Every theatre lover has their favorite musicals for various reasons starting from the music to the dance numbers to their favorite actors or actresses playing a character in a show on Broadway. Whatever the reason, we always have certain shows that we gravitate towards or soundtracks that we just can’t stop listening to on our commutes to work. Through my years of being an audience member or actually working on a show, I’ve formulated a list of wide ranged musical productions that I like to call my top ten list.
10. Les Miserables - This is a classic musical in a historic sense. I don’t really believe a top ten list would be complete without this being mentioned. With music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, and a libretto by Herbert Kretzmer, this sung through musical based off of a 1862 novel is a popular choice in many colleges and even high schools. The powerful lyrics and musical orchestrations and the politics and emotions of the characters leave us with a memorable impression. This musical makes you feel something. It’s not your typical light-hearted show. It’s a more serious route for musical theatre. It’s not an easy show to do in my opinion, but when done well, it’s an incredible piece of art.
9. Wicked - This is another musical that I believe to be a classic in its own way, but is still considered contemporary in many cases. Many of the younger generations gravitate towards this show, especially the music. This is one of Stephen Schwartz’s best scores with an amazing libretto by Winnie Holzman. Their collaboration on this musical is fun and emotionally driven. You cannot see this show without there being tears in your eyes at some point. It’s a bit whimsical which I enjoy and it’s based off of something we all know, The Wizard of Oz. It is a teenage favorite as well as an adult favorite and has become iconic to the last ten years of musical theatre.
8. Godspell - Another well known Stephen Schwartz musical. I personally prefer this musical over Wicked believe it or not. This show is full of lessons, fun music and has a wide range of parts available. The way the principles in this show are organized with regards to each having their own solo, makes casting an easier process in my opinion. The libretto, by John-Michael Tebelak, is the perfect complement to this music. This is a fun favorite among high schools and colleges, but also offers a serious and emotional ending which balances the show perfectly. It’s a rather serious context, but the music makes it energetic and not boring in any way. I love the way the bible verses are executed. It makes learning about right and wrong, and valuable lessons, a fun thing. Although there has been some backlash to this show because of its controversial parts, I don’t focus on it. I see too many positives and I believe it’s a show everyone should see.
7. Kiss Me, Kate - A Cole Porter classic that is done across the country. I think the writing of this, done by Samuel and Bella Spewack, is absolutely brilliant. To be able to take a Shakespeare play and write a musical around it is an amazing concept. The costumes in this musical are colorful and vibrant, making it a fun and light-hearted production. I love the music of Cole Porter and to me, this musical was one of his best. Not many people know or even recognize this piece of work by Porter, but it will always deserve praise. It’s a little exotic in a way, but has a subtle sense of passion and emotion from the characters. Most of all, it will make you smile.
6. Chicago - What list would be complete without it? It’s sexy and provocative yet classy and sophisticated. This is an incredible musical usually with flawless and powerful choreography that evokes anger, sadness, and desperation, but also love, sex, and show business. It’s a little raunchy, but just enough. This is classic Bob Fosse. It has that “wow” factor from the choreography to the costumes to the singing. After you watch a musical number or an intense scene, it leaves you feeling a lot of emotion. It leaves you feeling the emotion the characters are feeling. It’s intense and heavy, and not light-hearted in any way. It’s an iconic piece of musical theatre.
5. Cabaret - Another sexy and energy filled show that has a perfect balance of humor and rawness. The characters are blunt and in your face, yet subtle enough to evoke sensuality and classiness. The Emcee will always be my favorite character in musical history. There is so much attached to the role including history and some incredible actors who have portrayed the role. This show is slightly traditional in regards to the time period (not the content), but a modernized and “hip” take on something that’s timeless. With music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff, each one of their contributions adds something valuable to this musical. Many people don’t think of Cabaret as a top show, but it’s certainly a favorite of mine. Many fans think of Liza Minnelli who made it popular or Joel Grey, but my favorite actor through the years of its revivals is Alan Cumming, who played the Emcee starting in 1993 in the London revival, in 1998 for the Broadway revival and again in 2014 for another Broadway revival. I think he portrayed the role very well, and is a legend in doing so.
4. Evita - This is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best scores. This musical has become a worldwide phenomenon in many ways. It evokes history and is based off of true life events of Eva Peron. It’s a musical take on a serious and real life historic event that in its way, is a biography. It is completely sung through and I think that’s part of what makes it so unique. It tells a story in purely song and dance, similar to Les Miserables, but more exciting. You simply cannot get away with casting mediocre singers and actors in this show. It’s a top notch score and needs a strong ensemble and principle characters. When watching a performance of this, if done right, it will evoke power, protest, and massive amounts energy and sorrow.
3. Pippin - This is a fun and flamboyant show with acrobatics and intense, insane choreography that leaves you completely satisfied. It is the definition of theatrical. The characters are light-hearted and a bit whimsical, but go through real life issues throughout the show. Time wise, this musical goes back to 1972, but has a lot of historic events attached to it during its run on Broadway. This is another Stephen Schwartz classic with a really great score and killer characters and costumes. It’s a favorite to many generations.
2. The Drowsy Chaperone - This is a newer musical within a comedy. When I saw this show for the first time, I had no idea what it was going to be and didn’t really have high standards for it in all honesty. When I walked out, I was completely speechless. This musical is completely underrated and I am so surprised by its short run on Broadway. This show has everything a musical needs. It has humor, amazing songs, and a ton of dancing. It’s not boring in any way. It’s active and full of life and gives the word “contemporary” a whole new meaning. It has a little bit of something for everyone. There isn’t too much more I can say on it other than the fact that it’s absolutely fantastic.
1. Anything Goes - This is Cole Porter’s best musical and to me it is absolutely timeless. I love the classic looks and hit songs like “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” and of course, “Anything Goes.” I think the reason I put it as number one on my list is because this was the first musical I’ve had the pleasure of working on years ago, and it was the one that really made me feel like this was the industry I wanted to be in. When you watch it, you know you’re watching a good old fashioned musical. The music is feel good yet emotional in some cases. The costumes are classy and depict the 1930’s with style. The jokes are a bit dated, but still will make you laugh every time because it never gets old. There isn’t enough good I can say about this show and it’s characters. I think every character has its own style and personality. They don’t just simply blend in. When people think of Cole Porter, they think of Anything Goes. When I think of classic musical theatre, I think Anything Goes. It’s a hallmark in this business and one that will never be forgotten.