Broadway has always been seen as an environment that most “manly men” would never dare venture into — Neil Patrick Harris even opened the 2011 Tonys with a song about it. There is the spectacle of being overdramatic and people breaking into song and dance that would never happen in real life.
However, that’s part of the joy of Broadway performances — and while Cats might not be for everyone, there is a show that’s right for you, and you don’t even have to leave the city limits to find one.
If there is one thing theater’s all about, it’s drama. The Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Rent,” now playing at the Phoenix Theatre, is a drama musical that follows the story of a group of friends living in the lower East Side of New York trying to scrape together enough money for their rent. There have been countless productions around the world since its opening in 1996. Some of Broadway’s most well-known songs come from this show including “Seasons of Love” and “La Vie Boheme.”
Drama musicals tend to have constant friction between characters — and Rent is no exception. From the dissolution of tumultuous relationships to the underlying conflict between exes, Rent is rife with character drama. These are also shows that deal with real concepts that people do deal with on a day-to-day basis. Rent, for example, focuses on issues such as HIV, gay rights and the underlying theme of a society on the brink of change.
Many musicals that are considered dramas are also categorized as rock musicals. Rather than the music involving an orchestra, you are more likely to find instruments like electric guitar, bass and drum kits, all of which are staples of solid rock music. While most of the songs in Rent define it as a rock musical, the instrumentation of drama and rock musicals is most well-represented in songs like “One Song Glory” and “Rent.”
These are shows I recommend to someone who wants to walk away feeling like they may have learned something. Rock musicals also tend to have great soundtracks to listen to whenever, and it doesn’t really feel like you’re singing Broadway tunes. This genre of musicals also includes “Next To Normal” and “Spring Awakening.”
RENT is currently playing at the Phoenix Theatre until Sept. 15. Tickets for this main-stage production are anywhere from $30 to $75.
Shows that incorporate already famous songs are always safe in the sense that you kind of know what you are getting yourself into. “Mamma Mia,” which is made up of ABBA hits, tells the story of a girl, about to be married, who is faced with not knowing who her birth father is. There are three possible men who could be her dad — so, naturally, she invites all three to the wedding without her mother’s knowledge. The show follows the mother-daughter relationship, the daughter setting out on her new life and the mother’s interactions with the men, who she hasn’t seen in years.
The music is made up of ABBA hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia” and “Money, Money, Money.” All of the songs are upbeat and familiar to the audience. It’s cheesy in the best way and will leave the audience smiling in the end. “Mamma Mia” will be playing at the ASU Gammage Theater Dec. 31 through Jan. 5. Tickets are between $28 and $85.
Another hit show, “Jersey Boys,” follows the 60s group The Four Seasons and the story of their band, using their classic rock hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man” and “Sherry.” “Jersey Boys” has been running for the past eight years with casts all around the world. It will be at the Gammage Theater summer 2014, from July 22 to Aug. 10. Tickets are on sale now for $28 to $90.
The fact that the music is familiar really will help decide what show suits your taste before even seeing it.
Comedy shows make up an often-forgotten side of Broadway. The Tony Award-winning musical “Avenue Q,” which is playing in the Phoenix Theatre Black Box April 10 to May 18, opens with a song called “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English/It Sucks to Be Me,” a name that indicates the humorous tone of the entire show. However, to fully understand the comedy of this show, it’s worth Googling the soundtrack to see some of the other song titles and hear a few of the songs.
“Avenue Q” is basically a Sesame Street for adults, puppets included. “Avenue Q” follows the idea that everyone has a purpose in life, but no one actually knows what his or hers is. However, it is all handled in a light, funny way so the audience isn’t sent into an existential crisis. Tickets are on sale at Phoenix Theatre now for $30 to $60.
Another comedy musical that has taken the stage is The Book of Mormon, a satire from the writers of the TV show “South Park.” Both shows utilize the same kind of crude humor that makes them comedic gold for those who enjoy that kind of comedy.
If you saw “Les Misérables” in movie theaters this past December, you saw the continuation of a Broadway tradition. “Les Mis,” playing at the Phoenix Theatre April 23 to June 1, is the longest-running musical and has been playing around the world since 1985. Les Mis follows the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his journey for redemption after being in prison for 19 years, the story of the child Valjean adopts and the June Rebellions of 1832 in Paris.
This is a musical that is in no way just for saps. There is a classic love story that carries a portion of the plot, but there is plenty of action and many battles to keep any action buff interested. The book has managed to stay in print since 1862, which proves how timeless the story of Jean Valjean really is. Tickets range from $30 to $75.
“Evita” is also considered to be a classic, following the story of the famous Argentinian First Lady Eva Perón. It will be playing for a short period at Gammage from Dec. 3-8 for $28 to $84.
Another great example of a long-running, classic musical is “The Phantom of The Opera,” which was also adapted into a movie. Other popular classic musicals include “Chicago,” “Fiddler on The Roof” and “42nd Street.” These shows are considered classic not because of similar plot elements but because of the longevity of the shows and the reputation that follows them. They are shows that are must-sees for any theater lover.
For anyone who loves dance, there are musicals that are solely based around dance numbers. “Billy Elliot,” with music by Sir Elton John, follows the story of a young boy named Billy, whose father has him take up boxing. Billy ends up in ballet lessons instead, which he ends up loving. This show has incredible dance numbers that are even better when you realize that someone so young is leading them.
There is also “Cats,” a musical where the story is told just through song and dance. The title says it all. Cats is a musical that, while about a group of cats, cannot be ignored due to powerhouse songs like “Memory”.
Shows like “Wicked,” “Legally Blonde” and “Hairspray” are all pop musicals. These shows have very similar styles of music, with happy upbeat songs that are guaranteed to be stuck in your head for weeks. These tend to be kid-friendly shows centered around some sort of love story. At the core, however, they are fun and feel-good musicals that anyone can enjoy. They are almost the romantic comedies of Broadway.
Broadway holds a reputation for cheesy show tunes. Some of the best show tunes can be found in musicals like “A Chorus Line,” “Anything Goes” and, more recently, “Catch Me if You Can.” All of these shows have at least one big showstopping number complete with a kick line. There is an all-around balance of choreography and songs. Like the pop shows, these tend to be feel-good as well but there is an awesomeness to these numbers that can make jaws drop — and honestly, who doesn’t love some jazz hands?
The kids’ musicals are generally covered by Disney, presenting the stories and songs we all learned in our childhoods from watching the movies. “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Mary Poppins” are all currently active stage productions, along with many others. “The Lion King” is going to be making its way to Gammage this fall, from Oct. 22 to Nov. 17. Tickets range from $28 to $92, and some of the shows are already close to selling out.
While Disney does dominate kids’ shows, there is always the classic “Annie.” This past year, the musical “Matilda” has also taken life, with an impressive cast of kids. This is based off the movie of the same title.
A show that will be making a quick stop at the Herberger Theater from Sept. 13-29 is “Seussical The Musical.” Tickets cost anywhere from $20 to $38. Anyone who has read a Dr. Seuss book as a child will be sure to recognize some of the most memorable characters, including the Cat in the Hat himself, the Whos of Whoville and the main character, Horton the elephant. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy these musicals, though. While they are catered to children, they are familiar and heartwarming to people of all ages.
The advantage of Hollywood now is that so many of these shows have been adapted into movies. Movies are a great way to start to get into musicals without having to pay the price of theatre ticket, but nothing beats the magic of a stage production. Many of the musicals mentioned are actually going to be playing in the Valley this year so it’s time to find your inner thespian and find that right show for you.