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My Top Five Musicals

Catherine Reid talks about the far-reaching influence and more personal impact of these shows. logo

What's harder than deciding where you're going to college or what you're going to do with your life? Picking your top 5 favorite musicals. I feel like I'm choosing between my children! But alas, I must make these decisions because I want you to have top 5 lists every week! These are the shows that changed musical theater and fill any theater enthusiast's musical library.

1. Les Miserables Need I say more? This musical may have some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. Composer Claude-Michel Schonberg expertly weaves musical themes through the score, and Alain Boublil's lyrics are wonderful. How can you listen to "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" without crying? "Oh my friends, my friends forgive me, that I live and you are gone." Or "A Little Fall of Rain?" I am always most moved by Eponine. She is such a phenomenal, dynamic character that almost every famous Broadway actress has clamored to play her -- Sutton Foster, Lea Michele, and Lea Salonga have all portrayed the selfless heroine.

The impact of Les Miserables and Eponine can also be seen in community theater auditions. If I have to hear one more poor rendition of "On My Own," I don't know what I'll do. And personally, Les Miserables will always hold a special place in my heart because it is the show that moved me to do musical theater.

2.Rent It changed the face of musical theater and created the model for the modern rock musical. Without Rent we wouldn't have Spring Awakening or Next to Normal.

But Rent was most important because it was the first time, drugs, HIV, and homosexuality were onstage in a Broadway musical. It broke so many barriers, and composer Jonathan Larson couldn't even be there to see its impact; He passed away from a rare heart condition the day before Rent played its first preview Off-Broadway. He produced some of the most emotionally charged lyrics I have ever heard. If you don't cry when Collins sings the "I'll Cover You (reprise)," then you have no soul.

3.The Sound of Music A Rodgers and Hammerstein musical had to have a place on this list. To me, this is their most extraordinary work. Its impact is unbelievably far-reaching. If you want to talk about audition songs that come up time after time, think of "Do Re Mi," "My Favorite Things," and "16 Going on 17." Almost every song in the show has become a classic.

4.Sunday in the Park with George I know that this may be a controversial choice, but I had to include a Sondheim piece. In my humble opinion, Stephen Sondheim is the end all, be all when it comes to composers. His music is among the most interesting and challenging of any I have encountered. Even more significantly, I think Sondheim created the format for the modern musical by making the songs inseparable from the plot.

And why is Sunday in the Park with George particularly amazing? Because Sondheim composes music to sound like the topic he is portraying. The short and at times dissonant notes in "Sunday" sound like paint being meticulously dotted on the canvas of Georges Seurat's painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," which inspired the musical.

5. Spring Awakening Teenage angst without being overly dramatic about it. I know that I already have Rent on this list, but I'm including Spring Awakening because it too is revolutionary. The coolest part of the show is the juxtaposition between the 1800s period clothing and the modern rock music.

However, the most amazing parts are of course the script and the music. The most moving monologue by far is Moritz's speech before he commits suicide. As he speaks, he gathers up the microphone cord and puts away the equipment as if the show is about to be over. For Moritz, it is the end. He puts the gun to his mouth and the lights go out. It is so simple yet powerfully haunting.

In my last post, I talked about the incredible power of theater. A piece of theater can correlate with a struggle that someone is having and help him or her through it. Spring Awakening did this for me. Without this show, I may not have been able to get through some of the hardest times in my life. For that, it will always be closest to my heart and in my top five musicals.


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