I have always been such a huge fan of musicals, mainly because of its ability to combine different kinds of performing art such as music, drama, and dance and create something riveting and mesmerizing onstage. A multitude of iconic songs have transcended platforms, making its way from the hallowed halls of the theatre and into mainstream consciousness. Another amazing thing about musical theatre is its ability to evolve, despite its traditional roots, exploring different kinds of genres to appeal to different audiences. Indeed, Broadway has come a long way from campy show tunes and skimpy outfit-wearing showgirls doing chorus lines.
If Wicked’s smash success in Manila this year is any indication, it is that more and more people are becoming interested in musicals. Yet, audiences new to the razzle dazzle of theatre are hesitant to explore more shows because it’s basically treading into unfamiliar territory: a lot of them fear that the music might not be up to their taste, or that the show itself might be too foreign to their Hollywood sensibilities. If you find yourself in this sticky sitch, fear not, young one, for here is a list of mainstream-friendly musicals to help you get started, ranked in no particular order.
If you think rapping in a musical is weird, unheard of even, then you might change your mind once you see the Latino community come to life in In The Heights. Set in New York City’s Washington Heights, it tells the story of a Dominican young man named Usnavi with his friends, and their lives in the Latino neighborhood. The show was written, directed and starred in by the amazing Lin Manuel-Miranda, whom you might recognize in the rhyming episode of the ninth season of How I Met Your Mother—granted the episode was pretty lame, but Miranda was rapping on the show for a reason. The show is just bursting with flava and energy with its hip hop and salsa-inspired music, with the cast pop-and-locking to amazing choreography, and the story is just fun and full of heart. In The Heights’ opening number might have you hooked:
2. Avenue Q
If the poster above reminds you of a corrupted version of Sesame Street, that’s because it is. Filipino-American songwriter Robert Lopez might be best known for the amazing music of Disney’s Frozen nowadays, but before his Oscar win, he was already widely respected in the theatre community for his Tony Award-winning show, Avenue Q, a totally inappropriate yet totally mind-blowing puppet musical that it’s almost hard to believe he wrote the innocent “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?” in Frozen.
It’s crass, politically incorrect, and knee-slappingly hilarious (puppets having sex!), with seriously catchy songs to boot, giving credence to Lopez’s talent as a composer. The music may sound animated and Sesame Street-like, but that’s exactly the point. If the music won’t draw you in (which I highly doubt), then the laugh-out-loud humor will. It’s actually challenging to recommend one song, because the entire soundtrack is such a gold mine. If you only know “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” from the show and not much else, then you’re missing out on half your life. I would have also included Lopez’s other work, yet another Tony-winning musical “The Book of Mormon” which is about five times the hilarity and political incorrectness of Avenue Q, but this show is a good start.
3. Legally Blonde
Some hit musicals get turned into movies; some hit movies become successful Broadway musicals. Such is the case of Legally Blonde the musical, based from the same film that made Reese Witherspoon a household name. I get it, “Only Reese can be Elle Woods!” is what you’re probably thinking right now. Yet, while it has its obvious influences from the film, the musical is a breath of fresh air, and Laura Bell Bundy’s (HIMYM’s Boats! Boats! Boats! Girl) take on the vapid but good-natured law student is distinctly original and hilarious on its own. And what is Legally Blonde without Bend and Snap? It even warrants its own musical number. The nature of the show rubs off on its songs, such as the oh-so aptly titled “Ohmigod, You Guys” and the showstopper “So Much Better”, which is essentially girly pop gone Broadway. Basically, the musical embodies the heart and humor of the film while still bringing in original elements, making it a fun show to see.
4. Bring It On
Yet another movie-to-musical example is the cheerleading-influenced Bring It On. I have to admit, when I first heard about Bring It On being adapted for the stage, I thought of it as bizarre. But as one of Broadway’s most popular new shows, it definitely exceeded expectations. And to make things more authentic, several cast members have had actual cheerleading experience, performing actual stunts on the show. Lin Manuel-Miranda also wrote the music for this; while I am honestly a bigger fan of In The Heights, Bring It On’s music stands on its own, taking from pop influences.
5. Spring Awakening
Before Lea Michele was Rachel Berry, she was Wendla in Spring Awakening, a show that deals with German teens and sexual exploration amidst an environment of repression. Yes, Jonathan Groff gropes her bare boob on the show, but that’s not why it’s on the list. Spring Awakening’s riveting music draws on alternative and folk rock, written by Duncan Sheik. The show has a very angsty and jolting feel, embodying the adolescent characters and their repressed selves waiting to burst just perfectly. Check out Bitch of Living.
That guy at 0:44 singing about his teacher’s breasts? Oh yeah, that’s just Jesse from Pitch Perfect.
Because the How I Met Your Mother crew members are apparently big Broadway geeks, of course they would cast the star of the 2012 Tony Best Musical, the folk-scored Once, as the Mother. Honestly, this just makes Cristin Milioti a lot more awesome. She plays the unnamed lead (listed as Girl), who shares a connection with an unnamed man (Guy) through music, set against the sentimental and musically iconic backdrop of Dublin. If you seriously haven’t heard “Falling Slowly”, which as Ted likes to put it, is “hauntingly beautiful”, then go check it out now. The original version, performed and written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova for the movie version, is also amazing.
Bonus: A Very Potter Musical
Glee has a knack for pulling theater people out of (relative) obscurity, because like Lea Michele, before Darren Criss was … HARRY POTTER!
This is of course worth mentioning because, well, who doesn’t love Harry Potter? It’s an excellent show done by his college theater group StarKid with hilarious performances and really witty songs, so there’s so much to love about this little piece of Youtube treasure. A Very Potter Musical is one of the best things on the internet. Someone put this on a professional stage, now. #