As a musical theater fan, it is always hard to come up with an answer to the question “What is your favorite musical?” Much like, “best friend,” “favorite musical” often feels more like a tier than a description of a single piece of theater. I’ve been thinking lately about what defines this term and how a musical gets to enter that special tier.
Of course, there are the musicals that are favorites for nostalgic reasons: Funny Girl was the first musical I was in; I got tickets to Wicked as a Bat Mitzvah gift; Fiddler on the Roof is the only show I’ve done twice…and is just special to most Jews. For proof of how deep this nostalgia runs: I named both of my pets after characters from Wicked and this blog’s title is a Wicked reference. These are the shows that I don’t necessarily listen to all the time, but I know every single word of those scores.
While the relationships I have with those nostalgic favorites are special, I certainly think it’s possible for musicals to become favorites when you are an adult. As we grow, so do our tastes, and so do the stories that speak to us. I saw Waitress on Broadway 22 times over the course of its nearly five year run. Every time I took my seat in the Brooks Atkinson (or the Barrymore) and heard the first notes of Sara Bareilles’ stunning score, I could feel myself let go of any tension I was holding. That show is my safe space and my “soft place to land.” The story is not only comforting, but it is empowering. I have felt that way since I first saw it in 2015, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. (Truly, if you don’t believe me, come look at all of the Waitress art all over my house).
I grew up in a house with more than one English history nut. There was a family tree of the British Royal Family hanging in my house growing up. We all learn about Henry VIII and his six wives in school, but I had never been so enraptured by the stories of those six women until I saw Six. Six not only reinvents Henry VIII’s wives as pop divas, but it also allows them to redefine themselves outside of their marriages. (I mean, did you know Catherine Parr was the first woman to be published in English?) Six is smart and funny, and it is sadly far too relevant 500 years after the events of the show takes place. Every time I have seen Six, I have not only felt empowered, but I have left feeling at least a little bit happier than when I entered the theater.
A favorite musical becomes a favorite because of how it makes you feel. It might transport you to a specific point of your life or the score might be one that gives you comfort in difficult times. I will be curious to see how my relationships to my more recent favorite musicals change over time, but I do know that my love of musical theater is not going anywhere.