Chris S Lynn
We have all heard it.
“I hate musicals”
“Breaking into song and dance is not realistic.”
“Musicals are gay.”
“I don’t like that opera crap.”
We can all give a rebuttal to each of these platitudes.
“You cannot possibly hate all musicals because they are not the same.”
”Breaking into song and dance is just as unrealistic as a Die Hard movie. Both are escapism. So Yippi Kay yay, O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A!”
“If you mean, many gays love musicals, then yes, just as gays like football. If you mean gay as in lame, then I better brace myself for ‘a whole lotta ugly coming from a never ending parade of stupid.’”
“You don’t like opera? Neither do many music theatre fanatics. There is no single ‘Broadway musical sound’. For every musical genre, I can give you a musical that contains that style of music.”
Sure, you can argue with these people. However, if your goal is to share your love of musicals with those that you value, then there is a better way. If you are reading this blog, chances are that not a day goes by where you do not 1. Listen to a show tune, 2. Rehearse/audition for a show, or 3. randomly break out in song based on mere everyday conversation that has even the most remote connection to a show tune. Heck, I am guessing you have done just that at least 3 times so far while reading this blog! Your life is better with musicals. Without musicals, life would be like…. (go ahead! Sing it! You know you want to!) Why would you not want to share this same joy with others, even if they will never become quite as obsessed as you?
The purpose of this blog is to demonstrate that there is a musical for virtually all tastes and interests and to share experiences of those we value who have “lived in the darkness for so long” and were “waiting for the light to shine.”
My first challenge was to locate a reliable poll of the most popular hobbies and then match them to musicals of interest. I found the The Harris Poll, that has measured public opinion in the U.S. since 1963 and used to advise U.S. Presidents such as John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Below is data of the most popular American hobbies from 2013. Sorry International readers, please play along. 2057 adults were polled in this survey.
Watching TV (42%)
Computer Internet (19%)
Spending Time With Friends/Family (18%)
Watching/Going to Movies (11%)
Exercise/Working Out (10%)
Playing Video/Computer/Internet games (10%)
Concerts/Listening to/Playing Music (7%)
Hobby Related Activities (5%) Whatever the hell that means!
Eating/Going to Restaurants (4%)
Attending/Watching Sports (4%)
Playing with/Walking Pets (3%)
I decided to consolidate some of the categories and grouped them as such
Social Time With family/Friends
Food - Baking/Cooking/Eating
Fishing/Hunting * I added hunting because I live in Missouri.
I eliminated resting and sleeping categories unless the goal is to induce a “cat”atonic (oops! Sorry Andrew Lloyd Weber fans) coma like state while attending a musical.
TV/Movies - The topic of TV shows and movies being adapted to the stage has been a recently trendy one, both on Broadway stages and in debates on the All Things Broadway Facebook page. Many question the lack of originality on the Broadway stage today. Some of us point to the fact that Broadway musicals have always been inspired by secondary sources such as movies and books. Others, such as myself, point out that taking big box office hits or movies with iconic characters that were on the big screen less than 20 years ago, and transferring them onto a musical stage is a fairly recent phenomenon. The Full Monty, for example, landed on Broadway in 2001, only 5 years after its movie release. Since then, we have had an innumerable amount of non musical films rewritten for the musical stage. Regardless of whether you like this trend or not, for many of our showtune virgins, this concept might be the hook for them to start the beginning of a beautiful relationship. One of the shows that introduced me to musicals was The Phantom of the Opera. While I cannot stand the show today, I credit it for opening a new window for me. Then again, introducing your movie geek to these shows can backfire if they are of the “breaking out in song and dance is unrealistic” ilk. Yes, I do realize, folks, that not all musicals contain happy themed tap shoe numbers. However, this is a stereotype we must all endure. My advice to introducing your TV/movie mogul friends to musicals via their interests is to know them well and tread lightly. Certainly, they may love the adaptations. If, however, you get the vibe that these shows would turn them off, then introduce them to those musicals that take themselves a little less seriously and are parodies/satire of their favorite movies and TV shows. Often, the parodies/satire pay homage to the originals the others simply cannot touch. If your friend is a Disney fan, then he/she should already be in heaven. While I have seen very few adaptations, below are a few of my favorites:
A Christmas Carol
La Cage Aux Folles
Dogfight - For those of you who enjoyed music and lyrics from Pasek/Paul’s The Greatest Showman, LaLa Land, and Dear Evan Hansen, check out their musical based on the Liv Tyler and River Phoenix 1991 film of the same name
Evil Dead - Evil Dead is a Canadian rock musical parody based on the cult classic horror movie trilogy. Nothing is serious in this silly, ridiculous parody about sex crazed college kids that spend a weekend in “A Cabin In the Woods”. The guilty pleasure musical would not be complete without its unique Splatter Zone seating, reserved for the first several rows where audience members are spewed with onstage blood. Hey, the extra cost of entering the Splatter Zone includes a freshly blood soaked souvenir t-shirt! Theatre patrons,”This is my boomstick!”
Grey Gardens - this musical was based on a documentary of the same name chronicling the lives of Jaqueline Kennedy’s aunt and cousin: Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale ("Big Edie") and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale ("Little Edie"). Set in a Mansion in East Hampton, New York, the musical follows the lives of the two characters from respected aristocrats to hoarders trapped in their own home by trash and overrun by cats. The sad story is dramatized by the two leading ladies who play both roles, switching characters after Act 1. I will never forget attending a performance of this show and having to listen to the eerie sound of cats meowing and growling piped in as “pre show music.” The musical opens with the set presenting a dilapidated mansion with the characters living in squalor. During the first musical number, the set is transformed to its former splendor and grandeur 32 years prior. Act 1 is set in the past, and Act 2 is set 32 years later. If you are ready for something different and mesmerizing, then give Grey Gardens, a try.
Hands on A Hardbody - who would have guessed that a 1997 documentary film centered on a contest where contestants can win a new pick-up truck by being the last man or woman standing (or sitting) with one of their hands on a hardbody? This musical wins the best title for a musical award, but will also win your hearts as it delves into Americana and the lives of the contestants, the car dealer, and radio announcer.
The Lion King
A Little Night Music (based on Inmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of Summer)
A Little Shop of Horrors
Reefer Madness - Reefer Madness is based on the 1936 propaganda film of the same name. The musical is a tongue and cheek parody of the “squeaky clean” America of yesteryear, under attack by the evil “demon seed.” The film was originally financed by a church group and shown to parents to scare them about the dangers of marijuana, under the title Tell Your Children. Other fantastically ridiculous titles given to this film included The Burning Question, Dope Addict, Doped Youth, and Love Madness. There is nothing to be afraid of with marijanna, nor the musical Reefer Madness that joyously and hilariously pokes fun at the hysteria over a joint.
Spamalot (based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
Link to Stage musicals based on films:
*I noticed StarKid productions were not included on this list.
Link to stage musicals based on TV series
Reading and History Buffs - Many musicals produced from great literature as well as historical figures should come as no surprise. Once again, if you are introducing someone who is new to musicals via this route, you must know the person well. Additionally, knowing the source material or reading the novel in which the musical is based is not a bad idea either. Once upon a time, a professor friend and I were going to make a road trip to San Francisco to see the pre Broadway opening of a new musical called Wicked. I have always loved Stephen Schwartz and my friend loved the dense cerebral novel which he taught in his higher level literature courses. We both wondered how such a complex story would be staged and set to music. We now know that the musical, like many adaptations, was vastly different from its source material. Wicked, in fact, was virtually nothing like Gregory Mcguire’s book. They shared some of the same characters and settings, but little else did the two relate beyond the spectacle. My friend did not care for the show and I thought it was mediocre to unmemorable. Word to the wise, if you take a bookworm to a musical based on their favorite read, just be careful. Some of my favorites musicals based on novels include:
Big River - Take the wit of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and pair it with Roger Miller whose rockabilly novelty songs that had the penchant for clever and whimsical lyrics and you will have a combo even better than peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, or ketchup and grits! Wait! What?
Be More Chill - I don’t understand the hate with the little show that could. I usually do not listen to cast recordings prior to seeing a show, but this one was an exception. I listened to cast recording about a year and a half ago when the music first went viral in Youtube land. Fearing I would not see the unlicensed show anytime soon, I gave it a listen and instantly loved the show. Go figure! A 45-year-old loving Be More Chill!
Into the Woods - Interestingly, Sondheim’s complex intertwining fairytale musical took inspiration from Bruno Bettleheim’s 1976 book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. Bettleheim analyzed the fairytales in terms of Fruedian psychoanalysis for which he was once renowned and then later discredited as a fraud.
Mystery of Edwin Drood - The Charles Dickens inspired musical was based on his last work that remained unfinished after his death in 1870. Only 6 of the 12 installments were published from the original source material with no evidence or notes left behind by Dickens to solve the mystery. Rupert Holmes, author of the book, music, and lyrics, decided to painstakingly write several short endings to determine every possible solution to the mystery. The audience is given the ultimate power to vote who killed Drood, with the actors tasked to quickly tally the votes and carry out the ending chosen by the audience.
Natasha, Piere, and the Great Comet of 1812 - Are you kidding me? A musical based on a 1440 page novel? Wait a minute. The musical is based on only 70 pages taken from the middle of the novel. Whew! No one would ever think of turning such a large volume of classical fiction into a musical! That would be like turning Victor Hugo’s 1462 page novel, Les Miserables into a musical. “Unheard of? Unthinkable? Unspeakable?” Nope. “Tradition!”
Once On This Island
The Robber Bridegroom
The Scarlet Pimpernel
A Very Potter Musical
Computers/Internet/Video Games - Everyone, just Be More Chill. Remember, life is a “Two Player Game” and while “There are voices in my head, the loudest one is mine!” Great show, fun songs, and beautiful message of being under your own influence.
Social Time With Family/Friends - The best way to get someone involved who enjoys time with family and friends is to recruit them in the actual production of a musical. Nothing says family, comradery, and bonding, better than working as a team on a musical. I have been involved in many shows with entire families pitching in as cast and crew members. The next best thing is to bring your friend to a musical that highlights relationships. Many from the list below includes musicals from religious sources since many people spend a great deal of their social time at church activities. I also included shows that highlight dysfunctional families which is a huge part of life and relationships as well.
Baby - this delightful Shire/Maltby musical revolves around three couples, each at different stages of their lives, who must all uniquely take the journey of experiencing a pregnancy and an impending parenthood. The 3 couples range from an unmarried college age students, a thirty something couple with a history of failed attempts at conception, and middle aged parents and soon to be empty nesters.
Be More Chill
Children of Eden - This is a Stephen Schwartz musical based on Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah’s Ark. The major theme revolves around the universal truth that “the hardest part of love is the letting go” and allowing ones children to make their own mistakes.
The Fantasticks - a boy and his father, a girl and her father, and a stick (wall). Add a bandit and his goofy players, an indian whose expertise is in dying, and an aging Shakesperian actor to help tell the story and teach us lessons. Result: a charming, intimate, and poetic musical about love and coming of age.
Fiddler On The Roof - If you do not cry at least three or four times during this musical about a man who loves his religious traditions, but loves his daughters and their desire for happiness even more, well then, you are just a bunch of heartless sons of bitches.
Fun Home - I won’t give away the story of this Best Musical Tony winner based on an autobiographical graphic novel,only to say that it is the most genuine LGBTQ+ musical I have seen. The scenes are heart wrenching, written and executed in a way that invites audiences to firmly plant their feet in the characters’ shoes without ever succumbing to preaching to their audience. Bravo Fun Home. You have my heart!
Into the Woods
La Cage Aux Folles
The Secret Garden
A New Brain
You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown\
Exercise/Sports - One of the best sports musicals I have seen never made it to Broadway: Fantasy Football...the Musical? Billed as a “Bromantic Comedy”, the musical parodies late 1980s and early 1990s and tells the fictional history of how fantasy football began with a wannabe sports newscaster and a computer geek during the birth of the dial up internet circa 1991. This is a great show to bring your college football and NFL fans for a great night of laughter and bromance. Other musicals with sports include:
The Beautiful Game (football) Andrew Lloyd Weber/Ben Elton musical
Damn Yankees (baseball)
Rocky...The Musical (boxing) Anytime you see “[fill in the blank]...the musical” be fair warned. Yikes!
Golden Boy -(boxing) this one actually looks and sounds cool! The musical opened on Broadway in 1964, starred Sammy Davis Jr., and played a respectable 564 performances. The opening number contains some fantastic grunts and punching noises that are used as percussion for the music. The title track is “Work Out (Fight Scene)”. Give it a listen! The sounds are truly glorious!
Bring It On! (cheerleading)
The First (baseball)
Good News (football)
All American (football)
The Secret Garden
The Fantasticks - Two old farts who are best friends, sing about Planting a Radish and lamenting that sowing seeds is so much less complicated than raising children who you can “Never Say No”.
Quilters - A Pioneer woman patchwork musical
8. Food - Baking/Cooking/Eating
Sweeney Todd - of course!
Pump Boys and Dinettes
9. Fishing/Hunting * I added hunting because I live in Missouri!
Pump Boys and Dinettes
The Ghosts of Celilo - a Native American musical
Bark! - or DOGS!
Honk! - based on The Ugly Duckling
Lucky Duck - The Ugly Duckling meets Cinderella. Music by Dreamgirls, Henry Kriger
Just So - based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories
A Year With Frog and Toad
Well, that’s all folks! Let me know what I forgot. I mentioned a ton of shows, but I know I have neglected to mention some (purposely, accidentally, and some accidentally on purpose!. Now go take your friend to a musical, the most glorious thing on earth!
* One last thing. You can easily search for specific musical productions in your area if you know the licencing company for each show. Most licensing websites will have a searchable database to find productions of their shows, with dates, cities, and the name of the theatre. Below is a link that lists many shows and the company that licenses them. Also includes are the websites of the major licensing companies: