A Beginner’s Companion to Musical Theatre

No day but today. (L-R) Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin and Anthony Rapp star in the 2005 RENT movie. Image courtesy Playbill.com.
No day but today. (L-R) Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin and Anthony Rapp star in the 2005 RENT movie. Image courtesy Playbill.com.

So, you’ve stumbled across this blog. Maybe it’s because you’re genuinely interested in what I have to say. Maybe I’m forcing you to read this because you’re my mom. Maybe you’d like to know what I’m talking about but in reality, you’ve never watched a musical before. Who’s Julie Andrews?

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. You’re just like tons of other people who have never experienced the joys of musical theatre before. I have a personal belief that those who don’t like musicals just haven’t discovered their favourite yet. I understand the theatre world is overwhelming — where do I start? What if I don’t have the money to spend on shows? You can be a theatre nerd on a budget too. Let me take you under my wing and recommend some shows for you to begin on your path to musical enlightenment.

Everything is RENT. As soon as it made its Broadway debut in 1996, RENT was a hit. Based on Puccini’s opera La Bohème, it follows eight friends living in New York City in the middle of the AIDS crisis. It sounds sad, but RENT tells one of the most important stories ever told on the stage. Plus, baby Idina Menzel in her first Broadway role ever? Come on! RENT ran on Broadway for 12 years before closing in September of 2008. By the time the show is over, I guarantee you will be singing “Seasons of Love” until the wee hours of the night.
Cast Recording: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Netflix | Amazon | iTunes
Final Broadway Performance: Amazon | iTunes

The Phantom of the Opera
I pick on Phantom a lot, but it’s a musical theatre staple. It’s been running in London almost as long as Les Mis has (almost) and is the longest-running show on Broadway. The show is based on Gaston Leroux’s classic novel about up-and-coming opera singer Christine, whose voice coach is a mysterious voice who she sort of believes to be her dead father but he has romantic feelings for her? Yes, this is a hit, from the same guy who wrote Cats.
It began its London run in 1986 and its Broadway run in 1988 — both are still running to this day. Many movies have been adapted from Leroux but an adaptation of the musical was released in 2004, starring Gerard Butler as The Phantom and Emmy Rossum as Christine. I’ve voiced my opinion on this movie before.
Whether you love it or you hate it, it’s a classic and no theatre nerd’s collection is complete without a little Phantom.
Cast Recording (there are many, so this is my favourite): Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Amazon | iTunes
25th Anniversary Live: Amazon | iTunes

Les Miserables
Am I biased? Totally and completely. But no musical-starter-pack is ever complete without Les Mis. The longest-running musical in the world follows newly-released convict Jean Valjean as he escapes parole and takes on a new identity and becomes mayor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there, as Javert, an inspector, discovers that Valjean is still on the loose and chases after him for most of his life. With iconic songs, beautiful production and an unforgettable story, Les Mis proves that some tales never go out of style.
Cast Recording (from the 25th anniversary cast): Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Amazon | iTunes
25th Anniversary Concert: Amazon | iTunes

The Sound of Music
The hills are alive with the sound of Julie Andrews’ four-octave singing voice. This Rogers & Hammerstein staple is often an introduction to musical theatre education because (for some reason) it’s on TV at Christmastime. Although it can be a daunting task (it’s three hours — without commercials), the classic tale of Maria, the nun-to-be, who teaches the seven children of a navy captain how to sing is just as captivating as it was 50 years ago.
Cast Recording: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Amazon | iTunes
The Sound of Music Live! (watch it for Audra McDonald, queen of my life): Amazon | iTunes

Bonus: Hamilton
There’s no movie or official recording for this show because it just opened, but Broadway’s best and brightest are all rushing to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s latest smash musical. Ever think that the story of the treasury-secretary Alexander Hamilton would make good material for a rap/hip hop musical? Miranda did. Want to know what makes the highest A-list of celebrities (President Obama saw the show in July, and then bought out an entire performance as a fundraiser) keep buying tickets? The cast recording is out now, and since it’s a complete recording (with only one track missing), you can follow along at home.
Cast Recording: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify


One thought on “A Beginner’s Companion to Musical Theatre

  1. Pingback: No Day But Today: 20 Years of Rent – How Do You Solve a Problem Like Diana?

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