If you had to choose the 10 top musicals of all time, what would they be? The musical genre has always been hugely successful, both on the stage and on camera. Musicals are fantastic entertainment for children and families, but they can also be powerful vehicles for social and/or cultural messages.
When pushed to the punch, our top 10 musicals of all time are...
Singing in the Rain
Singing in the Rain is most famous for the song performed by Gene Kelly as he dances around a lamppost, singing in the rain. It’s light-hearted comedy follows the lives of three silent movie actors who are feeling the pressures of making the transition from silent movies to “talkies.” Kelly, actor, co-director and choreographer in this movie, starred alongside Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds to create one of MGM’s most popular musicals ever. With almost all lyrics written by Arthur Freed (MGM producer) and the entire score composed by Nacio Herb Brown (one of his associates at MGM), Singing in the Rain was always on the road to success.
Grease was first a huge musical hit on the screen, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and then continued to entertain the masses both in The West End and on Broadway, where it managed to survive with a whopping 3,388 performances. Grease tells the loveable story of 10 high school friends who are trying to find their way through school life and first loves as best as they can. The story is loosely based on the earlier musical, West Side Story, and the central theme, that manages to keep the audience mesmorised from start to finish, is love. The musical score is so popular that, even today, the songs are used by a wide range of DJs across the UK clubbing scene as a sure way of getting the crowds on their feet and dancing the night away.
A Chorus Line
“I Hope I Get It” is a song which anyone with a huge dream to fulfill can relate to and it is one of the most famous numbers from A Chorus Line to remain in the hearts of many. The perfect example of an ensemble musical, A Chorus Line is one of the most visually fascinating musicals to watch, thanks to its Busby Berkeley approach to choreography which focuses on the manipulation of unison, canon and motif development. The musical follows the lives of a group of performers auditioning for a top Broadway show and plays on the heightened emotions that they all go through while on the route to potential success and inner happiness that can only be found under the powerful beam of stage lights.
The West End version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats was so popular that it ran on London’s West End for 21 years. One of the most well-remembered performances is that of Elaine Paige, in the role of Grizabella, performing one of the musical’s hit songs, “Memory.” Even though the musical score is still highly popular, two of the most fascinating aspects of Cats include its theatrical make-up and the choreography. As the title succinctly suggests, the focus of the musical is on a group of cats and the interactions that occur between them on any given night in the big city. As such, the choreography is cat-like and the make-up is amazingly detailed.
One of the most recent musicals to take the world by storm, Billy Elliot was first a hugely popular UK film, set in a mining town in the North-East of England against the 1984 backdrop of the Miner’s Strikes and tackles some of the preconceived ideas of the region and the times surrounding gender, homosexuality and dance head on. The musical is fast, funny, socially satirical and a wonderful addition to the modern musical genre. Since the film’s initial success in 2000, the story has enjoyed a wonderful theatrical career all over the world and many UK schools now incorporate the study of this particular musical into their Drama curriculums.
The Lion King
In 1999, the adaptation of the hit Disney animated film, “The Lion King” debuted in London’s West End’s Lyceum Theatre after enjoying a two year run on Broadway. It is particularly well-known for its stunning and impressive use of puppetry. Some of the puppets and masks used in this production to effectively capture the movement styles of the animals represented are over two metres high or extended at the end of poles over five meters in length. The staging concept is also incredibly clever in that a simple blue cloth can be used to represent the famine experienced, for example. There is no better musical than The Lion King for creativity and for getting children to really let their imaginations fly.
Both screen and stage productions of the musical Oliver were huge hits. The world is unlikely to forget the frightening performance of Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes in the film version, but the wonderful musical score, written by Lionel Bart, is one of the main reasons why this musical remains so popular. “Food Glorious Food” is one of the most enchanting opening numbers to any musical, taking the audience from the dingy interior of a cold, loveless orphanage into the wild imaginations of its hungry inhabitants in an instant. If you’re not hungry before you hear the song, you will definitely want something to eat by the end.
Liza Minelli is the central female figure most associated with the title role of Sally Bowles, an American artist living in Berlin and performing in the underground nightclub, beautifully called The Kit Kat Club, thanks to her performance in the 1972 film version of Cabaret, directed by Bob Fosse. However, the beauty of the musical Cabaret is that the particular choreographic style of Bob Fosse (the hat, the turned in feet, the inverted knees and the contracted torso) lives on. Whether you watch the movie, see the show on Broadway or at London’s West End, the choreography will exude the same Fosse pizzazz every single time.
West Side Story
The modern day version of Shakespeare´s ”Romeo and Juliet” in many ways, West Side Story is one of the most celebrated musicals of all time, both on screen and on the stage, thanks to its wonderful musical score by Leonard Bernstein and its truly dramatic choreographic style, developed by Jerome Robbins. The score is intense and the choreography is physically challenging, which perfectly matches the tough, violent nature of the storyline about two New York gangs forever fighting to gain control over the streets of the city. With a dramatic death scene at the very end of the musical, the story carries a great message about the need for tolerance and acceptance of those different to us.
The Sound of Music
The most wonderful musical about family values ever, The Sound of Music is not only a brief commentary on the difficulties the world faced with the gradual expansion of the German army on the cusp of World War II. It is also a simple love story covering religious love, family love and romantic love all at once. Julie Andrews was the star of the film version in 1965 and the hugely successful score was written by the highly popular duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. If the sound of little Gertie asking her father why Fraulein Maria had to leave doesn’t make you cry, nothing will!