Favorites Friday: Dramatic Musicals

I was thinking about doing a post on favorite musicals, and realized I have too many.  And also that there seems to be two types of musicals.  The division is clear to me but hard to define.  The best I can say is that there are the dramatic ones, and the light-hearted ones.

Or maybe I’d do well here to quote Andrew Lloyd Webber, who I heard say something in an interview (I think talking about Phantom) to the effect that musicals must be about the big emotions, the passions and the desires and the tragedies.  The emotions are so intense that the characters have to sing, because words simply aren’t enough.

That may be the case in Webber’s musicals, but there are others that just don’t seem quite that, well, intense.  So today, I’m talking about the intense ones, the big emotion ones–the dramatic ones, which may nevertheless be very funny at times.  Some other week I’ll talk about the light-hearted ones, which may still touch on deep emotions and have dramatic moments.  It’s a complicated division…  But anyway–on to the musicals.

Phantom of the Opera has to be mentioned first here, which will surprise absolutely no one.  I’ve waxed on here and here, so I won’t do it again today…

Les Miserables is my favorite musical that I’ve never seen; I’ve just listened to the soundtrack.  I love loud emotional songs, and Valjean gets some really good ones.  There’s all the despair and the tragedy and the yearning…and then there’s the revolutionaries and all their songs, and Eponine’s tragic unrequited love, and Gavroche comes in with his funny songs and…big emotions.  Beautiful music.

Sweeney Todd…well, it’s almost strange how much I like this one.  I mean, it’s about a barber who kills people, and his partner who bakes them into pies.  Really not my kind of story.  And yes, I saw the movie to begin with because it was starring Johnny Depp, but I ended up genuinely loving the music…and sort of the story, horrible though parts of it are.  But there’s the tragedy and the romance and the really funny song about cannibalism and lots of loud emotional songs and…it’s a cathartic experience.  Honestly.  It makes me feel the entire range of emotions.

Wicked is giving me the most trouble with my divisions, because in some ways it feels more like a light-hearted one.  Certainly large portions of it are light and funny.  But…I love it mostly for “The Wizard and I” and “Defying Gravity” and the complicated relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, and all of those parts seem like they belong in the dramatic musical list.  I actively dislike the book, but I love the musical.  I love Elphaba’s yearning to prove herself, and Glinda’s somewhat haphazard growth as a person, and I just love that it’s a musical with two strong female characters.  And now I have real trouble listening to “Ding-Dong, the Witch Is Dead” because it seems so heartless.

Jesus Christ Superstar is my go-to musical every Lent.  It’s definitely a big emotion one, and I love the portrayal of the characters.  It’s not always quite Biblical, but you can tell Webber knew what he was doing and that he’d read the Gospels (he practically quotes John in places).  The semi-modern context makes it all so much more accessible, and is a good reminder–these people weren’t ancient figures at the time.  I love how human everyone is.  And the music sticks in my head like you wouldn’t believe.

What are your favorite musicals? 🙂

17 thoughts on “Favorites Friday: Dramatic Musicals

  1. I love musicals! I also like your division, Cheryl, but Dennis has a point about the cross-genre musicals, the ones that combine light and serious; we could argue that they make up a third category. Actually, I think most of Rogers and Hammerstein fall in that category, with the notable exception of Cinderella. (Think about the death of Judd in Oklahoma and the death of Billy in Carousel, in addition to the musicals Dennis mentioned.) I think The Secret Garden would fall in the light-serious group as well. It’s one of my favorites; if you haven’t seen or heard it, try to get hold of the CD. “Lily’s Eyes” is a fantastic male duet, and there’s the achingly poignant “How Could I Ever Know,” sung by Lily’s ghost, which never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

    For big dramatic musicals: It doesn’t have the overall power of Les Mis or Phantom either musically or story-wise, but I’m quite fond of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I saw it performed (brilliantly) in Salt Lake City (version 4.0, if you read the Wikipedia article about the show.) There are some really good songs, both comic and passionate — if you’re a Les Mis fan, you might enjoy the song “Falcon in the Dive,” which is Chauvelin’s equivalent of Javert’s “Stars”. There’s also a rousing song entitled “Into the Fire,” where Percy inspires his friends to join him in his efforts to rescue French aristocrats, and also a very funny song entitled “The Creation of Man,” in which Percy instructs the League (and the King, in some stagings) on how to dress “When I Look at You” expresses Marguerite’s bewildered anguish that Percy isn’t the man she knew before their marriage. The show is a little uneven, chiefly in the pacing, but it should have received more popular acclaim than it did. It’s composed by Frank Wildhorn, who also wrote the musical Jekyll and Hyde.

    1. I didn’t know there was a musical of Secret Garden–love the book, so how very intriguing! I’ve read The Scarlet Pimpernel and found the book a little uneven…but it sounds like there’s some good parts to the musical.

  2. I love going to the theatre but must admit haven’t seen many musicals. The one exception being Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I’ve seen it once on the stage, I have a copy of the soundtrack, plus my brother and I treasure our dvd copy of the 1999 film starring Donny Osmond 😛

    There are a few musicals I would love to see though which include The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King.

    1. Oh, I haven’t seen Joseph in years. I’ve been meaning to watch it again…you just inspired me to put it at the top of my Netflix queue!

      And unless you have an opportunity to see Phantom live coming up, I’d highly recommend watching the DVD of the 25th anniversary performance. It’s practically like being there!

  3. If you want to you’ll be able to see Les Mis in the MOVIE theaters this December — and it’s about time, they’ve only been talking about adapting the musical to film for about twenty years!

    Wicked is probably my own “favorite musical that I’ve never seen”. As for other dramatic musicals, I like West Side Story a whole heck of a lot. But really, it seems like most of my favorite musicals are the comedic kind! Interesting.

  4. Lolololol now you’re just baiting me.

    that musicals must be about the big emotions, the passions and the desires and the tragedies. The emotions are so intense that the characters have to sing, because words simply aren’t enough.
    Are you serious? Andrew Lloyd Webber really said something like this? Because this is exactly the way I feel. I gave a speech in my COMM class once about musicals and I said something almost the same: that there’s something so overwhelmingly powerful in the fact that these characters’ emotions are such that the only way to communicate them is through song with sweeping orchestrations. Me and Sir Andy. We could be buddies. We could all be buddies.

    But I am so picky about this! The only two musicals that have done this for me… I mean bowled me over so completely as to convince me that a musical format is the best way to interpret the story and that it is not only natural but imperative to just start singing, are Phantom and Les Mis. Actually, I like the Phantom musical even better than the book. I like the book more than the Les Mis musical, but I still love the musical and have an even greater appreciation for it after reading the Brick. I’ve seen four Les Mis movies, and the musical is still the best adaptation I’ve seen.

    (If you’re interested in seeing a stage version of Les Mis, check out the tenth anniversary concert. It’s a concert format, but Philip Quast. You can watch it just to see Philip Quast, honestly.)

    For me there is a huge gap between these two musicals and every other musical I’ve seen. (Quite a few if you count movie versions.)

    The only other “dramatic” type musical I really like that you haven’t mentioned is Man of La Mancha. Seen or heard anything from that one? It sort of borders on light-hearted, too, but I think it’s mostly dramatic. And such an improvement over the book, hate to say it. There’s a movie musical version, but… it’s not really that good as a movie.

    I find that the musicals I like are either of the dramatic-I-have-to-sing-about-this-because-there’s-no-other-way-to-express-my-feelings variety or the oh-so-funny-but-still-poignant variety (1776, The Producers (oh my goodness, did I just call The Producers poignant?), Hairspray).

    1. I swear, I saw him say it in an interview. You could totally be buddies with Sir Andy. All three of us. We just probably shouldn’t comment on Love Never Dies around him, and it’ll all be good.

      “The Brick” made me laugh. I think I’ll get the Les Mis concert after I see it live–more context for the concert, less expectations set up for the live performance.

      I’ve never seen Man of La Mancha, and all I really know about it is the rough plot and the one song, “Dream the Impossible Dream.” Which I quite like, and I’d be interested to see the musical…opportunity permitting. I would spend so much money on theater if I lived near Broadway or…really any other place with a big theater district.

      1776 and The Producers are brillantly hilarious!

      1. I would spend so much money on theater if I lived near Broadway or…really any other place with a big theater district.
        Ugh, me too. It stinks to be so far away, but it’s probably a good thing for me in the long run.

  5. Dennis

    An interesting genre, and one that I’m sure is difficult to pull off, is the musical that is both light-hearted and serious. Probably the greatest of these is South Paciifc. It’s amazing how it transitions so seamlessly between silly and grim, light and intense. Sound of Music is another example, but Sound of Music did it differently, by telling two different stories. First there was the light-hearted romantic comedy, but instead of ending like most musical comedies do when Boy-gets-Girl, it moves on to a story about resisting Nazi oppression. Two different approaches, and both very well done.

  6. dianem57

    I think the big intense dramatic musicals show people as more human than some of the light-hearted musicals, because the range of emotions expressed is often greater. Characters don’t really get too angry or sad in a “funny” musical – it would take away from the escapist, carefree nature of that type of show. Both have their places. Sometimes I want to experience some drama, but other times I want to see something more light-hearted. It’s nice to know both types of shows are available, to meet the needs of my moods.

    1. That’s a good point–light-hearted musicals tend to skim surface-level emotions more (with exceptions) because that fits their escapist nature. Which is very welcome at times too!

  7. Ah, I love a good musical. Les Miserables is my favorite as well. So sweeping and majestic and powerful. There is so much going on there. One of my favorite plot lines in the musical is the the juxtaposition of the law vs. grace as seen in the relationship of Valjean and Javert. There is something very biblical about their positions. Phantom is another big favorite. It turned me into a Sarah Brightman fan and I continue to follow her music.

    I’ve been in love with My Fair Lady since I first saw it as a high school performance when I was 18. Singing in the Rain is a great one. We watch Meet Me in St. Louis generally every Christmas. And White Christmas. Love em both. I saw Chicago on its original Broadway run and was very impressed. Not sure I would consider it a ‘favorite’ but I sat on the front row and it was amazing to experience.

    I’m not sure any are quite as powerful in my eyes as Les Miserables and Phantom, but there is rarely a musical that I see that I don’t enjoy.

    1. It’s so interesting Phantom turned you into a Sarah Brightman fan–it turned me into a Michael Crawford fan!

      And you’ve mentioned several of my favorite light-hearted musicals…but that’s another post!

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