The Greatest American Musical

This thread is a spin-off of the Meet Me in St. Louis thread, wherein Lissener cals MMISL “the great American musical” (which I don’t dispute; it’s very good).
That threatened to start a hijack: what’s the Greatest American musical?

I’m not a expert on American musicals, although I was a film major in college and even took a class in American musical film. I’ve seen many, but by no means all, of the “great” musicals (and some of them I haven’t seen in 20 years more). But I suggested that The Music Man and The Wizard of Oz derserved consideration, along with others mentioned: Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris and West Side Story.

I have to admit, I like the Gene Kelley and the Judy Garland. However, I’m not going to nominate The Pirate, which I saw again recently.

So what do you think? Oklahoma or Chicago? Phantom of the Opera or Fiddler on the Roof?

Let’s limit ourselves to films only, not stage shows (although films derived from stage shows are fair game). Anything between The Jazz Singer and Momma Mia is up for consideration. Please show your work.

I say asking us to limit ourselves to films only is patently unfair to some of the great American Musicals.

Have you seen the film version of Oklahoma!?

The stage play was a revolutionary piece of theatre, the movie is a steaming pile.

The American Musical artform is one that is inherantly theatrical and film versions of said plays are not really the same thing. Movie musicals are a different beast entierly. My pick for greatest movie musical is probably one of the Busby Berkley films because it presents the musical in a way that only works in film, rather than apeing a stage play. Maybe *Singing in the Rain *because it is a great movie that happens to be a musical. *Cabaret *is up there too as possibly the best adaptation of a stage play, taking the heart of the play and truely adapting it to the medium of film.

The pretentious theatre geek in me wants to say that greatest American Musical is probably *Urinetown *or maybe Avenue Q, but I can’t see either ever working as a film. *Hedwig *is up there too, but it is almost a different genre, more caberet performance than American Musical. And even though it hurts me to say it I know in my heart that even though I personally dislike them the greatest American Musicals were probably Oklahoma! and Carousel.

The greatest **American **musical is undoubtedly 1776.

The greatest musical made in America is up for grabs. :slight_smile:

I don’t know if this is in the scope of the OP but can we get a definition of terms here?

American Musical is typically a reference to the genre more commonly know as “musicals.” It’s a style of performance that originated on the American stage and has little to do with where the show was originally produced or the subject matter. Like Chicago Blues, or Kansas City BBQ. It’s a style. The style is typified by characters breaking into fully orchestrated song, but also using spoken dialogue rather than recetitive (I know I must be spelling that wrong. I mean the sing talk of opera.) And usually, but not always, features elaborate dance numbers and costuemes combining. It is sort of a combination of ballet, straight drama, and opera. This is what distinguises it from Caberet style and Opera, Operetta etc.

If this is not what the OP intended then I will slowly back away from the thread for beign too geeky to live.:wink:

A very similar argument could be made for Guys and Dolls–a wonderful show but a painful film in many ways. Other strong contenders from a stage perspective–Carousel, Show Boat–also have films which, while perhaps fine, don’t really do the material justice. West Side Story comes off a bit better, but still has a myriad of problems (IMHO).

I think any discussion of the Great American Musical would have to include, in addition to MMiSL and SitR, The Wizard of Oz, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Love Me Tonight, The Band Wagon, On the Town, Cabaret, Pennies from Heaven and the Astaire/Rogers films (Top Hat, Shall We Dance, Swing Time) as well as Busby Berkeley’s 30s output (Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933). More later…

Agreed with all of the above.

I do have to say that the one that hurts me most is Oklahoma!. I spent most of my life thinking it was a terrible show based on the movie, then I saw a quality production in college and studied it in my theatre history classes and realized just what a hack job the film was. It isn’t all the film’s fault either, some stuff (like the dream ballet) just doesn’t translate to film.

I don’t want to seem parochial, Aussie Hugh Jackman plays the lead, but have you seen the DVD of the London stage production, which was brilliantly filmed by Trevor Nunn in 1999. It is without a doubt the best realization of a stage musical ever committed to film. You can find most of the songs and set pieces on youtube but really anyone with even a passing interest in musicals should own this.

No I haven’t. My wife hates musicals so I haven’t had as much opprotunty to check stuff out. I think I can convert her though. I had to drag her kicking and screaming to Avenue Q, but now she plays the cast CD in her car all the time.:smiley:

I will see if I can’t check out that London production. I like Hugh Jackman.

Singin’ in the Rain takes it for movie musical.

On stage, it’s harder to say. I will say, though, that by far the most entertaining musical ever made was The Drowsy Chaperone.

I can’t speak as a film expert, but my favorite musical is Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. It has it all - wonderful music, great voices to compliment the music, incredible dancing.


I’m not a theatre buff, so maybe my viewpoint would be worthwhile in the sense that I have no preconceived notions…

I’m sure there will be howls of outrage, but to me it’s an easy one…


Teenagers, Rock n’ Roll, Fast Cars and sex, sex, sex. “American” as you can get.

I love musicals and categorically refuse to restrict myself to the odious screen; it’s a stage medium first and foremost, god damn it! :smiley:

I’ll nominate three by Sondheim (Mr. Sondheim to you lot): Sweeney Todd, Passion, and Sunday in the Park with George.

The Music Man.
Stage or screen.

It isn’t the best musical, nor the best musical by an American. Still, it is very, very, very good and it feels like America (if that makes sense). It sings, and patters, and dances, and talks Americana.

We can stand touchin’ noses for a week at a time and never see eye to eye
But what the heck, you’re welcome.
Join us at the picnic.
You can eat your fill of all the food you bring yourself.


Ohh, don’t forget *Assasins *and Into the Woods. Sondheim should have his own catagory. He is something else.

God in Heaven, you people are HACKS! (I keed! I keed!)

But none of you have yet mentioned the single perfect musical in the history of Broadway.


End of thread. Don’t forget to turn out the lights when you leave.

I understand that Sondheim’s work is fantastic, but Sweeney Todd takes place in London and Sunday in the Park with George takes place in Europe. If you’re going to nominate Sondheim, I think you’ve got to go with West Side Story which combines Shakespeare with the melting-pot story that makes America great.

Personally I don’t enjoy Sondheim’s music very much – too much recitative and out-of-rhythm dialogue ruins a good melody for me – so I’ve got to go with Guys and Dolls. Great music, and deals with the puritan streak that runs through America, and what happens when it bumps up against the real world (and the criminal world). Classic American slang and cultural references to Christianity, Judaism, Italian families, New Yorkers, and more… the mixture is as American as apple pie. Big show-stopping song-and-dance numbers and only one or two stinkers (“More I Cannot Wish You”) make this one of my all-time favorites.

Another example of a classic stage musical done a cinematic (and hence, long-lasting) disservice.

And Sondheim has proved particularly elusive in getting barely any rendition of his musicals on the silver screen, let alone a good one (and yes, I’ve seen the passable-but-disappointing Sweeney). Still, the man does have an Oscar.

While Gypsy is great, I don’t think it just screams “Americana” like the other nominees do. Traveling entertainers with overbearing mothers are a very small portion of the American experience. People fighting prejudice and trying to make a life for themselves while going through significant changes themselves is much more apropos. Curly settling down(selling his gun and his horse!), Tony trying to make peace between the gangs, Harold Hill outgrowing his scheming ways for the love of a good woman(who learns to compromise because she fell for him too), these are more “American” experiences than the life and times of a stripper and her mama(who is a huge bitch). Similarly, while I personally like Chicago, it’s characters are way far away from the American Everyman.


I had a very hard time deciding between Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George. I wouldn’t count Assassins, though, though I do love it. It’s not trying to do the same sort of thing as the other musicals we’ve listed: it’s practically a revue.