There is no secret I am a huge music lover, as I wrote in my message titled “Whistle a Happy Tune” [linked here] back in April. Fact is, I love music in nearly every form. If it well constructed, either instrumentally, or lyrically, chances are I am a fan. If the writers and performers excel at combining both great instrumentals and lyrics, well that’s a home run and it’s a pretty certain bet that I will love it.
I think you also know, that I equally love good movies. So, when you combine my love of music, and movies, you naturally get a love of musicals. However, writing about one’s favorite musicals, is like choosing your favorite child – it’s just impossible, because each is unique and loved, but usually for different reasons.
As I wrote before, I get my love of music honestly. I began playing the trumpet in 2nd grade and truly enjoyed playing every chance I got, although it’s been a few years since the Edinburgh Lions club put on the Christmas Madrigal Dinners. This is where I last performed, as I was fortunate enough to play one of the two herald trumpets alongside my oldest daughter Nicole, who was a member of Greenwood’s state champion marching band, at that time. As fun as this was, getting to play alongside Nicole, the true musical joy of my life was being a part of arguably the best dance/jazz band in Indiana for four years from 1971-1975. Our group was outstanding and incredible, and every hyperbole you can think of. I really miss that band and the wonderful friends who were also such an integral part of that group!!!
Add to this musical bliss, is my love of movies. I used to watch classic films with my mom, and grandfather, which began my love affair with movies and eventually translated towards me studying to achieve a motion picture minor degree in college. I saw my first musical in 1971 (Jesus Christ Superstar), my cousin took me to see “A Chorus Line” at the famous Schubert Theatre in Los Angeles, where the Academy Awards were held at that time, and I was fortunate enough to be a participant when our high school performed the beautiful musical “The Meaning of Christmas” by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. A particular musical that I had listed to, every Christmas season, since I was 5 years old. So yes, you might say, I was definitely hooked on musicals, at a very early age.
I mentioned the title of that April message was “Whistle a Happy Tune” [linked here]. I’m guessing you know this song but some may not. This song was originally released during the 1951 Broadway musical the King and I, starring Yul Brynner, with this particular tune sung by Gertrude Lawrence. The musical was such a success that Hollywood immediately made it into a film in 1956, also staring Yul Brynner but in the film version, this tune was sung by actress Deborah Kerr (dubbed by Marni Nixon). Many of the catchy and hit tunes of the 1920’s through the 1960’s came from great musicals like this one. White Christmas, Ol’ Man River, Tonight, The Impossible Dream, and Hello dolly just to name a few.
I was fortunate enough to have parents that loved Broadway musicals and other performances, and thus would take me to Starlight Musicals every summer, at Butler University, to see each season’s selection of shows. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to see Wicked three times (My favorite), The King and I - also three times, Jesus Christ Superstar twice, and I have seen singular performances of A Chorus Line, Show Boat, The Waitress, The Grinch, The Music Man, Oklahoma, South Pacific, and the movie versions of Grease, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, Holiday Inn, White Christmas, The Greatest Showman, West Side Story, Yankee Doodle Dandy (favorite TV musical), and There’s No Business Like Show Business. Nearly everything Broadway adapts, and puts on, is worth seeing, but the truly great ones will last forever. [See my list of my favorite musicals at the end of this message]
Ironically, I lump musical performers somewhat loosely into the musical category. Two of my very favorite musical performers are actually comedians; Victor Borge and Heywood Banks. Both Victor Borge and Heywood Banks, have very rare, yet hysterical comedy routines, that everyone would love, but they especially resonated with those who have a music background. I have seen both Mr. Banks four times, and Mr. Borge three times, in person. Heywood Banks is a comedian with musical talent whom writes comedic songs based on the oddest themes or characters, all of which are hilarious, like Toast, and The Cat Got Dead, just to name a few.
Victor Borge was more of a musician who became a comedian. Mr. Borge, known at birth as Børge Rosenbaum, was affectionately called the Great Dane. At the height of his young career, the Nazi’s were overrunning Europe and Borge escaped with his life as he was literally on the last boat out to America. However, he had begun to dabble in comedy because there were far too many great pianists in Europe to make a living so his natural sense of humor gave him the opportunity to mix his music with stand-up. When he got to the US, he didn’t speak a word of English, so he quickly managed to adapt his jokes to the American audience, learning English by watching movies. He took the name of Victor Borge, and in 1941, he started on Rudy Vallee's radio show. He was hired soon after by Bing Crosby for his Kraft Music Hall programme, and as they say the rest is history.
I greatly recommend looking up videos of Victor Borge or researching recordings of Heywood Banks, if you have never heard these brilliant performers before. I promise you, watching or listening to these two greats perform will bring you hours of laughter and enjoyment. And the best part about their form of entertainment, it’s simple good clean fun, wholesome enough your children would truly enjoy.
Finally, as I said, choosing the best in musical is sure to have agreements, disagreements, and some debate, but I have done my best, at least in my mind, to choose the top twelve performances. I’ve heard people say you have to be this or that to love musicals. Honestly, I don’t take any stock in such talk. If you love music, add to it some acting, incredible stage props and scenery, the lights of the theatre, and great outfits, and what’s not to love. You get to escape for one to four hours, enjoy the music, laugh at the comedy, get captivated by a drama, cry when it touches your heart, and embrace a culture that has nothing to offer but good clean fun and enjoyment. So, the next time you’re wondering what there is to do, say to yourself; “Let’s Go To A Show!!!”
Top 12 Musicals
Sound of Music
Yankee Doodle Dandy
There’s No Business Like Show Business
Singin in the Rain
King and I