The first musical theatre was The Black Crook and it came out in 1866. Since then, musicals have delighted audiences with their ability to seemingly transport viewers to another place. Some musicals have also pushed boundaries in such identities as race, sexuality, and class. Other musicals serve as purely entertainment value, introducing audiences to strange places and characters including talking plants and animals.
There are many, many great musicals out there. If you didn’t see one that you love, please don’t be offended and turn to the comments! This is just my opinion, and I haven’t even seen some of the musicals out there.
11. Fiddler on the Roof: This is one of the classics. It tells the story of Tevye, a Jewish milkman who wants to continue following his traditions. Teyve also has to deal with the Russian Tsar’s desire to remove Jews from their village and his daughters’ wish to marry for love. These conflicts make Teyve feel uncomfortable, as he wants to continue following his Jewish traditions. If you haven’t heard “If I Were a Rich Man”, you’ve been living under a rock. In “If I Were a Rich Man”, Teyve asks God “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan/ If I were a wealthy man?”. Fiddler on the Roof is also the origin of our thinking of the Bottle Dance as a dance of the Jewish people. The dance was the creation of director-choreographer Jerome Robbins.
10. The Lion King: In my opinion, this show has some of the best costumes and puppets ever created. From the opening act “Circle of Life”, I was amazed by the incredible animal puppets moving across the stage. The Elephant’s Graveyard is creepy, and the hyenas are the same as in the movie. Seeing the costumes and the sets, it was easy to forget that I was in New York City and not in the savannah. I was moved both by “They Live in You”, the song where Mufasa tells young Simba that he is interconnected to his ancestors, and "He Lives in You". The musical doesn’t hold the same place in my heart as the movie, but it comes very, very close. The musical is also by Disney, so you can expect that it will be good; if not great.
9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A couple gets lost and arrives at a castle owned by “Frank N-Furter’. Frank N-Furter says he is a transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania. It just happens that the “Transsexual” we’re talking about here is a planet in director Tim Curry’s world, and “Transylvania” is a galaxy. So begins one of the strangest productions in existence. I’m going to be honest here, this is not one of my favorites. The idea of an alien having romantic relationships with people, and reuniting with his alien pals to take over the world was far, far too weird for me. However, I know a lot of people are fans of it. Back in the 1980s, people used to have performances of Rocky Horror where the audience used to squirt water guns at each other and the performers. Maybe if I had been to one of those performances I would have liked this musical better. Still, I included this here because it is a pop culture phenomenon.
8. Les Miserables: Do you want to see Russel Crowe bray? Well, far before this was a movie, it was a Broadway show running for many years. It tells the story of the French Revolution. “I Dreamed a Dream” was the first song I heard that got me interested in musical theater. The characters are well-developed and feel like they could have been real people. Fantine is one of the most tragic characters in existence. I want to hug her and comfort her. If you get anything out of the 2 hour and 38-second movie, at least cry. It’s sadness, and lots of sadness all around.
7. The Wiz: The African-American version of “The Wizard of Oz”. The songs such as “Ease On Down the Road”, “No Bad News”, and “He’s the Wiz” are so much fun, I still remember hearing them when we watched the movie The Wiz in 8th-grade music class. All of the songs and sets add something new to the classic Wizard of Oz. “He’s the Wiz” has an alto vocalist, as well as trumpets and other instruments in the background. The movie version is where you get to see Diana Ross and Michael Jackson when they are young before MJ became famous. Diana Ross plays Dorothy, and Michael Jackson plays the scarecrow.
6. Spring Awakening: Kids, don’t go see this with your parents. The controversial play was published by Frank Wedekind in 1891 , but was not performed until 1917. Since then, the play has faced censorship because of its sexual content. The show did not become well-known or respected until 2014 when a musical adaptation was produced for Broadway. It is about kids dealing with puberty when the adults didn’t teach them anything about their changing bodies. The production also critiques social institutions such as school, and the corruption within the church during the Victorian Era in Germany. It features rock songs sung by angsty teenagers, such as “All That’s Known”, “The Dark I Know Well”, “Totally Effed” and “I Believe”.
5. Legally Blonde: If you are familiar with the Reese Witherspoon movie, then it should come as no surprise that there is a musical, and a very upbeat one at that. Woods is a seemingly ditzy young woman who decides to go to law school after her boyfriend breaks up with her. When Woods goes to school, she wins a law case and realizes that she knows more about law than anyone would think. In the musical, the “bend and snap” that viewers of the movie will know gets its own song. “Bend and Snap”, as well as “Omigod You Guys” and “Chip On My Shoulder” will have you snapping your fingers and tapping your toes in no time. This is the ultimate musical if you’re looking for a feel-good storyline and cheerful tunes.
4. Rent: Rent is about struggling artists in New York and their LGBT relationships. While the songs are great, the characters are what really make “Rent”. You’ll love them or you’ll hate them (spoiler ahead). I cried when Angel died, she was the most loveable character. I thought Maureen was annoying and caused unnecessary relationship drama. What’s great is you get to see these characters grow, you want to celebrate with them and when they have a relationship go wrong you cry with them. The popular song “Seasons of Love” was performed at my high school graduation. It asks the important questions: how do you measure a year in the life, and how do you measure love? “Rent” is a musical that reminds us of the importance of love. Watching it will make you a better person.
. Little Shop of Horrors: I’ve seen this twice, which is how you can tell that I love it. Little Shop of Horrors is about a man-eating plant that comes into the possession of a young man who works at a florist’s shop. The “Little Shop” is both a comedy and a romance. It’s strange and fantastically fun to see a giant puppet on stage singing songs in a deep voice. Every time the plant eats a person, it’s not gruesome but played for laughs because the audience knows it is coming.
2. Cats: It’s a musical about a group of cats who are faced with the decision of which cat will get to go to heaven (only one can go). As someone who loves cats and dogs, I couldn’t resist this. Some of my friends say that “Cats” has no plot; it might not follow a straightforward storyline, but that’s because it is character-driven. The cats all have their own unique personas, including thief, prankster, and aristocrat. The audience learns each cat’s persona through a song, and most of the songs are energetic. Some of my favorite songs include “Macavity: The Mystery Cat”, “Rumpleteazer and Mungojerrie”, “Mr. Mistoffelees”, and “The Rum Tum Tugger”.
1. Hamilton: The decision to make a hip-hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton might seem a little odd, but it has been a success. We get to see Alexander Hamilton not only as the man who would become president but also in his romantic relationships and his infidelity. Congress never looked so much fun until I listened to “The Room Where It Happened”, which references a decision made by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton in a room. “Satisfaction” is another great song. It starts out as classical, before turning into hip hop. “Hamilton” is entirely original, from the decision to use a multicultural cast to the characters, costumes, and music. It won 11 Tony Awards, including the award for best musical and for best original score.