Featured image, Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford, The Phantom of the Opera

 

Roger’s and Hammerstein had some incredible successes but nothing succeeded like this. Julie Andrews angelic (and IMHO unequaled) voice knocked it out of the park.  The Sound of Music is a musical roughly based on the von Trapp family which fled Nazi-controlled Austria when the father was about to be forced into service as a commander in Hitler’s navy. It provided a host of incredible songs that could make any all-time best musical numbers list. Others would include Edelweiss, Do-Re-Mi, and the title track, The Sound of Music.

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

 

Based on Romeo and Juliette and with music by Leonard Bernstein, West Side Story tells the tale of a young Puerta Rican woman and a young “Anglo” man who fall in love in the street gang environment of an impoverished area of the Upper West Side of New York. It is considered the best musical of the 1960s and one of the best of all time. IMHO, Bernstein was the preeminent American composer of the last half of the 20th century.

The Anglos’ gang was known as the Jets and the Puerta Ricans’ gang was the Sharks. They were in a conflict over control of the impoverished streets. This conflict regularly flared up into violence. Montagues and Capulets anyone?

The movie is not without its controversy. Natalie Wood was chosen for the female lead because the producer didn’t think an actress of Puerta Rican ethnicity would be as good a box office draw. The “interracial” aspect of the romance was considered controversial so they wanted a “white” looking actress to minimize the visual contrast. They also wanted at least one nationally well-known name in the cast.

This also meant she had to lip-synch because altho she could sing, she was not up to such a demanding part. The actual singer was Marni Nixon who also sang for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Ghost singing, as it was called then, was very common and usually never mentioned in the credits.

Evita is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s many great works. It is the role Madonna was made for.

Eva Perón was a poor girl who ran off to the big city to become an actress until she met Mr. Right who happened to be Juan Perón. They married a year later and a year after that he was president of Argentina. Soon she became a powerful voice for women and the poor, founding charitable foundations and running the Ministries of Labor and of Health. She transformed into a national icon.

Despite their popularity, the Perónist policies hurt the economy of Argentina which had come out of WWII as one of the richest countries in the world. The lesson is that good intentions must be combined with pragmatism or they never reach fruition.

Eva still remained beloved of the people for her boundless compassion for the downtrodden. At the extremely young age of 33, she died from cancer. A cult developed around her (somebody even stole the hands off her corpse in 1987) and her reputation today is a thing of legend

I Sing the Body Electric is vaguely inspired by a poem by Walt Whitman.

The musical Fame is about the lives of students at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts. Making the cut to enter the school is hard but the work ahead of those who succeed is even harder. Sacrifices are made as well as some painful mistakes. The film won two Oscars and a Golden Globe.

One of the leading characters is gay which was controversial at the time. (So many things were controversial in the past that wouldn’t merit a second thought today!) It also dealt with the molestation of a lead character’s little sister and the character’s adverse reaction to his role model’s suicide.

And I’ll look back on Venus
I’ll look back on Mars
And I’ll burn with the fire
Of ten million stars
And in time and in time
We will all be stars!

 

Oh God… Phantom of the Opera. No other stage play has ever held my love like this one. Another Andrew Lloyd Webber product, it is perhaps the most popular stage play ever produced. It opened in 1986 and almost 25 years later it is still going strong. Currently, the latest incarnation is being -streamed on YouTube for Webber’s The Show Must Go On! program of entertainment at home during the COVID-19 virus lockdown.

Emmy Rossum as Christine and Patrick Wilson as Raoul in the 2004 movie version.

If you were to create a list of the most important musicals of the last 40 years Andrew Lloyd Webber would be on half the list. Other insanely popular works include Jesus Christ: Superstar, Cats, Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and others.

Phantom was written specifically as a vehicle for Webber’s new wife, Sarah Brightman. Her performance catapulted her to the very top of the entertainment world. Eventually, she became the only singer to have topped Billboard’s classical and dance charts simultaneously.

Michael Crawford gave us a bravura performance of the Phantom that I don’t believe has ever been equaled but there are few YouTube videos of Crawford and Brightman singing together. (I can barely do Music of the Night but it takes months of work and I’m in a lower register.) He had to withdraw for 7 years from singing due to myalgic encephalopathy. So, to get a sample of Brightman’s stunning 3-octave soprano, I included a later performance of the title song with Antonio Banderas in the male role.

For a complete change of pace, I’ve decided to conclude with a sentimental favorite of mine, Doris Day. I think she was my first childhood crush.