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Best Musicals of All-Time 🎭


Loosely accompanies Gab & Jam,

321. Best Musicals of All-Time


We’re happy to welcome our daughter, Zandalee Henderson, an actor and musical theater expert, to join us on these special edition episodes of Gab & Jam.  She knows “all the things” about musical theater and acting for stage and screen, so she’s going to help us with this list of Best Musicals of all-time.



Check out the episode for the full discussion.



As you know, we’re always looking for inspiration, so watching musicals are sometimes JUST what we need to stoke the fires of our imagination.  And somehow a story with songs that help tell the story is the KEY to sparking our songwriting imaginations.  So, here they are—in no particular order—are the musicals that we like the MOST.



Vox’s Picks: ⭐️


In my list, I am separating out the movie musicals from the stage musicals, since what I like about one sometimes cannot be transferred to the other.  Therefore, I will do my best to include links to the specific version that sparked my interest.


Top Movie Musicals:

Okay, so these first two get all the weirdness points that I could give them.  Both are fun and funny and just the RIGHT amount of dark.  –Plus, George Clooney and Rick Moranis gave some unforgettable performances in their lead roles in each.  –And the music is pretty amazing and interesting for them both.

 




 

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3.  The Wiz (1978)

This entry gets points for being Michael Jackson’s first feature film debut and he KILLED it!  His acting was solid, his dancing was AMAZING and his singing was spectacular.  His performance ALONE is reason enough for it to make the list, but when you add in the fact that Quincy Jones oversaw the music adaptation (from the stage production) and the costume design took the film over the top.  –And if I DON’T mention Mabel King’s “No Bad News” number, it will be a disservice to all of you who love a good evil witch performance.  –The Wiz is EASILY one of my favorite of all-time.


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4. Sound of Music (1965)

Though I am TYPICALLY not a “classic” kind of gal, I have ALWAYS had a soft spot for the songs from this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.  If you know ANYTHING about me, you will know that I LOVE, love, love “My Favorite Things,” but closely behind are “The Sound of Music” and “Edelweiss.” It took me a long time to realize that all these songs were in this very musical that I had avoided for decades, but once I found out their origin, I began to like the movie.

 



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5. La La Land (2016)

Though I was predisposed to dislike it, once I saw it, I loved the questions that it asked about what it means to be a jazz lover and was punctuated by catchy songs and dances and with the backdrop of a relationship’s beginning, evolving, and ending.  It was just the RIGHT amount of depth along with a robust dash of fun and smattering of relationship reality. It was a modern take on what are classic questions and it was the mix that made it worthy of making the list.



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6. Fame (1980)

Well, I grew up in New York, so the very IDEA of a local high school that focused on performing arts was THE draw for me.  Not only did I like the movie, but I watched ALL episodes of the television series.  I rode the wave—and hung on every word, song, and relationship—of young folks striving to make it in music.

 

Vox’s Favorite Stage Musicals:

If you want to know WHY these are my stage musical choices, you will need to check out the accompanying video discussion (click here). –Also, we’ve included links (just in case you want to find out MORE about these musicals.


 



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Zandalee’s Favorite Musicals:


These are listed in no particular order and include a combination of both stage and movie musicals.


 

 

Truthfully, I love every iteration of Spring Awakening I’ve ever seen but none have been as creative or moving as the 2016 Deaf West revival. Not only did the revival make the musical more accessible, as all theatre should be, but it also used the added elements of sign language to enhance the storytelling. It’s the definition of what I call “socially conscious casting” which is not only casting a more diverse group of people but also taking those people’s unique experiences and fusing them with the characters in the story. It requires an extra layer of care, and I think DWSA does that beautifully. 



 

Made by the same creative minds that devised Spring Awakening, Alice By Heart is an inventive take on the classic coming of age story. It takes place during WWII and I think it does a great job layering in how such a tragedy would look through the eyes of a child that doesn’t know how to process it. Additionally, the costumes and choreography are gorgeous and the friendship/burgeoning love between Alfred and Alice warms my heart.  



 

I actually wrote something about this on my blog. My all time favorite Sondheim show because it revolves around two of my favorite things, making art and love. The concept of the show and conversations about art are enticing of course, but moreover I think some of Sondeim’s best music is in this musical. One of the first things I learned about Sondheim in college was that one of the unique things about his compositions is that the characters' thoughts drive the music, not the other way around and that’s something exemplified perfectly in this show. It’s George and Dot’s passion that brings them together and it’s their passion that tears them apart. 

 


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4. Into the Woods (musical, not the film)

 

Similarly to Sunday in the Park, this show has some of my favorite Sondheim songs and so much clever wordplay. I love how he subverts expectations through the second act and the lessons learned by the characters by the end of the show. More than anything though, I am incredibly biased toward this musical because I had the opportunity to perform in it in high school and it was an incredibly transformative experience for me. 



5. La La Land (2016)

 

Probably my favorite movie musical of recent years. Dare I say, the last truly good movie musical? There are a handful of criticisms of this musical that I can understand, but they can never make me hate it. As I get older, I try to broaden my horizons and watch more classics/old Hollywood films and I think the reason some of those old movie musicals have more charm and whimsy than movie musicals made today is because of the simplicity they had. I think La La Land captures that perfectly. Ryan and Emma’s natural chemistry, the effect of them singing live, the use of sound stages and cinematography, I love it immensely. 



 

Speaking of old Hollywood, I watched this for the first time a year or two ago and enjoyed how clearly La La Land was inspired by it, but so different from it. More than anything I was blown away by the level of dancing in the film (which I soon learned would be a staple in any film featuring Gene Kelly). Funny, romantic, full of some gorgeous shots and entertaining drama, and some of the catchiest songs. 



 

This one is interesting because I love the Off Broadway soundtrack more than the Broadway soundtrack but Eurydice remains one of my dream roles. I’m also a bit biased with this show because it wouldn’t be on this list if I didn’t have the fortune to see it live. The music is catchy and the story is devastating but the production design takes it to a whole other level. What the creative team was able to achieve through lights, a fog machine, and a rotating platform was amazing, it’s one of my favorite live shows I’ve seen. 



 

Initially, this show didn’t make the list, but in reminiscing about my favorite musicals I’ve had the pleasure of seeing live I had to add it. If I’d never seen Newsies when it came to town I don’t know that I would be as into theatre as I am today. I always loved performing and seeing shows but I don’t think it was until I saw Newsies with my best friend freshman year of high school that I got serious about pursuing theatre. The music was fun and catchy, the story was simple, the newsies incredibly likable, and the dancing was incredible. Looking back almost a decade later, I recognize how strong the character work of all the actors was and how effective the staging is for such a stagnant set. It truly is a classic. 



 

Great Comet is a show I’ve never been able to see live but the music speaks for itself. I’m usually not a huge fan of operas/operettas but the sung-through nature of the show doesn’t hinder the catchiness of the music. Even now, years removed from my obsession with this show I realize how much of the cast recording I’ve learned just listening in passing. It also has my favorite trope, unrequited love. It works especially well in musicals, the conventions and theatricality of the show lend themselves well to conveying the yearning and heartbreak that accompanies love that will never be. I also love how funny the Great Comet is while it handles material that is so dramatic and at times, incredibly sad. It deserved more at the Tonys. 



 

Is this a serious musical? No. Do I think it’s on par with some of the shows on this list? Absolutely not. But I love it immensely. The caveat being, I’ve been in live late night performances and that atmosphere is one of the biggest reasons it made it on this list. It doesn’t negate the fact that “Sweet Transvestite” is one of my favorite musical numbers in a movie and that the show is too iconic to leave off my list. I literally joined an entire theatre frat in college just to make Rocky my life for 3 months, it has a special place in my heart. 


 

Zandalee’s Honorable Mentions:

 

2.  Company

4.  Moulin Rouge (2001)

 

Us, D.I.Y. Rock Stars consider musicals great fodder for stoking our inspiration.  It’s no wonder that we have consumed so many of them over the years.  Both live on-stage and film adaptations help us ask ourselves what stories we want to tell when we’re writing our own songs. 


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How about you?  

What are YOUR favorite musicals of all-time?

We’d love to hear what you have to say! Leave them in the comments below.



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