Even if you’re not a musical fanatic, who doesn’t enjoy musical theatre every once in a while? The Philippines has been welcoming touring musical theatre companies consistently for a couple of years now, and there’s no denying that Filipinos have continuously expressed interest in watching these musicals. But wouldn’t it be such a treat if you actually got the opportunity to watch one on Broadway, New York City where these musicals rose to fame?
Trust me, it’s a thrilling and different experience altogether. The looming posters at Times Square, the bright theatre night lights, and the long lines at the entrances are enough to give you an idea of just how hyped the theatre culture in Broadway is. However, you obviously have to filter which musical to prioritise once you’re choosing what to watch. Here’s my personal list in no particular order.
1. Phantom of the Opera
“In sleep he sang to me. In dreams he came. That voice which calls to me, and speaks my name.”
Phantom of the Opera is without a doubt, one of the most successful musicals ever to be created. Musicals come and go on Broadway, but Phantom of the Opera never left. It’s officially the longest running musical in Broadway history and on Feb 2012, was the first Broadway production to celebrate a 10,000th performance. Composed by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and written by Charles Hart, Phantom of the Opera won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1988. Phantom of the Opera also skyrocketed Michael Crawford’s fame as he won the Olivier and Tony Award for Best Actor as the original Phantom.
This musical is the most haunting love story on Broadway. It involves three main characters, the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul. The leading lady, Christine, finds herself in the lead role of an opera thanks to the vocal training from the Phantom, who initially pretends to be the angel of Christine’s dead father. Raoul steps into the picture and shakes Christine into disillusionment which provokes the Phantom and triggers a series of catastrophic events.
The musical’s most famous songs are known to be Music of the Night, All I Ask of You, Think of Me, and of course, the Phantom of the Opera. The lyrics and music, which is a mix of both operatic and rock style, are so hypnotising that they’re sure to continue playing in your head even after the musical has ended. If musicals don’t interest you, Phantom of the Opera could convert you.
2. Mean Girls
“This is a cautionary tale about corruption and betrayal! And getting hit by a bus!”
Everyone knows the Mean Girls film of 2004, written by Tina Fey starring Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams. Through the years, Mean Girls became such an iconic film in pop culture that Tina Fey eventually agreed to adapt it into a musical.
Given how beloved the characters of Mean Girls are to people who grew up with the film, and the charming wit and humour which permeate throughout the plot, the success of the musical was no surprise. It was able to immediately transfer productions from Washington D.C.’s National Theatre to Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre in a span of five months. The musical is a must-watch for millennials and zillennials, or for anyone who wants to reminisce all the trivial high school drama by watching Cady Heron face The Plastics and the terror of Regina George.
3. Once on this Island
“So I hope you tell this tale tomorrow. It will help your heart remember and relive. It will help you feel the anger and the sorrow. And forgive.”
Once On This Island is actually a Broadway revival from the same musical of 1990. Most Filipinos who know of it do so because our very own Lea Salonga starred in the musical revival for quite some time, up until it won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical this 2018. Once on this Island is about a peasant girl who unites people of different social classes through the power of love. The story takes a few cues from Romeo and Juliet as the main protagonist falls in love with a boy from a different clan and social division.
But there are many aspects to the musical which also reflect a more folkloric theme. It’s a world where gods and goddesses interact with caribbean dwellers, and where a tropical and vibrant set design comes alive for the audience. This musical is only 90 minutes long with no intermission, I’m sure you can squeeze it somewhere in your itinerary.
4. Anastasia the Musical
“She stood straight as a queen. Only eight, but so proud and serene. How they cheered. How I stared, in a crowd of thousands.”
Based on the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, the musical follows the 1918 execution of the Romanov royal family. The story, both in animation and musical, picks up where an amnesiac girl named Anya is orphaned and unidentified. Anastasia the Musical is somewhat based on the 1997 animation film, where six songs of the musical originate from, such as Once Upon a December, Journey to the Past, and At the Beginning.
The conspiracy theory of Anastasia surviving the assassination of her royal family has always earned the curiosity of people from all over the world. It’s no surprise then, that the show attracted audiences, who were not only curious to watch a reimagining of the princess’ story but who also wanted to feed their imagination with emotions and visions that could only be evoked through music and play.
The musical opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway on March 2017 with Christy Altomare as the leading role of Anastasia, and Derek Klena as her love interest, Dmitri. Although critics have given it mixed reviews, it consistently sells out and proves a smash hit to its demographic of romantics and adolescents.
5. Dear Evan Hansen
“So let the sun come streaming in, ‘cuz you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again. Lift your head and look around. You will be found.”
Truly a story meant for conversations of today, Dear Evan Hansen is a musical that explores themes such as mental health and youth suicide. But don’t let that deter you from watching the musical. Though it has serious themes, the play keeps the tone light and the story relatable by grounding everything in a high school setting with teenage humour and awkward flirtations.
The musical’s main protagonist Evan, is a teenage boy who suffers from social anxiety yet exhibits a strong sense of compassion when one of his schoolmates commits suicide. He pretends to have been a close friend of this schoolmate in order to comfort the grieving family. Caught up in the lie, Evan struggles and even becomes more visible in school.
Dear Evan Hansen opened on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre in December 2016 and the reviews have been phenomenal ever since. It’s leading actor Ben Platt (you might know him from Pitch Perfect), received critical acclaim for the role of Evan Hansen, eventually winning the Tony Award for Best Actor in 2017. Aside from Ben Platt’s win, the musical received nine Tony Award nominations and won Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Featured Actress with Rachel Bay Jones.
Regardless of the trophies this musical has, its impact speaks for itself when you search it on Youtube and find a number of videos by musical groups and aspiring artists covering its iconic songs such as You Will Be Found, Sincerely Me, and Waving Through A Window.
“If I’m a monster, then it’s true. There’s only one thing that’s left for me to do. But before I fade to white, I’ll do all that I can to make things right.”
As the highest grossing animated movie of all time, turning Frozen into a live musical performance on Broadway was inevitable. Premiering on Broadway on March 2018 at St. James Theatre, the musical not only welcomed kids but sought to attract adults as well with a revised script. The creators of the musical retelling of Frozen somewhat made the story more relatable for an older audience as the plot delves deeper into the psyches of the two princesses, Anna and Elsa.
Nevertheless, the musical stays true to the essence of the animation by keeping the lead characters and iconic songs such as Let It Go, For the First Time In Forever, and Do You Want To Build A Snowman. But now, everyone of all ages will get to appreciate the story in a whole new light as songs such as Monster, Kristoff Lullaby, and True Love give the beloved characters more dimension.
7. Hamilton: An American Musical
“When America sings for you, will they know what you overcame? Will they know you rewrote the game? The world will never be the same.”
Hamilton: An American Musical made waves when it premiered as an Off-Broadway production in February 2015. The life of former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton inspired this unheard of concept of a musical history lesson founded on hip-hop.
Although some may dismiss the notion of an American history lesson turned musical as boring, the creator and writer, Lin Manuel Miranda, crafted the music and lyrics in hip-hop to give a more relatable and emotional interpretation to modern audiences. The musical broke boundaries by casting people of different races and colour as America’s historic leaders. Miranda did this intentionally since he wanted the musical to be a reflection of what America looks like today by fostering a sense of inclusivity through the cast. Despite the fact that the story is based on American politicians, Hamilton presents themes, such as legacy, leadership, equality, and relationship, that will speak to anyone regardless of background and nationality.
The musical opened in the Richard Rogers Theater on Broadway on August 2015 and bagged 11 Tony Awards in 2016. This included Best Musical and Best Original Score. It’s been the highest grossing musical every year since. So far in 2018, it has earned a sum of $72 million on Broadway alone.
Remember, when in New York City, it is an absolute must to see at least one Broadway musical during your stay. Broadway at Times Square, after all, is a big part of what makes NYC the bright city that it is.