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Top Ten Musicals of the Decade (2000 - 2009)

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4. Billy Elliot - the Musical

Yet another movie-turned-musical, Billy Elliot features innovative dance numbers choreographed by Peter Darling with invigorating music by Sir Elton John, not to mention book and lyrics by the film’s original screenwriter, Lee Hall.

Lesser writers portray children as simplistic and naïve. In a refreshing contrast, Hall has created young characters that reflect real-life. Bill Elliot: the Musical features children who exhibit psychological complexity, emotional depth, and a struggle to discover one’s identity and purpose.

What’s It About?

While living in a downtrodden coal mining town in 1980s England, eleven year old Billy Elliot accidentally stumbles into a ballet class and discovers that he has a gift. But will his blue-collared father accept the boy’s newfound love of dancing?

The Best Part:

The “Angry Dance.” (Fury and tap dancing prove to be a winning combination.)

3. The Drowsy Chaperone

Most bachelor parties consist of a night loaded with too much booze and a morning filled with hazy regrets. But when Bob Martin had a stag party to celebrate his upcoming marriage to Janet Van De Graaff, he and his friends put together a little show that was both a spoof and a loving tribute of old fashioned musicals of the 20s and 30s. The result developed into The Drowsy Chaperone: one of the most hilarious original musicals in years.

What’s It About?

Alone in his apartment and feeling blue, an unnamed “man in chair” decides to listen to one of his favorite records (yes, “records”), an old musical from 1928. As he plays the soundtrack, he provides narration and the madcap show unfolds in his kitchen.

The Best Part:

The narrator’s hysterical introductions to each of the characters. (Anyone who knows about the unfortunate fate of Adolpho knows what I’m talking about. To this day, the sight of poodles makes me shudder!)

2. Wicked

Many people think of this box-office empress as a deconstruction of The Wizard of Oz and its characters. In fact, this Stephen Schwartz smash is a double reinvention. Gregory Maguire’s novel, the musical’s source material, is remarkably different than the Broadway show. Its humor is dark, its tone often broods, and the text abound with philosophical ambitions. The stage version, penned by My So-Called Life creator Winnie Holzman, focuses on the friendship between the green-skinned Elphaba and Glinda, the bubbly, blonde and supposedly “good” witch.

Holzman and the rest of the Wicked team make a very wise move by lightening up on the material. The result is a musical with a lot of humor and heart, with a subtle undercurrent of the book’s original melancholy.

What’s It About?

You mean you haven’t heard of Wicked before? Where have you been hiding?

Picture the Wicked Witch of the West. But instead of that evil lady with a burning broomstick and a grudge against Dorothy and Toto, imagine that the witch is actually the hero of the story. Throw in some vibrant songs, an impressive set deign, some flying monkeys, and then you’ve got yourself the second best musical of the decade.

1. In the Heights

Yes, In the Heights, the Latin-jazzy, hip-hop masterpiece won over my soul the moment I heard the soundtrack. Why did it claim the number one spot on this list? Aren’t there more admirably serious-minded musicals such as Spring Awakening and The Color Purple that didn’t make into the top ten? Perhaps. But what is so impressive about this musical is its capacity for happiness. It takes place in our decade; it’s exploring the here and now. And despite the fact that there is so much in our daily lives to worry about, In the Heights reminds us to take comfort in our friends, our family, and our home. It is a work of sheer joy and praise. (Or should I say “alabanza”?)

Although a very modern story, the themes are inspired by classic shows such as Fiddler on the Roof; the main character Usnavi resembles Fiddler’s Tevye and Wonderful Life’s George Bailey.

The music and lyrics were crafted by Lin-Manuel Miranda, not only the songwriter but the star of the show – yet another amazing attribute. The melodies blend rap, hip-hop, and salsa, all of which don’t make it to Broadway very often. Despite this unique mixture, the songs are also rooted in theater traditions. Miranda’s lyrics give a shout-out to Cole Porter. On the view, Miranda explained how he was inspired to write a musical about the here-and-now, thanks to watching Rent when he was only seventeen. And as a further tip of the hat, Miranda personally thanked Stephen Sondheim during his rap/acceptance speech. The future of the American musical is in good hands.

I can’t wait to see what Miranda, and the rest of the musical community has in store for next decade.

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