by Michael Perone
It’s Broadway week where I live in New York, so I thought it might be a good time to list what I consider the greatest Broadway musicals by decade. I realize this list might make someone question my sexuality, but yes, I’m a straight man, and yes, I love Broadway musicals. (As Jerry Seinfeld might say though, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”)
Broadway is actually a fairly recent love of mine. I didn’t really get into Broadway shows until college, and even then I was watching way-off Broadway shows in Baltimore. But to me, enjoying musical theater is a natural, mature transition from enjoying concept albums. I went from loving “The Wall” to “West Side Story.” Both have characters, both tell stories, and both are set to music to help you remember those characters and stories in the first place.
Here then, in chronological order, are my favorite musicals of all time. Similar to my article on the Best Worst Movies, I picked one from each decade, starting from the ’50s on up:
Best 50s Musical – “West Side Story”
Considered by many theater critics to be “the perfect musical” (sorry “A Chorus Line”), “West Side Story” has it all. Taking a page from Shakespeare by updating his “Romeo and Juliet” and setting it to music, you can’t really find a better—or more tragic—love story than this. Of course, the dialogue isn’t very realistic. Tony, a.k.a. Romeo, meets Maria, a.k.a. Juliet, at a dance, and when they first make eye contact, he walks across the floor, grabs her hand, and says, “Is this actually happening??” She swoons.
Back in my swingin’ singles heyday, if I was to go up to some girl at a club, take her hand, and ask, “Is this actually happening??” the least that would happen is she’d throw her drink in my face. But screw the dialogue; the song list is a litany of theater’s greatest hits: “The Jet Song,” “Something’s Coming,” “I Feel Pretty,” “America,” “Maria,” “Cool,” and, my personal favorite, the beautiful, ethereal “Somewhere,” which was covered by Phil Collins and Aretha Franklin (on the same album!), among countless others.