Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What to See on Broadway in 2009

Back in July 2007 I put up a blog about my suggestions for what musicals to see in New York. So much has changed on the musical theater landscape since then I thought it would be time to update my list of recommendations.

I originally wrote that friends, co-workers, relatives, acquaintances seek my advice since I have seen just about every current musical now playing in New York. 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 as of May 2009? Again, 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. I lean towards the newer shows, but this is not a knock against some of the warhorses such as Mamma Mia and Phantom of the Opera. 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 such shows as Billy Elliott, 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. Speaking of procuring tickets, there are a number of ways to purchase theater tickets quite cheaply. You can refer to a previous blog I wrote.

Foul language is not as much of an issue as when such shows as Spring Awakening or the revival of A Chorus Line were still playing, even though the revival of Hair might cause some trepidation.

Within the listings there is considerable overlap. For example, Shrek—The Musical could enthrall everyone, from TIKES to ADULTS. 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. Mamma Mia (great for TEENS on up) is omitted, not because it is not worthy (I thoroughly enjoyed it), but there are other shows I would see first. Finally, just because a musical is not on my lists does not mean it is undeserving of your patronage. Show that I have previously reviewed are linked to that review. 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 use to have this category all to itself, but Dreamworks, with Shrek—The Musical, has muscled their way into this group . No matter what your feelings are about Disney’s theatrical presence you have to admit they know how to deliver the goods.
1. 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.
2. Shrek—The Musical – I enjoyed Shrek, primarily because of the all-star cast (Brian D’Arcy James, Sutton Foster, Chris Sieber). Good score, great costumes. The show is like the old Road Runner cartoons. It can be enjoyed at different levels.
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.
4. The Little Mermaid – I wasn’t too crazy about the show, but little ones should enjoy seeing Ariel and friends come to life. The costumes and sets, along with the score, should keep them transfixed.

TWEENS (10-13 years old)
There are a couple of shows for the older TWEENs mixed in with the TIKE choices from above.
1. Lion King – see under TIKES.
2. West Side Story – the revival has been close to selling out, but another classic which would be an excellent introduction to the musical stage. The music, Jerome Robbins choreography, and action should keep Tweens interested. Could be a stretch for them.
3. South Pacific – lush, large-scale revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. Great score. Could be a stretch for them. May be hard to acquire tickets .
4. 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. Might be a bit scary. And where else would you find a crashing chandelier.
5. Shrek—The Musical – see under TIKES.
6. Long-range planning – Billy Elliott and Wicked.

TEENS (14-17 years old)
1. Hair – One of the seminal rock musicals with another classic score. Youthful, energetic cast makes this a must see. Some language issues and nudity.
2. West Side Story – see under TWEENS.
3. In the Heights – Tony winning Best Musical. High energy, terrific choreography. Its vibrancy and pulsating rhythms ignite the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
4. South Pacific – see under TWEENS.
5. 9 to 5—The Musical – I thoroughly enjoyed the production, primarily because of the three lead actresses. All are superb. Good Dolly Parton score. Fun, pure and simple.
6. Long-range planning – Billy Elliott and Wicked.

YOUNG ADULTS (18+ years old)
1. Hair – see under TEENS.
2. West Side Story – see under TWEENS.
3. In the Heights – see under TEENS.
4. South Pacific – see under TWEENS.
5. 9 to 5—The Musical – see under TEENS.
6. Rock of Ages – retro, 1980’s power rock musical. For the classic rock crowd.
7. Long-range planning – Billy Elliott, Jersey Boys, and Wicked.

1. South Pacific – see under TWEENS.
2. West Side Story – see under TWEENS.
3. 9 to 5—The Musical – see under TEENS.
4. In the Heights – see under TEENS.
5. next to normal – I will admit I have not seen this small-scale musical, but the word-of-mouth has been great. It is more of a serious work centering on a woman with bi-polar disorder. Might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
6. Hair – see under TEENS.
7. Long-range planning – Billy Elliott, Jersey Boys, and Wicked.

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

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