We’re almost done with this massive project to identify the Top 100 Greatest Musicals as judged by our readers and musical theatre fans around the world. In this latest instalment Alan Menken, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander and Ebb all make repeat appearances. Don’t forget to let us know your thoughts on the results.
40. Little Shop Of Horrors
Long before Alan Menken became Mr Disney, he and writer Howard Ashman wrote an Off-Broadway musical that over the years has become one of the world’s favourites. Little Shop Of Horrors was based on the 1960 low budget black comedy that starred a young Jack Nicholson. Premiering Off Off Broadway, then moving to Off Broadway, the show ran for five years before moving to London and Sydney amongst other locations. Frank Oz of The Muppets fame made a great movie adaptation of the film bowing to studio pressure to change the ending (not so good). Still, the stage show won the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical and is beloved by schools and community theatre groups around the world.
Rodgers and Hammerstein score yet another entry in the Top 100 with their musical adaptation of Malnar’s Liliom. It’s hard to believe that this musical opened in 1945 as it’s score is fresh and timeless. Running for 890 performances on Broadway there have been major productions of this show around the world with a notable production taking place at the National Theatre in 1992 under the direction of Nichola Hytner. It’s finale You’ll Never Walk Alone was adopted by Liverpool FC. There’s not much to add about this musical, you just have to see it!
Willkommen! Cabaret is a musical based on Christopher Isherwood’s book, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. Many may not know though that it was very nearly written by the composer of The Boy Friend – Sandy Wilson. Luckily Kander and Ebb together with Harold Prince and choreographer Ron Field bought us a musical that at the outset broke the rules. Containing no overture and no front curtain, this was a musical that took a difficult subject and became a phenomenon. The London production starred Judi Dench as Sally Bowles – the second rate star of the Kit Kat Club. It wasn’t til the film version directed by Bob Fosse that Sally took on the sizeable talents of one Liza Minnelli.
37. In The Heights
Before Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a little musical called In The Heights that started in the basement of the Drama Bookshop in New York before going Off Broadway, then to Broadway where it won the Tony Awards for Be Musical, Best Score, Best Orchestrations and Nest Choreography. Set in Washington Heights New York, it’s a musical melting pot of the types of music and musical influences that you might expect to hear on the streets. Listening to Patrick Hinds’ new podcast Broadway Backstory recently, I was intrigued to hear about the show’s origins including a character called Lincoln who disappeared from the show completely. Most recently the brilliant London Off-West End production was resurrected at the Kings Cross Theatre where it ran for nearly a year.
36. We Will Rock You
Using the music of British stadium rock band Queen, We Wil Rock You featured a thinly veiled Arthurian based plot set in a future time penned by Ben Elton. Directed by Christopher Renshaw and Choreographed by Arlene Phillips it played at London’s extremely large Dominion Theatre for 12 years – despite being panned by critics. Enriched by the incredibly theatrical Queen score, the show has since been presented around the world.
35. Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert
Starting life as a low-budget motion picture in Australia, this unlikely road movie about three drag queens travelling from Sydney to Uluru with a soundtrack that included The Village People, Abba, Charlene and many others seemed an obvious choice for musicalisation. After a smash hit production in Australia it played two years in the West End, followed by Broadway and other cities around the world. The UK has since hosted three major tours of the show.
34. Avenue Q
Avenue Q is a musical featuring puppets (set on a street like Sesame Street) by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx who wrote the music and lyrics, with a book by Jeff Whitty. Think Sesame Street for Adults and you are kind of close. It was once described as an “autobiographical and biographical” coming-of-age parable, addressing and satirising the issues and anxieties associated with entering adulthood.” Avenue Q was a refreshing, funny and heart-felt musical for the muppet generation. The show would go on to win the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical (beating Wicked), Best Book, and Best Score. The show continues to play Off Broadway, ran for 5 years in the West End and has had several successful UK Tours.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, Evita started life as a concept recording featuring Julie Covington, Colm Wilkinson, Tony Christie and Barbara Dickson. The show’s anthem Don’t Cry For Me Argentina became a massive pop hit around the world despite the fact that it ran for five minutes. With Harold Prince signed as director, Elaine Paige was picked to join David Essex in the London production which proved to be a massive hit. where it won the Olivier Awards for Best Musical and Best Performance for Elain Paige. The Broadway production won 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical. The show was made into a movie directed by Alan Parker starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.
32. Mary Poppins
If you’ve seen the film Saving Mr Banks, you are fully aware of just how this musical came into being. With brilliant songs by the Sherman Brothers, stunning animation, Julie Andrew and the dodgy Cockney of Dick Van Dyke this movie continues to be a family favourite. Cameron Mackintosh and Disney Theatrical combined to present a stage version of Mary with new book by Julian Fellowes based on Pl Travers original stories, and songs from the original film by The Sherman Brothers augmented by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe with new material also supplied by Stiles and Drewe in the style of the Sherman Brothers. The show was a mammoth hit running for more than three years in the West End and for over six years on Broadway. A major tour is just concluding in the UK prior to touring internationally and may possibly be headed back to the West End. What can we say this musical is like practically perfect – just like Mary!
31. The Rocky Horror Show
The story goes that The Rocky Show was created by Richard O’Brien whilst he was appearing as an apostle/leper in Jesus Christ Superstar. Showing his passion for science fiction and B Horror Movies, the show under the direction of Jim Sharman the show premiered upstairs at the Royal Court. It continues to be presented around the world 25 years after its first production and holds a record for the longest-running release in film history for its movie adaptation which spawned a generation of fans who continue to hold audience participation screenings of the cult hit.
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