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Best musicals on Broadway: Must-see ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘Parade’

See Josh Groban and Ben Platt while you can

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New York is currently rich in revivals. The two current must-sees are Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 Sweeney Todd and Jason Robert Brown’s 1998 Parade. Though there are a lot more musicals to see on Broadway, these two shows led by Josh Groban and Ben Platt, respectively, are must-sees, because who knows how long these screen and stage stars will remain in their roles.

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I’ve seen most musicals on Broadway right now, aside from a few that don’t have rave reviews. If you’re booking a trip to New York and looking to see a show or five, this list is for you. I’ve included a quick summary of each show and my thoughts on the production. I tried to stay clear of plot spoilers but I do touch on the stories, so if you want to go in completely surprised, stick to the high-level summary.

Best musicals on Broadway

Best lighter revival: Sweeney Todd
Best weighty revival: Parade
Best new show: Some Like It Hot
Best rated, yet under-the-radar: Hadestown (tour in Toronto starting in July and Ottawa in August)
Best showstopper pop show: Six
Best family show: The Lion King
Best long-running shows: Wicked and Hamilton

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Sweeney Todd 

Quick plot: Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, currently starring Groban and Annaleigh Ashford, is defined as a musical thriller, but I think ‘comedy’ needs to be added to the genre. Even though the plot includes killing people to bake them into pies, the play reads more comedy and less thriller. 

My thoughts: Did I fall in love with a demon barber? It’s hard not to be allured by Groban’s flawless vocals to Sondheim’s genius score and lyrics. Though this isn’t Groban’s Broadway debut, in 2016 he starred in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, his pop appeal extends the show beyond the theatre scene and to a more mainstream audience. But once you’re seated, you’re treated to the Broadway royalty of the hilarious Ashford, hauntingly talented Jamie Jackson, powerful John Rapson and the perfectly cast Gaten Matarazzo, likely best known for playing Dustin Henderson in Stranger Things.

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This musical is set to stand the test of time. It’s really easy to relate to at least one thing in this show. In an era of cancel culture and poorly aging sitcoms and comedy movies, Sweeney Todd’s plot was always extreme, surpassing social acceptance and therefore having a lasting shelf life neatly tucked into satirical fiction. But there’s nothing fictional about the struggles that the characters are faced with, including high food prices, being misunderstood and experiencing unrequited love. 

The lyrics take stabs at characters of society but are so well done, that it’s hard to be offended. The music is bold, catchy and at times seems to be organized chaos — kind of like most things in life — which is okay when you’re being led by the trusted mind of Sondheim and hands of Groban, however sharp.

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Where to buy tickets: Ticketmaster
Watch the movie: Prime Video

Parade

Quick plot: Parade, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, is about the all too real story of Jewish American Leo Frank. Frank was accused of raping and murdering a 13-year-old girl in Georgia, which sparked a wave of antisemitism in the area during the early 1900s. The play covers the trial of Frank.

My thoughts: Even my thoughts are crying. Parade is led by Platt and Micaela Diamond, who can sing any note and I’ll sob. Layer that with Frank’s heartbreaking story and Brown’s heartwrenching music, and the old ticker is bound to get a tickle.

Platt has meticulous control over his vocals. He takes us along every detail of his unique and gentle yet powerful vibrato. Though both Platt and Diamond can act and sing until there’s not a dry eye left in the audience, it’s noteworthy that they’re both Jewish and faced an antisemitic welcome to this Broadway stage. Not sure if the pair internalize the personal connection to Frank’s story, but it seems like we’re watching Mr. and Mrs. Frank face the realities of Jewish oppression.

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The musical is staged with a riser in the middle, that acts as a home, courtroom, prison and other locales that givea perfect snapshot of what the audience needs to see. The entire show is well staged, lit and cast. As the show takes us through the testimonials of each character, we’re introduced to new voices. Though the words are hard to hear, you don’t want the songs to end as the entire cast is armed with stunning vocals.

Go for the cast and score, the impact will stay.

Where to buy tickets: Ticketmaster

Some Like It Hot

Quick plot: Two brothers are forced to hide after witnessing a murder. It’s set in Chicago during the prohibition. Not only is it the best new musical, but it’s also the best show on Broadway about Chicago (sorry, Chicago, not a fan of the stage production).

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My thoughts: It makes perfect sense why Some Like It Hot is a toe-tapping hilarious musical, it’s scored by Marc Shaiman with a book by Amber Ruffin and Matthew Lopez. It’s bold to label yourself a “musical comedy” as it’s a strong claim and not often accomplished. But it earns the designation, in the company of The Book of Mormon and Spamalot.

I’ve seen this show twice — ensure that you see it with Christian Borle (I saw it once with him and once with his stand-in). The show is led by Borle and J. Harrison Ghee. Borle is born for the role and delivers a substantial amount of the comedy — sharing that responsibility with the musically-and-comedically-gifted Natasha Yvette Williams. Ghee is a proper triple-threat, quadruple, as he delivers some comedic stabs as well. And then there’s the Jennifer Hudson-esque Adrianna Hicks who brings the classic Broadway belt with her theatre-bursting singing abilities.

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Some Like It Hot is another must-see while the original cast is still going strong. It’s a feel-great show that has my vote to win Best Musical at the 2023 Tony Awards.

Where to buy tickets: Ticketmaster
Watch the movie: Amazon Prime

Hadestown

Quick plot: Hadestown is about the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

My thoughts: Though the story is old, the songs are new — and some prescient (like the song ‘Why We Build the Wall,’ which was written years before Donal Trump proposed the Mexican-American wall). Hadestown, with lyrics and book by Anaïs Mitchell, debuted on Broadway in 2019, earning many Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Mitchell’s score is stunning as is the emotional and crisp delivery by Eva Noblezada, who plays Eurydice and won the Favourite Leading Actress in a Musical Tony for the role.

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Even though the Greek myth can be traced back thousands of years and I’ve seen the show five times, I still get shocked by the ending and thoroughly enjoy the journey of getting there. Once I get off the Sweeney-Todd-Parade-high, I think Hadestown will go back to being my favourite show on Broadway right now. And I know Hamilton is playing. Hadestown’s score is just so brilliant and unique and Noblezada’s vocals are some of the best I’ve ever heard. Noblezada has been in the role for a while now, and though she sings “Wait for Me” eight times a week, she won’t wait forever.

Where to buy tickets: Ticketmaster (Mirvish – Toronto | NAC – Ottawa – tickets on sale, May 15, 2023)

Six

Quick plot: The show shares the story of the six wives of Henry VIII presented in pop concert form.

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My thoughts: I like to take my history in musical form, and Six perfectly delivers the story of Henry VIII’s wives to upbeat and catchy tunes. The best part of the show is the future of its creators’, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. The pair wrote Six while they were still in school, attending Cambridge University. Six is already an incredible show, and the writing duo isn’t even 30 years old yet.

I saw the show with its original cast, which has since changed, so I don’t haven’t specific comments about the particular production currently on Broadway, but the show is an 80-minute high-energy fun and educational concert good for most ages.

Where to buy tickets: Ticketmaster

The Lion King

Quick plot: From the classic Disney film, The Lion King musical is a coming-of-age tale that follows a young lion prince named Simba.

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My thoughts: I can, and did, feel the love many tonights. I’ve likely seen The Lion King a dozen times because it always leaves me thinking “this show is just so good.” I haven’t seen the show in a few years, but Tshidi Manye, who plays Rafiki has been with the production since its debut on Broadway, in 1997, and she still opens every show with the iconic “ Nants ingonyama bagithi baba” (which is Zulu for “Here comes a lion, father. Oh yes it’s a lion.”)

The Lion King soundtrack is brilliant, the staging is imaginative and the costumes are unmatched. Though I think that children should see any show they’re allowed into (I sat next to an eight-year-old at Parade who seemed to enjoy the show), I get that few have the same appeal as The Lion King, but in perfect Disney fashion, it’s great for adults too.

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Where to buy tickets: Ticketmaster

Wicked

Quick plot: This story takes place before Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz arrives in Oz. It’s about Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Galinda, who goes on to be known as Glinda the Good Witch, and how they ended up getting their witchy monikers.

My thoughts: Out of all the likely hundreds of shows I’ve seen, I’ve frequented Wicked the most. The show, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, doesn’t have a weak beat. There isn’t a second where my mind wanders or I check my watch to see when the act is over. But what keeps me coming back, is when Elphaba belts “The Wizard And I.” There’s one (at this point, very expensive for me) note that I love to hear all the different Elphabas sing. So though I haven’t seen the current cast on Broadway, I’d see it at any point to hear a new wicked witch belt my money belt empty.

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Where to buy tickets: Ticketmaster

Hamilton

Quick plot: The show tells the tale of Alexander Hamilton, an American founding father.

My thoughts: Hamilton, with music, lyrics and a book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has gone way beyond the theatre scene and into mainstream media. As a theatre fan, I love this, as it exposes new audiences to the art form. However, Miranda has a full other musical, In The Heights, that swept the Tony Awards before Hamilton entered the scene. Though In The Heights isn’t currently playing on Broadway, and the movie version isn’t my favourite, know that there’s so much more beyond the hype of Hamilton.

But I do love the show, and it deserves all the attention it gets. As mentioned, I prefer to learn history via musical theatre, and now I know more than I’ve ever known about Hamilton. The casting is famously way more culturally diverse than the actual historical figures, and it always gets me when I do more research on each figure and they’re all white.

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The show does a wonderful job of highlighting other period inequalities, including shining light on the women who played vital roles in America’s creation. My favourite line is Angelica Schuyler’s “And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’ll compel him to include women in the sequel. Work!” But the good news is there are many, many words and lines, so there’s so much to discover to find your own fave.

Where to buy tickets: Ticketmaster
Where to watch the film version: Disney+

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