10 Musicals That Didn't Deserve "Best Musical"

When it comes to the Tony Awards, the best show doesn't always win

In celebration of the 2014 Tony Awards, here's a snarky little reminder that the shows that win the coveted "Best Musical" aren't always the best of the pack. There have been numerous times over the 68-year history of the Tonys when, at least according to some theater mavens, the wrong show won. Here's a selection. 

The Will Rogers Follies
The Will Rogers Follies. Logo

The 1991 season was actually a pretty decent one for musicals, at least by the standards of the early '90s. However, The Will Rogers Follies won Best Musical over three shows that are arguably more artistically distinguished and/or have had much more of an afterlife: The Secret Garden, Once on This Island, and Miss Saigon. (Will Rogers did have a fabulous Tony number, though.)  More »

The Lion King
The Lion King. Logo

Very often in Tony history, there have years when one musical would win Best Book and Best Score while another snagged the Best Musical Tony. Such was the case in 1998 when Ragtime got the former two and The Lion King received the latter. The Lion King is certainly a stunning spectacle, and the production is still going strong. But Ragtime is better crafted as a piece, and has become a personal favorite of theater mavens everywhere.  More »

The Music Man
The Music Man. Poster

Don't get me wrong: I love The Music Man. It's a near-perfect musical love letter to a bygone era, But the show won the Tony over West Side Story. (I know, right?)  Both shows have certainly achieved staying power over the decades, but West Side Story has emerged as not only a popular show, but also a seminal musical that changed the course of musical-theater history in terms of the integration of meaningful dance.  More »

The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera. Poster

The Phantom of the Opera has been running for so long (over 25 years) that it's easy to forget that the show beat out Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods for Best Musical in 1988. Here's another case of a show with admittedly impressive production design edging out a show with stronger inherent quality. (Into the Woods won both Best Score and Best Book that year.) Into the Woods has since become one of Sondheim's most beloved and performed works, receiving numerous revivals and an upcoming film version.  More »

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Thoroughly Modern Millie. Logo

Quite often, the show that wins Best Musical wins because it has the most potential to become a hit "on the road," meaning during its national tour. In that sense, Thoroughly Modern Millie would naturally be able to win over Urinetown, a brilliantly satirical show that almost dares its audience to be revolted by its very concept: a future society in which residents must pay to pee. Urinetown has since performed surprisingly well in regional and school productions (although certainly not as well as Millie has.) More »

Billy Elliot
Billy Elliot. Logo

Billy Elliot is yet another example of a show that won more because it had hit potential rather than inherent quality. The score to Billy Elliot is extremely forgettable. The show made back its $14 million investment, but didn't quite cross over to blockbuster status as it proved a hard sell with New York tourists. The better show that season was Next to Normal, a flawed but heart-rending chamber musical about a woman's struggle will her bipolar illness. Next to Normal got the last laugh, though, when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  More »

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Spamalot
Spamalot. Logo

The 2005 Tony Awards were an uncharacteristically egalitarian affair, with the major awards divvied up fairly evenly among four shows: Spamalot (Best Musical), The Light in the Piazza (Best Score), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Best Book), and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Best Actor in a Musical). Spamalot is genuinely funny, but it has a poorly crafted score and scattershot book. Either Piazza or Spelling Bee would have been a better choice.  More »

Fiorello
Fiorello. Logo

Truth be told, Fiorello! has a terrific score and plays relatively well in performance. But the show won Best Musical in 1960 (in a tie with The Sound of Music) over Gypsy. Yes, Gypsy. A show that has since asserted itself as one of the masterpieces of musical theater. Fiorello!, not so much.  More »

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Kinky Boots
Kinky Boots. Cast Recording

Going into the 2013 Tonys, it was looking as though Matilda was going to sweep the awards. But for some reason, the industry seemed to rally behind Kinky Boots, a well-meaning but vastly inferior show. Matilda, while flawed, is a delightful show with a clever score, an extremely appealing cast, and a stunning physical production. Kinky Boots has its heart in the right place, but the score is lackluster, and the second act becomes preachy with a capital "P."  More »

Two Gentlemen of Verona
Two Gentlemen of Verona. Logo

The grandaddy of all Tony snubs. The big musical in the 1971-1972 season was Stephen Sondheim's Follies, which garnered Tonys in 1972 for its score, direction, choreography, scenic design, costumes, and lighting. But Two Gentlemen of Veronaa musical version of the eponymous Shakespeare play, won Best Musical. Theater devotees have been grumbling ever since. Follies has since achieved classic status, while Two Gentlemen has been pretty much AWOL.  More »