Who doesn’t love a good musical number? Honestly, if my entire life could be summed up in one unique way, I’d prefer it to be through a quality, show-stopping broadway hit. I absolutely adore musicals; it’s always the score that entices me into figuring out what the plot line is, and eventually plunges me headfirst into the world of obsessively singing one song to myself endlessly while my peers roll their eyes in disgust. “Oh no, here she goes humming that song again.” Well, can you blame me? I can’t get enough. Anyway, here’s a list of my top ten must see musicals that I’ve compiled together based solely on the nature of the musical score, with a little bit of plot thrown in there for justification.
The Music Man
Meredith Wilson’s the Music Man earns a spot on this list for a very unique reason: I was in it! I played the part of Mayor Shinn when I was in fourth grade, and I loved every moment, even the part where I missed my cue, and got a stern look from my music teacher. The music tells the story of a mysterious man coming into River City, Iowa to bring music to the masses. “Professor” Harold Hill (there’s speculation as to whether or not he’s an actual professor)(hint: he’s not) has the ambition to start up a band, but the mayor won’t have any of that nonsense in his town. Even the potential love interest of the professor is skeptical of the professor before falling for him. Hopefully you’ve heard at least one song, but if you haven’t, listen to “Seventy-Six Trombones” and experience the outstanding story of music being introduced into a boring town, giving life to its inhabitants. Where would we be without music?
9. High School Musical
If you think I’m kidding, I’m not. This musical, or rather series of musicals, is not on Broadway, but it’s catchy rhythms and iconic nature to many millennials settle this work of art nicely at #9 on this list. Who can forget the moment basketball jock Troy Bolton met science geek Gabriella Montez on New Year’s Eve, sung a duet as total strangers, and eventually found love after “breaking free” from the status quo of their respective cliques? Bolton and Montez take on the disapproving opinions of their fellow clique members, the rage of thespian superstars Sharpay and Ryan Evans, and the mounting pressure from the school to excel in their talents. If this musical bopped to the top of your heart when you heard it ten years ago, you’re sure to love the other musicals on this list.
8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
It’s only fair to put Sweeney Todd on this list for two reasons: excellent soundtrack, and interesting story line. Granted the only time I’ve ever seen this musical is when I was flipping through channels on my TV, and saw Johnny Depp caressing a silver shaving tool, and singing lovingly to it, but nevertheless, I was intrigued. The tragic story of Benjamin Barker (Sweeney Todd) is told through multiple murders, a forbidden love, and catchy tunes. Todd gets his revenge on the people who have wronged him, and helps struggling baker Mrs. Lovett make marvelous meat pies that, in a sick twist, attract the masses. If you’re into one man murdering his enemies for revenge and then feeding their bodies to the unsuspecting individuals of London, go listen to the soundtrack, and then watch Johnny Depp elegantly end the lives of the unfortunate souls who happen to sit in his chair.
What a wicked musical! The story of OZ before Dorothy stepped in with her ruby slippers is a unique and complicated one. It’s a chance to see how the personalities of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda the Good Witch come together as friends and clash in a society where the Wizard (of OZ)’s corrupt government impacts everyone. As a person who has never seen the musical but has listened to the songs, I can honestly say that if given the chance to go to New York City, I would definitely go see Wicked, especially if Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth are in the leading roles, which sadly there aren’t anymore. Besides that fact, I get chills every time I listen to “Defying Gravity”, and I feel empowered. I feel like I could go out and topple a government myself. Ah, and the ending with “For Good”… I just really want to go see this musical in person, and understand more of the story to see for myself just how enchanting it really is.
6. Little Shop of Horrors
Ah yes, Little Shop of Horrors. I had heard about it since I was a kid, but I had never seen it up until two years ago when the theatre department put on their version of the musical. And what can I say next besides the fact that I was hooked instantly! I enjoyed seeing my friends in the roles of Audrey and Seymour, and watching them portraying them the way they did intrigued me so much that I went and found the movie version. Regardless though, I loved the music and how unbelievably catchy and adorable it is. “Suddenly Seymour” tugged at a heartstring in my heart, and I rooted for the couple. Spoiler alert: the huge plant that Seymour nourished with meat, Audrey II, completely ruins everything. But the plot, the set up, and the characters make this musical a must see, especially if the men who wrote countless scores and memorable songs for Disney were involved. Go see it, or else I’ll feed you to Audrey II.
5. The Lion King
This classic Disney movie musical debuted in 1994 and went to the broadway scene just three years later for the first time in 1997. Of course, I wasn’t around to see it for the first time, but when it eventually came to San Antonio, you bet I begged my mother to take me to see it in the Majestic Theatre. The characters that I had grown up with came to life before me. The comedy, the spectacular setting, and the outstanding costumes enchanted me from the first song where Simba was only a cub until we went full circle (that’s the circle of life, friends) and saw Simba become the King of Pride Rock. I adored the songs; I can still recite all the words to “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Hakuna Matata” . If you really loved the movie version of this musical, you’ll definitely fall in love with the theatre production, I guarantee it.
4. Les Miserables
ALL OF THIS OVER A LOAF OF BREAD? Sorry, no that’s the beginning of Disney’s Aladdin. But seriously, that’s almost how all this tragedy is interlocked together. The story includes a prisoner running from a police officer after breaking from parole, the same prisoner becoming a successful businessman and mayor in the process, a factory worker struggling to provide for her daughter, a love triangle, and a gaggle of revolutionary rebels yearning for freedom from the French crown. After years of hiding from police officer Javert, Jean Valjean, prisoner #24601, finds himself once again in the crosshairs of Javert while the French Revolution happens around him. With Javert in pursuit, Valjean must run while also helping the daughter of a former worker who died. This musical is an adventure from beginning to end, detailing the struggles of the oppressed, and their successes and failures. The music is outstanding and heart-wrenching at the same time; “I Dreamed A Dream” is an example of this. Although this musical has a runtime of about three hours, it is completely worth it to see the story play out in front of you with a spine-tingling score.
3. Phantom of the Opera
Everyone watch out for the falling chandelier! The Phantom of the Opera is as twisted and as enchanting as musicals can get. It all starts in the Paris Opera House with a dazzling young soprano, her handsome childhood sweetheart — who comes charging in a white horse to save the day, and a mysterious composer who lives in the cellars of the building. Here we introduce Andrew Lloyd Webber, broadway’s own phantom in a sense (the music composition sense, not the creepy kidnapping of soprano singers sense). Webber’s music brings the french novel to life, and allows the audience to be immersed in the drama that the Phantom exudes behind his mask of mystery. I am smitten with the way Webber brings up various melodies in the first act of the musical, presents the people singing as well as the plot, and then will infuse them in later songs, making the harmonies blend together perfectly. This musical spectacular is one of my favorites (that’s probably why it’s #3 on this list) because you can’t help but root for the poor Phantom who has only known hate and disgust his entire life, but then you remember he’s a psycho kidnapper who kills people when they get in his way — pfft, “Angel of Music”? How about Angel of Death! Anyway, I definitely recommend this musical for everyone who’s interested in love triangles and masquerade balls being held when there’s a masked killer on the loose… seriously, who does that?
I first saw Cats when I was about five years old or so on a VHS that my mother had. I can remember dancing around the room to the upbeat tunes of cats singing in a junkyard about their lives as either strays or domestic felines, and celebrating the Jellicle Ball. This musical is positioned at #2 because of how fun and intriguing it is, as well as the score (here she goes again with her love of music). I’ve only seen this musical once in the theatre, and it was fantastic. I mean who doesn’t love actors and dancers running around in spandex with odd, cat-like makeup applied to every inch of skin on their face. The play originally started out as a series of short stories by T.S Eliot and was adapted into a musical by the legend himself, Andrew Lloyd Webber (oh my, aren’t we glad to see him again), and then was launched into the spotlight of the world of musical theatre. The most iconic song that everyone should listen to, or hopefully has listened to, is “Memory”. This heartfelt and soul-ascending song will make you long for something more in your life, and also make you weep tears of sadness and joy. Honestly, it’s one of the best musicals out there, even if you’re not a cat person.
Hamilton: An American Musical
There is a reason why this is on the top of my list. I am a complete history buff and music enthusiast (could you guess?), and am absolutely taken with this musical all about the ten-dollar founding father, Alexander Hamilton. As a person who has grown up with classical music and a good beat flowing through her veins, the music is by far the best I have ever heard in my life. The rhythms of hip-hop and rap that intertwine history, scandal, and emotions into the lyrics send chills down the spine of the listener. Hamilton, with composer Lin-Manuel Miranda in the leading role of A. Ham., has touched countless individuals that have fallen in love with the ambitious immigrant turned Secretary of Treasury who took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity, and caught beef with every other founding father. It’s safe to say that this musical has forever shaped my life and I will never forget the man who wrote like he was running out of time, nor will I forget the Schuyler sisters: Angelica and Eliza…and Peggy. If you haven’t heard the music of this revolutionary spectacle that has taken the United States by storm, I highly recommend it so you can relive the legacy of Alexander Hamilton one rap song at a time.