Growing up just a short train ride from New York City, Broadway shows have been a part of my life ever since I can remember. I have seen 12 unique shows, though since I have seen some of them more than once I think I am at about 15 total performances. I’m not sure why I love theater so much, especially considering that I have no performance talent, but I just enjoy the stories that the shows bring to life. In high school I worked on the stage crew for many school shows and had an absolute blast being part of the theater community. I especially love musicals and I have an ever-growing playlist of showtunes from modern and classic plays alike.
Samantha, a fellow travel blogger and NYC lover, detailed her Broadway journey so beautifully that it inspired me to do the same. I have included a few antiques from my ticket stub collection, unfortunately my very first ones have been lost over the years.
The Broadway revival of Grease began in 1994, and I estimate that I was about six or seven when my mom, grandmother, and sisters went to see it. Most of you are probably familiar with the plot- cool guy Danny and nerdy new girl Sandy try to figure out if they belong together, and musical hilarity ensues. I was already a huge fan of the movie version with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John by that point (despite the fact that it was so totally inappropriate, but most of that went over my head anyway) and what I remember most is noting the differences between the movie and the play. Lots of the familiar songs I knew and loved where there though, and overall it was a great time, and fun show, and a perfect “first musical” (aside from the whole, “change who you are to fit in with the popular kids” motif, but I digress).
Kiss Me, Kate
In hindsight this “play within a play” based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew was probably a little bit beyond a nine-year-old’s grasp, but I still loved it. Basically, the cast of a musical version of Shakespeare’s play is dealing with love, deception, money, and “too darn hot” temperatures behind the scenes… and occasionally not-so-behind the scenes! It was fascinating watching a play be performed inside the plot of another play, and the music was just plain catchy. Most of all though, it got me interested in Shakespeare. It was neat for me to compare Shakespeare’s story with the more modern retelling and it jumpstarted my desire to learn more about his plays.
The Lion King
Considering The Lion King is in my top five favorite Disney movies of all time, it is no surprise I have seen this musical on Broadway… twice. The plot of the movie is well taken on- a young lion runs away from his pride after his father’s death, but eventually he returns to face his past and his evil uncle. Elton John’s music is second to none, and all of your favorite songs from the movie version are there. The costumes and sets for this show are also breathtaking, and of course the Disney magic is timeless. There is a reason this is still running after so long!
Elton John and Tim Rice. What more can you say? The music in this show was just magnificent. The story is a bit heavy though. Aida is a captured girl in ancient Egypt who falls in love with the future Pharaoh, who just happens to be betrothed to the current Pharaoh’s daughter. Many characters are torn between their true loves, their families, and their countries, leading to lies and deaths and fights. As for the ending- well, the ending remains one of the saddest I’ve ever seen. I won’t spoil it just in case you have the opportunity to see it, but if you are a weeper like I am get some tissues ready for the ending. You’ll also need those tissues for the most famous song from the Aida canon, “Is it Written in the Stars?”
Beauty and the Beast
This was one of the first Disney musicals to be based on one of their animated classics, and it was well done. Belle takes her father’s place as a prisoner in the beast’s castle, where she befriends the enchanted beings living there and ultimately falls in love. When I saw it for the second time, my younger sister was in her “Disney Channel” phase, so we were excited to see that Anneliese van der Pol, who played Raven’s friend Chelsea on That’s So Raven, was portraying Belle! She did a fabulous job. I saw this one twice, and my second time I was accompanying my little cousin (who is now fifteen!) to her very first Broadway musical.
So fun. Better that the movie. WAY better. The storyline is the same- 1960s era Baltimore tackles the heavy topics of race, body image, bullying, and self-expression through dance and song, thanks to an after-school variety type show. As far as actors go, Harvey Fierstein in drag as Tracy’s mother can never be matched. This play has a few darker scenes and it does tackle some heavy material like I mentioned above, but it does so in a very respectable way and it doesn’t diminish the overall upbeat attitude of the play and music as a whole. I definitely wanted to get up and dance at the end (and maybe I did!). One of my favorite songs is “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now” which wasn’t featured in the movie version.
The Wedding Singer
Why didn’t this last longer on Broadway? It was fab! Based on the movie of the same name, it had a totally 80s vibe and great sing-along-able songs. A wedding singer who was left at the altar falls in love with a bride-to-be, who is having doubts about her own fiancé. Stephen Lynch, a singing comedian known for somewhat raunchy ditties, shined in a “clean” role. He was hilarious during the classic “Somebody Kill Me” and sweet during the sentimental “Grow Old With You”. The main musical difference is that Adam Sandler’s “Love Stinks” was replace with a new song called “Casualty of Love”.
I was skeptical about seeing this one, for a few reasons. The movie is a bit of trip, the fantasy and real life and animation and live action all coming together so seamlessly that I was unsure those attitudes could be reproduced adequately on a stage. It was decent but not my favorite adaptation. The songs were great but the storyline about a mysterious and magical nanny got a little jumbled, not to mention a few of my favorite scenes were missing. One of the best parts, however, was a new song written just for the musical that taught you how to spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Just so miserable. Beautiful, but miserable. Every time the scene changes you want to cry for someone. A high school friend and I went to see this on Broadway after our (Catholic) high school chose this as our spring musical. Try to imagine belting out lines like, “lovely ladies, ready for the call, standing up or lying down or any way at all” just as a group of nuns is settling in to watch your rehearsal- and that wasn’t even the worst of it. The actors on Broadway handled this material much better than my high school did, I can assure you of that. I really enjoyed the comic relief, like “Master of the House”, and some of the other songs were really beautiful (like the epic “I Dreamed a Dream”), but overall just not my cup of tea. I guess I prefer something more lighthearted.
The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies of all time, and even as epic as I heard Wicked was, I feared it would ruin the classic story for me. I am pleased to report it did not. Wicked stands on its own. Awesome songs and a swift moving plot, plus some very moving and emotional moments. This show is truly a treasure of Broadway. I was lucky enough to take a backstage tour before the show called Behind the Emerald Curtain, where we got to stand on the stage, meet and get autographs from a few of the chorus members, see a ton of the fabulous costumes, and learn all about the history of the script. Definitely worth it for Wicked fans.
Phantom of the Opera
This story of a disfigured phantom hiding in the wings of an opera house watching his love, a singer named Christine, is classic Broadway at its finest. I didn’t really know anything about this show before I saw it, and the music didn’t stick with me quite as much as other musical soundtracks did, but I still enjoyed it very much and I’m really glad to have seen it. Like many others on this list, it also has a movie version, but I have never seen it. The musical has been on Broadway for quite a long time now, so clearly it has some staying power.
Unlike with Hairspray, I saw the movie version of this before seeing the play. And I liked the movie, it was upbeat, silly, and all about gal pals. How could I be a teenager at a sleepover and not love it? The play was just as good. Though the storyline is a young woman’s journey to find out which of her mom’s old lovers is her father, which seems a bit odd and maybe even dramatic on the surface, the music is very upbeat and fluffy. An enjoyable watch, with fun songs to sing and dance to- after all, it is ABBA!
Off Broadway honorable mentions:
A Christmas Carol: The Musical
I saw this show at Madison Square Garden, so it isn’t exactly Broadway. But I wanted to include it in this post for two reasons: 1. It was the first “real” show I had ever seen. 2. I loved it SO MUCH. In second grade, I went to see this as part of a class trip. Since I was barely seven years old, I don’t remember many specifics. What I do remember is loving it. SO MUCH. It was a classic story that I already knew in many incarnations, including The Muppets, Mickey Mouse & pals, Mr. Magoo, the old black and white VHS of the 1950s version… (we are Christmas people, what can I say?) I remember being mesmerized by the fake snow, I remember buying myself a little flashlight at the souvenir stand with the $10 my parents gave me, and I remember talking about the show for ages after.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes
Is there anything more “NYC at Christmastime” than the Rockettes? I said earlier that I had no performance talent, but that didn’t stop me from taking dance lessons at Miss Brown’s School of Dance. Though I never truly excelled, I very much enjoyed the dances I learned (some of which I still remember!) taught to me by the ever fabulous Evelyn Brown Brilliant between the ages of five and thirteen. Miss Brown always pointed to the Rockettes as “classy gals with gorgeous gams” and made us all truly believe that if we wanted to, we could be one of them someday. And as I said before, we are Christmas people, so naturally it isn’t surprising that I’ve seen the Christmas Spectacular more than once. I love the tap dancing, the high kicks, the jolly spirit… and also, the Nativity tableau at the end.