I was thinking about doing a post on favorite musicals, and realized I have too many. And also that there seems to be two types of musicals. The division is clear to me but hard to define. The best I can say is that there are the dramatic ones, and the light-hearted ones.
Or maybe I’d do well here to quote Andrew Lloyd Webber, who I heard say something in an interview (I think talking about Phantom) to the effect that musicals must be about the big emotions, the passions and the desires and the tragedies. The emotions are so intense that the characters have to sing, because words simply aren’t enough.
That may be the case in Webber’s musicals, but there are others that just don’t seem quite that, well, intense. So today, I’m talking about the intense ones, the big emotion ones–the dramatic ones, which may nevertheless be very funny at times. Some other week I’ll talk about the light-hearted ones, which may still touch on deep emotions and have dramatic moments. It’s a complicated division… But anyway–on to the musicals.
Les Miserables is my favorite musical that I’ve never seen; I’ve just listened to the soundtrack. I love loud emotional songs, and Valjean gets some really good ones. There’s all the despair and the tragedy and the yearning…and then there’s the revolutionaries and all their songs, and Eponine’s tragic unrequited love, and Gavroche comes in with his funny songs and…big emotions. Beautiful music.
Sweeney Todd…well, it’s almost strange how much I like this one. I mean, it’s about a barber who kills people, and his partner who bakes them into pies. Really not my kind of story. And yes, I saw the movie to begin with because it was starring Johnny Depp, but I ended up genuinely loving the music…and sort of the story, horrible though parts of it are. But there’s the tragedy and the romance and the really funny song about cannibalism and lots of loud emotional songs and…it’s a cathartic experience. Honestly. It makes me feel the entire range of emotions.
Wicked is giving me the most trouble with my divisions, because in some ways it feels more like a light-hearted one. Certainly large portions of it are light and funny. But…I love it mostly for “The Wizard and I” and “Defying Gravity” and the complicated relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, and all of those parts seem like they belong in the dramatic musical list. I actively dislike the book, but I love the musical. I love Elphaba’s yearning to prove herself, and Glinda’s somewhat haphazard growth as a person, and I just love that it’s a musical with two strong female characters. And now I have real trouble listening to “Ding-Dong, the Witch Is Dead” because it seems so heartless.
Jesus Christ Superstar is my go-to musical every Lent. It’s definitely a big emotion one, and I love the portrayal of the characters. It’s not always quite Biblical, but you can tell Webber knew what he was doing and that he’d read the Gospels (he practically quotes John in places). The semi-modern context makes it all so much more accessible, and is a good reminder–these people weren’t ancient figures at the time. I love how human everyone is. And the music sticks in my head like you wouldn’t believe.
What are your favorite musicals?