5 West Side Story
In the end, we decided we had to include at least one musical from the era that is considered Broadway’s peak and West Side Story was originally performed on Broadway in 1957. It is also an adaptation of Shakespeare and probably the most famous. While managing to have some pretty dark themes it still has some light, fun party-dress stuff, just like Romeo and Juliet.
4 The Lion King
If you’ve seen the Disney movie (and of course you have) then you’ve got the basic idea. Now imagine that instead of your local movie theater or TV screen, you were watching all of the animals come on stage live to greet the new lion cub. Instead of a movie soundtrack, the voices are swelling up on the plains and you’re there in the theater with them. Now you see why this one took off? Instead of animation, the show uses elaborate costumes and giant puppets and has a much more African look and feel than the original movie. And here’s your fun fact for the day: the story is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Only in this one there are more catchy tunes and less death and tragic endings.
3 Phantom of the Opera
This is actually the only show by Andrew Lloyd Webber to make our list and the longest running show on Broadway. The play is about a mysterious deformed man who haunts the opera house and becomes obsessed with the beautiful new soprano. He teaches her music and does his best to make her his own forever. And as romantic as that may sound, he gets a little creepy about the whole thing. Even though it keeps the classic Broadway style, the fact that the story is all about the opera lets the music go in the direction sometimes. Plus it’s almost entirely music as opposed to speaking so this is the perfect play for making you feel like you might actually be classy enough to appreciate the opera without making you sit through four hours of Faust.
2 Les Miserables
If you can sit through this show and not want to go out and start a revolution afterward, you’re a stronger person than many(or at least way more cynical). This dark musical follows a number of characters in various positions and social classes whose lives are all connected as revolution foments in 18th century France. It’s based on a novel by Victor Hugo and when the play originally opened in London, critics denounced it for taking classic literature and turning it into nothing more than a musical. But the slightly less-snobby public liked it and the play opened a couple of years later on Broadway and was, and still is, a huge hit. Of course, while some numbers are rousing and may inspire you to build some barricades, keep in mind that this is bittersweet at best.
Although it’s actually the 1996 revival of this show that holds the 4th place spot for longest running show on Broadway, as opposed to its original 1975 version, we’re counting both versions here. The show is based on a 1926 play called Chicago which was written by a journalist who had reported on the 1924 trials of two murderesses who got off. People followed the story so closely in the newspaper that the reporter realized she might have a good stage play on her hands. It’s no wonder this play ran for so long since it revolves around gritty murders, court intrigue and sexy women, and then adds glitter.
While we’ve covered the longest running and a nice variety of the best Broadway musicals out there, it all comes down to taste. Is your favorite a light and spirited golden-oldie or an angst-ridden post-modern satire?
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