TheaterMania Logo
Home link

5 Musicals to Watch on Memorial Day

These shows honor America's fallen heroes.

Memorial Day is when we honor and mourn the American military personnel who have died in the line of duty. Here are five musicals that recognize their sacrifice — all available to watch from the comfort of your own home.

Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton, available for streaming through Disney Plus.
(© Joan Marcus)

1. Hamilton
I know, I know ... you don't need a special occasion to stream the Disney Plus version of this beloved Broadway musical. But why not give it another watch on Memorial Day? While the plot centers on Revolutionary War veteran and first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton (portrayed by composer Lin-Manuel Miranda), there is a subplot that feels perfectly suited for Memorial Day: Anthony Ramos (who stars in the new film version of Miranda's In the Heights) portrays Hamilton's buddy John Laurens, whose death at Battle of the Combahee River makes him one of the last fatalities of the Revolutionary War. Take some time to remember him and all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty.

2. On the Town
Following a trio of sailors (played by Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin) on shore leave in the Big Apple, On the Town is a great way to remember the GI generation in all its youthful exuberance. The tone of the score (by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green) remains mostly upbeat, but a twinge of sadness hovers over the film when we consider that these men are shipping out to dangerous waters and an uncertain future. I once saw the last Broadway revival with an audience full of Navy men in town for Fleet Week (which takes place in the week leading up to Memorial Day) and it remains one of my most cherished theatrical memories.

Corey Cott and Laura Osnes lead the cast of Bandstand on Broadway.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

3. Bandstand
This relatively new musical by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor is about Donny (Corey Cott), a World War II veteran who returns home and forms a band with several other vets. He convinces Julia (Laura Osnes), the widow of his fallen army buddy, to join the band — but things become complicated when the two develop feelings for each other. With an excellent score of Big Band music and energetic choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton), this was the most underrated musical of 2017. I'm so glad home viewers have the opportunity to see the Broadway production streaming on Broadway On Demand.

Lea Salonga and George Takei star in Allegiance, directed by Stafford Arima, available for streaming on Broadway on Demand.
(© Matthew Murphy)

4. Allegiance
Inspired by the personal experiences of George Takei, Allegiance takes place in an internment camp in rural Wyoming, where Kimura family spends the duration of World War II after being classified as "enemy aliens," along with thousands of other Japanese-Americans. This is despite the fact that their son Sam (Telly Leung) was born in the United States and has volunteered to fight in Europe with the 442nd Infantry Regiment. In addition to depicting one of the most shameful chapters in American history, Allegiance is a musical tribute to the sacrifices of that regiment of nisei (second generation Japanese-Americans), who were sent on some of the most dangerous missions of the Italian campaign.

5. Hair
Most people remember Galt MacDermot's Hair as a slightly disjointed stage musical about freewheeling hippies, but it actually deals directly with the Vietnam War and its cost in American lives. That point is emphasized in the 1979 movie version, which focuses on army draftee Claude and his encounter with a tribe of free spirits led by George Berger. The final scene (above), which partially takes place in Arlington National Cemetery, delivers a powerful statement about a seemingly contradictory aspect of American life: Dissent is patriotic, but those fallen during unpopular wars deserve to be honored too.