Talk about musical theater, and you may conjure up many cliches: rich New York socialites, well-dressed men who date men, and the artsy-fartsy crowd. Look beyond the surface, however, and realize that a good musical can cross into mainstream seamlessly. Here are some great shows and the catchy ditties that the layman could find himself humming without even realizing it.
This 1970s take on 1950s America is just fun. It has singing mischievous teenagers, cool cars, and a sexual awakening. Its hits propelled Olivia Newton-John to stardom. “You’re the One that I Want” was a hit in the U.S. and the UK, while songs like “Summer Lovin,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”, and “Greased Lightnin'” similarly remain legendary in their own right.
2. West Side Story
Roger’s and Hammerstein’s 1950s take on Romeo and Juliet may be the best American musical. It’s a story of young love, of poverty, urban violence, and racial tensions. Maybe the specific story is less relevant than it was in the 1950s, but the story is no less beautiful. Unforgettable hits include “I Feel Pretty”, “America,” “Maria”, and “Jet Song”.
This revolutionary piece of theater featured the first integrated broadway show where African-Americans were treated as equals to the white characters. It spawned a fun movie and hit cover versions of hits such as “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” and “Good Morning Starshine”.
4. The Music Man
This G-rated musical with dirty undertones oscillates between cheesy and sweet. The story of a midwestern town needing some music and energy, a librarian who needs some courage to love, and a sleazy traveling salesman who turns into a hero endures with the Family Guy-honored “Shipoopi”, and the Beatle’s covered “Till There Was You”.
Although first released as a concept album, Pete Townshend’s successful rock opera has made it onto list after list of great alums. The movie features several 1970s rock stars, including Tina Turner, Elton John, and Eric Clapton, and spawned hits such as “Pinball Wizard”, and “I’m Free”.
It may not work as a western, but it is a great musical. The story of courage and love spawned still well-known tracks “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin!”, and “Surrey With a Fringe on Top.”
7. The Wizard of Oz
A spacy girl from Kansas imagines herself in a more colorful world, and is transported to a bizarre fantasy land where she is needed to help. She makes new friends, destroys a tyranny, but realizes that she needs a home. Everyone knows her classic lament “Over the Rainbow”, and the upbeat “Follow the Yellow Brick Road/You’re Off to See the Wizard”.
8. Fiddler on the Roof
The tale of a Russian Jewish man and his struggle to keep his daughters true to their religion has won ten Tony awards and remained in people’s minds due to songs like “If I Were a Rich Man”, and “Matchmaker.”
9. My Fair Lady- A story based on class, on what makes a person attractive in society, and of course, falling in love with what you create yourself. It is almost a fairy tale- a young lady goes from pauper to princess simply by adjusting her speech, clothes, and mannerisms. “The Rain in Spain” song and scene are especially memorable, and “I Could Have Danced All Night” is still well-known.
10. Annie- Probably a zeitgeist of FDR-era poverty in America, Annie shines through with optimism in songs such as “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” “Maybe”, and “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow”.