increasingly complex till a "clarifying event" resolves it.
- Hello Dolly - Dolly complicates other's lives in order to improve her own.
- Amelie - Like Dolly she performs good deeds for others. Unlike Dolly she loses control of the narrative. Her friends and her suitor have to band together to supply the happy ending.
Tragedy - The protagonist is brought down by a fatal flaw.
- Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. Both Natasha and Pierre are brought down by their ideals.
- War Paint's second act. The women refuse to change with modern trends and are brought down by competitors.
- Miss Saigon? Kim flees her village and travels to America, fitting the "quest" narrative, but when she gets there she sees she can't be with Chris and *** spoiler *** kills herself. *** end spoiler *** Her fatal flaw, perhaps, is seeing Chris as the destination. She can't re-invent herself in America the way the Engineer can.
- Sunset Blvd. Nora won't let go of the past and Joe won't let go of the wealth... until it's too late.
Rebirth - An important event forces the protagonist to change their ways and become a better person.
- Dear Evan Hansen
- Groundhog Day again
- Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. Possibly. It depends on how you interpret the ending.
- The revival of Falsettos. Marvin is a scrooge like figure who (arguably) doesn't care for his family till he nearly loses them.
- Cats... maybe? For Grizabella at least.