Being a music nerd, as you can guess, musical theatre is something I really, really enjoy. Seeing a show on Broadway is pretty high on my bucket list — right behind staying up all night long (no, I haven’t even bothered to attempt that yet) and destroying a pumpkin via sledgehammer. Yes, I’m completely serious.
In all honesty, the wonder that is Broadway and show business is pretty messed up. There have been pretty crappy shows. Quite a few. But there have also been jewels, tributes to the power of good musicianship and the pleasure of cleanness. (I’m looking at you, Spamalot!) These shows inspire us, perhaps make us cry, uplift our spirits, and maybe even challenge us. They are what remind us why music is so darn awesome.
So, I have made a list of my top four, all-time favorite musicals. I haven’t put them in any particular order because they are all completely fantastic! Also, there is a
little bit lot of random info on the musicals. (Randomness is a recurring theme on this blog, after all!)
Phantom Of The Opera — Who could ever forget the timeless story of a disfigured and unbalanced catacomb-dweller wooing a naïve, aspiring singer and dancer? It was a guaranteed hit from the start.
I think what makes Phantom so loveable is 1) the broken, complex characters and their road towards destruction and back up into eventual redemption, and 2) the swoon-worthy music. The score is absolutely gorgeous. And you can’t help but be intrigued by the mystery that is the Phantom. You’re torn between hating him because of everything he’s done and loving him because of everything he’s been through. And when he gives Christine up and hides away forever, you wonder what happened to your heart in the process.
Frenchmen Gaston Leroux published The Phantom of the Opera in 1911. Andrew Lloyd Webber created the musical in 1987. Since then, Phantom has become one of the world’s most successful, celebrated and well-loved musicals. It is the longest-running Broadway musical after commemorating it’s 7, 487 performance in 2006 and has received over 70 major theatre awards.
Did you know: The Phantom’s make-up takes 90 minutes to put on and 30 minutes to take off? The original cast recording was the first in British music history to enter the music charts at no. 1 (and stay on the chart for 255 weeks)? There are 9, 640 conductor baton beats per show? There is a total of 111 wigs used in the show? Over 108 million people worldwide have seen the show? The Phantom’s real name (though never mentioned in the show) is Erik? The Phantom only speaks 14 of his lines and sings the rest? The musical has a sequel, Love Never Dies, that premiered in 2011 at the West End Theatre and has a score that is to die for?
Thank you, Mr. Webber. Thank you.
Shrek: The Musical — “Better out than in, I always say!”
Who knew that Far Far Away’s most charming ogre would make it to Broadway? This musical debuted in 2008 and ended its run in 2010 after 441 performances. It is one of the most expensive musicals to hit Broadway, costing some $25 million dollars to produce. Because it did not recoup its first investment, an original cast recording was released on DVD in October. You should buy it. Seriously.
Shrek: The Musical is absolutely hilarious and mostly clean — so the entire family can enjoy it! Donkey is amazing, and Farquad nearly stole the show. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard watching something! Highlight tracks include. . .well, all of them!
Les Miserables — A heart-wrenching story of the overwhelming power of forgiveness, hope, and redemption in the midst of great trial and suffering.
Les Miserables was published by Victor Hugo in 1862, now considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. The novel, set in France and spanning the time between 1815 and 1832, tells the story of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict who served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving children. An act of mercy shown him by an elderly priest drives him to change his thieving ways and become a better man by dedicating his life to God. After several years, he masquerades as the amiable Monseigneur Madeleine and saves a dying prostitute, driven to such measures in trying to support her child, and raises her little girl, Cosette. Add on top of that the vengeful officer, Javert, who is bound and determined to return Jean Valjean to prison or die trying, and the star struck Marius Pontmercy and his band of rebellious friends, and you have a sweeping tale of romance and revolution.
This tale is heart wrenching and gives the audience a glimpse into the filth and ugliness of a world filled with miserable, unhappy people. So what makes it so appealing? Why do the multitudes flood theatres? While Les Miserables is not exact history, it paints a picture dedicated to communicating emotions and thoughts, and there are many parts of it that speak to us where we are, even in the 21st century. Being haunted by decisions made in the past. The death of loved ones. Being afraid of standing up, of making our own choices. Dealing with debt and grief. Being blinded by revenge. Believing so strongly in something that you act irrationally. Seeing the effects of a cruel and unfair world. Falling in love. Sacrifice and selflessness. Mercy. Fear. The list goes on and on.
But I think Les Miserables has become so popular and so dearly loved because, while it acknowledges all the crap that pervades this world, it still gives us hope. A new day will dawn. All things shall pass. And while we may come up against many a fearsome, massive obstacle, there is nothing we cannot overcome by God’s grace.
The original French version of the show ran for 107 performances in 1980 in Paris. CATS producer Cameron Mackintosh revamped it for English-speaking audiences. When the English musical premiered in 1985, it was panned by both audiences and critics, primarily because they were expecting an exact historical drama, not the romanticized masterpiece that it is. Needless to say, the negative reception in its humble beginning has faded and been replaced by critical acclaim and audience adoration.
Some interesting tidbits: Contrary to popular belief, Les Mis is not staged during the French Revolution of 1789. It actually begins in 1815 and chronicles events over the next two decades, including the 1832 Paris Uprising. At over 6,600 performances, Les Mis is the 3rd longest running musical behind Phantom Of The Opera and Cats. Roughly 392 costumes are used in each performance, consisting of 5,000 pieces of clothing and 85 wigs! There are over 40 cast recordings of Les Mis.
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”
Wicked — The retelling of a classic tale, this musical gives us the background story of Oz’s resident wicked green witch. But perhaps she’s not as evil as we were led to believe. . .
Based upon Gregory Maguire’s novel about the “true” history behind the witches of OZ, Wicked exploded onto the Broadway scene in 2003. While initially garnering mixed reviews, it has gone on to be one of Broadway’s highest-grossing shows and a fan favorite, garnering 1.3 billion as of the end of 2013.
Wicked tells the tale of Elphaba, the kind-hearted, quiet, and misunderstood green-skinned bookworm who is sent off to college with her wheelchair-bound sister, Nessarose. Rejected for her color and her odd “powers”, she rooms with snooty, popular Galinda who initially treats her like trash. Luckily Elphaba has enough clever sass to stand her ground. They both fall in love with the same man, Fiyero, the charming playboy-prince. But don’t let that fool you. This isn’t a romance. Elphaba sets out on a journey of self-discovery and adventure as she uncovers the mysteries of the great and powerful Wizard. She gets tangled up in the Wizard’s lies and when she tries to stand up for what she believes in, she is labeled a Witch and all of Oz begins to hunt her down.
Just your typical fairy tale. Not. (There is, however, a happy ending. Ish.)
The music is both witty and catchy. Highlight tracks include the sad “I’m Not That Girl,” the smooth “Dancing Through Life,” the sweet and endearing “For Good,” and the show-stopping ballad “Defying Gravity.” Well, they’re really ALL fantastic. You should go listen to the soundtrack. Now. You’ll find yourself randomly bursting into song after these get stuck on loop in your head. The humor is sassy and snappy, and the characters are both believable and endearing. I recommend this to everyone!
Fun facts: In the original novel by L. Frank Baum, the Wicked Witch of the West is not named. Elphaba’s name was created using the author’s initials — L. F. B. For every show, the electronics department uses enough electricity to power twelve homes, the carpentry department has about 175,000 pounds of sets to maneuver, which is automated by 5 miles of cable, and about 250 pounds of dry ice are used to create the dramatic atmosphere. The show has gained so much prominence worldwide that Elphaba’s costume and broom are on display in the American Stories exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Rather than foundation, Elphaba’s emerald make-up is mainly eye shadow applied with large brushes. During the first “big” costume change, 17 actors go from an angry mob to students, completing a full change (costume, shoes, wigs) in 1.5 minutes.
Well, this concludes your dosage of random information for the day. In closing, I give you a quote from Victor Hugo, because it is awesome: “Music expresses that which cannot remain silent and that which cannot be put into words.”