10 on Tuesday: Favorite Musicals

With emails flying back and forth with plans to see the revival of Evita on Broadway next spring, today’s 10 on Tuesday topic seems especially timely. I’m very particular about what musicals I like, and in most cases having been written between the early 1970s and early 1990s seems to help dramatically – though there are a few outliers. I haven’t limited myself exclusively to musicals I’ve seen on stage; some are ones I’ve seen only as movies, and a couple I’ve never actually seen, I just love the music that much.

1. West Side Story – My first favorite musical. Dad and I used to watch this whenever it was on tv, and it was also the first live show he took me to, so it’s both an awesome show and a sentimental favorite.

2. Big River – This was the first musical I saw on Broadway, back when I was in high school. I’ve been in love with the music ever since, and had the great good luck to see the revival 10 or so years ago, which was performed with a combination of singing and sign language, which was such an unusual – and well done – interpretation.

Some of the cast of our college production of Assassins (spring 1993).
Some of the cast of our college production of Assassins (spring 1993)

3. Assassins – My college was one of the first to get the rights to perform this after its off-Broadway run in the early 1990s, and it remains one of the most fun shows I ever worked on – and the only one where I ended up with an ejected shell casing landing in my cleavage. (True story. Ask Shannon or Wendy.) A few years back, a bunch of us who were involved with the college show met up in New York to see it finally make its Broadway debut – starring Neil Patrick Harris. It was wonderful to finally see it get the attention it deserved, and to see Doogie Howser on stage before he became re-famous on “How I Met Your Mother.”

4. Les Misérables – I think this is the only show I’ve seen on Broadway, in the same run, more than once. And one I would have seen again on the revival tour at the Kennedy Center this fall, had I only been sufficiently organized to make it happen.

5. A Chorus Line – I was minoring in theater in college when I saw this, near the very end of its lengthy original run on Broadway. Even though I was primarily a technician and not a performer, I still related heavily to its story of working so hard to be good enough, and wanting that one chance to prove it.

6. Chess – Musically speaking, this might be my favorite of all time, but as a show, it’s a mess, and always has been. Reworked for nearly every production, it’s a bunch of terrific pop tunes (written by the dudes from ABBA!) held together by a barely cogent plot. I finally had a chance to see it on stage a few years ago and honestly wished I hadn’t, because I was finally able to see for myself that it just didn’t work. But I still love the songs enough to include it on the list.

7. Grease – I was seven when the movie starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta came out, and I was enchanted by the music, which I had on LP. My mean mom, however, would not let me actually see the movie (“You’re too young!”) and somehow, I didn’t end up seeing it until college.

8. Jesus Christ Superstar – We watched this in my confirmation class at St. John’s when I was in high school. Already a huge fan of musicals, I loved it’s music and hippie vibe. It didn’t (and doesn’t) seem especially reverent or churchy to me, and seeing it remains, possibly, the only good thing the Catholic church ever did for me.

9. Evita – One of the two shows (the other is below) on this list that I’ve never seen on stage or as a movie. Yes, I know Madonna made one, but after hearing my dad tell me umpteen thousand times that when he saw it on Broadway, he was “close enough to see the seams in Patti LuPone’s stockings,” somehow watching Madge play Evita just doesn’t see right.

10. Into the Woods – So full of quirky wit and wisdom (“When going to hide, know how to get there – and how to get back… And eat first!”) that I used to have quotes from it pasted on my bedroom walls. Really.

So, that’s my list. What’s yours?

Updated to add the photo, which I forgot to scan before work.

13 thoughts on “10 on Tuesday: Favorite Musicals

  1. Eileen November 29, 2011 / 8:42 pm

    My list is about half and half movie musical to staged shows. 

    For me, more than half the experience is the album. Most of the shows I could sing beginning to end, and also in playlist order. And they make great lullabies for the boys. 

    1. Les Mis, my all time favorite. The only one I’ve seen multiple times on broadway and have loved watching on PBS. 
    2. West Side Story. I think this was my first musical movie on tv with Dad of course. 
    3. Big River, my first broadway show. Loved it, and loved seeing the revival with Sarah. 
    4. Brigadoon. Watched this on tv with Dad many times, and saw it staged at The Forum in Binghamton I think, for sure at the Hobby Center in Houston. Though lesser known, it’s a great show. 
    5. The Student Prince. Dad loved this movie and staged his tone deaf sing along whenever we caught it. I think we also saw this at The Forum eons ago. 
    6. The Sound of Music. We watched this movie practically every time it was on. And Mom and I took The Sound of Music tour in Austria back in 1998 and had a marvelous time living out the movie (and staging our own singalong). 
    7. Annie. When I was in second/third grade I think I thought I was Annie. I loved that show, sang it night & day, permed my hair to look like Annie, etc. This may have been my first live musical at The Forum. I kept the program. 
    8. Fiddler on the Roof. Loved this movie too. 
    9. A Chorus Line. I was very disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to see the show before it closed when I was in high school but very glad that Chris took me to see the revival on our anniversary trip to NYC a couple years back. 
    10. Wicked. Saw this at the Hobby Center in Houston and thoroughly enjoyed it. Hope to see it again someday. 

    This was a really fun trip down memory lane, especially as we clearly got our love of musicals from Dad and it’s fun thinking of him singing and swaying in his chair. 

    • Shannon November 30, 2011 / 1:05 pm

      OMG! I forgot to include Annie in my list!! How on earth did that happen? I played that album, on vinyl, til I wore out the record needle (and my mother’s last nerve). I wanted to BE Annie.

      You all can include that as my No. 11.

      • Sarah November 30, 2011 / 5:30 pm

        I was torn about including Annie. I find the music kind of grating now, but LOVED it as a kid. So much so that I think my biggest childhood disappointment was when I found out that the girl that was playing Annie in the movie wasn’t really a redhead. I was sure that the only thing keeping me from getting to play Annie was my hair.

  2. Joanne November 29, 2011 / 11:21 pm

    SO TIMELY. I just got back from seeing Hairspray at Signature.

    In no particular order:

    The Secret Garden–saw it on Broadway, and was totally hooked on the love story between Archie and Lily. And the production values were totally lush and gorgeous. I’ll always love Rebecca Luker after seeing her in this show. INterestingly, when my theatre group did this show a few years ago, post-children, I was totally hooked on the relationship between Mary and her dad.

    Assassins–loved this show, and so happy I got to stage manage it in college!

    Das Barbecu–take the 9 hours of the Ring Cycle with its cast of thousands, and reimagine it with a cast of FIVE and only 2.5 hours, set in Texas. This was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever worked on.

    Sweeney Todd–Stephen Sondheim has a sick mind, and I love it.

    Hairspray–great music, great dancing when done right (take a note, Signature!) and you just leave totally happy! This show lured me back to stage managing this summer, after a hiatus that lasted a decade.

    Chess–I share your conflicted feelings, Sarah. The music is just so good! I have FOUR versions of the show in my iTunes library!

    Rags–a musical about the Jewish immigrant experience in the early 1900s. I saw a production at American University during my semester in DC, and really enjoyed it.

    Little Shop of Horrors–my favorite musical from high school.

    Tommy–loved the Broadway production, and got to do it with my group down here.

    City of Angels/Evita–these two are tied because I have never seen either, but I love the soundtracks!

    Can we do a list of the shows we hate??

  3. Mom November 30, 2011 / 7:44 am

    Great Topic!! My first Broadway show was “Bye Bye Birdie” starring Dick VanDyke when I was 16 and the musical “fire” was lit. I’ve seen the vast majority of Sarah & Eileen’s lists — several more than once — and some plays that didn’t make Broadway, let alone the lists, and several others not mentioned above. Years ago Dad and I would go to the annual NYS Bar Association meeting in NYC and it was not uncommon to see both a matinee and evening performance on Friday and/or Saturday and catch another matinee after Sunday brunch and then head home (good tickets were $20 in those days!!).

  4. Rudi November 30, 2011 / 10:46 am

    1. Godspell – In high school, I was in the pit orchestra for every musical from grades 9-12, and was lead chair for most of them. This one was a lot of fun to do: great music and songs.
    2. The Sound of Music – A rite of passage for me, and I’ve been to most of the film locations without going on the commercial tour, as my mom spent some of her youth in the greater Salzburg area. I’ve only seen this in movie form, though I’ve heard the original Broadway soundtrack with Mary Martin and the revival soundtrack with Rebecca Luker, and both are fine and all that, but…. Julie Andrews. ‘Nuff said there.
    3. Bye Bye Birdie – This is one from junior high: 7th grade, my first pit orchestra experience. It was tons of fun, and while flawed (school musicals are inherently flawed, right?), it certainly planted the seed for loving musicals in a new way.
    4. Tommy – As a fan of The Who, how could I not like this? Saw it on Broadway in its original release, and it rocked. I made sure to stay until the very end to commend the pit orchestra on this one, as they were very solid.
    5. The Capeman – Much like “Chess,” this was a flawed show from a staging standpoint, even though it had a mostly coherent plot – it was just too dense, and even a complete retooling of the show while it was in general Broadway release couldn’t save it. I saw it the week before it closed, and it had big flaws. But the music and libreto, by Paul Simon and Derek Wolcott, was awesome and had a lot of great, doo-wop inspired songs that hold up well on their own. Recently, the musical was completely re-thought and staged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with great reviews, so it could make it back to the Great White Way. If this version is what finally makes things click, that would be great.
    6. Little Shop of Horrors – Seen both in a stage production at the University of Utah and in both filmed versions. It’s sick and twisted, and totally fun.
    7. Rocky Horror – I’ve only seen the film version, but it’s a fave for the audience participation. In high school, weekend showings were a rite of passage. In college, I was part of the “stage show.” It. Was. Awesome.
    8. Quadrophenia – Basing this one solely on the film by Des McAnuff, starring Sting as a mod. This one is all about the music, really, though there is a coherent story in there, too, about a kid with multiple personality disorder.
    9. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – This one I saw on Broadway in its original run, with John Lithgow and the incredible Norbert Leo Butz (he won a much-deserved Tony for this role). The songs are a lot of fun, the story is a smart adaptation of the brilliant film. “Give me great big stuff!”
    10. Spamalot – I’m a big fan of Monty Python, and Eric Idle (and his musical partner, John DuPré) produced a smart and witty adaptation of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” with a touch of “Life of Brian” and “Meaning of Life” thrown in for good measure.

    • Shannon December 1, 2011 / 9:52 am

      What instrument did you play? Playing in the pit is a whole other experience all together. Loved it.

      I play violin. I admit it was hard to play the end of West Side Story….we had the “Somewhere” melody with the flutes and damn’d if those music notes didn’t go blurry almost every single night. Sniff.

  5. Shannon November 30, 2011 / 12:58 pm

    That was MY shell casing from my .45 semi-automatic! (takes a bow) That’s one of my personal favorite theater stories, aside from lighting a castmate on fire and getting accidentally punched in the nose by Bill Howard in Fiddler. Hey, I can’t make this stuff up!

    Let’s see….This may not be in any particular order beyond number one because I am probably popping them on there as they come to me:

    1. The Sound of Music. Hands down my favorite all-time musical. It was my great-aunt’s favorite and she passed on that love to me. It’s schmaltzy, I know but I love it.

    2. Cats. Don’t care what any of you think. Love.it. I had the best spiritual discussion about it when we saw in it in London on its original stage. Heavyside layer=heaven or limbo? Discuss.

    3. West Side Story. Brilliant music and the most challenging music I ever played in my entire life. My high school put it on and I was in the orchestra. If any of you think Assassins was tough to sing, try playing anything from WWS. It wins any time.

    4. Chess. Saw the original stage production WITH Elaine Paige in London. Sarah, it worked then because the Cold War was still fresh in our minds. It stopped working after that. Amazing music and brilliantly staged in London. Sorry Joanne, but the American staging ruined it. You will never convince me otherwise. 😉

    5. Assassins. Loved playing Squeaky (yup, that’s me in the horrible red wig), loved the music (I still get chills from Another National Anthem) and will forever treasure seeing it on Broadway with my wannbe-BFF Neil Patrick Harris. Such an underrated show. I had the pleasure and honor of sharing the best scenes with my for-real BFF Wendy. It will forever be one of my favorite Siena theater moments ever. I was her straight man and I bow down to her comedic genius.

    6. Jesus Christ Superstar. I grew up on it. The music is amazing and I won my role in Assassins by singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. I saw Ted Neeley two years ago in the stage production and his “Gethsemene” will go down in history as the best and only one that matters.

    7. Peter Pan. I have seen it on stage several times and it really is my dream to play Peter Pan. Can’t you see it!? I saw it with Cathy Rigby a couple of years ago and it gave me hope that I’m still not too old to pull it off someday….the show is so much fun and you feel like a child again when you see the live show.

    8. Les Miserables. ‘Nuff said.

    9. Phantom of the Opera I fell in love with the music first. I never got to see it until it came to Proctors Theater a few years ago. Still love it. The Phantom I saw was amazing. He brought a more sinister yet endearing quality to the role that Michael Crawford never quite had.

    10. Fiddler on the Roof. And not just because it was my first role at Siena. I was a huge fan of the movie growing up and loved the music. If I ever get a chance to play “The Fiddler” someday, that would make me oh so happy.

    Honorable mention: Godspell, The Music Man, The Lion King (AMAZING staging!), Wicked

    • Shannon November 30, 2011 / 1:00 pm

      Forgot to throw in Spamalot in honorable mention. Clever staging of a film with really good music. I would have given my left arm to see the original cast.

      • Rudi November 30, 2011 / 4:47 pm

        We saw Spamalot with most of the original cast (I think that David Hyde Pierce had left by that point), and it was a lot of fun.

    • Sarah November 30, 2011 / 5:32 pm

      Oh, I’d forgotten that I saw Jesus Christ, Superstar live, but your mentioning Ted Neely reminded me that I saw it from the lawn at WolfTrap a few summers ago. Was amazed he was still playing Jesus after, like, 30 years.

      And “Heavyside layer=heaven or limbo? Discuss.” may be the funniest thing I’ve read all day.

  6. Priya C. November 30, 2011 / 1:47 pm

    Don’t have a full Top Ten (Do movies count?) but Newsies, Aida, Les Mis, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera (first musical I ever saw on stage–have been in love with musical theatre ever since), Oklahoma–first musical I ever participated in the staging of in High School.

    • Sarah November 30, 2011 / 5:33 pm

      Movies definitely count!

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