I have been a "Broadway Baby" for as long as I can remember. That's why I use the Stephen Sondheim song title as my nickname, my mantra and the title of my blog. But there is one question that many have asked me over the years that I have always hesitated to answer. What is my favorite Broadway Musical? And over the last few years, I've shared with you many different favorites from Movies to Television to Songs. But I've always avoided that one big question. And there is a very simple reason. There are so many Broadway Musicals that I love, it is too hard to narrow it down. This week, I've decided to do what I consider to be the impossible. But instead of doing a list of 100 or even 60, I have narrowed it down to a list of 25. And if you think 100 is difficult, 25 is no picnic! That being said, before I give you the 25 Musicals that are close to my heart, I thought I would share with you a few of the Musicals that I still like but just missed making it into the "upper echelon" (so to speak!). So I will first talk a bit about 10 shows I think people would be surprised to know are NOT in my top 25. After that, I want to quickly run through 5 more extremely popular Musicals that (on one level or another) bug me, yet I still love them (kind of a love-hate relationship going on there!). Later this week, my top 25 shall be revealed to you. All at once and not one at a time, like I have done in the past. Think of it as my special gift to all the people who have been frustrated when I never answered their original question (Who knows? They may find themselves more frustrated after this week!). But first, the 10 shows that won't be in my top 25 (in no particular order)!
I love the original film and the stage production is a lavish toe-tapping adaptation. The show opened the month before I was born and has one the most infamous opening nights in Broadway history. The show's famed director-choreographer Gower Champion died the day of the opening, but producer David Merrick refused to reveal the news until after the final curtain call.
In the Heights
One of the more recent and unique hits in Broadway history. It's use of hip-hop and latino pop certainly give it a flavor all its own. In a way, it is one of the most original American Musicals of the last decade.
The Pirates of Penzance
Gilbert and Sullivan were the Rodgers and Hammerstein of their day back in Victorian England. But for me, it was Joseph Papp's hilarious tongue-in-cheek 1980s hit production that makes this show such a treat.
Kiss Me, Kate
This show combines Shakespeare and Musical theatre to quite charming and hilarious effect. Only Cole Porter could give the Bard's great comedy (The Taming of the Shrew) a showman's touch. Plus "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" is one of the cleverest songs ever written!
She says it herself: She's the Greatest Star! There is no one like Barbra as the legendary Fanny Brice. However, she's put such a mark on the role that no one has ever dared touch it in a major revival.
This Musical was meant for my generation. Every theatre geek in my high school (including myself!) loved the late Jonathan Larson's masterpiece. It has since closed on Broadway and spawned a mediocre film version, meaning I believe this show belonged to its time and we were the better for it.
Annie Get Your Gun
When I finally got to New York, this was the first Broadway show I saw (with the phenomenal Bernadette Peters in the lead!). Like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin let his songs speak for themselves. And in this Musical, there's no business like it!
Beauty and the Beast
This may shock many of you. I love the 1991 Disney film, you know I do! And I love the Broadway show. Yet (unlike some of Disney's later theatrical productions) while the costumes, sets and effects are gorgeous, the show feels very much like a straight adaptation of the film (with a few new songs added). Like the kind you would have found at Disneyland (Not that there's anything wrong with that for Disney's first theatrical venture!).
A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum
I've talked about how this show has one of the greatest opening numbers in Broadway history. And as Stephen Sondheim's first show as both composer and lyricist, it served as an appetizer for the career he would have. This one was hard to knock off the top 25, but not as painful as the one below.
How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
This was the most painful cut of all. My dad is still mad at me over this (He's still speaking to me, he's just a little miffed!). This Pulitzer Prize-winning satiric powerhouse was beloved in my house. Yet as some new shows have debuted in my lifetime (particularly in the last 10-15 years), shows fall by the wayside. So consider this brilliant piece of theatre Miss Congeniality! Plus watch Harry Potter dance up a storm in the most recent revival!
Now, these next 5 shows are enormously popular in different circles of theatre "geeks" (i.e. critics, fans, crazy people, etc.). Yet each of these shows while I love them for their accomplishments and even enjoy them from time to time, there is just some aspect of it that bothers me. And even though they might bother me, there's some strange part of me that can't resist liking (or even loving!) them. I can't help it, I love to hate them yet I hate that I love them. So from 5 to 1 (1 being the show that bugs me the most!):
5. Spring Awakening
I may be incurring the wrath of many a teenage fangirl with this placement, but I probably already incurred that wrath the first time I bad-mouthed Twilight! But the obsessive love that the teen crowd seems to have for this well-written youthful Musical is what turns me off it. The fact that it launched Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff's careers is a plus in its favor (despite what the Glee haters out there say!).
4. South Pacific
The Broadway gods will curse me for this one but Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winner has a very un-entertaining plot. The score is absolutely brilliant (of course!), yet the fact that it is based on James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific stories just doesn't do it for me (even though Hammerstein's libretto explores and confronts prejudice in ways the theatre never did before). Despite that, the songs are amazing especially when performed by the likes of Mary Martin, Kelli O'Hara or Glenn Close.
You had to grow up in the 1980s to understand this. I mean, the song "Tomorrow" was everywhere. And if you were a kid interested in Musical, Annie was the predominant choice for children's theatre. Yet there is something about that precocious little redhead that audiences can't resist. The show is getting another major revival on Broadway and there are the talks about Willow Smith "whipping her hair" into the role in a film remake.
When it overtook A Chorus Line as the longest running Broadway show, it was an event (until Phantom surpassed it 8 years later!). And Andrew Lloyd Webber's score is complex and masterful (much like his other shows!). However, how the hell did this show become such a phenomenon?!?! As much as I appreciate the music and the athletic choreography, I occasionally find myself agreeing with the naysayers and wondering why this show worked (my uncle has asked me on 5 separate occasions and I still have no answer for him!).
This Musical qualifies as my guilty pleasure, meaning I'm to admit that I enjoy it (or at least some of it!). And I really shouldn't be, there are tons of theatre geeks like me who love this show and are not embarrassed one bit about it. However, this show annoys me. And I hate that I like the fact that it annoys me! Maybe that's what the creators of the original show meant to do, annoy the audiences into to loving them.
So maybe I have surprised a few of you Broadway fans out there. I maybe I'll surprise you even more later this week with what shows ARE in my top 25. And just FOR THE RECORD: I thought Damn Yankees was damn fun; I love Camelot and I even love Spamalot; I find the scores for Company, Carousel and Jesus Christ Superstar intricate, exciting and thrilling (respectively); I'm just crazy for Crazy For You; And there's nothing like the helicopter of Miss Saigon or the Fosse magic of Pippin; plus I just enjoy the hell out a good Rocky Horror Time Warp. Yet NONE of the shows I just mentioned are in my top 25. Come back later this week to know more!