Friday, January 11, 2008
The best musicals I've never seen
Something that Eric at Man in Chair wrote got me thinking. He says that Sunday in the Park With George is one of his favorite scores, but he's never seen the show, something he hopes to rectify when the London revival comes to Broadway.
My passionate interest in musical theater is a pretty recent phenomenon, so I don't have a long list of original Broadway cast CDs that I've been listening to forever, hoping for the day when I could watch the show performed on stage. But I do have a list, and it's growing longer all the time.
Before last year, the CDs or albums in my collection were the soundtracks from movie musicals I watched on television as a kid, like Oklahoma, The King and I, The Sound of Music and Camelot. Or they were from movies I saw in the theater, like Cabaret, or Evita. In a few instances, they were the Broadway cast CDs from shows I saw on tour, like Les Miserables or A Chorus Line.
(Growing up, my favorite musical was that I'm pretty sure never made it to a stage anywhere, a 1968 Disney movie called The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band. set against the backrop of the presidential election of 1888. It starred John Davidson and Lesley Anne Warren, and featured songs by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, of Mary Poppins fame.)
What ties all this together is, I started listening to the music after seeing the show in some fashion. In fact, I can really only think of one score that I listened to long before I ever saw it on stage or in the movies, and that's Hair. I eventually saw it on tour, and I've seen the movie. (There were many others, like Evita or Gypsy, where I was certainly familiar with some of the songs, even though I'd never seen them performed).
Now, there's a growing list of CDs I have in my collection even though I may never get to see the shows on stage: Merrily We Roll Along, Company, The Lion King, (well I did see the movie, but I don't think that counts) The Wedding Singer, (that comes off the list next month!) and The Last 5 Years.
At the top of my list is Assassins, which may be my favorite Stephen Sondheim score. I mean who would ever think you could write such memorable songs about such a grim subject. It's really like a trip through 150 years of American popular music. Plus, the lyrics make some very perceptive statements about our obsession with violence and our celebrity culture.
Unfortunately, I think Assassins is one of those shows that isn't put on very often, so I'll probably never see it on stage. Although thanks to the Internet, I've seen a couple of clips from the revival.
And there are lots of other CDs I want to check out, either because I'm interested in the period in which they take place, like Caroline, or Change and Ragtime, or because I read and loved the books that they're based on, like Little Women or The Secret Garden, or because I love the cast, (anything with Audra McDonald).
I guess some scores hold up better than others if you're going to listen to them on their own, without having seen the show. Just listening to Les Miserables or Evita gives you a good sense of the story. You could simply listen to the score as a collection of beautiful songs, like The Last 5 Years, or just because they're catchy pop tunes, like The Wedding Singer. Either way, my collection is growing.