SPLITTING HAIRS




EPISODE III: Musicals

Max & Nicky talk about their passion for musicals and attempt to dissect the reason why certain people say they don’t like musicals.

Intro and Outro Music
Written, mixed, and produced by Nicky Weinbach

One thought on “SPLITTING HAIRS

  1. Max and Nicky,

    I’ve been meaning to comment on this episode for awhile and actually started working on my below, Top 20 Musicals List, which took me a long time, and I didn’t even finish writing commentaries on all of them.

    I agree that if someone says that they “don’t like musicals” it probably means that they haven’t listened to enough musicals because that’s essentially like saying that they don’t like music.

    I’d love to discuss this list more with you when we next chat. All of the musicals on this list I’ve listened to many times and most I’ve seen live (a couple I’ve only seen movie versions of).

    1. South Pacific (1950) -> Rogers and Hammerstein perfected the American book musical formula. Classic songs transcend the musical theater genre and have become classics of 20th century American music. “Some Enchanted Evening” is one of my favorite songs ever written. Powerful story that remains timely more than 60 years after it came out. Best recording: 2008 Lincoln Center revival.

    2. Fiddler on the Roof (1965) -> As a piece of art it captures the paradoxical combination of joy and sorrow in human life. Basically every song is a Broadway standard. Incredibly moving reflection of the struggles of the European Jewish community without ever being emotionally manipulative. Best recording: 1971 Film recording. In general, the film removes all of the rough edges from the stage version.

    3. Anything Goes (1934) -> Its the paradign of the goofy 1930s musical. Paper-thin plot involving pining lovers, gangsters and mistaken identity on a cruise ship, Cole Porter’s songs (“I Get a Kick Out of You”, “Anything Goes,” De-Lovely”, etc) are among the best ever written for the stage. Several show-stopping dance productions and a lot of great humor. The most recent production, 2011 Broadway revival re-works the book quite a bit and makes it a much stronger show, earning it a spot in my top 10.

    4. Hamilton (2016) -> I know that we’ve had some disagreements about this show, but I’ve listened to it several times all the way through now. You know the first time I heard it, I was in tears through the last few songs. I’ve never been more moved by a musical. Lin Manuel-Miranda’s takes powerful historical characters and translates them into powerful musical theater characters set against the epic story of America’s founding. The songs “Helpless,” “Satisfied,” “Wait For It,” the Act I finale “Non Stop,” “Say No To This” and the entire finale to the show are all fantastic musical theater songs. I think you need to listen to this show all the way through in one sitting.

    5. The Fantasticks (1960) -> We pretty much share the same opinion on this show. The best thing about this show is how it takes a simple parable and captures universal coming of age experiences. “Try to Remember” is another song that transcends musical theater to become a standard of the American songbook. Another great thing about this show is how it allows for a deep and complete show to be produced on a microbudget, making it perfect for high school and college theater. I hope this show never closes in NYC.

    6. Evita (1980) -> This is my pick for the best Andrew Lloyd Weber show, partly because of the cleverness and depth of Tim Rice’s lyrics. This is in marked contrast to later shows, like Phantom, after his partnership with Rice ended and the lyrics are much less sharp. Its also his best musical for character development, with Evita and Che both being very complex figures. The themes of power, manipulation and self-delusion in politics has never been better explored in musical theater. Tons of great songs, like “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “High Flying Adored,” “Rainbow High.” Also, while I generally agree that musical theater singers don’t need to have the best voices, this is a show that absolutely requires top singing. Listen to the original cast with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.

    7. Sunday in the Park with George (1984) -> Sondheim is one of my weak areas in musical theater, but of the shows of his that I know, Sunday in the Park is one of my favorite all time shows. I had the pleasure of seeing the revival on Broadway in the mid-2000s. Its a very moving show with a great exploration of the obsessive desire to create something new through art. Really interesting structure where the second act is set over a 100 years after the first. Sondheim’s spare music works well with Seurat’s pointillist painting style. The end of the first act that recreates Sunday on the Grande Jatte in tableau on stage is legendy. Best recording is probably the original cast with Mandy Pantinkin and Brendette Peters.

    8. Les Miserables (1987) -> For over-produced 80s spectacle, Les Mis is my favorite. This is a book that I’ve twice never managed to finish, and yet it is distilled down into a manageable 3 hour-ish hour musical. At this point Valjean and Javert are better known from this show than the book and they have become two of the iconic musical theater roles. The epic staging fits this epic story of redemption, mercy, justice and revolution.

    9. Guys and Dolls (1951) -> Musicals can also be about allowing you to escape the real world. For that, Guys and Dolls is just about perfect, transporting you to a world that never really existed: the early world of gangsters, gamblers, missionaries and dolls in Damon Runyon’s version of 1950s NYC. Almost a perfect book-musical. Beautiful songs: “My Time of Day,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “Luck Be a Lady,” etc. Best version: 1992 Revival with Nathan Lane and Peter Gallagher. Note: I saw a really mediocre revival of this on Broadway in the 2000s when I lived there with the mom from Gilmore Girls.

    10. Wicked (2004) -> You’re going to hate this, but I remain convinced that for pure musical theater spectacle, Wicked is the best, beating Phantom. It has a fairly deep, subversive take on Wizard of Oz, an epic story, gorgeous set design, and the two lead characters are really interesting. Songs are great and the first act finale still sends chills up my spine when Elphaba first flies. Will this show outlast Phantom on Broadway? We’ll see.

    11. Cabaret (1967) -> I’m going to do less commentary on 11 – 20. This is a show that actually isn’t really one of my favorites, but I recognize how objectively good it is. The songs and lyrics are really powerful and it has a lot of iconic imagery, even if the two leads are pretty narcissistic and kind of intolerable.

    12. The King and I (1952) -> Almost as good as South Pacific for all the same reasons.

    13. Show Boat (1927) -> I don’t know this show as well as I should and haven’t seen it, but it really has some great songs (like “Ole Man River”). It invented the musical theater genre.

    14. West Side Story (1958) -> I’m probably not as big of a fan of this show as you guys are. I only like about half of the songs, but it is the greatest dance show ever. Jerome Robbins’ choreography, particularly for the fight scenes is genius.

    15. The Music Man (1958) -> Another archetype of the perfect book-musical. When performed by good actors and singers, this show is just tremendously fun. “You’ve Got Trouble” is a really funny song. Sometimes you just need a show that is unironically optimistic and fun.

    16. Ragtime (1998) -> This show is not nearly as well known as it should be. It got robbed for the best musical Tony (twice), losing the first time to the overrated Lion King. Its a complex show weaving together three stories of three families in turn of the century New York. Wonderful score.

    17. The Phantom of the Opera (1988) -> I do like Phantom of the Opera. Its score is among the best and most infectious ever written for the stage. I maintain that its lyrics are probably the weakest part of the show. “Music of the Night” is really moving, musically, but the lyrics say practically nothing. In any case, its a great show, and I’ve probably listened to it 50 times or more.

    18. The Sound of Music (1960) -> Rogers and Hammerstein are the best and I couldn’t not put this show in the top 20. The movie version, is gorgeously filmed. I’ve yet to see it on stage.

    19. Annie (1977) -> I needed one children’s musical on the list, and this is the best one ever. Performed well, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” is actually really moving.

    20. Avenue Q (2004) -> This is the only comedy musical that I think is actually a good show. I used to like Book of Mormon a lot more, but its really just a South Park episode on stage. Avenue Q, on the other hand, is really creative, the puppets are great and it is very funny. Some really memorable songs, though admittedly not as strong the songs in 1-19 on this list.

    Honorable Mentions (stuff that I really like, but don’t think is top 20 material):

    She Loves Me (1964)
    1776 (1969)
    How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1962)
    Little Shop of Horrors
    Pippin (1973)
    Chicago (1976) (more the revamped post-movie version)
    Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1982)
    The Scarlet Pimpernel (1998)
    The Drowsy Chaperone (2006)
    Mary Poppins (2008) (the stage show is actually quite different than the movie and, in some ways, works better as a stage show. Quite a bit darker and more British. A number of different songs and sequences from the books).
    Spring Awakening (2007)
    A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2014)
    Gaps (important shows that I haven’t seen/heard that could be top 20):

    Company (1971)
    Into the Woods (1987)
    Promises (1969)

    Left off the list because I don’t think they are very good.

    Rent (dated, unlikeable characters)
    My Fair Lady (ok show, but vastly worse than Pygmalion. Some really annoying songs)
    A Chorus Line (very dated, not very good music)
    Sweeney Todd (I mostly just don’t like the theme and don’t want to watch it, though I acknowledge that many of the songs are quite good).
    Cats
    The Lion King (yeah the puppets are cool, but it adds literally nothing to the animated film. See also: every other Disney Broadway musical except Mary Poppins. Why spend $200 or more to take your kids to see something that they could watch on DVD for less than $20 when they could see something original on stage that can’t be seen anywhere else.)
    Monty Pythons Spamalot
    Jersey Boys (and every other singer/band catalog show).

    Looking forward to “splitting hairs” on this list.

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