Thursday, October 1, 2009

These are a few of my favorite MUSICAL things...

Part two, the musicals, or should I say the Musicals! (with jazz hands!)

It is pretty well known that I am not a huge musical fan. It is not that I look down on the art form, it is more that I simply prefer plays. Some musicals are trite and silly and pointless, but let's face so are many "straight plays" and there are plenty of musicals with lots of heft.

Again, this list is subjective and should be fun. These are shows that are my favorites because of how they touched me personally and emotionally. Some are shows I have seen, others shows I have worked on. So with no further introduction:
1 -- Les Misérables by Claude-Michel Schönberg with a libretto by Alain Boublil, and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Talk about heft. Victor Hugo's novel is enormous, 1200 pages in the English translation, and deals with many subjects, religion, politics, poverty, all those great dinner conversation issues. It also speaks of redemption, and morality as opposed to "following the rules." Giacomo Puccini an Italian composer attempted to adapt the book to opera from only to give up. The musical (originally in French before the hugely successful English translation premiered in London) has changed the world. The sheer spectacle of the story, and its battles and multiple locations has given high expectations to anyone who followed. Indeed the next show from Les Miserables creators, Miss Saigon, had a helicopter on stage. But all that aside, I love the music and most importantly I love the story. It is a story that is told well and with much power.

2 -- West Side Story book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim oh and throw in original choreography by Jerome Robins, this show had it all. Based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, the show is wonderful. The music is rich and full (as one would expect from Leonard Bernstein) and the whole show is thrilling. Of course there are issues. Stephen Sondheim has admitted that before the show, he had never met a Puerto Rican. The stereotypes and some of the writing reflect a more insulated and euro-centric way of looking at things. The film got a little better, and as I understand it this most recent revival even better. In fact many parts of the show are translated into Spanish, to give a more realistic voice to the Sharks. I have done the show once, although only as a Master Electrician, and would love to revisit it some day.

3--Ragtime book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty. Talk about scope and size, the original production on Broadway closed despite selling more than 90% of every house, the show was just too big. I love the music and the story, one of my all time favorites. There is a revival set to open this October, perhaps this will be a little scaled back and the show can last longer.

4-- Pippin with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson. Pippin is another favorite show that I was lucky enough to do. I was Master Electrician of a production my senior year at IU and fell in love with the show. Pippin without a doubt has been influenced by its original choreographer, Bob Fosse. The music is typical early Schwartz, but the story and structure is not. About as Brechtian as a musical comedy can get, Pippin ends with three characters on a bare stage with no costumes singing with not a single musician.

5 -- Cabaret book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander. A dark world of Nazis, sin and corruption, all mixed with a wonderful score and humor abounding. I will not get into the plot or style too much as I do not want to influence any feelings towards what will be a spectacular production by Kate Walker in the spring. However, if the movie is all you know of this show, forget it all. The movie has one thing going for it, Joel Grey, the rest should be forgotten.

6 -- The Music Man by Meredith Wilson. Another show about redemption. I have said many times that I could go my whole life without seeing Music Man again and be fine. That is because I have seen and done The Music Man more that any other two shows put together. That being said, I am still delighted by the music. Of course the show was made in many ways be the extreme talent of Robert Preston. I have seen many wonderful actors play Harold Hill, but I have to admit, the film version (the original, not the embarrassment that was the Matthew Broderick version) exemplifies Harold Hill.

7-- Into the Woods music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. One of the few popular and successful Sondheim shows, Into the woods is wonderful. The overall theme of Children will Listen resonates with me so much more today as a parent than it did when I was in college (back when the show was new).

8--The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas book by Texas author Larry L. King and Peter Masterson and music and lyrics by Carol Hall. Based on the true life of a Texan madam and the house of ill repute that she ran (Called the Chicken Ranch) this is not your typical family musical. The movie with Bert Reynolds and Dolly Parton is horrible, please do not base any feelings for the show based on that (or any other really). The country music score is also not my typical choice of music, but all that aside, the show is just fun. I was on crew when we did the show in college, a couple of decades ago, and loved it.

9--You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown music and lyrics by Clark Gesner. Who doesn't love the Peanuts. The music is catchy, the show is cute, but this is far from the grand large shows that make up the majority of Musical Theatre. Although I really do enjoy the show, this one is for purely personal reasons. I ran sound on a great production several years ago, my wife was the pianist and conductor. We had met prior to the show, but got to know each other better during this show. It was during the run that she asked me to help her move, a thank you dinner after the move eventually led to our dating and now coming up on 8 years of marriage. I am so thrilled that she is Music Director of the upcoming CYT production of this show and cannot wait to see what comes of it.
On a much less important impact, the director of the show was a man named John Glenn (no not the astronaut) who is also directing the production of The Syringa Tree that I will be lighting next month. So the show led to my marriage, and eventually a paid gig, not too bad for one show.

10 -- Honk! book and lyrics are by Anthony Drewe and music is by George Stiles. I did a production in Richmond. Both that production and the one done by Civic Theatre were delightful and enjoyable. The music is wonderful, the story is amazing and sales are hardly ever successful. Sadly this is a show that just doesn't seem to ever get traction, which is profoundly sad because it is a wonderful show.

There are many, many honorable mentions, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Full
Monty, The Song of Mulan, King Island Christmas, Floyd Collins, Little Shop of Horrors... For someone who doesn't care for musicals, there sure are a lot of them that I love.


Steve Martin said...

1. Singin' in the Rain. Yes, I know it's a movie musical but it never fails to delight. The choreography - astounding. The music - hummable and joyful. The plot - true romance set against a bygone era (silent movies transitioning to talkies). The characters ... well, someone tell me if Jean Hagen didn't create THE epitome of dumb blonde / vicious conniver while stealing the entire show. Amazing throughout.

2. Guys and Dolls. The funniest musical ever, the best-constructed musical plot, the fullest characters, the richest songs. Hands down, the best American musical ever. When I was in middle school, I watched a production at my high school and it was just mesmerizing.

3. Fiddler on the Roof. The Bottle Dance alone is worth the price of admission. Fortunately there's so much more to latch on to including a story of a father bound by tradition and his daughters who are finding their own way in the world. Civic mounted an amazing production of this show years ago.

4. Into the Woods. There are two different shows here, pre- and post-intermission. Terrific characterizations through lyrics, a nice sense of order run afoul but yet hopeful. As a senior in high school, watched this on Great Performances on PBS while waiting out an ice storm in town. Again, mesmerizing.

5. Rent. Saw a national tour perform at Purdue and - aside from the gaggle of screaming fans who yelped with pleasure whenever one of the characters breathed - it was a great experience. Multiple plot lines, wide variety of music styles, a show with a huge heart and amount of hope.

6. West Side Story. Stephen Sondheim, again, along with Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins (who also choreographed Fiddler on the Roof). Watch the movie first because the structure makes more sense, especially because the song order was switched around slightly. Amazing dancing that defines character.

7. Howard Crabtree's Whoop-Dee-Doo! and Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly. Two musical reviews that commented about being gay in the 1990s and shows in which the costumes were the center of attention (Howard Crabtree figuratively spun straw into gold with his costumes). Funny, funny, funny songs with everything from torch songs of unrequited love to farces of well-known Broadway fare and beyond. Joyous and probably the second-wittiest lyrics after Guys and Dolls.

8. Cabaret. Kander & Ebb wrote about the Merry Murderesses in Chicago, but Cabaret tells a richer tale of love and longing set in Berlin, just as the Nazis were beginning their rise to power. A lot of commentary, a lot of passion ... truly terrific.

9. Chicago. Nothing wrong with Merry Murderesses performing the Cell Block Tango, though, too. Delicious satire.

10. Hello, Dolly! My first musical, I played a waiter. A good show overall.

There are lots of other shows I enjoy and would like to see more of including [title of show], The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Floyd Collins and more. But these are the musicals that I like the most at this point of time.

Steven Koehler said...

Great list Steve. I don't know Whoop-Dee-Doo! but loved When Pigs Fly.

Heather said...

Hey, guys, love the lists, but the musical that excites me most (when done well, which is tough), is CATS. You can hiss, but I'll growl back.

Steven Koehler said...

Not to worry Heather, while I am not a huge Webber fan, I can recognize the excitement and thrill of a good production of a show like Cats. I think Cats is responsible for a lot of people catching the theatre bug in its time, the story is weak, but the music soars, the spectacle is huge and the dancing is (should be) amazing. While I may not have a strong desire to see it again, when I saw Cats originally in the late 80's I was transfixed and amazed.

Are there any other shows that make your list?

Heather said...

Well, Steve, I have sentimental attachment to those I've accompanied or acted in: Fiddler, My Fair Lady, The Music Man, Hello, Dolly, Guys and Dolls, The Apple Tree, Anything Goes, etc., and the "dying king" scene in The King and I ALWAYS makes me cry. I am famous for despising Phantom most of all, and I'm with Steve M. in loving Chicago and Cabaret. As far as Cats, perhaps it also led some folks to look up the poetry and read it? Also, it's nearly operatic, I think, when done well. After seeing it live, my children memorized every word and watched the video and listened to the songs over and over and over. That's an endorsement!