...my thrilling post re Broadway! Dear Blog, you were supposed to sing that line to the tune of “Lullaby of Broadway” from “42nd Street.” Have I lost you already? Hey, it’ll get worse.
But I should take a more positive approach here, shouldn’t I, Blog? Okay, I will! You know, I’m sure one of your greatest wishes is that you knew more about that great musical institution, Broadway-style musical theater. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a fun way to experience the best and brightest of musical theater, be entertained and learn at the same time?
Well, you’re in luck, my dear Blog! I decided to put together a nifty list of the 20 best composers and lyricists of the genre, and a film of one of each of their musicals that you can rent. See them all and you will be the most well-rounded Broadway expert you know besides me, and heaven knows I really rock that shizz. Included for your amusement are a famous song by each, from the movie in question.
Try to hold it together, Blog, I can see how excited you are.
Here they are, in approximate chronological order of the composer’s careers:
G&S wrote operettas in England in an age before true Broadway-style musicals, but their works are a definite foundation for the genre, and an absolute riot even today. Kevin Kline and Rex Smith were hunky pirates before hunky pirates were cool. Famous song: “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.”
2. Cole Porter - “Anything Goes”
George Gershwin - “Girl Crazy”
I admit I haven’t seen either movie, which is why I’m giving them each a “half vote.” Thing is, these two gentlemen HAD to be on a list like this. Cole Porter: One of the snappiest lyricists ever. For example: “Flying too high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do, but I get a kick out of you.” Who rhymes the first syllable of “idea” like that, huh Blog? And George Gershwin: Mind-blowingly great tunes, syncopation and harmonies. “I Got Rhythm” rules my world.
3. Irving Berlin - “Holiday Inn”
One of America’s greatest and most prolific composers. Song, of course, one of the bestsellers of all time: “White Christmas.”
4. Comden & Greene - “Singin’ in the Rain”
This film often makes top ten lists even including ALL movies. You must see it before you die, it’s a classic. And Gene Kelly is much better in this one than in “Xanadu.” (Do not, I repeat NOT, see the 1980 film “Xanadu,” Blog.) Other than the title song, enjoy “Good Mornin’.”
5. Rodgers & Hammerstein - “The Sound of Music”
R&H are considered by many (well, me for sure) as the best. So many of their shows have been made into films, it would be hard to pick if not for the fact that “TSOM” is also one of the best movies ever. Bonus R&H: “Oklahoma!” (the Hugh Jackman version, so well done), “The King and I” for the glory that is Yul Brynner. Oh, song, other than the title: “Do Re Mi.”
6. Frank Loesser - “How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)”
It will irritate some (like my daughter Manzi) that I recommend this instead of the admitted classic “Guys and Dolls.” I just like it better. If you like “Mad Men,” see this movie, it even shares a cast member (Robert Morse). Song: “I Believe in You.” How can a song fail that employs kazoos to sound like musical electric razors?
7. Lerner & Loewe - “My Fair Lady”
Another famously successful pair, and this movie edges out “Camelot” because Rex Harrison is so amazing. “I Could Have Danced All Night” is so wonderfully romantic. But I also love the subtle way Henry Higgins articulates his love with lines like “I’ll slam the door and let the hellcat freeze!”
8. Meredith Wilson - “The Music Man”
Meredith Wilson should perhaps not be included here since he only wrote one show. But he wrote the book, lyrics AND music, and it’s in my top three musicals of all time. And Robert Preston and Shirley Jones are delightful in every way. “Seventy-Six Trombones.”
It will irritate some (like my daughter Katie) that I recommend this instead of the admitted classic “Annie.” I just like it better. Cute screaming teens, Dick Van Dyke dancing with Janet “Psycho” Leigh, and a tribute to Ed Sullivan by Paul Lynde, what’s not to like? Song: “Put on a Happy Face.” Yes, do it, Blog!
10. Jerry Herman - “Hello Dolly”
Sadly, no one has ever made a good movie of a Jerry Herman show. But I had to have him on my list. I like “Mame” better, but the movie version was terrible. “Hello Dolly” does have some terrific songs in it though (a couple of which were used beautifully in “WALL-E,” i.e., “It Only Takes a Moment”).
A MUCH better vehicle for Barbra Streisand than “Hello Dolly” was. She’s absolutely brilliant in this, and it’s tremendously well done. “People” (famous, but ironically my least favorite song in the whole show). By the way, I did cheer for Barbra to be destroyed by The Cure’s Robert Smith on “South Park,” but in this movie she is honestly glorious.
12. Stephen Sondheim - “Into the Woods”
I admit it, I don’t really like Sondheim. I know you won’t judge me, Blog! Still, he is arguably the most prolific and successful composer/lyricist ever, so here he is. “ITW” is my favorite of his musicals, and this is a well done filming of a theatrical performance. Feel free to substitute “Sweeney Todd” if you wish; I wasn’t crazy about it though. “Children Will Listen.”
13. Kander & Ebb - “Chicago”
That’s my pick, but man, it’s an absolute toss-up with their equally awesome show, “Cabaret.” Watch both, Blog, I’m serious! “All That Jazz” (which we saw performed by the Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas so now I love it even more).
14. Jerry Bock & Sheldon Harnick - “Fiddler on the Roof”
Another prolific pair, and this musical is just a classic to me. Funny, touching, full of great songs and terrific Yiddish accents. As we learned from “Spamalot,” “You won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews.” Song: “Sunrise, Sunset.”
The big guy, and yes, I love his stuff a lot. I personally feel the filmed version of the live performance of “Cats” is better, but I know I’d be laughed off the stage, er, blog if I put that. “All I Ask of You.” What, Blog?—You respect my love for “Cats”? Bless you!
16. Stephen Schwartz - “Godspell”
Until they make a filmed version of “Wicked,” that is. But seriously, “Godspell” is one of my favorite movie musicals of all time. 70’s mood, the marvelous Victor Garber, and a tap dance on top of the World Trade Center. (Try not to cry at that scene now.) “Day by Day.”
17. Alan Menken & Howard Ashman - “Little Shop of Horrors”
The absolutely brilliant pair are faves of mine too. If you’ve seen Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” you’ve enjoyed their stuff. “Little Shop” is just as fantastic. “Suddenly Seymour.”
18. Claude-Michel Schonberg - “Les Miserables”
No movies yet of this or his “Miss Saigon,” but there’s a film of a concert version made in 1996 if you want to experience the show that way. Not a long list of works, but both were hugely successful and influential. “I Had a Dream.” And, Susan Boyle fans, a lot of the other songs are just as beautiful.
19. Jonathan Larson - “Rent”
Another one-hit wonder (because of Jonathan’s tragic untimely death), but must be included as this show is so superb. “525,600 Minutes (Seasons of Love).” (That’s a year, Blog, so that means I will love you for 2,628,000 minutes!)
20. Marc Shaiman - “Hairspray”
I’m such a fan of Marc’s he had to be on here. He’s a musical genius whose written bizillions of songs for film and TV as well as his work on Broadway. If you’re a fan of “So You Think You Can Dance,” why have you not rented “Hairspray” by now? :-) “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
And hey, Blog, did you know I wrote a puppet play called “Soggy Wheat” when I was in the fifth grade? It went on a two-performance tour at Dixon Elementary School! The Broadway revival will be any year now, I’m sure. Yes, Blog, I keed, but only in the last sentence.