Welcome to another Theater Thursday! This week, we will be discussing some great starter musicals for those looking to chassé into the musical world. Looking for a good musical can be overwhelming, but today, the task will become a bit easier. Here is a brief list of musicals to begin a listening journey.
“West Side Story”
“West Side Story” is a musical by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, with lyrics by the great Stephen Sondheim. The story follows the Jets and the Sharks in the 1950s, as they feud with each other because of racial differences and territorial issues.
One of the parts of “West Side Story” that makes it such a prominent production is the dance numbers. The musical holds some of the most memorable numbers in history. Numbers such as “Prologue” and “America” are iconic scenes from the movie adaption of the show and are known for their energetic dance sequences.
Most recently, a remake of the prolific movie musical hit streaming services. The most recent adaptation of “West Side Story” stars Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort, and was released in 2021. However, I recommend revisiting the original movie from 1961 for the full effect.
“The Phantom of the Opera”
“Some of you may recall the strange affair of ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’” Even people who aren’t fans of musicals have heard about the longest-running Broadway show. The musical follows Christine Daaé, a young opera singer, as she is entranced by the mysterious Opera Ghost.
The musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, has seen a slew of big names sweep through each role over the 37 years the show was on Broadway. Each performer brought a unique spin to the show’s characters. Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman originated the roles of the Phantom and Daaé on Broadway.
The musical contains songs such as “The Phantom Of The Opera” and “The Music Of The Night.” However, every song from the track contains something unique and different. “Masquerade / Why So Silent” excitedly leads off the second act. The large ensemble of the show is dressed in elaborate gowns and tuxedos and all don a mask over their eyes. Some of the most intricate costumes of the show are worn during this scene.
There are multiple watch options for this musical. “The 25th Anniversary Performance” with Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom and Sierra Boggess as Daaé is available on Amazon Prime for rent of $4.29. The movie adaptation with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum is available on “Max.”
“Wicked” celebrated its 20th year on Broadway this year, and it deserves every year it gets at the Gershwin Theater. The musical is a take on the complicated relationship between Glinda, the good witch, and the “Wicked Witch of the West,” Elphaba. The musical is a must-see for everyone.
This musical inspires a sense of magic that few shows can successfully bring to the stage. The show was brought to life by Stephen Schwartz through his songwriting. Musicals require a different kind of songwriting as they must convey a storyline. Schwartz did this in the spectacular “Defying Gravity” and “No Good Deed,” which were both show-stopping songs.
Two famous Broadway stars originated the roles of Glinda and Elphaba. Idina Menzel played Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth played Glinda. Both women have had quite prolific careers on and off Broadway, and there are many other fantastic Broadway shows that the women starred in.
It won’t be long before only the purchase of a movie ticket will be needed to see this musical. The movie adaptation of “Wicked” will be released in November 2024, and it will star Ariana Grande as Glinda and Cynthia Erivo as Elphaba.
“Hamilton” has become a meme among the younger generation, which makes it difficult for many to witness Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant storytelling. Miranda was inspired by a book about founding father Alexander Hamilton to write the musical. His first vision was a work as simple as a concept album, but Miranda ended up writing a full-length musical that turned the world upside down.
The fact that Miranda was able to turn a historical period into a hip-hop rap musical is quite striking. The amount of symbolism and references that take place throughout the production is something only a genius can come up with. “Hamilton’s” opening number, “Alexander Hamilton,” serves as a theme and reference throughout the entire musical.
A beautiful moment comes during the show's final moments. Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, a role originated by Phillipa Soo, sings about wanting to tell Alexander’s story. At the end of the show, Eliza breaks the fourth wall with a gasp before the curtain closes. This symbolizes the realization that Eliza successfully told Alexander’s story. These moments of symbolism are what make this show a great starter musical.