Top 10 Broadway Musicals Ever

As we get ready for summer, the Red Room is going to do podcasts about things outside of television.  Over the summer we will focus on music, movies and books.  Today, I want to focus on one of my favorite things, Broadway.  I have decided to make a list of the 10 best Broadway shows ever.  Any list needs a set of rules to make the list.  First rule, a composer can only be on the list once.  If I didn't put this rule into place, I would only pick Sondheim musicals.  This list will not have my favorite musicals.  I tried to factor in legacy, enjoyment, perform-ability, and the music.  I am primarily focusing on the music. I give total respect to the book writers of all these shows but I am only listing the composers.  I wanted to list shows that stood the test of time on the stage and in our Mp3 players.   They are in no particular order. I just picked 10.  

1. Into The Woods - Stephen Sondheim.  If I were picking my favorite Sondheim show it would be Company or Assassins but Into the Woods is the most assessable.  It also has a score that needs to be heard on a daily basis.  I had all my children watch this show when they were young hoping the lessons of "Your Fault," "I know Things Now" and "No One Is Alone" would sink in.  I am aware that many people find the lessons of good and evil in a book called the Bible.  I believe Into The Woods has all you need to know.  The original cast DVD is available. I suggest you purchase it from our store and watch it with your children because children may not obey but Children Will Listen.

2.  Guys and Dolls - Frank Loesser.  The movie of this play is really fun to watch.  I like seeing this Marlon Brando over the Marlon that was around towards the end of his life.  For the soundtrack, I prefer the Nathan Lane version.  I think this part was made for Nathan.  The score of this show is amazing and has produced so many classics.  It is great to hear different people cover songs from this show.  Jessica Molaskey has a really interesting jazz version of the title track.  Barbra Streisand does a live version of "I'll Know" from The Concert that is great.  Paul McCartney just recorded "More I Cannot Wish You" on his new CD.  A musical written in the 50's  is still getting covered and performed.

3. Wicked -Stephen Schwartz.  I think the fact that a Broadway show that debuted in 2003, made stars out of 2 women and brought every age, race and sex to the theater is encouraging.  It shows that you can do a spectacle musical as long as you have a script and songs to back it up.  I think it's funny that everyone makes fun of Broadway but everyone's favorite episode of Family Guy, Buffy or How I Met Your Mother is when they sing.   We all like songs when they fit the story.  Wicked works because it uses the common denominator of The Wizard of Oz to start their story.  We know the characters going in, so when they turn that idea on us, you can't help but wonder why you hate the people you are told to hate as kids.  This play has the ability to change us all For Good.

4. The Sound of Music - Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.  This is another movie pick but I have seen this show on stage as well.  It works no matter what. Rodgers and Hammerstein were never afraid of having a real story to go along with their music and really paved the way for Sondheim to tackle topics.  But come on, a musical about falling in love with a nun and being chased by the Nazi's? And we think Breaking Bad and The Sopranos broke the story telling mold?  If this was even tried to be told now just about every one would be offended.  In my opinion, that is why Broadway is telling the stories of Shrek or Green Day songs today because you can't tell a story anymore without making people mad.   But what works best in a show is a strong story.  In many ways, I think this show has the strongest story ever.  Of course, you do have to balance that out with the yodeling goat part.

5. Funny Girl - Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill.  Even if you don't like the Barbra Streisand of today, you have to love this Barbra.   Personally, I love both.  This show was literally made for her so it has never made a return to Broadway which I think is a shame.  Besides the great songs of "Don't Rain On My Parade," "You are Woman" and "People," it tells the story of a woman who is successful and how her less successful husband deals with that.  I am pretty sure that story can still be told today.  I would love to see Lea Michele from Glee take on this role.  If you believe that this musical is just good because of Barbra and that she could sell any musical, you may want to check out the horrible sequel, Funny Lady to see what happens when you don't match story and songs to the star. (Read my Blog about Barbra signing her new contract with Columbia Records.)

6. Rent - Jonathan Larson.  First things first, throw the movie out the window.  The movie is awful but the score, the play and the back story of Rent is amazing.  It came out of nowhere and still moves people today.  "Seasons of Love," "I'll Cover You" and "La Vie Boheme" are all songs that you can listen to every day.  Who knows if Jonathan would have gone on to do better or would have been a one show wonder. Either way, he left us with the idea: No Day But Today. Sometimes gritty stories on the stage can just come off as pandering but these characters and songs work.  It sums up the time in New York when AIDS was still feared.

7. Ragtime - Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and Music by Stephen Flaherty.  If this musical was written in the hey day of Broadway, I think it would be a household name.  Everyone would be singing "Your Daddy's Son," "Till We Reach That Day" and "Our Children."  It came and went in the 90's but left us with Audra McDonald.  Audra singing "Your Daddy's Son" is as important to Broadway as when Ethel sang "Everything's Coming Up Roses."  This score is impeccable and the story is amazing.  I know they already made a movie of this novel but to me the musical works better.  Anytime you can watch society change on stage in a period piece, it helps us analyze today (think Downton Abbey).  This did come back to Broadway but it sort of came and went again.  That is a shame.

8. The Last 5 Years - Jason Robert Brown.  This is not a popular show but it is an amazing score.  I have been in love with Jason Robert Brown since I first heard his song "Stars & The Moon."  This is a show that you can experience from the CD alone.  The female character starts at the end of the play and the male character starts at the beginning.  You experience the story of their 5 year relationship from two directions.  I was so inspired by this CD that I ended up writing a screenplay for a feature film of the play.  I sent the script to Mr. Brown but his lawyer sent it back. (If you love this musical already and want to read my screenplay for it, email me and I will send it to you.  It really informs the play.  The music is amazing: "I'm still Hurting," "If I didn't Believe In You" and "Schmuel."  When Leo Norbert Butz sings the words: "Have I mentioned today how lucky I am to be in love with you" go ahead and try not to be moved.

9. Chicago -  John Kander,  Fred Ebb.  I saw this on Broadway with Lilith from Cheers. (Do you love how many TV references I have put in this this article?)  The music is great.  The movie is even better.  This was a flop when it debuted in the 70's because it was years ahead of the country.  In some ways it still is.  I don't think society at large gets that when they are watching reality TV, Fox News, and Court TV that they are fueling the fire that Billy Flynn is lighting in the show.  I have never been one to get my entertainment from watching parents suffer when their kids have been kidnapped but a lot of TV is filled with that entertainment.  When that happens you develop a group of Roxie Harts.  If you add a tune and some dancing girls America really doesn't mind if you make fun of them.

10. Phantom Of The Opera - Music by Andrew Llyod Webber, Lyrics by Charles Hart with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe.  I am not a fan of Webber.  Well, that isn't really true.  I just don't really like Cats.  But you can't deny Phantom.  The music is amazing and it truly brought the world back to Broadway.  I have never really been a fan of the story and the movie is awful (sorry, Tiffany.)  I love "Think of Me," "All I Ask Of You" and "Music Of The Night."  This musical paved the way for Wicked and other shows so it needs to be on the list if for no other reason than it revived interest in one of my favorite artist expressions: the musical.


Go see a show as soon as you can.  Whether its local theater, a traveling show or in NYC, you will enjoy it.  I am going to see Merrily We Roll Along (read my review) directed by John Doyle in Cincinnati this weekend and I know it is going to be a great evening.  That's my list.  Argue with me for leaving Les Mis off the list or Grease or whatever.

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