Thursday, December 7, 2017

My Ten Favorite Musicals

I've been writing about (and seeing) quite  few musicals this year, and contrasting my taste with that of my daughter (who loves musicals with happy endings, would kill to see Hamilton, and for most of this year, has been deeply enamored of Heathers, I music I'm familiar with only through having seen the non-musical version that was its source material). So I figured that as we start to wind down 2017, and I have to finish up my Best of 2017 lists, this is as good a time as any to list my favorite ten musicals of all time. I'll also have a word about the upcoming seasons at some of Long Island's local playhouses.

Without further ado:

1. Man of La Mancha -- As I mentioned when I reviewed a recent production of this at the Smithtown PAC, this has been a favorite of mine since high school. I actually first became familiar with the film starring Peter O'Toole, Sophia Loren and James Coco, which I know disappointed many people. But I loved, and still love, it. There's something about the philosophy of "The Impossible Dream" that jives with my view of life -- you're probably going to lose in the end, but its OK, "If only you follow The Quest".

2. 1776 -- I'm a huge buff of American history, particularly the Revolutionary War period. These men were geniuses, and they created something very special in founding this country. I find Adams to be a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist, and I love the music. I watch this almost every 4th of July (which usually sends my wife and children scurrying for cover).

3. The Phantom of the Opera -- I make no bones about it, I love Andrew Lloyd Webber, and this is definitely my favorite of his. There's a reason why it holds the record for longest-running Broadway musical. And this one gives me a chance to combine my love of horror films with my love of musicals.

4. Threepenny Opera -- I first discovered this one when I got involved with a production at a local community center when I was a teenager. I later had the opportunity to see the famed Raul Julia version at The Circle in the Square in Lincoln Center. This one is pretty much the opposite of Man of La Mancha -- it's cynical where Man of La Mancha is idealistic -- and it appeals to the darker side of my psyche.

5. Les Miserables -- Yeah, it's kind of corny, and kind of melodramatic. But it's also stirring and filled with beautiful music, and I find that it's the kind of show that makes you want to leave the theater and be a better person. That counts for something, at least to me.

6. Evita -- Here's Webber, back again. I have various versions of the cast album, including Broadway, London, the original concept album, and the film soundtrack. And while I'm not generally a huge fan of her, I definitely like Madonna's take on the character best. She plays Eva with sincerity, not with cynicism.

7. Wicked -- This is the only one on the list that I've seen on Broadway twice -- first with my wife, and years later, with my daughter. It's yet another show about an outcast character who is more than she seems. Stephen Schwartz is my second-favorite composer for musical theater, and this is his masterpiece.

8. Sweeney Todd -- Far and away my favorite Sondheim show. This is another one that appeals to my darker side, and plays well to the horror fan in me.

9. Guys and Dolls -- I've always liked films and shows based on Damon Runyon stories (Pocketful of Miracles has always been one of my favorite holiday films, and one of my favorite episodes from the original Star Trek series was "A Piece of the Action", wherein the crew of the Enterprise encounters a society that based their whole social system on a book of Runyon stories. Spock: "Why would anyone want to put a bag on my captain?").

10. Jesus Christ Superstar -- This last one was a tough call between this and several other honorable mentions. I saw this on Broadway, and I've seen the film and several other staged versions, and I don't think any one of them rises to the level of excellence of that original concept album. (Although it comes a lot closer than the various versions of Tommy that came after the original Who album). In the end, it wins on the strength of the music, even if the ending has always been a dud.

Honorable Mentions: Chess, Pippin, Godspell, The Book of Mormon. (And if I was discussing film musicals, I'd have to include South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.)

Now that I've given you a little bit of an idea of favorites, I'll just talk a little about the upcoming seasons of some of the local Long Island playhouses.

The Gateway in Bellport -- I got a flyer listing the shows under consideration for the 2018 summer season. Unfortunately, my wife tossed it last night before I had the chance to write this. I don't remember them all, but suffice it to say that the only one that interested me was a Gateway production of Les Miserables. And maybe Caberet. I vaguely remember that Fiddler on the Roof, Chicago and Movin' Out were some of the other possibles.

The CM Performing Arts Section in Oakdale -- If the spirit moves me, I might go see Aida, which is the last show of the current season (after Beauty and the Beast)It's always been one of my favorite operas, but I haven't heard great word of mouth about the Broadway musical version. As for their upcoming season, nothing thrills me, although my daughter has expressed possible interest in Cry-Baby: The Musical. The other shows (Ragtime, On the Town and Bullets Over Broadway), do nothing for me.

Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in Smithtown - My daughter wants to see Oliver (Go figure! Although it does have a happy ending, just not for Nancy), which is running now until January 21. I might go see Mama Mia!, which is running in late March through late April, although I suspect I'd have to drug my wife and/or my daughter to drag them to that one. The rest of the shows (Shakespeare in Love, Dream Girls, A Chorus Line and Fun Home) don't interest me.

The Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset doesn't usually give much info beyond the current shown, which is Shrek The Musical (which is definitely not my style). I do see that after Romeo and Juliet (which I presume is the original non-musical Shakespeare version), they're staging Jesus Christ Superstar (which runs from early-March through late April) (that's a maybe) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which runs from mid-May through early June) (Didn't even know this existed as a stage show -- another maybe?).

John W Engeman Theater, Northport -- Currently showing Annie, which I have no interest in. But they're showing Once from mid-January through early March, and this is a "highly probable" - I've always wanted to see this show. This theater is a little pricey, though -- folks must be living high on the hog in Northport! Yee-haw! (They also have upcoming: In the Heights, which is a good show, but I saw it not that long ago, and Singin' in the Rain, which I have no interest in).

The Bay Way Arts Center in East Islip -- Currently featuring Annie (no), followed by My Fair Lady (maybe), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (probably not), Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits (no), The Wedding Singer (no) and Cabaret (probably not).

The Broadhollow Theater at Elmont -- It's the same theater company as The Bay Way, and features most of the same shows a month later, so if I'm going to see them, I'm going to see them at Bay Way.

The Tilles Center and Staller Center both also feature occasional musicals by traveling companies. Theater Three in Port Jefferson is a popular local theater, but rarely features musicals.

I'm going to close here, because I've got a cat (Noodles) trying to climb on my laptop while I'm typing. This concludes the musical theater portion of our program, at least until I take my daughter to see Oliver.