Storytelling in music is one of my favorite things, from lyrics to genres, from film scores to musicals. And we’ll stop at musicals, because that is the topic of this post. What’s so unique about musicals is that they are purely theatrical—meaning that they are purposely unrealistic (which is the main reason why many people dislike them). So, here’s my short list of my top 5 favorites, in no particular order.
1. Les Miserables
This musical is so good. It’s a very heavy story that tackles the hardships of the poor in France during the French Revolution. It’s an incredible, literally breathtaking story of redemption—arguably the best piece of literature in the world. I saw the musical put on by a local theater company, and it was so amazing I decided to read Victor Hugo’s book right afterwards. What’s interesting about this musical is that there is no spoken dialogue. Everything everyone says is mainly in song, to music. Some of the songs have a tune that’s a bit hard to follow, and there isn’t really any main theme—but I absolutely love the overtures and the orchestral parts. Favorites include “One Day More,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, “Overture/Work Song,” “Castle on a Cloud,” “Red and Black,” “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” and, of course, the “Finale,” or Epilogue.
2. The Lion King
I am not a fan of the movie. (Or should I say old cartoon, since the movie redo is coming out next year and is worth much excitement?) I’m not a huge fan of the story, either; besides the glaring plot holes, I think there’s a lot of wasted potential with Simba’s character. I hope that this new movie reboot might take advantage of some needed improvement…but I’m getting beyond the point. The musical, in contrast to the actual film, is awesome, and is one of my favorites because of its epic grandscale. Many songs also have African ethnic roots, with a lot of ensemble lyrics in mostly Swahili and Zulu. The opening song — Cricle of Life — is breathtaking with a full-cast ensemble. I played a lioness/ensemble member in The Lion King Jr. a while back and it was an amazing experience.
YES! I’m serious. Shrek the Musical is great, and I wouldn’t be here saying that if my brother didn’t play in the ensemble cast and I didn’t work backstage for nearly every show and eventually fall in love with it. I greatly dislike the movie (not sure why I even saw it in the first place), and the story is questionable, to say the least, but the musical is pretty awesome. It has humor, satire, and an epic overture, with some really cool ensemble songs. “Story of My Life,” “Freak Flag,” and “Who I’d Be,” are a few favorite numbers. Believe me, as weird as it sounds, my siblings and I did go through a Shrek the Musical phase, and it still remains a favorite.
4. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
This is currently my #1 favorite musical. I saw Pharoah’s Song on YouTube a while back and thought it was the most bizzare thing I’d ever seen. Several months afterward as my siblings rehearsed and put on the show with our community theater, cue the obsession of the musical. The story is basically the story of Joseph from the Bible, and the storyline in the musical is actually fairly accurate. The main source of humor comes from the style of songs—calypso, Brubeck jazz, country western, French chanson, and ’60s rock. For example, Pharoah’s Song features him dressed as Elvis as he sings Elvis style. As a writer, I greatly appreciated the blatantly hilarious lyrics, with brilliant language and word choice. Favorite songs include “Jacob and Sons,” the Hoedown (just an awesome dance number), “Joseph’s Coat,” “Go, Go Go, Joseph,” “Canaan Days,” “Song of the King,” and “Benjamin Calypso.” But, to be honest, I just love all of the songs.
Well yeah, Hamilton! Disclaimer: This is the only show listed here that I haven’t actually seen yet, and I haven’t even listened to all the songs yet (they were just touring 45 minutes away a few months ago and I’m still extremely disappointed that I wasn’t aware of it ahead of time). But I’m already in love. One of the brilliant aspects that stands out to me the most is how Lin Manuel Miranda pulled off a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton with all the songs in the modern pop/hip-hop/rap genres. And, not to mention, but the word choice, rhythm, and rhyme in the numbers are just—well, they make me cry writer’s tears of joy. Just listen to “My Shot” and “Non-Stop.” Let’s just say, Miranda is a very talented, very intelligent individual, and I can’t wait to see the upcoming TV show The Name of the Wind with him doing the music *excited squeal*.
And those are my five main favorite musical theater productions! Have you seen any of these? Which ones have you seen live, on Broadway, or maybe even acted in? What are your top favorite musicals and why? Fangirl rants about Hamilton OK. And if you’re one of those people, what about musicals (theater, movies, etc.) do you dislike? Cheers!
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