Our house was filled with wonderful show tune. I know that singing and dancing was a way that I expressed so much of my joy and sadness growing up. I realize that the synchronous body language, and vocal messages informed my body language ability. To this day studying the matching and mirroring in musicals and in my work fascinate me. Many people don’t know that my original dream was to be a Broadway musical lyricist. I started writing songs and poetry in the fourth grade. To that end, I originally majored in Poetry writing in college, I was president of the music dorm and little sister to the music fraternity and my first college boyfriend was a guitar major. (Too see how that path led me to degrees in nonverbal communication go to link (how I became a body language expert.) For this list I only include musicals from the 1950’s forward. I love Lerner and Lowe, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musicals. If you are a TCM fan like me we can talk musicals from way back. I would pick every Fred Astaire Ginger Rodgers Musical, along with Easter Parade, Showboat, South Pacific and Judy Garlands Meet Me in St Louis. Here are what I think are the Top Ten Musicals of All Time.
1. West Side Story The movie is good but the live theater production is tremendous. It is a true American Masterpiece. I remember my high school drama teacher telling us that it was one of the first musicals (Oklahoma deemed the first) to have songs that a and dance numbers further the plot and established characters. My high school Drama teacher was in the Original Broadway show South Pacific and worked back stage on other great Musicals like Gypsy. The script is by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins. The musical's plot and story are based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Set in New York City in the mid-1950s, the musical explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. If you have seen Greece and remember the dance where the cool kids and the nerdy kids face off, you witnessed an "homage" to the dance scene between the Jets and Sharks. The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theatre. Bernstein's score for the musical has become extremely popular; it includes "Something's Coming", "Maria", "America", "Somewhere", "Tonight", "Jet Song", "I Feel Pretty", "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "Cool". The original 1957 Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold Prince, marked Stephen Sondheim's Broadway debut. The production received a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical in 1957, but the award went to Meredith Willson's The Music Man. It won a Tony Award in 1957 for Robbins' choreography. The award-winning 1961 musical film of the same name, directed by Robert Wise and Robbins, starring Natalie Wood,. It won ten Academy Awards. My favorite song is, “Somewhere.” I sang it just about every day in high school, or the "Were is Love" from OLIVER! I have West Side Story musical in cassette tape and CD form and play it when I need a pick me up.
2. Singing in the Rain (1952) I have seen this movie over a dozen times. Gene Kelly starred and helped Direct this 1952 classic that has made many lists of the top 100 films of all time. One of the greatest moments in film where Kelly having just realized he is in love, dances down the street, happily singing and dancing in the in the pouring rain. I think everyone has at some time their life sung, “Singing in the Rain” as they walked in the rain. 1927, the story takes place in a tranisition point 1927 when movies were tranisitioning from silent films to talkies. One of the reasons I find it fancianating is actors and audiances relied so much on body language for their movie experiences and people where riveted to movies with no voices! The plot of Singing in the Rain is a silent movie being made into a musical. Kelly plays one of the leads, and the other lead is an actress who has a horrible annoying nasal voice who can't sing. So of course, someone who can sing is brought in to do have her voiced dubbed in. The 19 year old Debbie Reynolds plays Kelly's love interest. She says in interviews about Gene Kelly that he made her do their dance scenes over and over and over till her feet bled. Singing in the Rain, ended up being nominated for a couple of Oscars. My favorite scene is the scene where are three dancers dance over the sofa. My favorite song is “Good Morning.”
3. Chicago (2002) Chicago was a Broadway play long before it became a motion picture musical. The choreography was amazing. I saw it on Broadway many years ago with Sandy Duncan in the lead. It was incredible. When it hit the movie theaters it brought the magic to a larger audience. Rob Marshall directed the story wonderfully weaving reality scenes and dreamy dance sequences together beautifully. When you leave the play or movie signing the songs it surprising to remember that the story is about two Murderes! Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart aspire to be famous, and will stop at nothing to accomplish their wish. Aided by a lawyer played by Richard Gere, they may get to do just that. Starring in the film are Rene Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the two main characters. In other roles are Gere, Queen Latifah, Taye Diggs, and John C. Rielly. Using the press, and their grand stand lawyer theatrics the two women to get what they want. It ended up winning 6 academy awards including best picture, and well deserves its spot on my list. My favorite song is, “He had it coming.”
4. Oliver! (1968) Everyone knows the story of Oliver Twist. If you have every heard someone take on a funny little boys voice and say, “Please sir could I have some more?” this is the musical where the line originated and occurs near the beginning of the film when Oliver asks the head of the orphanage for an unheard of second bowl of gruel. The book written by Charles Dickens is the story of an Orphan who longs to be loved. He runs away from the horrible funeral home where he is sent after the gruel incident, and joins up with a gang of street kids who make a living by pick-pocketing people of the city. Jack Wild who later stared in the Saturday Morning kids show, “HR Puffing Stuff” was one of the gang members. I saw the stage musical as a little girl. I was on the third balcony and unaware that I needed glasses so I couldn’t actually see the actors but I remember that I loved the music and had the album on my turntable for years. It certainly has many songs that you will find yourself singing long after the movie has ended. Oliver! it ended up winning 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Score. The story has been redone a thousand times, but the 1968 movie version stands out as the best to date. I love every single song. If I had to pick it would be two songs, “Who will buy this wonderful morning?” and “Where is Love?”
5. Godspell is a 1970 musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak. It opened off Broadway on May 17, 1971, and has played in various touring companies and revivals many times since. Several cast albums have been released over the years and one of its songs, "Day by Day" from the original cast album, reached #13 on the Billboard pop singles chart in the summer of 1972. I saw the play at Ford’s Theater in DC when I was sixteen and said, “Someday I will be in that musical? I finally was in a community theater production when I was 29!!! I was the oldest female in the cast and in my doctoral program. Most of the cast was in High School or college! The structure of the musical is that of a series of parables, based on the Gospel of Matthew (though three of the parables featured are only recorded in the Gospel of Luke). These are then interspersed with a variety of modern music set primarily to lyrics from traditional hymns, with the passion of Christ treated briefly near the end of the performance. It started as a college project performed by students at Carnegie Mellon University and moved to La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Greenwich Village. It was then re-scored for an off-Broadway production which became a long-running success. • Opening • Prologue: Towers of Babble • Prepare ye The Way of the Lord • Save the People • Day By Day • Learn Your Lessons Well (my solo) • O Bless the Lord • All for the Best • All Good Gifts • Light of the World Act II • Learn Your Lessons Well (Reprise) • Turn Back, O Man • Alas for You • By My Side • Beautiful City † • We Beseech Thee • On The Willows • Finale • Day By Day (Reprise) My favorite song is a tough choice. The song “On the Willows” Is so beautiful but. I think I would choose By My Side as my favorite. That was not my solo when I was in the play, and I remember every night I wanted to sing it!!!
6. Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Tim Rice. First staged on Broadway in 1971, it highlights political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus. The opera is based very loosely on the Gospels' account of the last week of Jesus' life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem, and ending with the Crucifixion. The three album set was on my turn table for three years. Long before the movie came out. We studied every song in a 12 week Sunday school class at my church. I still think that the lyric song by King Herod, “Jesus prove to me that your so cool, walk across my swimming pool.” is one of the most clever lines in musical history. The work's depiction offers a free interpretation of the psychology of Jesus and the other characters. A large part of the plot focuses on the character of Judas, who is depicted as a tragic figure who is dissatisfied with the direction Jesus steers his disciples. Twentieth-century attitudes and sensibilities as well as contemporary slang pervade the lyrics, and ironic allusions to modern life are scattered throughout the depiction of political events. My favorite song is “Everything is Alright.”
7. The Producers I was going to see this musical on Broadway on the famous September 11th. I made a trip back to New York City a month later and got a third row center seat. The people in the seats around me came from all over the world to support New York City and Broadway. The energy was so fantastic. It is my favorite live musical memory. Nathan Lanes sweat showered on me I was so close to the stage. I loved it. We gave a three minute standing ovation at the end of the show. The musical was adapted by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan from Brooks' 1968 film of the same name, with lyrics by Brooks and music by Brooks and Glen Kelly. As in the film, the story concerns two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by overselling interests in a Broadway flop. Complications arise when the show unexpectedly turns out to be successful. The humor of the show is accessible to a wide range of audiences and draws on ridiculous accents, caricatures of homosexuals and Nazis, and many show business in-jokes. The original production opened on Broadway on April 19, 2001, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and ran for 2,502 performances, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. It spawned a successful London production running for three years, national tours, and many productions internationally and a 2005 film version. My favorite song is “Spring Time for Hitler. “ The song is odd, disturbing and very hummable.
8. The Wizard of Oz (1939) The old movie used to be only shown once a year on television. It was a big event each year akin to Halloween or Easter in is "specialness" We had the first color TV on the street. So, everyone in the neighborhood came to our house to see this movie in color the night it first came on Television. It was so fun to have all the kids at my house. Color film was created after the filming for the movie started. They had already shot the Kansas scenes in black and white. So they created one of the most magical moment in film history.The movie starts out in black and white in Kansas where Dorothy, played by Judy Garland lives. After a tornado strikes her farm, Dorothy wakes up to the full technocolor land of Oz. A true film magic moment. I can't express how powerful that scene was to watch as a child. Dorothy, with the help of a tin-man, a scare-crow and a lion must find the only man who can get her home to Kansas, The Wizard of Oz.. The movie gave us "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and "We're Off to See the Wizard", which have become great classic children's songs over the years. My favorite song is the famous, “Over the Rainbow.”
9. The Sound of Music (1959) The musical with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. It is based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Many songs from the musical have become standards, including the title song "The Sound of Music", "Edelweiss", "My Favorite Things", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "Do-Re-Mi". The original Broadway production, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, opened on November 16, 1959; the show has enjoyed numerous productions and revivals since then. It was adapted as a 1965 film musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which won Academy Awards. The Sound of Music was the final musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein; Hammerstein died of cancer nine months after the Broadway premiere.
10. Grease (1978) This musical has strong childhood memories for me. It is full of hit songs. I saw the movie multiple times the summer it came out. The song Summer Nights actually hit it big in the 90's as well, long after the movie was out of theaters. It starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as Danny and Sandy, a very unlikely couple. Sandy was your typical good-girl, while Danny belonged to a gang of leather jacketed bad boy and bad girls. They hit it off in the summer, and the movie takes place as both have gone their own ways, and are back in high school that following semester. The movie shows the progression through the year as they each deal with teen issues, and their hidden love for each other. I Love the gym dancing scene. I still do the little dance when I hear the song on the radio. I don’t really have a favorite song from this. I think it is the memory of the summer I first saw that puts it on the musical on my top ten list.
Honorable mentions for Top 20 Musicals. Fame. The Michael Jackson music video Thriller, Peter Pan and The King and I (1956) Rodgers and Hammerstein brought this musical in 1956, about a British governess and her son that travel to Siam, and meets up with the ruler of the land. Her old ways clash with the King and it seems like nothing is going to work out between them. The reason for this, is that women are seen as second class in this far land, and she is not going to sit by while this happens. She puts herself into dramatic situations by not being silent, and it actually gains her the admiration of the King. Starring in the two main roles as Anna Leonowens and King Mongkut of Siam, are Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. Both are very good in the film, and sing quite well. So, as you are watching the movie, you aren't distracted by the singing, but rather taken along for the in-depth story. The two have a great chemistry on screen. Nominated for 9 academy awards in 1957, it ended up winning 5 of them, including best actor. There is no other choice, my favorite song is “Can We Dance.”
Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at http://pattiwood.net/. Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.