A Personal History of Broadway

I’ve decided to add a new blog category called On the Stage, in which I recap/review the latest show I saw — Broadway or off, musical or play, etc. I was inspired to do this while seeing School of Rock this weekend, but before I recap/review that I thought it’d be fun to first write about every show I’ve ever seen (don’t worry, it’s not that many). Amazingly, there are many classic shows I haven’t seen but I still know their songs/plots pretty well from cultural references or seeing their movie versions. Ah, to be so well-rounded in popular culture!

So here they are in alphabetical order, because ranking them in order of preference would have taken too long:

Aida: I saw this with a friend and her mom a very long time ago, and I distinctly remember two things about the experience: 1) Riding the Toys “R” Us Ferris wheel (RIP) beforehand; 2) Laughing a lot during the show and being surprised by it — I must have been under the impression that Broadway was a serious matter, not something that could be funny. I also remember some really great costumes.

Aladdin: I was sooo excited when I heard my favorite Disney movie was coming to Broadway, and I couldn’t wait to see how the Tony-winning Genie would measure up to Robin Williams, but the night I saw it I got the understudy. Not that there’s anything wrong with understudies, I just don’t feel like I got the whole experience, you know? The set design and costumes were specTACular, though.

Baby It’s You: This was basically the female version of Jersey Boys, about The Shirelles rather than The Four Seasons, but it didn’t have quite the same pizzazz. The soundtrack was excellent, though, and anything that makes me feel close to my dad and what he loved (such as The Shirelles’ music) makes me happy.

Beautiful: I always think of Gilmore Girls when I think of Carole King, but there’s obviously much more to her than that theme song/guest appearance, which is what this show is about. The woman who played Carole (and won the Tony) was absolutely phenomenal, and I can’t believe how many great songs Carole wrote but was too afraid to sing in public.

Beauty and the Beast: One of the first shows I ever saw on Broadway, long before they made all Disney movies into sparkly Broadway extravaganzas. This felt like a real show, you know? Gorgeous set design.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Oh how excited I was to see this and oh what a let down it was. First of all, I think I just like musicals better than plays; second of all, the Breakfast at Tiffany’s I know and love is the movie, which as I know from the awesome book Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. is a far cry from the original book by Truman Capote, and the play is much closer to the book than the movie; third of all, if I’ve seen Audrey Hepburn in a role I don’t want to see anyone else in it, not even Khaleesi. Hence why I will not be seeing the new production of My Fair Lady I heard is coming to Broadway next year — there’s only one Eliza Doolittle!

Chicago: My first-ever Broadway show experience. My dad took me out to eat first, somewhere above Times Square, and he thought we were being very cool and hip, then he fell asleep for most of the show. “Cell Block Tango” is still one of my favorite Broadway tunes.

Fish in the Dark: I would have seen anything Larry David did, just for the chance to see him IRL. A lot of people complained that this was just a live episode of Curb, but what’s wrong with that?

Jersey Boys: I’m proud to say I heard about this show long before it entered into previews, and I scored tickets during previews as a Father’s Day gift when I was in high school. My parents and I absolutely loved it; it’s the only show I’ve ever been to during which the entire audience stood up and danced/sang for a large portion of it.

Kinky Boots: This was a little slow in terms of the plot, but the songs and costumes were a lot of fun.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill: My husband describes this one perfectly: “The closest you’ll ever come to seeing Billie Holiday live.” This was a really special show because it was in an extremely small, intimate theater, with little tables set up as if we were actually at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Even with the very little dialogue or “acting”, you got a heartbreakingly accurate picture of what Billie Holiday was like.

Les Miserables: I know it’s cliche, but this is probably still my favorite Broadway show of all time. I was probably way too young when I first saw it (11? 12?), and I cried my head off from the second I realized Fantine was dying until the cast took their final bows, but holy moly I LOVE THIS SHOW! I can’t even think the words “Les Mis” without immediately turning on the soundtrack, which I just did just now. DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING, SINGING THE SONG OF ANGRY MEN?!

Madama Butterfly: Not a Broadway show but an opera I saw at the Met as an Italian class field trip in high school, so I’m pretty I didn’t really appreciate it. But I’d love to try it again.

Matilda: Eventually all movies become Broadway shows and vice versa, but this one did a great job of being a separate entity from the movie (and the book), and the set was really cool.

Motown: Another show very dear to my heart because of the music, but it was honestly just a concert — there was no “story” besides the (abbreviated) history of Motown. I hired my wedding band based on their ability to play the exact songs from this show, and I’m still hearing compliments on that choice. *Pats self on back*

Once: I wanted to see this show solely because of the song “Falling Slowly“, which I first heard as a cover by Kris Allen on season 8 of American Idol and immediately fell in love with. The rest of the show/story really didn’t matter.

Rent: Another cliche but probably my second-favorite Broadway show of all time, not far from Les Mis in my heart and followed closely by Jersey Boys. I even thought the movie was almost as good as the show, especially because most of the original Broadway cast was in the movie, but I prefer the Broadway version of most of the songs, probably because I knew the songs years before seeing the show because my sister played them constantly. Today for me, tomorrow for you! I just love how legendary and trend-setting and definitive of its time this show is/was. (I also saw this way too young, so young that I didn’t understand it was about AIDS or what AIDS was until much later in life.)

Riverdance: Another class field trip show, I think in middle school, so it must have been one of my first after Chicago and Beauty and the Beast. Truly awful, and way too loud.

School of Rock: Stay tuned for the full review in a separate post!

Spring Awakening: This may not count since I saw it in London and not on Broadway, but that makes me seem sophisticated so I’m keeping it on the list. Most of my European travels are a huge blur, so I don’t remember anything about this show, I just feel cool for having seen it in London.

The Book of Mormon: My husband will be mad that this is not in my top three shows I’ve ever seen, but I was skeptical about seeing it because of my hatred for South Park (same directors/producers/writers). It was extremely funny and outrageously offensive to every possible type of human, it just isn’t one of my favorites. I do, however, think of that Orlando song whenever I hear anyone talk about that God-awful city.

The Lion King: Totally lives up to the hype, especially because of the set and costumes. The giraffes walk through the audience — it’s SO cool!

The Little Mermaid: Really just the Disney movie on a stage. Very sparkly costumes, not much else to it.

The Nutcracker: Not a play or a musical or an opera, but a show nonetheless. I expected a lot from The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center — I mean, isn’t that what ballerinas aspire to? — but alas, I saw not one but two dancers fall during the performance. One slipped on the snow during the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the other (a tiny little girl, poor thing) tripped over her angel costume’s hoop skirt. To quote my mother, the whole production was “fraught with peril”.

The Temptations & The Four Tops: Honestly this shouldn’t count because it was a concert, but it was on Broadway! It was a bunch of old geezers singing some very good old songs, but Jersey Boys and Motown and Beautiful and Baby It’s You were all much, much better.

This Is Our Youth: The draw of this play was Michael Cera, and it ended up being kind of about nothing, and I fell asleep for a medium-sized portion of the second act. Whoops!

Titanic: Yes, you’re reading that correctly, Titanic was once a Broadway production. There was a time when this country was obsessed with that damn boat, but I don’t think this was the right medium in which to portray it. It was pretty bad.

Wicked: I think Wicked can go in my top four after Les Mis, Rent, and Jersey Boys, mostly because I saw it when Idina Menzel played Elfaba, and she is just one of the best singers of all time. But I was never that obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, so the story itself wasn’t like “oh my god” to me, you know?

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