Sunday, March 15, 2015

I Wish I Lived in a Musical: My Favorite Broadway Musicals

I've been known to wish my life was a musical on a number of occasions.  When wouldn't breaking into song and dance with your co-workers not brighten up the day?  Never!

As my blog title suggests, I am a dork and in all possible ways. I love musical theater and have every song from a fair number of them memorized.  After getting to the theater a couple weeks ago to see Pippin, I'm in a happy musical haze and thought it would be fun to make a list of my favorites.  They are mostly going to be old school as I sadly don't get to the theater that much any more.  The most recently produced musical I've seen is Spamalot.  And obviously I haven't seen every musical ever made so, you know, not dissing Avenue Q or anything.

Okay, prepare for Melodrama with a capital M.

  • Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
That's right. I'm a rock opera fan.  I'm not afraid to admit it.  Somewhat contrary to my other tastes, my favorite musicals are big on the drama  - there is something about melodramatically singing about the hard things in life that works for me.  And what's more dramatic then the last days of Jesus.  This musical blew my teenaged mind with it's defense of Judas and focus on Jesus' humanity. The song Gethsemane (I only want to say) never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  I'm not really religious, though I was raised Christian and this human Jesus appeals to me very much.  The version that I love the most is the one from the original cast recording with Jesus sung by Ian Gillan (linked above).

  •  Les Miserables (1985) by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil,  and Jean-Marc Natel
 I probably don't even need to explain this one since the movie put it in everyone's face even if they are not musical lovers.  It's based on the novel by Victor Hugo and is seriously emotional.  There is so much good music in this show but I have to go back to my favorites as a teenager - anything involving Eponine.  My friend Chris and I liked to re-enact her death scene at lunch time in the school cafeteria because we were just. that. cool. Here's On My Own sung by Eponine in the original Broadway cast. If this isn't every emo teenaged girl with a crush's theme song, I don't know what is.

  • West Side Story (1957) by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins
Based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, this is perhaps the classiest musical out there.  The dancing, and music are both exceptional and the story is pretty hard to beat being based on Shakespeare and all.  It's very hard to pick a favorite song or moment but I've always been partial to the upbeat and poignant America.

  • Pippin (1972) Stephen Schwartz
This musical tells the story of Pippin, son of Charlemagne who is trying to figure out how to live a fulfilled life.  To do so he thinks he must accomplish great things and make a huge impact on the world.  After trying many things, he finally realizes that the ordinary life is what will make him happy.  This is mostly a more light-hearted show until the end when things get pretty brutal.  Each of the songs has its own message and charm.  The original production was directed by Bob Fosse and you can see it in the dancing.  One of my favorite songs from the show (among many) is Simple Joys. Patina Miller won the Tony for her performance in the 2013 Revival.

  • The Secret Garden (1991) by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon
This is a lesser known musical from the early 1990s and it is based on the book of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  It lends itself surprisingly well to a musical treatment.  The original Broadway cast starred Mandy Patinkin as the Uncle (yes, Inigo Montoya) who has a lovely tenor.  The song I choose to highlight is a very dramatic one Storm I/Lily's Eyes.  In the duet, Mandy is the second voice to sing.
  • Oklahoma! (1943) by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
It's pretty scandalous that this is the first Rodgers and Hammerstein on the list!  Oklahoma is a more light-hearted musical though it has some dramatic moments.  The music is delightful and it is also well known for it's spectacular dancing which is why it edges out the other Rodgers and Hammersteins for me.  I also have a soft spot for the music of Carousel but the gender politics in that show is difficult to take.  I'm kind of a fan of Ado Annie so I choose I Cain't Say No to highlight.  I am also going to put a link to People Will Say We're in Love because its a clever, coy little song and the singing is a little less grating:0).

  • Spamalot (2005) by Eric Idle, John Du Prez and Neil Innes
This is the one entry on the list that is 100% silly.  It's adapted from Monty Python's Holy Grail and it is one of the funniest shows I have ever seen.  I saw it during it's Broadway run with Tim Curry as Arthur and Alan Tudyk (Wash from Firefly) as Lancelot.  It was one of the highlights of my theater going life for sure! The song I have to pick for this show is The Song That Goes Like This because it makes fun of the melodrama I love:0).

  • Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk
This musical is a little different because it's focused on dance and on one performer in particular - Savion Glover.  I was lucky enough to see this show on Broadway and it truly blew my mind.  I love tap dance and Savion Glover was a true athlete and artist, coaxing moves and sounds out of a pair of tap shoes that are unbelievable.  Unfortunately there is no video available online that does it justice but here's a little taste from the Tonys.
  • Fiddler on the Roof 
A musical about an unlikely place - a small Jewish community in Russia - that works incredibly well.  It has it's rousing bring-down-the house numbers like If I Were A Rich Man and it's more reflective songs like Sunrise, Sunset.  The overall effect is a moving and satisfying musical.

  • A Chorus Line
This is another show that combines great music and great dancing.  There is no real plot.  It takes place during the auditions on Broadway to be in the chorus line of a new show.  For some the opportunity is golden for others it is a step back and the show balances the light-hearted and the sad so well.  My favorite song from the show - and one I actually sang in front of an audience in high school (yikes!) - is Nothing which I think encapsulates the funny and sad tone of the show perfectly.  The show is loaded with great songs though. 

Finally, in order to squeeze as much awesomness onto the list as possible, I left a few of my favorites out because they are perhaps better known as movies.

  • Singing in the Rain
I ADORE Gene Kelly - I prefer his more physical dance style to Fred Astaire's. This movie has a lot of fantastic songs and some of my favorite dance routines of all times.  It's also just a great movie with a terrific plot.  The Moses Supposes scene is probably my favorite for the kick ass tap dancing.  I wish we could back in time when all actors were expected to act, sing AND dance the dickens out of a scene.

  • My Fair Lady
Even though Audrey Hepburn doesn't do her own singing (that was the lovely Marni Nixon), she's pretty great as Eliza Doolittle.  This is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw but improves it by adding singing:).  It's the story of a gentleman and professor who makes a bet that he can train and then pass off a Covent Garden flower woman as a proper gentle-lady. I love the song and scene Loverly.

  • Sound of Music
Who doesn't love The Sound of Music?  It's got nuns and nazis and romance - in other words it has it all.  Plus it's an age old tale told well with a stellar cast. Picking a favorite song is tough but is probably My Favorite Things.

I think I better stop here even though I can think of many others that I'm ambivalent about leaving off (Into the Woods, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wicked, Carousel, South Pacific, 42nd Street etc... and so on).  Are there any other fellow Musical Theater nerds out there?  What are some of your favorites?

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