Monday, November 20, 2006

Narcissistic Trip Down the Great White Way

The title is already a lie; one of the works I'm going to talk about, I'm fairly sure was never on Broadway, and the other only exists in film form.

I don't follow contemporary music; I don't understand it, don't enjoy it, and have a general indifference toward it. Maybe it's art, maybe it's not, but either way, it doesn't do anything for me.

But I love showtunes. Nothing seems to make me happier (or, on occasion, more likely to cry) than great showtumes.

So here are my five favorite musicals

1. Jesus Christ Superstar
2. Wicked
3. The Rocky Horror Show (and The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
4. Rent
5. Moulin Rouge

What shall we say about these works, other than that they all contain fairly modern music adapted to the stage?

"Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Wicked" each feature traditional villains re-imagined. Judas Iscariot becomes, if not sympathetic, understandable. He also gets all the best songs. Elphaba, the "Wicked Witch of the West," becomes a sympathetic hero.

The songs in "Wicked" are wonderful, for, as Gregory Maguire says, the upbeat songs contain a certain darkness to them, and the sad and dark songs contain a certain optimism. My two favorite songs are "Dancing Through Life" and "Defying Gravity."

Both "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Wicked" are also modern re-imagining of archetypes, and stories about rises to greatness.

"The Rocky Horror Show" is a celebration of the abandonment of conventional sexual morality. It does so in a delightfully campy way.

"Rent" is about the formation of and need for community. Interesting, it is also a modern re-telling of an old story, the opera "La Boheme."

"Moulin Rouge" is, in my opinion, one of the greatest films ever made. I think just about anybody can set a camera in a room and film people acting; there's something in this film that is almost unduplicable. I don't have the film school vocabulary to fully explain it, but there's definitely a technical bravado to this film which gives it its strength. And the post-modern flourish of the anachronistically recognizable songs and the story within the story suits my tastes perfectly.

This is where I'll stop for now.


  1. I like your choices of great musicals, and I add to your list Little Shop of Horrors. I know you don't agree, but it is such fun. It is a silly, campy, ridiculous play and premise designed to get yuks, but meanwhile it actually makes some pretty significant and moving statements about the lengths people will go to to escape poverty and the inability they have to do so in our world. I love it, but I always get so depressed when I watch it.

  2. And by the way, Audrey's hopes and dreams for life, as illustrated in the song "Somewhere that's Green" are so pathetic they make me cry. She sets her sights so 'low' that the audience laughs at her, and yet her goals are still unattainable; it's heartbreaking.