All right, it’s here! 10 favorite musicals implies, of course, that I enjoy and listen to more than just those; the ones that didn’t make the top favorites list are: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Maury Yeston’s Phantom; The Lord of the Rings; The In-Between; The Sound of Music; Cinderella; and H. M. S. Pinafore. (I may have forgotten a couple; I listen to a lot of musicals. 🙂 )
As such, I’m going to mention three favorites in this post, three more in the next post, and the final four in the last post. Writing about all ten in one post would probably break the record for the World’s Longest Post Fangirling Post About Musicals.
Right, we’re off.
#1: Jane Eyre
Adapted from Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre tells the story of an orphan from her loveless childhood to her lonely young womanhood as a governess—but her situation is at Thornfield hall, the master of which, Mr. Rochester, kindles a spark of life in her that had remained long hidden.
Great. I just made my favorite novel sound like a CBD romance thingy.
Anyway, Jane Eyre is my favorite musical of all time, which is why I’m mad that it (a) closed after only 7 months and (b) was apparently never filmed. Or at least never released on DVD. Fortunately, there’s a soundtrack available, and when I discovered the musical in June 2014, I fell in love with the score instantly.
This musical is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book (second only to the 1983 mini-series with Timothy Dalton). Most notably, Helen is an influential character, and the story includes her faith and its impact on Jane’s character. Helen even gets a beautiful number of her own: the song “Forgiveness”. Also, in many of the songs, the lyrics are phrases or wording taken straight from the book (though tweaked to fit rhythm and rhyme).
The musical did make some changes: St. John not only has a minor role, but he was upgraded to be slightly kinder than he was in the book. Also, Mrs. Fairfax was turned from a quiet, orderly housekeeper into an absent-minded figure of comic relief. I understand the reason; the story needed some humor, and a stage play doesn’t adapt Charlotte Bronte’s dry wit very well, unless the audience is willing to sit for 3 hours listening to exchange of dialogue. Still, it’s one thing to add comic relief; another to change a character’s entirely personality.
In general, however, the story stuck to the source material. And the music is beautiful on its own merit: the melodies are haunting, quiet, souring, lonely, joyful. The lyrics are poetic, passionate, and encouraging. (That said, there is some scattered cursing throughout the songs; Mr. Rochester is the main culprit here. Just something to watch out for.)
In fact, it’s hard to pick a favorite song; it would be easier to list the numbers I don’t care for (only three out of 25!). But I’m going to go with Helen’s song “Forgiveness”. In it, she admonishes Jane that “You have to be strong to offer good for evil, to return right for wrong.” So many people act like a stubborn, fighting attitude is strength. And if you’re fighting for what’s right, yes. But it’s equally as strong to hold your tongue and “learn to endure.” On the flip side, she tells Jane “You can continue to grieve, but know the Gospel* is true. You must forgive those who lie and bless them that curse you.” In other words, there’s no need to be a stoic about suffering, but to endure it with the knowledge that God knows–and blesses–who is right.
*I’m not sure if she means that “forgive those who lie” is the Gospel, or if she’s referring to the Gospel and the principle separately. The first case is incorrect; “forgive those who like &etc.” is not the Gospel…but substituting the word “scripture” removes this problem. 🙂
#2: The Phantom of the Opera
Erik instructs young soprano Christine Daae in singing, masquerading as her Angel of Music. Erik also terrorizes the opera house as the mysterious Phantom of the Opera. When Christine learns his true identity, she flees from his guardianship, but this Phantom has a desperate fixation on her, hoping for her love.
I’m terrible at writing any synopsis, apparently. Also, it’s hard to describe every aspect of The Phantom of the Opera.
Which is one reason why I like it. At first glance, the story seems to be a Gothic romance; and to some degree, it is, but it’s also about love, trust, and compassion. The Phantom, hideously deformed and therefore outcast from society, desperately seeks Christine’s love, but goes about winning it the wrong way. Christine, alone in the world after her father’s death, also seeks love and guardianship and at first thinks she’ll find them in the Phantom, at first trusts him. But then that trust is shattered when the Phantom reveals his true identity. Christine flees, and puts her trust in Raoul, her childhood playmate and now her sweetheart who also seeks to win her love. Which turn of events, of course, angers the Phantom.
So yes, in one sense it’s a Gothic romance, and there is definitely a love triangle. But it’s not a beautifully dramatic one; if anything, it complicates things, brings terror and doom to Raoul and Christine. Christine knows the Phantom is dangerous and must be stopped, but she can’t help but pity him. Raoul would move heaven and earth to protect Christine, and the Phantom would destroy heaven and earth to win her love. In fact, he tries to do just that.
But then, at the end, he performs an act of sacrificial love. All three of the protagonists, in fact, display sacrificial love for someone else, and that, I think, is ultimately what the story is about. If you truly love someone, what will you give up for his/her happiness?
Speaking of love, this musical has one of my favorite love songs of all time, “All I Ask of You.” And yes, the lyrics describe sacrificial love. Rather than being a feel-good, he’s-the-one-who-flutters-my-heart type of love song, it speaks of service and leadership, sacrifice and loyalty, trust and commitment.
No more talk of darkness
Forget these wide-eyed fears
I’m here; nothing can harm you
My words will warm and calm you
Let me be your freedom
Let daylight dry your tears
I’m here, with you, beside you
To guard you and to guide you.
Say you’ll love me every waking moment
Turn my head with talk of summertime
Say you need me with you now and always
Promise me that all you say is true
That’s all I ask of you
The rest of the score is similar: powerful lyrics and beautiful melodies. I fell in love with the film soundtrack at age 12 and fell in love with the 25th Anniversary Concert about 10 years later, and I’ve never looked back. The vocal talent required to perform this musical is impressive, and I’ve wanted to sing like Christine ever since I heard the film soundtrack. For the record, my favorite Phantom is John Owen-Jones, my favorite Christine is Gina Beck (with Rebecca Caine as a close second), and my favorite Raoul is a toss-up between Hadley Fraser and Steve Barton. (When I’m not feeling well, I listen to Barton’s performance of “All I Ask of You”; his voice is so gentle and steady and reassuring.)
And there’s dancing in this musical. I tend to like a musical better if there’s dancing as well as singing, and this one contains two nice ballet numbers. And the musical also has funny, lighthearted lines and sequences to break up the tension of the main story line.
Lastly, I love the characters of this story. I like Christine and Raoul the best, but all three main characters are deeper and more layered than they first appear. Christine, for example, comes across as air headed at first, but when you look closer, you see that she takes the word of those she trusts and is cautious around people whom she does not trust so closely. Raoul seems to be (at best) a hot piece of cardboard and (at worst) an obstacle to the Phantom’s happiness, until you look closer and understand his reasoning and his devotion to Christine. I’ve written and posted a dissertation about Raoul’s character (and one staunchly in defense of his good qualities, as he is generally hated by the fandom), and I’m working on a dissertation about Christine’s. And I’ll probably write one for the Phantom at some point.
The only caveats are scattered cursing throughout the musical, and the number “The Point of No Return” has some pretty sensual subtext. We just skip that song. 🙂
As with the musical Jane Eyre, it’s hard to pick a favorite song from The Phantom of the Opera. But I’m going to go with “All I Ask of You” because it’s about trust, loyalty, commitment. It speaks of sacrifice from both parties; it centers on the mutual need they have for each other; yet it also is romantic. How much more romantic can you get than a man promising to “hold you and to hide you.”?
#3: A Tale of Two Cities
Adapted from Dickens’ novel, the story describes three French families suffering from the corruption of the French nobility shortly before the Revolution. Lucie Manette, after being reunited with her father, who was unjustly imprisoned in the Bastille for years, remove to England and become acquainted with Charles Darnay, a young Frenchman with something of a mysterious past. Meanwhile in France, the Defarges had enough with the suffering of their people and become instrumental in the acts of the Revolution. All these characters impact each other in minor ways on the surface, but they are also connected in a more sinister way, that, when discovered, that will resurface deep anger and pain.
Give me a break. It’s hard to describe Dickens’ novels succinctly. But then, that’s why I love them. 🙂
This is one of the few musicals that can make me cry. I am not the sort to cry over books and films; if someone tells me, “Oh, that movie is a tearjerker,” there is actually 99% chance I will not cry. But with this story, I’m always in a puddle by the Finale, if not long before. In fact, I tend to lose it when Charles weeps during “Let Her Be A Child.”
The musical focuses more on Sydney Carton, the English lawyer who frees Charles Darnay from an unjust trial in England, but who seems not to care about anything in the world. Which is untrue; his careless attitude merely conceals a heart of long-enduring pain and disappointment. (Actually, it’s the PBS Theatrical concert [available on DVD] that focuses on Sydney and his character arc. The theatrical concert is an abridged form of the Original Broadway production. The OBC was filmed, apparently, but never released on DVD *grumble growl*. However, we do have the theatrical concert, and it gives a taste of what the full production must be like.)
What’s interesting to me is the contrasts between the main characters. Sydney compares himself (unfavorably) to Charles Darnay, and Lucie is simply but powerfully compared to Madame Defarge. Both ladies lost their families at a young age. Both suffered at the hands of aristocrats. Both endured loneliness and pain. But each lady responded to that differently. Madame Defarge let the pain twist her into cold fury, an anger that could be satisfied (in theory) only by revenge: “I’ve waited twenty-five years for this day! Doctor Manette may forget; Doctor Manette may forgive, but this one survivor will never let Evremonde live!”
Lucy, on the other, hand, let that pain make her compassionate*. She did not become hard and bitter; when reunited with her father after all those years, she says, “We both were lost, but now that’s all behind us, all the endless years I never knew you.” She does not resent the family who unjustly imprisoned her father; and she does not condemn the descendant of that family for his ancestor’s actions.
It is this kindness and forgiveness that gets Sydney Carton’s attention. She treats him like a normal human being and shows concern for his welfare; upon learning that he was not at church on Christmas Eve, she simply says, “It’s not our business where you were, Mr. Carton,” and invites him to share Christmas dinner with her family, saying he was not eating enough and needed a little fattening.
*This observation is not actually mine; this post brought the contrast to my attention.
This kindness and forgiveness helps Sydney see the world in a new light. In his song “I Can’t Recall,” he says, “The heavens seem an inch away, not cold and empty like before.” It almost sounds as though he viewed God as a distant being, one who did not listen and did not care about the world below, much less Sydney’s own hopelessness. But Lucie’s caring put into words and actions the benevolence attributed to God. And by the end of the musical, his outlook about God and sacrifice has changed completely.
And I need to change the subject before I melt into a useless puddle.
The melodies in this story are unique because of how amazingly they mirror and evoke the emotion of the moment. But the lyrics are especially powerful. For example, the song “Everything Stays the Same” describes the futility of the violence of the French Revolution, and quite frankly, it reminds me of the
whining protests going on today.
Come join the revolution
Come play the latest game
Not much has changed, but then again
Not everything stays the same
Because of the amazing lyrics, it’s hard to pick a favorite song. Get used to that line of thought; it’s prevalent among my favorite musicals. After much thought, and nail-biting, and hair-pulling, and listening to the soundtrack again, and listening to my favorite songs on repeat, and all but dissolving into a puddle again, I picked “Let Her Be A Child” as my favorite. Sydney muses on the fate of Lucie’s family–and her daughter–if Charles is unjustly killed, and resolves to do all he can to save him.
Sydney now considers others more important than himself. The bitterness and hopelessness of his life has faded; he received the unreserved love of the whole Darnay family: Charles, Lucie, and their little girl. Which showed him, in a way, the love of God. The Darnays treated him like a member of their family, and Sydney does not hesitate now to show how much he cares. As he tells another character, “They gave me a family; now I’m giving it back.”
“It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”
*melts into a useless puddle*