What’s the greatest musical of all time?

A silly question, I think — how on earth could you choose?

But it’s fascinating to read what five well-known musical-theater fans (including Frank Rich, George C. Wolfe and Nora Ephron) think about what makes a great musical and why they are drawn to the shows they are. I often don’t agree with them, but this article from New York Magazine makes for really good reading.

What about you? What’s your favorite, and why? (And I’m sorry, but it can’t be that you were in it in high school.) Let’s hear it.


17 responses to “What’s the greatest musical of all time?

  1. Does “The Ring Cycle” count?
    Okay. Then “Sweeney Todd” Because I think it was really written by the ghost of Wagner.


    I think that mine is/are “LES MISERABLE’S” followed very closely by “SWEENEY TODD”. To me the music and songs in Sweeney are mesmerizing.

  3. Sweeney Todd. Then, believe it or not…The Sound of Music or Music Man.

  4. Mine is Man of La Mancha..saw it Off-Bway with Richard Kiley and followed it to Broadway…actually saw it 19 times.

    As a performer, my favorite to perform was “A Little Night Music”

  5. It is very difficult but I will have to choose “West Side Story.” Contemporary musicals seem to have strayed from the idea of dance as a key story element and I think that musical theatre should encompass all of the arts (music, great writing, dance,visual arts…). “West Side Story” has a brilliant score, a strong book and dance/staging that moves the story forward.

  6. Gosh – that’s really tough…agree about Sweeney – very good stuff.
    But for simple pleasure, and in concert with the play? My pick is Wicked.

  7. This is adictive! Then Rag Time, Sound of Music, then Sweeney.

  8. Stephen J. Miller

    I personally like their list, but “best” has always been a weird term for me. Makes me tilt my head like a dog hearing a high-pitched noise – what does “best” mean, when the artists all have different intentions and different artistic angles they’re exploring? Still, these are some of my favorites and why I feel that way:

    For just listening to the score, I love the music of “Carousel” and “A Little Night Music.” I just get so swept up in those scores, which IMMO (in my moron opinion) are some of the prettiest ever written for American stage. I’d recently add “Light in the Piazza” to that list, because to me it’s so surprising how it romantically borrows from Italian film scores of that period.

    For story, I love good ol’ dependable “Gypsy.” IMMO, that book is amazing. For doing something new with old stories, I’d pick “Into the Woods.” For really hitting the emotion in a story (sometimes too much, with the eternal verses) “Porgy & Bess.”

    For using an American idiom (musical theatre) to say something political and daring about America, I’d choose “Assassins.” It’s also dark comedy, and it has all those musical styles, and wow, does it hit home on some of our ideologies. These are the reasons I often quickly name it as my favorite.

    I have others, of course, but you’ve probably quit reading my dry monologue by now… I know I have! 😉

  9. Definitely “Les Miz” because of its wonderful use of recurrent musical themes throughout the production. Also, it just gives me chills every time I hear the first and last act endings.

  10. I found myself agreeing wholegeartedly with their top 5 except for King and I (really? of all the R&H titles, that lasted the longest?). I tend to hover between Gypsy and Sweeney for all-time fav but wonder if any modern titles will be better remembered 20 years from now (Next to Normal has struck a palpable chord with audiences over the last few years and I’ve never seen so many people moved to tears all at once).

    Honorable mentions go to Sunday in the Park… (does anything sum up the artist’s process better than “Finishing the Hat?”)
    and A Little Night Music (the music is beautiful and there isn’t a single wasted or wrong moment in the entire book or score).

  11. It seems like this comes up every few years for me. How to choose? “My Fair Lady”, “The Music Man”, and “Gypsy” are all near-perfect shows, but it is also true that a lot is dependent on a brilliant performer leading the way. In this same category I would argue that “The Producers” is incredible – the script can stand on it’s own, it has some surprisingly good songs, and you walk out feeling good for days. What about “La Cage Aux Folles”, “Hello Dolly!”, or “Mame”? If you add “Sweeney Todd” and “Man of La Mancha”, or many others, you still have a list of great musicals that also require one (or perhaps two) GREAT performers. Possibly the greatest scene in musical comedy is “Rose’s Turn”, but I was in a production where the Rose was SO bad that it was an unwatchable moment. Probably the best “actor-proof” scene, a beautiful combination of book, music, and character is the bench scene in “Carousel”, but I don’t really care for much else in that show. All in all, just looking at the show and forgetting about performances, directors, etc., I’d have to go with “My Fair Lady” or “The Music Man”. I always find it interesting to ask people which musicals are the five “best” and then ask which are their five “favorites”. Well, I’m off to search for my recording of the BBC production of “She Loves Me”…

  12. I would have to do a shout out here for ‘Miss Saigon’, one of the only musicals to actually make me have a physical, personal, edge of the seat in shock reaction. It had passed me by before I saw it, I didn’t know anything about it, the music, the story (I did not know the Madam Butterfly connection… I was young), and I went into it clear and without preconceptions or expectations. That doesn’t happen a lot with musicals these days.

    I would have to throw into the ring the Glenn Close rendition of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ for the sheer cinematic grandeur of the piece, and finish off with ‘My Fair Lady’ just because it can be a flawless piece when performed with the heart and humor that it deserves.

    My ‘Wild Card ‘ would be one that was considered a flop… I think I was the one and only person to enjoy ‘Lord Of The Rings – The Musical’ and was saddened to hear of its UK closure…

  13. Let me add that we’re talking about the greatest musicals, not your favorites. Chances are those aren’t the same thing. And I think the original idea was that they be American — I should have added that.

  14. Hey Elizabeth! Thanks for clarifying “greatest” versus “favorite.” And also the caveat “American.” With that? The greatest? Geesh! With even those stipulations/cirteria? Still difficult … but … Gonna go with my number 2 – Ragtime. I love reading everybody’s posts … Interesting.
    PS – No one has asked, I don’t think … What’s yours!!!????

  15. Sorry Elizabeth! Think we were running with the challenge put in your original post of “What about you? What’s your favorite, and why?”, hence the list of favorites from us all and our personal reasonings! On with the debate….

  16. A vote from the older generation. First: one of the originals: Oklahoma, combining great music, great lyrics, dance. Then, West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Carousel, In the Heights.

  17. OK, here’s my list, in no especial order:
    My Fair Lady
    Guys and Dolls
    The Music Man
    She Loves Me
    West Side Story