Kate McMurray's Top 5 Favorite Musicals of All Time

Thursday July 06, 2017


Peter from What’s the Use of Wondering? is a huge musical theater fan who, unfortunately, cannot sing a note. I also love musicals. A lot. And, as a resident of New York City, I’ve gotten to see a few of them on Broadway. So I thought I’d share some of my personal favorites. What are yours?


5. Hamilton - Some of you are going to come after me for ranking it so low. But, look. I love the music. I bought the cast recording (and the mix tape!) the day it came out. I’ve read the giant biography of Alexander Hamilton on which it is based, I follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter, I get giddy when the various cast members show up on episodes of Law & Order: SVU. But the fact that I still haven’t seen it because it’s so freakin’ hard to get tickets is why it’s down here. Someday! You, biggest musical of the decade, will get bumped up the list when I can get a ticket for less than $400!


4. Guys n Dolls - One of the reasons I chose Guys n Dolls to feature in the WMU books is that I saw an amazing production of it when I was in college. I like how old school it is, and how subtle—it’s basically about sex and gambling. The film version is delightful; Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando play the leads. I particularly like Brando in this performance; even though he’s not a great singer, he’s got charm for days. The ‘90s revival cast recording is pretty great, featuring Nathan Lane as Nathan Detroit. 


3. Les Miserables - This was the first show I ever saw on Broadway, so it will always be a sentimental favorite. I was fourteen when I saw it the first time, so it imprinted on me. It’s not a… happy story, really, but the music is lovely and compulsively singable. (Best cast recording, IMHO, is the original London cast, with Patti LuPone as Fantine). (Skip the movie.)


2. Rent - I was in high school when it debuted, and one of my best friends saw the original cast, bought the cast recording, and made me listen to it. I loved it immediately. The two of us spent hours listening to and singing along with the cast recording. (I think I can still sing every word from “December 24, 9pm, Eastern Standard Time…” to “No day but today!”) When I finally saw it in 1998, I had the whole thing committed to memory, but that did not take anything away from the experience, nor did it the other two times I saw it on Broadway. 


1. Jesus Christ Superstar - Every Easter at my dad’s house when I was a kid involved listening to Handel’s Messiah and Jesus Christ Superstar, so this show is in my DNA. I own two cast recordings. I’ve seen every film version of the show. I’ve seen it live twice: once on tour about ten years ago with Ted Neely (the original Jesus from the 1970s movie) and Corey Glover (from ‘80s band Living Color) as Judas; and the recent Broadway revival, which was not very good, sadly. The show has some flaws, but my love for it is unyielding. I heard Stephen Colbert on NPR say once that he could start at “My mind is clearer now…” and sing the whole show, and I am certain I could also. 


Honorable mentions: Hair (which, I know, and it doesn’t make any sense, but I’ve seen two productions of it—one in college, and the other the 40th anniversary concert at the Delacorte in Central Park, to which I brought my mother, who said at the end, “That made me feel 18 again” and also Jonathan Groff was Claude and I’ve been in love with him ever since—and, dang it, some of those songs are catchy), 42nd Street (film of the original cast, including Jerry Orbach, singing “The Lullaby of Broadway” is on YouTube, and you should find it), Chicago, Cabaret (really anything Kander & Ebb wrote), Company (Sondheim’s best show, IMHO), and Evita (‘70s Andrew Lloyd Weber is the best ALW). 


Special bonus: I created a Spotify playlist to accompany the series, which you can find HERE.