Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sing It!: The Top Ten Musicals of All Time

Every now and again I imagine that life is a musical.  I imagine that the noise of war, politics, media, sports, and opinions comes to a hush, and people are poised to spontaneously break out into song.  It could happen.  Any time.  Anywhere.

But since it probably won't (except for the occasional flash mob), I have compiled a list of my top ten favorite musicals of all time, accompanied by a favorite song or two (or more) from each musical.  Some perspicacious readers will note that Book of Mormon the Musical is conspicuously absent from this list.  There are many reasons for this, the foremost of which is that in my estimation, in spite of its title, Parker and Stone's production does not actually qualify as a musical. Neither does High School Musical.

My list may be lacking in some ways, and it may be missing some very good musicals (some that are perhaps included in this article).  Nevertheless, it represents a good sample of what is, in my opinion, an underappreciated art form.  Thus, without further ado, I give you my Top Ten Musicals of All Time:

10. Oklahoma! : Rodgers and Hammerstein's first production together, based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs, features good old fashioned courtship, marriage, romance, and musical masterpieces such as "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'", "People Will Say We're in Love" (I also like Sophie Milman's Jazz rendition), and of course, "Oklahoma!"  In light of the recent tragedies in Oklahoma, this musical is one that offers hope, as well as enjoyment.

9. The Wizard of Oz : Just north of Oklahoma, this time in Kansas, a young farm girl named Dorothy (played by the lovely Judy Garland) dreams of a place "Somewhere over the Rainbow".  In response to her wish, she and her dog Todo get swept away by a tornado into the magical land of Oz, where she journeys along a yellow brick road, meeting delightful characters along the way to the Emerald City.  With the help of her friends, including the cowardly lion, Dorothy defeats the Wicked Witch of the West, discovers the true identity of the Wizard of Oz, and finally, thanks to a pair of magical ruby slippers provided by Glinda the Good Witch, Dorothy and Todo return to Kansas, having learned the valuable lesson that "There's no place like home".   The Wizard of Oz is a classic.  I have yet to hear an argument persuasive enough for me to consider watching the modern offshoot musical Wicked.

8. South Pacific : Set on an island in the South Pacific during World War II, this musical explores the themes of war and racism with candor and grace.  This Rodgers and Hammerstein classic includes lyrical treasures such as the mysterious "Bali Ha'i", the sassy "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right outa my Hair", the romantic "Some Enchanted Evening", and a song that speaks volumes "There is Nothing Like a Dame".  I'm not going to lie. I even like "Happy Talk" and "Younger than Springtime".

7. Singin' in the Rain : Considered by many critics to be the best musical ever created, Singin' in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly and the beautiful Debbie Reynolds, features hits such as "Make 'em Laugh, "Beautiful Girl", and "You are my Lucky Star".  Well worth watching.

6. The King and I : Anna, an indomitable school teacher, travels to Bangkok to tutor the many children of the King of Siam.  Anna tells the king's wives of her late husband in a song, "Hello Young Lovers" and shows her love for the children with the song "Getting to Know You", and her love for the king in "Shall We Dance".  By the end of the musical, Anna has begun the process of modernization in Siam and challenged the king's traditions concerning women.

5. The Sound of Music : Yet another Rodgers and Hammerstein chef d'oeuvre, The Sound of Music exhibits many unforgettable songs such as "Maria", "My Favorite Things", "Climb Every Mountain" and "Edelweiss", just to name a few.  And tell me, what nun has never imagined roaming the mountains of Austria and Switzerland while singing these songs?

4. West Side Story : Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, this story by Aurthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins, is a model of musical genius, and not just because it stars Natalie Wood as Maria (although that certainly helps).  I could watch this musical over and over and still learn something new every time.  I don't think that there is a song in this musical that I don't like, although "Cool" and "Maria" are certainly among my favorites.

3. My Fair Lady : This musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, tells the story of one Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl who takes lessons in elocution from professor Henry Higgins.  But of course it is Eliza who ends up being the teacher, with songs such as "Show Me" (Audrey Hepburn).

2. Fiddler on the Roof : I have written of this musical elsewhere, but Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best musicals, if not the best, ever made.  Each song is a masterpiece in and of itself, including "Now I Have Everything".         

And drumroll.... the number one musical on my list of personal favorites is...

1. The Music Man : When it comes to music, professor Harold Hill's think system is unmatched.  In Iowa, he knows there is trouble, but it's worth every effort to win the heart of Marian the Librarian, especially when she reciprocates ('Till there Was You").  Needless to say, Shirley Jones is magnificent, and The Music Man, like the Wells Fargo Wagon, has something special for everyone.

(There are also a few musicals that deserve at least an honorable mention:  Les MiserablesSeven Brides for Seven Brothers, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Mary Poppins, Guys and Dolls, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat and Evita; and several on my list of musicals to watch in the future, for example: Newsies,  The Court Jester, Meet Me in St. Louis, Top Hat, Carousel, and Camelot.)  Which are your favorite musicals?