I know, I know. “Musical theatre isn’t really my thing.” For many people, it’s too cheesy or too unrelatable or there’s too much dancing, or something. Not every musical is for everyone, I’ll give you that. If you’re a minimalist, you probably won’t enjoy something as flashy as Phantom of the Opera or Miss Saigon. At the same time, if you love classic movies and Disney princesses, then Rent and Assassins are probably not for you. But no matter what your personal tastes are, I think there are a handful of musicals that you should absolutely see in your lifetime. Here they are, in no particular order.
1. The Sound of Music
Why it’s a must: Simply put, this is the classic musical of classic musicals. It’s about singing, after all, and learning to sing even in the hardest of times. Not only can we all relate to the cathartic power of music for ourselves, but we all understand how it can bring people together in ways big and small.
What to watch for: Familiar songs, such as “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things”; cute kids; tons of themes relating to faith, family, and of course music.
Why it’s a must: If you loved The Wizard of Oz as a kid (the book or the movie), you will love how Wicked tells the unheard story of misunderstood Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. The music was composed by Stephen Schwarz, a prolific Disney composer, and the songs, sets, costumes, and characters are much larger than life.
What to watch for: Clever tie-ins with The Wizard of Oz; steampunk-inspired sets and costumes; awesome special effects like all the flying.
3. The Lion King
Why it’s a must: The stage version of this show is an adaptation from the Disney movie, which is the opposite of what usually happens. In order to overcome the challenge of creating a live musical of a story entirely about and told by animals, the writers and artistic staff developed tons of intricate, gorgeous costumes and oversize puppets that definitely suggest animals while not being overly “cartoonish.” Plus the singing is freaking incredible.
What to watch for: The various puppetry, especially for the less-important animals throughout the show; fantastic African-inspired vocals and percussion; some of the most beautiful costumes and sets you will ever see.
4. Les Misérables
Why it’s a must: Well, if you’ve only seen the movie version, then the only Javert you know is Russell Crowe, and I simply cannot allow that. Please, do yourself a favor and go watch some real singers. Sure, it was great that Anne Hathaway sang all of “I Dreamed A Dream” in one shot, but actresses who play Fantine onstage sing it in one “take” every night. I can’t watch this show without experiencing the full spectrum of emotions, and once you experience it live, you won’t be able to either.
What to watch for: Cool stage effects, like major set changes; the deep development that exists for every character in the show; famous songs like “On My Own” and “Do You Hear the People Sing.”
5. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Why it’s a must: Honestly, because you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s a short show that adults will find hilarious because of the archetypal characters. Each of us in middle school was either a dramatic Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere, a snarky know-it-all William Barfee (pronounced bar-FAY), an overachieving Marcy Park, a rule-abiding Chip Tolentino, a socially inept Leaf Coneybear, or an adorably awkward Olive Ostrovsky. We can all relate.
What to watch for: Opportunities for audience participation; truly excellent wordplay; people you may recognize within each character; whether or not the performing group has the guts to include the song entitled “My Unfortunate Erection.”
Why it’s a must: If you love the Monty Python franchise, here is your opportunity to see all the various movies and sketches combined into one ridiculous romp. Based mostly on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is everything one could hope for and includes all of your favorite moments, jokes, and anachronisms from the movie, as well as tons of new ones as well.
What to watch for: As mentioned, the abundance of hilarious anachronisms throughout the show; a variety of musical and dramatic styles; things you may not have known about your favorite Arthurian (or Pythonian) characters.
7. Sweeney Todd
Why it’s a must: Well, first of all, because every list of must-see musicals should include at least one show by Stephen Sondheim. I chose this one specifically in case the above list isn’t dark enough for you. There is really nothing cheerful at all about this show, so if you want to be thoroughly creeped out while enjoying some fantastic music, this is the show for you.
What to watch for: Blood. Lots and lots of blood. Don’t worry, it’s
Musical theatre lovers, what shows would you add to this list?