I adore musicals. Where most young people fill up their ipods with popular music in genres like pop, rock and indie, mine features a strong majority of musical tales, spanning close to a century of performances. Not surprising, when you consider that I'm deaf and my ears and brain process music differently than hearing people (cannot do rock of any kind, it just sounds like noise to me. I need a strong melody!).
Unfortunately, many young people today are unfamiliar even with the classics, much less the more obscure (but still good!) oldies. Plus there are some new ones that have yet to get the fame they deserve.
So the purpose of this post is to serve as a guide for what musicals you should check out if this is your thing. I've not included every musical ever made, just the ones I personally think are worth your time! (And that, you know, I've actually seen myself - being deaf makes the non-filmed ones tricky). I've also linked you to some of my favorite songs in places, but if I couldn't find a version I really liked, I didn't link it. You can search for it on youtube, iTunes, or the library, or just go out and watch the show! (film or live!)
(Note, I haven't tried to list all the objectionable things in any of these films because that's not the point of this post. Some of the films have scenes that are more adult geared towards others, and most of them have good Wikipedia write-ups that detail what the film holds. So do your research! /disclaimer off/)
1. Annie Get Your Gun
Annie Oakley is the best sharpshooter the west has ever seen... but shooting and worldwide fame don't get a girl a man, so what's Annie to do? A hilarious musical that will have you laughing to split your sides, plus a song every actor should know to keep up their spirits when times get hard!
Notable songs include:
- Doing What comes Naturally
- You can't get a man with a gun
-There's no business like show business
- Anything you can do I can do better (Favorite Version? John Barrowman of Doctor Who fame and Ruthie Henshall!)
2. Beauty and the Beast
There's more goodness to this than just the animated Disney film! Check out my whole blog post on the songs added in the Broadway musical!
3. Bride and Prejudice
It's the classic story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy updated to modern times and moved to India! A fantastic introduction to Indian films, and featuring some crazy fun music and outrageously awesome dancing! (LOST fans, want to see Sayid dance and sing? He's brilliant!)
- Balle Balle (Fantastic dancing)
- No Life Without Wife (One of the funniest songs ever to be filmed! With intro scene.)
Whether you're a fan of King Arthur, or just want to see what a medieval musical looks like, or love Richard Harris (Dumbledore!) and Vanessa Redgrave, I highly recommend this musical. My version of the soundtrack is the original as performed with Julie Andrews, and I highly recommend getting that one!
- Camelot (Ignoring the eyeshadow, this is a beautiful nostalgic ode to the dream of Camelot - and quite funny too!)
- The Simple Joys of Maidenhood (Julie Andrews)
- C'est Moi
- How to Handle a Woman
- If Ever I would Leave You
- What do the Simple Folk Do
5. Fiddler on the Roof
If you can only see three musicals in your whole life, this had better be one of them. The story of Jewish Milkman Tevye and his woes marrying off his daughters and avoiding the Russian Pogrom is filled with heart, humor, and tears.
While I can't pick a favorite song, there is one piece that you will not see if you opt for the wonderful film version instead of seeing it live. Which is regrettable because it is the funniest piece in the whole thing!
- The Rumor
6. Hello Dolly!
A lesser known musical that was introduced to me when my piano teacher brought me the songbook. It's a fun tale of a professional matchmaker and her own unexpected love story.
Most notable songs:
- It Takes a Woman
- Ribbons Down My Back
- Hello Dolly!
7. Into the Woods
There are two reasons why Into the Woods has never become a well known musical. #1, it was never made into a big budget film (that is soon to change if the rumor mill is right!). #2, the music is so complicated that most high schools and few collages are really talented enough to attempt a performance. So unless you go to Broadway, or rent the recording of the Bernadette Peters performance (which is totally worth watching), you are unlikely to have a chance to see it. Which is entirely regrettable as it is a beautiful, moving and hilarious story of our favorite fairy tales - and how wishes don't come true the way we expect, and love is a complicated thing (and yet also so very simple). Available for instant streaming on Netflix.
- Hello Little Girl
- Giants in the Sky
- It Takes Two
- Your Fault/Last Midnight
- No One is Alone
8. The King and I
What is it about our culture that loves stories about governesses? Sound of Music, Jane Eyre, Mary Poppins... and The King and I. Based on a pseudo-autobiographical (much of the facts are contested) called Anna and the King of Siam, this musical is the story of a widowed teacher who takes her young son to the country of Siam to teach the many many many children of the King so that they will be able to take their places in an increasingly westernized world. The newer, non-musical version (Anna and the King) features more of a historical perspective, but the musical is worth watching both for some really lovely songs, and a wonderful, hilarious and very poignant performance by Yul Brenner (and Deborah Kerr isn't bad either!)
- A Puzzlement
- Getting to Know You
- Shall we Dance?
9. Kiss Me Kate!
It's Shakespeare, it's a musical, and the film version features Howard Keel (my favorite old Hollywood singing voice) as Petruchio... or rather, as a 1960's divorced actor trying to win his ex-wife back as they play the leads in a musical version of "The Taming of the Shrew." Sound fun? That's because it is!
- I've come to Wive it Weathily in Padua
- Tom, Dick or Harry
- Thine that Special Face
- So in Love
- Brush Up Your Shakespeare
10. Little Women
It's not the first classic to be made into a musical, nor is it even the only version of Louisa May Alcott's beloved work. One of my friends even claims the other version is better... I haven't had a chance to check that version out yet, but I am in love with many songs from this one. It was probably the main thing I listened to last summer. I know the story of the March sisters pretty well, as I once wrote and directed a 55 minute version of their story. I'm pretty picky about the film versions, but I think this music does the story justice. Unfortunately I've not yet been able to see it performed live, however the music stands alone if you know the story.
- Here Alone
- How I Am
- The Most Amazing Thing
- Days of Plenty
- Small Umbrella in the Rain
11. Mamma Mia!
Period epics not quite your style? Then sneak away to a Greek island and dance to some ABBA! The story of a mother and daughter, preparing for the daughter's wedding... and figuring out which of three men is her real father! It's hilarious, and while the film vocals are not as strong as the originals, the acting is fabulous and there are some truly fantastic dance numbers, not to mention the gorgeous scenery!
- Honey, Honey
- Money, Money, Money
- Mamma Mia
- Dancing Queen
- Our Last Summer
- Lay All Your Love on Me
- Slipping Through My Fingers
- I Have A Dream
12. The Music Man
There's trouble in River City my friend! Con man Harold Hill (as he goes by these days) has come to the fields of Iowa to try and sell the idea of a boys band to the good citizens of the town, red uniforms and all! Hostilities quickly turn to excited children, but Marian the Librarian is suspicious and decides to do a little research on this Hill fellow... and you'll have to watch it yourself to find out what happens next! Every song in this show is a gem, and there is a fantastic film version with Robert Preston (who originated the role on Broadway) and Shirley Jones.
13. My Fair Lady
As a story, I personally find this Victorian take on a traditional Greek tale somewhat problematic, but it features many wonderful songs, plus the enchanting Audrey Hepburn! Julie Andrews originated the role onstage, but they refused to cast in her in the film as she was then unknown... which freed her up to do Sound of Music! But anyhow, MFL is worth seeing, and a must for any fan of the musicals.
Those who have seen my Shadow of the Bear film will be interested to know that I really fell in love with the musical Oliver! when I saw it performed by Sharayah and Greg Bunce and Karina Link, (Rose Brier, Mr. Freet and Eileen respectively). Sharayah played Nancy, and though very young, she did a beautiful job. I was enchanted and quickly went on to get my favorite songs on my iPod. Available for instant streaming on Netflix.
You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two
It's a Fine Life
Who Will Buy?
15. Once More With Feeling
Not a traditional musical in the sense that it's an episode from the 6th season of a TV show. However, even those who are not fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer have been known to greatly enjoy this episode. The creator, Joss Whedon, wrote all of the music for this project (his first ever musical!) and it features some really witty, beautiful, hilarious and poignant songs. It encompasses every aspect of the musical genre, from jazz to ballet, from 50's style to rock. It's fascinating and wonderful and best of all it's a literal look at 'what if we all suddenly lived in a musical?"
(The whole episode is streaming on both Hulu Plus and Netflix)
Going Through the Motions
I'll Never Tell
Rest in Peace
Walk Through the Fire
16. Peter Pan
The Mary Martin version of this musical used to play on television - and when it didn't we'd rent it from the movie store. I was always entranced by the story of the boy who never grew up and the children who flew off to Never Never Land, but it wasn't until I was older that I realized that the musical stayed closer to the book than any of the film versions. It's filled with several fun and memorable songs, and often quotes the book closely (if memory serves me right, I haven't watched the whole thing in years.)
I've Gotta Crow
I'll Never Grow Up
17. The Phantom of the Opera
Sad to say, I still have friends who love musicals who have not seen POTO. Which is a shame because it is a beautiful and haunting musical (although you should see it live by a professional company if you can as the special effects are so much cooler on stage than in film). I was first drawn into it when I visited Europe and was able to see both the actual opera house and the musical performed in London. It's a story about love and what love really is, set against the beautiful backdrop of Paris and in particular the historic Paris Opera House (which really does feature an underground lake and labyrinth of passages!) No particular favorite songs here, as nearly every one of them is fantastic.
18. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Adam and his six brothers are mountain men hacking out a living in the harsh mountains of the American west. Rocks, trees, frigid winters and stubborn animals are nothing compared to the severe lack of women, however, and one day Adam goes down into the valley town to get himself a wife. He comes home with the spunky Millie, who is horrified to find out that she's supposed to take care of her husband's bachelor brothers. However she sets to it to teach them some manners... and soon the men decide having a woman is a right good thing indeed! But with so few females in the west, how are they to get themselves brides? Well, brother Adam tells them the tale of how the Romans stole the Sabine women and...
Bless Yore Beautiful Hide
See my review here.
Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking
On Lexington and 52nd Street
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Let Me Be Your Star
20. The Sound of Music
Who hasn't seen the most classic musical of all - the story of the singing nun, the navy captain, and seven rebellious children? Believe it or not, I've met grown adults who have never experienced this timeless show, therefore it gets placed on this list. It was, of course, the first musical I was really exposed to outside of Disney, one of the rare films introduced to me by my mother (Dad usually did the honors).
My first encounter with this musical was when it was performed live at the Minneapolis Guthrie. It was a magical experience. There is also a very good film version which I highly recommend as well. Funny and deeply moving, it is a look at the humans that founded our country, not as saints, but as real men and women. (For more on the historical aspect, check out this website.)
The Lees of Old Virginia
Cool, Considerate Men
Molasses to Rum
Is Anybody There?
Whew, that was quite a list! And I'm sure I'll be updating it eventually as I come to know even more great musicals!