My Top Ten Must-See Musicals

This functions as both a to-do list and a recommendation to all my followers who want to experience musical theatre, but only the best it can offer. I’ll be offering alternatives to Broadway and the West End, simply because I don’t think you need to see it in such a large venue to experience the majesty. Touring productions are just as amazing, and sometimes even better. The same can be said of amateur productions, and the musical movie is something which is your friend. £6 for a DVD of a show you haven’t seen is much better than shelling out £40 for a ticket, only to find out you don’t like it. But where you know you’ll love it, see the show. Always worth it.

So let us begin!

The Phantom of the Opera

  • Have I seen it live: No
  • Best number: The Music of the Night – It’s softer, sexier, and I’m a sucker for a heavy string section. It’s a romantic song in a creepy setting; absolutely my favourite.
  • Best character: The Phantom. Did he deserve Christine? No. Was he justified in anything he did? No. Was he a tortured and interesting anti-hero? Without a doubt. Besides, he gets the best numbers.
  • Why I love it: It’s adapted from a French novel by the same name by Gaston LeRoux, so it already has an interesting plot. The music is true opera, both powerful and memorable. It’s hard for me to find a song I can’t find enjoyable. It’s a huge musical, and in my opinion one of the richest for character and plot.
  • Where you can see it: The 2004 movie with Gerard Butler is a good start if it’s your first delve in to the Phantom world and need a little plot. But if you want to experience the true musical staging, the 25th Anniversary concert is in my opinion the best. It’s probably because of Ramin Karimloo. I adore that man.

Les Misérables

  • Have I seen it live: No
  • Best number: Red and Black – The revolution was always what made the musical and the novel for me, and the optimism before they realise they’ve failed kills me a little in side. Ass in Marius’s heart-felt declarations of love at first sight, and I’m sold.
  • Best character: Marius Pontmercy – he to me embodies the other side of the Romanticism movement. While Enjolras is Byron, storming in to revolution, Marius is the Keats, softer and romantic. His love for Cosette is what saves him, and what drives him through the night at the barricades. He knows hopelessness, and loss, and he’s the sweetest character.
  • Why I love it: Like I said above, it’s a damn inspiring musical. If you’re mot moved to build a barricade to fight against the injustices of the world, then you haven’t understood the point. There’s romance, there’s war, there’s the plot of Valjean running from his life of crime to protect his daughter. So much happens. It’s a ride you have to let yourself enjoy.
  • Where you can see it: Well, there’s the obvious 2013 movie starring Hugh Jackman, but I’m not really much of a fan. I think it lacks a lot of what makes the stage musical amazing, like the talent for example, and the ability to keep a camera away from people’s faces. I’d recommend the 25th anniversary concert, though that makes me a minority. As I’ve mentioned before, I love Marius Jonas, but it also has the best Enjolras in my opinion, Ramin Karimloo. If Nick Jonas really repulses you so much (in which case, might I point out he is a musical star as well as a Jonas Brother), then the 10th anniversary is also available on DVD.

West Side Story

  • Have I seen it: Yes (and you can read my review here)
  • Best number: America – It’s upbeat, happy, and you want to sing and dance along. The choreography is always amazing, and the entire feeling of the song is authentically Puerto Rican
  • Best character: Riff – You can imagine that I do a lot of crying at this musical. Riff is a leader, he’s strong, he’s brave, but he has these moments of tenderness and sincerity.
  • Why I love it: Shakespeare reimagined always amuses me, so that’s a plus. But add in the racism, up the tragedy, and give me characters with actual personality, and I’m hooked. It’s good old-fashioned drama. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and then you’ll cry some more. And I’ll bring it up again: the choreography is always incredible.
  • Where you can see it: The 1961 movie is a golden oldie. Since it was made so close to the original musical run, you get a real sense of authenticity to the acting. And the costumes! I adore the costumes

The Lion King

  • Have I seen it: Yes, and I will be seeing it again in September!
  • Best number: The Madness of King Scar – I love a villain song. This is a clever and catchy number that shows just how twisted Scar is.
  • Best character: Simba- He is the lion king. He’s a compelling character, and he has childhood nostalgia backing him up.
  • Why I love it: It would be so easy to sum it up by saying it’s a Disney classic, but that sells it short. It’s a phenomenon on its own. The inspiration it draws from Africa makes it visually stunning, and it by far has the best costumes. It has to when dealing with animal characters. The plot remains relatively unchanged from the Disney movie, but that already had an amazing plotline. See it! And if you’re in the UK, it’s touring, so get your ticket!
  • Where you can see it: Like I said above, it’s touring in the UK. But apart from a love show, there’s no other way to see it yet. You can see bit parts on YouTube, and there’s obviously the Disney movie, but you do miss out on some amazing songs. You can download the soundtrack, at least.

Avenue Q

  • Have I seen it: Yes
  • Best number: There’s A Fine, Fine, Line – one of the few serious numbers in the musical. It’s made even more sincere by the number of comedic songs. Belted by the right actress, it’s a stirring performance.
  • Best character: Kate. She’s a lovely representation of the Bridget Jones’s of the world, longing for a boyfriend and her dreams to come true. She gets the best songs, and she’s really sweet in the most cloying annoying ways.
  • Why I love it: It’s Sesame Street for adults. It’s a musical with puppets! The songs are satirical and adult, the jokes are dark but true-to-life, and it mocks the culture while accepting it as a part of life. It deals with racism, failed relationships, sexuality and coming-of-age, all with a jaunty tune in the background. It’s hilarious, and always worth the watch.
  • Where you can see it: Yet another musical with a UK tour this year, and yet another one without a DVD release. It’s one that needs to be seen, mainly for how seemlessly the puppeteers blend in to the background.

Beauty and the Beast

  • Have I seen it: No. And that is a travesty.
  • Best number: A toss-up between Me and If I Can’t Love Her – Me is hilarious in its misogyny, and it adds more character to Gaston, albeit not any likeable traits. If I Can’t Love Her is a serious solo, beautifully orchestrated with melancholic lyrics. It depends on my mood which I prefer.
  • Best character: Belle. It has to be Belle! She’s so relatable. She’s smart, but a loner, ostracised for her ideals. She gets stunning numbers, and it’s very much her story. She has a kind heart, and gorgeous costumes.
  • Why I love it: It’s no secret that Beauty and the Beast is my favourite Disney movie. I tell you this as I sit with my Beast plushie behind my head. So seeing it on stage is a dream of mine. The additional songs were amazing, and I am so happy Alan Menken was the composer.
  • Where you can see it: Unless you’re French, nowhere. I’m hoping for a UK revival at some point. At least I always have the movie and the OST.

Rent

  • Have I seen it: No
  • Best number: Goodbye Love (reprise) – I just think the relationship between Mark and Roger is at its best  here. And Mimi’s part never fails to get my sister a little weepy.
  • Best character: Angel. It’s got to be Angel. She’s fun, she’s cute, she’s fabulous! She’s the person that keeps the rest of them together, and she gets some of the best lines.
  • Why I love it: I have a strange relationship with this movie. For every good aspect of it, I think Spring Awakening did it better. But Rent is special to me because it was the first musical my sister agreed to watch with me, and to this day it’s still her favourite. It’s a heart-breaking look at the world through the eyes of people facing their own mortality and isolation. It’s got a great soundtrack, characters you’ll remember, and a really diverse cast. Points to them for that.
  • Where you can see it: A movie was released in 2006 which is actually really good. They deleted my favourite song, but it got back most of the original cast to reprise their roles. I do like that.

Wicked

  • Have I seen it: No. I’m working on it though.
  • Best number: Dancing Through Life – I like Fiyero’s attitude, and the song encapsulates it perfectly. I defy you to not sing along.
  • Best character: Glinda. Is she not everything you love to hate? She’s bratty, entitled and spoiled. It would have been so easy to make her the villain. But she does have a kind, and good heart. She’s just tied up in politics, and I love her sisterhood with Elphaba. There are moments where she is just perfect. ‘Popular’ being the best example.
  • Why I love it: What’s not to love? It re-imagines a classic musical movie and ups the epicness tenfold. By far the best part of it is the lyrics. It foreshadows things to come in such a subtle way that once you realise who everyone is, it’s genius. The script is amazing, the scenes and costumes are gorgeous. I am so upset I’ve never seen it live.
  • Where you can see it: In bit parts on YouTube. And if you’re in the UK, it’s doing a national tour. Get your ticket!

Mamma Mia

  • Have I seen it: No
  • Best number: Money, Money, Money – It’s just always been my favourite Abba number, and it’s been transposed in to a more contemporary music style. It’s so good!
  • Best character: Donna. She’s wild, hard-working, and such a great mother. Besides, she gets to sing the best songs, and has fantastic taste in men. When they’re not engaged.
  • Why I love it: To me, this is the Sex in the City of musicals. It’s got that hen night feel to it; people laughing, singing and having a fun time. It’s constructed in to such a classic Greek comedy plot, and set to Abba. I mean… Abba! Also, Kelly hates it. That gives it some extra points.
  • Where you can see it: The 2008 movie has James Bond, Mark Darcy and Meryl Streep. That’s exactly what you want from this movie. Watch it with some friends at a sleepover or wine night. It’s always better with friends.

Hairspray

  • Have I seen it: Yes
  • Best number: Ladies Choice – It’s camp, upbeat, and it gets you dancing. Link is a heart-throb, and this is the perfect song to prove that.
  • Best character: Tracy. She has optimism, and she doesn’t let her size dictate what she can do. She’s infectiously gleeful.
  • Why I love it: It’s got some amazing one-liners, and it’s set in an era of unrest. And rather than ignore that á la Grease, it integrates it. No pun intended. It’s a feel-good musical, with big band music and even bigger characters. I’d love to see this again.
  • Where you can see it: Again, bit parts on YouTube. But there’s the critically acclaimed 2007 movie starring John Travolta as Edna. Another one of my sister’s favourites.

It’s come to my attention that Nick Jonas has been in three of these musicals. I swear I didn’t plan this…

And so, dear readers, we reach the end of yet another blog post. I wish you all a happy new year, and ask you your opinions. Do you object to any of the musicals on my list? What’s your favourite musical? What was the last musical you saw live?

As always, I value your opinion.

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About Stephanie Gallon

I'm 22 years old with first class honours in BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing. I'm currently studying MA English Studies. I'm an author, a blogger, and a zealot of all things written. I write on everything from comics, to feminism, to advice on university life.
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