Whether on Broadway or at a regional theater, musicals are pure entertainment. From the opening strains of the (preferably) live orchestra to the encore bows, musicals are escapism at its finest. Of course it’s sort of ridiculous – people bursting out in song on the streets of New York, in a jail cell, in a field of corn – but that’s what makes a musical delightful – a few hours of suspended reality. So warm up your voice, put on your tap shoes, and enjoy!
1. Wicked. Arguably the iconic musical of the 21st century to date, Wicked takes the Wizard of Oz and tells the tale of the good witch and bad witch before Dorothy arrived in Oz. Filled with fantastic scenery, makeup, costumes and music, you’ll find yourself rooting for the Wicked Witch of the West (Elphaba) as much as Glinda, the Good Witch.
Favorite song: Defying Gravity
2. Hairspray. You go back to the sixties, complete with an “American Bandstand” type tv show, racial tensions, pop music and a family that is not quite what it appears to be. Fun with a great message of tolerance and acceptance.
Favorite song: You Can’t Stop the Beat
3. Anything Goes. Cole Porter was the master of clever songwriting, and this show is the perfect way to enjoy some of his best music. A poor boy, the rich girl he loves, a gangster and a cruise ship – it doesn’t get more corny than this, but it sure is fun.
Favorite song: Anything Goes
4. Avenue Q. Take muppets, puppeteers, raunchy songs and a subtle sweetness and that’s Avenue Q. Laugh out loud funny, this little show was a big winner at the 2004 Tony awards, beating out monster hit “Wicked” for best musical. Warning: don’t take the children – this isn’t Kermit and Miss Piggy!
Favorite song: The Internet is for Porn
5. Spamalot. The theater of the absurdly funny, with lots of great songs and funny bits, this is Monty Python in all its ridiculous glory. A good show for those who don’t usually like musicals, especially if they’re fans of the insanity of Monty Python humor. A little trivia: Sara Ramirez, now best known as “Callie” on Grey’s Anatomy, won a Tony Award for her performance in Spamalot.
Favorite song: Whatever Happened to my Part?
6. Jersey Boys. You thought you liked Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but you’ll like them even more after seeing this show. A nostalgic good time filled with their distinct and fantastic songs, this show tells the story of how they rose to fame and those they loved and those they left behind.
Favorite song: Walk Like a Man
7. Les Miserables/Phantom of the Opera. Though not my personal favorites, these are the shows that many think of when they think of Broadway. Big, dramatic, filled with angst, great loves, death and passion, both of these shows certainly give you your money’s worth. When I saw Les Miserables in Los Angeles last year, people were singing along all around me (don’t do that, ok?).
Favorite song: Bring Him Home (Les Miserables)
8. The Twenty-fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I include this show not because it’s got a fabulous score (it’s ok) or a terrific story (it’s predictable), but because it’s a unique Broadway experience. The cast interacts with the audience, brings a few lucky people on stage to participate, and turns it into a rollicking good time, suitable for the entire family.
Favorite song: My Friend the Dictionary
9. Rent. A rock opera for the Broadway stage, Rent ushered in a new type of musical, ushering in a new century, focusing on the gritty reality of living with AIDS, being gay and lesbian, and struggling to survive on the Lower East Side of New York City in the late 1990s. The story is based on the opera La Boheme. Tragically the show’s creator, Jonathan Larson, died unexpectedly the night before it premiered off-Broadway. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for Best Musical.
Favorite song: Seasons of Love
10. Oklahoma! This classic Rodgers and Hammerstein production is a must-see for many reasons, not the least of which is the choreography by the legendary Agnes de Mille. The score is beautiful – lush and romantic, fun and upbeat, sad and heartbreaking all at once. Even the movie is terrific.
Favorite song: Oklahoma!
11. A Chorus Line. Revolutionary when it debuted, A Chorus Line is the story of a group of actors auditioning for a Broadway show. With no set, save a mirror for one number, no costumes to speak of, and just the actors to watch and listen to, A Chorus Line is one of the most intimate and moving shows you’ll ever see. This Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning show may now seem a little dated, but it’s worth seeing anyway.
Best song: Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love
12. Funny Girl. My personal all-time favorite. I saw it live when I was just 4 years old, but I never forgot the experience. This is an unusual show in that it translated so well to film – Barbra Streisand shines and her voice is just incredible. I have seen the movie a zillion times and will watch it a zillion times more. For every Jewish (or not) girl who ever felt like she was different – an inspiration to us all. Don’t forget your Kleenex for this one!
Favorite song: Don’t Rain on My Parade.
There are many shows I can’t wait to see – “The Book of Mormon,” “Memphis,” “How to Succeed in Business…” and more. If I didn’t mention your favorite, share it with me!