Best musical of all time

I went and saw South Pacific this week with the fabulous Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner. My head’s been stuffed full of those songs ever since. It’s definitely one of my favouritest musicals. I’d only seen the movie before and, well, “good” is not a word you can use to describe it. But the stage production at Lincoln Centre is wondrously good. I’d go see it again in a heartbeat.

I’ve seen so few musicals live. Kiss Me Kate is, I think, the only other one I’ve seen as an adult. Loved it! My resolution for this year is to see many, many more. I’m dying to see Passing Strange. And I’m convinced that getting to see good productions of Anything Goes and West Side Story would make my life complete. The movie version of West Side Story is disfigured by the horrible miscasting of the leads, who can neither sing nor act, without Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn that movie would be unwatchable.

I’m also a fan of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but, again have only seen the movie.

So what are your favourite musicals? Which do you think I should see if I get the chance? I do live in NYC half the year, afterall. I hear they have musicals here.

Be aware though that I cannot stand Les Miserables. I also really hate the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’m not even sure you can call it music. I would rather eat my own eyeballs than sit through Phantom of the Opera.


  1. Iris on #

    I haven’t seen many musicals, but I liked Hairspray when I saw it in New York. It was funny. I actually disagree with you about Phantom of the Opera (I love it) but hey, to each his/her own. I’ve heard that Wicked is really good as well.

  2. Daphne Unfeasible on #

    I’m a huge fan of the classics as well — anything by Lerner and Loewe or Rogers and Hammerstein goes on my must-see list. I also loved Avenue Q, which is playing in NYC right now, so you have no excuse not to go see it. And I’m hearing good things about the new production of Sunday in the Park with George. As a writer, I think you’d love Sondheim’s wordplay.

  3. Justine on #

    Iris: I really dislike the music of Phantom of the Opera so no matter how good the production it would cause me pain. I’ll have to check out the Hairspray music.

    Daphne Unfeasible: Nope, there’ll be no going to Avenue Q. Puppets are an abomination. I have been thinking about Sunday in the Park with George. I’m just not a huge fan of Sondheim’s music. But then I saw the movie of Sweeney Todd and really enjoyed it . . . which will prolly make Sondheim purists hate me. Oh well.

    And, yes, there are way more musicals I love from before 1960 than after it.

  4. Laura Lutz on #

    Oh no, Justine! You *must* see Avenue Q!!! It’s irreverent, un-PC, smart, and hilarious! You’re totally missing out on a New York experience!

    Most of the other musicals I’ve seen have already left Broadway, unfortunately. Rent and Xanadu are both fantastic: the film version of Rent is *nothing* compared to the live version, and Xanadu is light, fun, and a great parody of the movie.

    I’ve never seen West Side Story live, but I will die a happy woman once I do.

  5. Erin on #

    You absolutely MUST see Wicked. Best musical EVER.

  6. Erin on #

    Oh, and I loved the movie Sweeney Todd, too. As in, I’m a little obsessed with it at present. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Justine on #

    Laura: When they swap out the puppets *shudder* for real people I’ll see Avenue Q, but not until then.

    Erin: Enough people are saying that I have to see Wicked that I will definitely go check it out.

  8. Camille on #

    If it helps, the real people are onstage with the puppets. I mean the operators. They’re not hidden behind anything. OR… you could listen to the CD, which is naughty.)

    I tend to hate musicals where people burst into song just because they can. And about any old thing! I realise Singin’ in the Rain is sacred and ground-breaking and The One From Which All Else Is Derived, but I absoluely cannot stand it.

    Guys and Dolls is my favorite traditional musical because all the songs advance the plot (and the song-free dance numbers are few and short). And I did like Chicago! (Hedwig was fantastic, but again, the song-placement made sense in the plot. And, er, I loved the plot to begin with.)

    I want to see Wicked, but I have to see Patrick Stewart do Macbeth first, and then pick up a second job or something to recover from that. (I’m still trying to figure out how they could plausibly turn that book into a musical. Don’t musicals need to be upbeat and end well??! Or sorta well? Vaguely? I adore that book. Trepidation here.)

    I am a fan of the Rock Opera/Les Mis/Lloyd-Webber abomination, though, mainly because everything is sung. *ducks tomatoes*

  9. Justine on #

    Camille: Nothing helps when it comes to puppets. Nothing.

    Hmmm, so you’re like the anti-me when it comes to musicals. I adore Singing in the Rain. Frankly, I’m always vaguely disappointed by movies and theatre where people don’t burst into song.

  10. Laura Anne on #

    There are very few movie-musicals that I will subject myself to, but the perfect rainy Sunday, IMO, is spent watching “Singing in the Rain” and “Gigi.” My god, how I love Gigi.

    I would also suggest “Spamalot.” Yes, it’s a comedy. And a musical. And it spoofs Andrew Lloyd Weber (with “This is the Song That Goes Like This”) the way only someone who’s been paying attention can spoof. Plus, very very funny.

  11. ebear on #

    Add my vote for Avenue Q.

    Especially since a friend of mine is in it.

  12. Catherine on #

    I saw Gypsy recently and loved it! I’ve heard great things about both Wicked and Hairspray. My sister’s school is putting on Guys and Dolls this year and it’s supposed to be really good too.

  13. robin on #

    Spring awakening was pretty good, but Company is by far the greatest thing I’ve seen in the last few years.

  14. Camille on #

    Justine: Hee! I’d love to hear you elaborate on your anti-puppet stance. I have a friend who absolutely REFUSED, at the top of her e-mail cyber-lungs, to see “The Sound Of Music” as performed by marionettes with me (Met Museum last December, I think) because of a deep-rooted, panic-stricken phobia, but who loved Avenue Q. How do you feel about marionettes? *gets glasses and notepads* Do you have a deep seated anger at Jim Henson you’d like to share? ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    Laura Anne: Oooh! I second the Spamalot rec — and not just because everyone I know who hates Andrew Lloyd Webber and his ilk LOVES it. (And I hate “The Song that Goes Like This” — which I mean as a recommendation, what with the divergent tastes and all. My best friend loves that song and refers to it as “bombast properly mocked.” Me, I grew up on gospel music and kinda like bombast.)

    And hey, even I was able to stop reciting the originals in my head long enough to enjoy “Spamalot.”

    (And I love “Gigi.” Maybe I’m just weird and arbitrary. :-))

  15. Jessica on #

    The best thing I’ve ever seen on Broadway was The Drowsy Chaperone, but alas, that’s on tour now. If you get a chance to see it, though, GO! It’s amazing.

    Wicked and Avenue Q are enjoyable as long as you don’t let the hype overwhelm them. They aren’t the best shows in the history of ever, and if you go in expecting them to be, you’ll be disappointed. But they are good (in very, very different ways!).

    Hairspray is really fun. Chicago is always good, and Gypsy should be awesome, though I haven’t seen this production. Mary Poppins is dreadful and nonsensical.

    (And I’d like to add another vote in favor of Singin’ in the Rain. It’s only my favorite movie of all time!)

  16. Harold Hill on #

    My friend, either you are closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to comprehend, Or you are unaware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the fact that you have not seen The Music Man.

  17. veejane on #

    I didn’t see Singin’ in the Rain till my mid-twenties, and was really surprised by how much I liked it.

    I think that Sondheim is an acquired taste, and the moreso because it takes a particular kind of singer to get his lyrics out comprehensibly. There are at least two stage productions of Sweeney Todd available on video, both of which I liked a lot; but some of his less plotty work — Company, Sunday in the Park, the one about the sellout composer — is awfully… unplotty. Pointillist, narrow-focus, introspective. Also, there is a decided lack of snazzy dance numbers!

    The really old stuff, e.g. Gilbert & Sullivan, is much more like opera than like modern Rodgers & Hammerstein stuff. I saw a student production of The Sorceror a couple of years ago, and the only singer who could really hack it was a graduate student in voice at one of the local music schools. Everybody else had to do spoken-patter; they just couldn’t stay on key and get their lyrics out at the same time. (That’s also true — though less so — for The Pirates of Penzance, although by far the best production I ever saw of it included an opera bass as the Pirate King.)

  18. Camille on #

    Harold, I think we have trouble right here in River City.

    (Dangit, how could you do this to me! ๐Ÿ™‚ As if it were not ENOUGH that I find myself singing “Sweet and Low” every time I go to put saccharine in my bitter office coffee…)

  19. Lianne on #

    My favorite musicals? Rent, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Miss Saigon. I’m currently obsessed with Into the Woods although I’ve only heard the CD. However, there is a DVD of the original Broadway cast which I must get my hand on.

  20. Justine on #

    The next person to mention puppets or Avenue Q is banned. Worse than bloody unicorns.

    Harold: The Simpsons may have put me off The Music Man for life . . .

    Veejane: I have much love for G&S. Though again I has seen filums, but no stage productions. I’m also a big fan of actual opera.

    I won’t go see amateur theatre. I get horribly embarrassed by it. And sit their blushing and worrying about the performers. Bad movies I can do. Bad theatre. Nope. (I’m not saying that all amateur theatre is bad, but the risk of it being so is higher.)

  21. lili on #

    See SPELLING BEE. The nerd in you will love it.

    Also Sunday in the Park with George which is strange and beautiful and i’m SO MAD that it wasn’t on when i was in NY.

    And Wicked, because it’s one of the only musicals with a female protagonist, and it’s all about friendship between women. and today is international women’s day (and the centenary of women’s suffrage in Victoria). so ner.

  22. Justine on #

    Lili: There is no nerd in me.

  23. Elena on #

    Hi Justine,
    Greetings from my post-BoW days. As I’m sitting here at my temp job, I said to myself, “Self, you need something interesting to read, therefore you should check out your favorite former BoW regular authors, so I decided to check out your blog & low and behold, you’re talking about my other life! Wheeee! Musicals!!!

    Now, I don’t know if you would like it, but my dream role is Squeaky Frome, from Sondheim’s “Assassins”. It’s fantastic. But probably more accessible classic choices would be “On the Town”, “Mame”, &”1776″. You can learn American history from it! The same way I learned the New Testament from “Godspell” & “Jesus Christ Superstar”. (Neither of which I am endorsing wholeheartedly.) “Applause” is fab retelling of “All About Eve”. & then my last choice of the evening, since I get to go home now, is “Once on This Island”. A show I will sadly never be able to do, but love it all the same.
    Please feel free to ask questions on any shows. Also, please notice the lack of you-know-whats. Which I am not mentioning. At all. Nope, no references in the slightest. None.

  24. Kelly G. on #

    Can I recommend Jersey Boys? I saw it a few weeks ago in Seattle. I am one of the people who hates it when people break into song for no apparent reason, so Jersey Boys is perfect for me because it’s the story of a band, so all the music makes sense. And I really love Frankie Valli, so it was cool to see the “origin story” of the band.

    Might want to check it out!

  25. Maria on #

    Wow! My school high school is presenting “South Pacific”. I saw it last night and it was amazing. Your production must have been very different, but I actualy can’t imagine it being better then the one I saw – seiously, they did such a STELLAR job!!

  26. Danica on #

    Despite how much I love musicals, I haven’t many live. I did see a really great production of My Fair Lady and loved it, but given the choice I would want to see Wicked, Spring Awakening, Chicago, or The Lion King.

    And Singin’ In The Rain is also one of my favourite movies!

  27. Danica on #

    Oh, and Rent closes June 1st! Go see it now!

  28. Caitlyn on #

    Wicked. That’s really the only choice. It has something for everyone–romance, friendship, comedy, drama, tragedy, and even politics. But I’m a bit biased seeing as I’m a die-hard fangirl, so if you want other options, RENT (if you can catch it before it leaves Broadway), Hairspray, Sweeney Todd, Legally Blonde (ignore the movie–I hated it until I saw the musical), and Spring Awakenining are all really good too.

  29. e. Lockhart on #

    I thought you hated musicals! See, I have infected you with my insidious fictions!

    Since I am already banned from this blog for defending the u***orns, I will fearlessly say: download “The Internet is for Porn” and “If You Were Gay” from Avenue Q off iTunes and THEN tell me you don’t want to see it.
    Also there is puppet sex!

    I think you would really like Spring Awakening.

    THing about many awesome shows people are recommending (Chicago and Rent among them) is that they are loooong-running — and often shows get tired and the best casts are no longer performing them…I think it is worthwhile to investigate the cast or stick with shows in their first year of a run… though of course, there are exceptions.

    Blog Overlord says: E. Lockhart is officially banned from this blog for contrevening the new rule invoked in comment no. 20. She’s also banned for saying that Justine hates musicals when she has loved them since she was a small child.

  30. emily on #

    equus is coming to broadway later this year…

  31. Elena on #

    Ok, now that I’m home, I shall give you my list of shows that are currently playing: 1st & foremost, “In the Heights”. & not just because my roommate & a friend from school are in it. I challenge you to leave the theatre in a crappy mood! Next, “The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island (or the Friends of Dr. Rushower)”. It’s just as wacky as its name. “Spring Awakenings” is good & keep your eyes peeled this fall for a revival of “Pal Joey”!
    & if you want to see an amazing version of Macbeth, the BAM production is moving to Bway! With Mr. Patrick Stewart & the most amazing Lady McB I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend it. But no real singing to speak of…

  32. Megan Crewe on #

    Hedwig is awesome! (Though I too have only seen the movie.)

    My favorite musical is Into The Woods. Great play on fairy tales with lots of humor and drama and some powerful songs.

  33. LBS on #

    I guess I’m living in your idea of hell right now since my daughter (age 11) is performing in a Regional professional production of Les Miz as Young Cosette. For 14 weeks. And she wants me to see it at least once a week.And we listen to the CD in the car. And she sings it constantly.
    I’ve seen it 5 times so far…

    We love Wicked and Spring Awakening.

  34. hereandnow on #

    So, Justine, I shouldn’t regale you with stories of my childhood in amateur musical theatre? *grin*

    Anything Goes is one of my favourite old-school musicals, highly recommended if you can find a good production (and handwave the Chinese subplot as a product of its time).

    But I loooove the, ahem, non-traditional musicals as well. For example, there’s a jazz version of The Mikado that has pretty much spoiled me for any Gilbert & Sullivan not set in a nightclub in the 1920s. And I loved Jerry Springer: The Opera in London, magnificently wrong as it was. I haven’t seen the movie, but the iOTA version of Hedwig in Sydney was mind-blowingly awesome.

    Do not, under any circumstances, see Li’l Abner.

  35. lindsay on #

    I would love to see wicked or spring awakening. Those would be my top suggestions.

  36. Margaret on #

    A Chorus Line! It’s a wonderful, classic show, and I loved the current Broadway revival, which I saw last spring.

    I like the music from Wicked, but I was less impressed with it on stage (hated the ending). Conversely, I liked Spamalot much more on stage than I do on disc.

    And definitely any Cole Porter! I’d adore to see Kiss Me Kate, Anything Goes, or Fifty Million Frenchmen (which is lesser known but has some great songs).

  37. Lauren on #

    I hate that you hate Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’ve been hating Andrew Lloyd Webber for most of my life and was hoping to get into a nasty argument with someone over it. I really really hate him. Oh and Sondheim too. Yuck. Everybody raves about Spring Awakening, but I didn’t like it. The music was just mediocre indie-folk-rock and the story was even lamer than a musical should be. I think you’re going to have to wait for my musical about sentient software programs to come out.

  38. dragonfly on #

    i very much enjoyed the producers.

    and i’m dying to see spamalot!

  39. Justine on #

    Hereandnow: There was an extremely short run version of Jerry Springer on here in NYC with Harvey Keitel as Springer. Apparently it was brilliant. I only heard about it after the run was finished. Grrr.

    LBS: It’s just as well I don’t have children. I would be horrible. “No, I can’t come see you in your school play. You’re all hideous amateurs. Leave mummy alone so she can finish her martini.”

    Lauren: Well, I hate that you hate Andrew Lloyd Webber more than you hate that I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber. So nyer!

  40. ysa on #

    i feel so dreadful and sad! i like several of the shows not to be named in this here blog, so i will not mention them. i am not a big fan of sondhiem either, but some of that stuff i can deal with. i even like the musical version of “aladin” even though i am not supposed to because it is unfair in places to people of my ethnicity. (but only if jafar is properly evil. if jafar is improperly evil, it has no zing.)

    i also love high school and college productions! i love a show where the lead is not the hunky hero but a skinny kid with glasses who can SING! and i like the no money part of it. i saw a “big musical” (not going to name it because i am not like that) where the lead was sexy and handsome and sang and made is so freaking obvious that he was bored and jaded. he basically walked through the part, only really shining on his solo pieces. i got my $$$ back btw. he left the production shortly thereafter. when you get into the school productions, you have people who want to be there and are there for the heck of it because it is fun.

    i do like professional shows too, though and i am dying to see Spamalot when it tours again. I loved the Sweeney Todd movie, but if you can see it as the original on stage, you really should!

  41. sara z on #

    A Chorus Line, definitely. So energizing and wonderful. I’m also a fan of a lot of the others that have been mentioned – classic R&H, etc. Personally I also love Oliver! and Annie. The soundtrack of The Music Man is in my top 5 of musicals, but I’m not in love with the book. I’d rather just listen to the record.

    I agree with your comment on Andrew L W. (and it makes me think of the Crowded House song “Chocolate Cake”). But I loved Les Miz! It’s been years since I saw it, but I remember much sobbing on my part. Maybe I was PMSing.

  42. sara z on #

    p.s. LOVE Godspell! But then, I grew up in a seventies hippie Christian household, so we were all about it. Still, when I listen to the CD now (both the original cast recording and the movie version), I think the songs are, on the whole, pretty amazing.

  43. Justine on #

    Ysa: I totally take your point that amateur productions can be good at the pro ones can be dreadful. Indeed, I stopped going to theatre all together for many years on account of having seen some really dreadful professional productions. Nothing is worse than bad theatre. Actors who just work through their parts are evil and wrong.

    On the whole, though, I’ve seen more good pro theatre than good amateur.

    Sara Z: Godspell is the only movie I have ever walked out of. It was So. Very. Bad.

  44. emily on #

    the godspell play is 8 million times better than the movie. the movie just sucks.

    im still rooting for equus tho.

  45. Justine on #

    Emily: I suspected as much. The South Pacific movie is also horrible.

    Equus makes me nervous.

  46. him on #

    Why is Bernstein being neglected. Just to mention 3 ground breaking musicals. There is the early celebration of NYC: On the Town, which did become a fab movie. West Side Story just shifted the whole ground of musicals (I don’t think Hair could have been done without its precedent). And my favourite, Candide (which we all saw at Belvior), a much underrated spoof.

    I did mention Hair which gave us Marcia Hines.

  47. Justine on #

    Did you not see this sentence above where I wrote, “And Iโ€™m convinced that getting to see good productions of Anything Goes and West Side Story would make my life complete.”?

    Didn’t mention On the Town precisely because the movie is so good. I know I saw Candide but I don’t remember it at all.

  48. eek on #

    Ok, I agree with many of the recs already made, but I’ll make a few others:

    Ok, less cerebral or…impressive, than Chicago, Wicked or Rent, and not nearly the classic of Chorus Line, but I am huge fan of The Lion King and Mama Mia.

    Mama Mia is just good Abba-liscious fun. Kind of like the “beach read” of musicals.

    The Lion King has fabulous music and incredible Julie Taymor costumes and direction.

    If you were only going to see one or two, I’d definitely go to Rent and then Chorus Line or Chicago. But if you really are going to see more, especially if you do the half-price tickets booth thing, consider giving Mama Mia and Lion King a chance…


  49. him on #

    Ah, yes! WSS: Melbourne 1960; Telaviv 1961.

  50. Jeff Hentosz on #

    If it’s ever revived, see Big River, which is Huckleberry Finn set to music. The songs — by the late country music star Roger Miller — aren’t your typical Broadway caterwauling. They comprise a kind of tour through the many flavors of early American folk music.

    I’m also with the ALW haytaz, with one exception. See the next professional production of Evita you come across. Awesome stuff. The character “Che” is a great charismatic trickster figure. Even the song “Don’t Cry for Me blah blah,” which I kinda detest, is really affecting in context. The Madonna movie is way, way, waaaay weak in comparison.

    Side note: Only ever walked out of two movies — Eraserhead and Urban Cowboy. And both involved irritating music! Hmmm.

  51. Ellie on #

    RENT is awsomes if you can see it you should. Wicked and Spamalot are also really good.

    P.S. Rock on for the Hedwig love!!

  52. Ally on #

    If you find a production of West Side Story going on…well, definitely go and see it, but also let me know where it is going on so I can kill one of the orchestra’s violinists and steal his/her seat. My own orchestra just finished working on this, and it has the single best score of any musical I’ve been exposed to. A Leonard Bernstein score makes just about anything worth seeing.

    As per previous recommendations, Wicked is wonderfully fantastic and at the top of my list; Spamalot is hysterically funny; and a lot of the “classics” like Chicago, Chorus Line, Rent, and the Cole Porter works are deservingly popular.

    P.S. As I do not live in NY, I have no idea if this is going on anywhere, but…if Fiddler on the Roof is being put on anywhere, see it. It’s delightful and funny and moving and the movie version is my favorite movie of all time.

    P.P.S. I have never met a musician who likes Webber. I believe there is a good reason for that.

  53. Tasha on #

    To whoever mentioned Fiddler on the Roof – definitely. I think Tevye has got to be one of the greatest characters ever written. The whole thing is one of the most touchingly human musicals I’ve seen.

  54. Ink on #

    I love Rent, Hairspray, and Avenue Q.

  55. cesca on #

    most people here have already mentioned the good ones like avenue q and hairspray (which is TONS better than the recent movie), but i do know that “cry-baby,” based on the 1990 john waters film, is coming to broadway later this month. i’ve heard a couple of songs and they’re pretty fun and quirky.
    *as a side note: the songs were written by david javerbaum, who was a writer on the daily show with jon stewart (so that should be exciting to see, or hear)

  56. Seรกn on #

    Although about 98789 other people have said this, you absolutely have to see Wicked. I didn’t like the Wizard of Oz until I read the book, and I like the musical a lot better than the book.
    I finally saw it last weekend, we took a trip to Chicago just for that reason and it was AMAZING! As in, almost-in-tears Amazing. I’d already been addicted to the OBC soundtrack, and the Chicago singers were just as good! I was surprised.

  57. Kenina-chan on #

    The DVD of Working absolutely sucked, but my high school drama club (including me) is performing it. And it is way better than the movie because, well, we make it more interesting. If you are in the “chorus”, like me, you’re not just an extra, but you have a backstory, even if the audience doesn’t realize it. I may be a restaurant patron, but the backstory is that I am with a group of my sorority friends in that scene.

    We have about six guys and they have to be more than one male lead while we have 20-something girls. It’s basically the atmosphere that makes the musical. Working is a bunch of monologues and solos, but everyone can have fun.

    (I hope that made sense)

  58. jodi on #

    can i recommend anything by soundheim?
    if you love musicals, or don’t care for them – he has turned the whole genre inside out 7 times over. makes lovers out of haters & lovers even more mad for musical theatre! he is a serious antidote for phantom & les miz.
    especially enjoyable for writers – the man elevates musicals to a whole other sphere! sunday in the park is crazy genious. into the woods is clever & fun!

    i am also lover of classics (like south pacific & gigi) but another new interesting pushing-the-envelope musical that was up a few years ago was caroline or change. written by the tony kushner who wrote angels in america.

  59. Kaylee on #

    seriously? you hate Phantom of the Opera?? …that makes me sad. i loved it. oh well i guess. different people like different things. i’ve also seen Mamma Mia. i love that one too. and am hoping to go see Rent once it comes to my little city in May. i’ve kinda become obsessed with brodway musicals latly. i’ve seen 2 so far this year. ๐Ÿ˜€

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