Sunday, July 15, 2007

What to See on Broadway?

I am consistently asked for recommendations on what Broadway musical to see. Friends, co-workers, relatives, acquaintances all seek my advice since I have seen just about every current musical now playing in New York and, since I bill myself as a hard-nosed critic, they think I know what I’m talking about. I am always happy to oblige, especially when the high cost of tickets are forcing occasional theatergoers and families to limit their excursions to the New York musical stage.

So, what are my top suggestions? I have broken them down into five categories;
Tikes – ages 6-9
Tweens – ages 10-13
Teen – ages 14-17
Young Adults – 18+ years

When I make a recommendation it is usually with the understanding that an individual or family has not been to the Broadway stage very often. Therefore, most of the shows on my lists are the tried and true. However, this is all an inexact science with numerous variables to consider. Is one seeking a musical comedy or more serious production? What might appeal to two or three age groups at the same time? My daughter is a mature eleven year old. What do we do about her?

I have not included “Wicked” or “Jersey Boys” as any of the primary choices since these shows are always sold out and you would have to pay a king’s ransom to acquire decent seats. Wait a few years for their sheen to wear thin, then procure tickets. Foul language can be sprinkled throughout a show which might limit your choices. Look at “Spring Awakening” where one song title is ‘Totally F*****.’ I try to make a note of excessive inappropriate language.

Within the listings there is considerable overlap. For example, “A Chorus Line” could enthrall everyone except, maybe, the Tikes. The age ranges of each category can be flexible at either end of the spectrum so a Tween may in fact be quite comfortable in a Young Adult show. You may scratch your head about why I left a certain production off a category. For example, “Chicago” is not listed in the top five of any category even though it has been playing for years and continues to do well at the box office. But “Chicago” is getting a bit old in the tooth and there are more worthy shows to plop down your money for. Finally, just because a musical is not on my lists does not mean it is undeserving of your patronage. Also, with new shows opening each year the rankings could change overnight. So, without further ado…drum roll please…

TIKES (6-9 years old)
Disney has this category all to itself. No matter what your feelings are about Disney’s theatrical presence you have to admit they know how to deliver the goods.
1. Beauty and the Beast – the first Disney show and a crowd-pleaser for the very young. Fun, entertaining, yet still scary, “Beauty and the Beast” is very faithful to its movie source. Hurry, the musical closes on July 29th.
2. The Lion King – Director Julie Taymor took a two-dimensional movie and turned it into a tour de force Broadway musical. The opening number is still one of the best in recent Broadway history (I won’t reveal why). Her use of puppetry brings to life the assorted characters in The Pride, inspiring awe and wonder among theatergoers, both young and old.
3. Mary Poppins – When I saw the show there was a bevy of very young children directly in front of me. They didn’t make a peep. Enough said.

TWEENS (10-13 years old)
There are a couple of shows for the older Tweens mixed in with the Tike choices from above.
1. A Chorus Line – Still the singular sensation. Some of the language may be inappropriate, but the dancing and stories of each hopeful is mesmerizing.
2. Lion King – see under TIKES.
3. Phantom of the Opera – Like the Energizer Bunny this Andrew Lloyd Webber warhorse goes on and on and on. Very theatrical with one of Webber’s most melodic and recognizable scores. And where else would you find a crashing chandelier.
4. Mary Poppins – see under TIKES. Might be a tad childish for this group, but the production values, special effects and music should keep them interested.
5. Hairspray – Pure family enjoyment with frenetic dancing and a first-rate, tuneful score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

TEENS (14-17 years old)
1. Spring Awakening – One of the seminal rock musicals with one of the best scores in years. Youthful, energetic cast makes this a must see. Language issues—one song is titled “Totally F*****” and there is a simulated rape scene.
2. Rent – Along with “Hair” and “Spring Awakening” one of the great Broadway rock musicals. Based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” “Rent” packs an emotional wallop along with a near perfect Jonathan Larson score.
3. Hairspray – see under TWEENS.
3. Legally Blonde – Personally, I’m not a great fan of the show, but if you have girls, especially if they have seen the movie, they will love it. Boys, see something else with dad.
4. A Chorus Line – see under TWEENS.
5. 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – The funniest musical on Broadway. Period. Also, every seat at Circle-in-the-Square is splendid so you don’t have to fret over location.

YOUNG ADULTS (18+ years old)
1. Spring Awakening – see under TEENS.
2. Rent – see under TEENS.
3. A Chorus Line – see under TWEENS.
3. Spamalot – Funny and silly. More for diehard Monty Python fans.
4. 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – see under TEENS.
5. Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
5. Legally Blonde – see under TEENS.
5. Hairspray – see under TWEENS.

1. Spring Awakening – see under TEENS.
2. 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – see under TEENS.
3. A Chorus Line – see under TWEENS.
4. Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
5. Rent – see under TEENS.
5. Mama Mia – Mindless fun. If you like the music of ABBA, a must. If not, there are always other shows to see.
5. Hairspray – see under TWEENS.
5. Spamalot – see under YOUNG ADULTS.

Still unsure? Email me at with your specific situation and I can see what I can recommend.

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