When you move to New York, there are a lot of things that are…disappointing. Whether you’ve been rewatching You’ve Got Mail since age 7 or gobbling up Serendipity hot chocolates and Canal Street knock-offs on weekend visits, when you finally find yourself in the Big Apple, you quickly learn that the reality does not match up to the romantic vision you had dancing in your head (starting with the fact that nobody actually calls it the Big Apple). There is, however, one part of New York’s siren call that remains one of our favorite things about life this city: the theatre. New York seduced us over the years — with its kick lines and second act twists, its soulful ballads and big brassy ensemble numbers — and even though we don’t get there as often as we like, the nights we do spend up on the Big White Way remind us why we moved here in the first place. So really, this playlist is a love story: the stirring tale of how two brown-eyed girls from south of the Ohio came to know and love a city by the sea. Cue the overture.
Our love for musicals is so great that it could not be confined to one post. In this, Act One, we talk about the musicals that first made us fall in love with New York, on weekend trips and school breaks over our formative years. Check back next week for Act Two: musicals from our lives as New Yorkers!
I Have Confidence: The Sound of Music (Julie Andrews)
Scout: Is The Sound of Music not every kid’s entrée into the world of musical theater? I spent so many hours as a child watching the two-volume VHS with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer’s classic portrayals of the Captain and Maria. So when my first trip to New York came around, and The Sound of Music was being revived on Broadway, it seemed like fate. It definitely made my first trip one to remember. Not that I actually have any pictures, since ten-year-old me left her disposable camera in the back of a cab.
The Wizard and I: Wicked (Idina Menzel & Carole Shelley)
Zelda: I suppose my first introduction to New York was via Annie, belting out the star-to-be’s NYC solo with my pink L.L.Bean backpack in hand. But my first real experience in Manhattan came in 10th grade, when my parents took us to New York for Thanksgiving. The trip was a touristy whirlwind complete with museums, hot dogs, and the Macy’s parade. But the best part was when they surprised us with tickets to Wicked. I had seen live musicals before, from little community productions to national tours. I had listened to Broadway cast recordings since before I could remember. But being there in person, with the lights and the sets and the 23-piece orchestra, was positively magical. At the risk of sounding cheesy, that show changed me for good.
Schadenfreude: Avenue Q (Natalie Venetia Belcon & Rick Lyon)
Zelda: As a junior in high school, I went on a (now infamous, which is a story for a different day) trip to the city with our school’s choir, the purported purpose of which was to perform John Rutter’s “Magnificat” at Carnegie Hall with several other choirs from around the country. But before the big night, we had several days to rehearse and explore…and get up to some shenanigans (another time!). Avenue Q was the most scandalous thing any of us had ever seen on a stage. A school-sanctioned field trip to watch puppets sing about porn, racism, closeted homosexuality, and making noisy, noisy love? Even from the nosebleed seats, so high up we could touch the ceiling without standing, we were thrilled.
My Junk: Spring Awakening (Brian Johnson, Gideon Glick, Jonathan B. Wright, Jonathan Groff, Jr. John Gallagher, Lauren Pritchard, Lea Michele, Lilli Cooper, Phoebe Strole, Remy Zaken, & Skylar Astin)
Scout: My mother asked me if I wanted to have a party for my 16th birthday, or if I wanted to go to New York and see shows. You can guess which one I picked. We saw three total, two of which featured heavy sexual content. Spring Awakening was the most explicit of the bunch — teenage sexual awakening in 19th century Germany, set to a pop/rock-infused soundtrack, complete with naked butts. (It also introduced the world to Lea Michele…and Jonathan Groff…and Skylar Astin…and so many more.) Now my mom is pretty cool, but it was still one of the more awkward experiences of my life. (We got over it and went on to see Hair and Avenue Q together, too. Because nothing says mother-daughter bonding like nudity and simulated puppet sex?)
Show Off: The Drowsy Chaperone (Bob Martin, Don McKellar, Greg Morrison, Lisa Lambert, & Sutton Foster)
Scout: I persuaded my mother to see this musical after a friend’s recommendation, and it did not disappoint. A campy tale narrated by a man who loves musicals, this big-hearted show steers clear of cynicism or satire (for the most part), paying homage to the shows of the On The Town and Guys and Dolls era, and the people who made them famous. This was also one of the first shows to really show off (see what I did there?) the incomparable Sutton Foster, ushering in a new star for a new musical age.
Hair: Hair (Gavin Creel, Will Swenson & Tribe)
Zelda: My dad worked in New Jersey for a good chunk of my college years, commuting to and from Kentucky, and I managed to sneak down a couple weekends to see him and get a little New York fix (the hours I consented to actually stay in New Jersey were almost exclusively confined to sleeping). We saw this show on one of my visits, post-MOMA and a sushi dinner. Was watching a tribe of naked people while sitting next to my father awkward? A bit. Did I love every daisy-strewn minute of it? Yes.
Didn’t I See This Movie: Next to Normal (Alice Ripley)
Zelda: Another daddy-daughter show date, which moved both me and my father to tears. This show is the entire package: beautifully composed, expertly staged, and better written and acted than any musical I had seen before. This was also the first show I ever stage doored. Alice Ripley graced my program with her bubble letter signature, and I was rendered nearly speechless by the beauty that was Aaron Tveit.
Scout: When people tell me that musicals aren’t realistic, that they’re all cheesy singing and dancing and smiles, I reply with three words: Next to Normal. I’ve never felt so much from a piece of media; I cried for almost the entire second act. But the real sign of this show’s emotional resonance was my mother, who I’ve seen cry maybe thrice in my entire life, sobbing alongside me. This isn’t a feel-good musical: It’s a feel-everything musical. The soundtrack continues to provide such catharsis for me, and if I ever need a good cry I just put on “I Am The One (Reprise)” and wait for the words, “Hi, Dad.” (Damn you, Aaron Tveit and your emotion-filled voice.)
It Won’t Be Long Now: In the Heights (Karen Olivo, Lin-Manuel Miranda, & Robin de Jesús)
Scout: Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of my favorite people of all time. I mean his Twitter is gold, he guest starred on House and How I Met Your Mother (both formative programs in my and Zelda’s friendship), and he writes hip-hop musicals for a living. What’s not to like? In The Heights, a loosely autobiographical story set in the largely Hispanic neighborhood of Washington Heights, won four Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score (for which Miranda freestyled his acceptance speech). Both comical and evocative, the stories Miranda spins are so human, illuminating a whole population largely unexplored by musical theatre. But I love this show most for its music, which marries freestyle hip-hop to the traditional musical format with wonderful results (Next up: a hip-hop take on the founding fathers with The Public’s Hamilton, coming to Broadway this summer).
Live in Living Color: Catch Me If You Can (Aaron Tveit & Company)
Scout: I was never a giant fan of the movie Catch Me If You Can (unlike Zelda), but I love the musical so so much. I dragged my mother to it in the summer of 2011 because it starred two of our favorite people: Her love affair with Norbert Leo Butz started when we saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and mine with Aaron Tveit began with a bootleg of him playing Fiyero in Wicked. The dynamic duo (and all time favorite bromance) star as con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. and the FBI agent attempting to track him down. For any interested parties: This opening number also makes an excellent alarm clock.
King of New York: Newsies (Ben Fankhauser, Kara Lindsay, Ryan Breslin, & Company)
Scout: Zelda doesn’t really understand my love for Newsies, but my love for the box-office-bomb-turned-cult-classic dates back to my childhood years. Despite the campiness and the less than spectacular acting, Alan Menken’s music and the story of these underdogs got me right from the start. I found kindred spirits in my college friends, and watching Newsies became a yearly tradition. So when Disney announced they were finally adapting it for the stage, our excitement was unbounded. We bought tickets as soon as they went on sale for the out of town tryout in New Jersey. We road-tripped up from Baltimore one Sunday morning to see our obsession come to life. And we were not disappointed (Jeremy Jordan over Christian Bale any day). Newsies does what so many movie-based musicals fail to do: It improves the original material, and proves it was always meant to be on stage.