Musical Theatre Blog: Playing Favorites

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

The idea of playing favorites has always baffled me. When people find out that I really like show tunes, and Broadway, a lot of times they ask me what my all-time favorite show is. Which… how do you answer that? I can't even say which movie is my favorite… or which pair of shoes I love more than any other. I don’t play favorites well.


There are a lot of things that I could throw down as high on my list. One of my favorite songs from a musical I really like to listen to, and is timeless is Aquarius, from the American Tribal Love Rock Musical: Hair. To be clear, the 2009 Revival with Sasha Allen singing the opening solo is what makes me the happiest! I also really like to hear Heather Headley sing “Shadowlands” from the Lion King, and Sherie Renee Scott belt her face off in “Strongest Suit” if I feel like dancing around in my underwear.


There are several Broadway stars that I really like to listen to, and fawn over. I think Sutton Foster is pretty high up on the list. Her body of work is chock full of shows that hold a special place for me. I was in a production of thoroughly modern Millie, I am obsessed with the song “I Know it’s today” from Shrek: the musical”, The Drowsy Chaperone was one of the first shows I saw on Broadway (with her still staring as Janet) and Little Women was a cast album that I was able to bond with some of my closest friends over.

Kerry Butler also falls in the same category with Sutton Foster for the body of work she has created is shows that I really enjoy. The original Broadway cast of Hairspray is one that I really enjoy, and her as Penny really makes me laugh, and I love her take on Kira in the cast album of Xanadu, and I have already mentioned how much I love Little Shop of Horrors, with her as Audrey. She recently did “Catch Me If You Can” which I recently discovered I really enjoy. She is a Broadway Treasure.


Sometimes I really just like to listen to a cast album from front to back, and those I guess go high up on my, for lack of a better term, favorites lists. Composer Frank Wildhorn wrote some truly stunning music for Bonnie & Clyde, starring Laura Osnes, and Jeremy Jordan. A go-to for me that I like to listen to if I am feeling melancholy, and don't want to be cheered up is ‘bare: a pop opera’ which is just so desperately sad, but I love so much of the music, and I love the performances by that studio cast. I have seen that show performed 3 times on stage, now… It makes me cry every single time. I also really like the structure and performances of Sherie Renee Scott and Norbert Leo Butz in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. In the Heights was such a revelation of Hip-Hop and Latin infused music that I love to just put that cast album on and sing my heart out, and dance my face off, plus Lin-Manuel Miranda is notorious for being the nicest guy on Broadway, and I love that. I also really like listening to 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning drama Next to Normal. The heart-break and emotional maturity in that piece of musical theatre will always make me sit down and listen.


Composers will also get in my head and I will shuffle through some songs from Jeanine Tesori’s work with Fun Home, Shrek, Thoroughly Modern Millie, or Caroline or Change. Jason Robert Brown has some great shows with the previously mentioned The Last Five Years, Parade, Songs for a New World and also getting familiar with his new work on Bridges of Madison County, and Honeymoon in Vegas. I have largely stayed away from his musical 13. I don’t know why, but I just don’t like it.


Stephen Sondheim’s work is something I can always fall into. Company, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and Assassins are probably the shows I am most familiar with, and always try to listen to some tracks every month. They make me think, especially with some of the odd musical passages, and intricate lyrics patterns. I have never gotten super into Sunday in the Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along, Passions, Bounce, or Follies. I have seen and enjoy Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum but have found it's not easy to just dive into, personally.


I hate to say this but my vocal ensemble did a Sondheim show right before I joined the group, and I missed singing in it, and also in singing the material they covered and I will always lament that fact


I did, however, have the great joy of directing Into the Woods this past year, so I think that by default that show is really high on my list of shows I love, and maybe might qualify as an actual favorite just because of how intimately well I know it.


There are also several shows that I have been part of that I like to listen to, like All Shook Up. What a FUN score, I miss singing with that cast. Also Cabaret is another show that I love to listen to, and even though the memories of that show in particular were so bittersweet because of my personal life, that show was such a beacon of light for me. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was the last musical I did in Northern California before I left, so there are lots of great feelings tied to that show. Annie, which a lot of people don't like on principal, was a fantastic show to be in the chorus for. I played so many different characters!

So I don’t play favorites… I play "everythings". I love the different emotions that story driven songs bring out in me, I love different interpretations of different casts for the same show, and I love how certain performers will bring you to a different place every time they sing. I love to find similarities in pieces when a composer writes a different show.


Do you have a favorite? Is it easier for you to throw down the gauntlet in what is the best, to you?

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