From a very young age, I had developed a deep infatuation for musicals. I had been introduced to this world through the likes of High School Musical and Glee, where randomly breaking out into a musical number while conducting everyday activities was considered a norm. In a real life setting, the only time I was granted the permission to exhibit such behaviour was during choir practice (to the dismay of other fellow students who were forced to listen to our obnoxious singing during rehearsals). Even though high school didn’t turn out the way I had expected it to (thanks, East High) and my attempts to sing about my feelings instead of talking about it were constantly met with strange looks, my appreciation for musicals stuck with me. In addition to granting me some form of escapism through its presentation of an almost utopian-like society, unscathed from the harsh realities of life, many musicals manage to concurrently capture the unique and multitudinous experiences of human beings. And what better way is there to express our concerns than through song (with a little dash of dancing and drama)?
Thus, the following list will briefly describe some (and I can’t place enough emphasis on that some) of my favourite musical performances, ranging from films to theatre, where the combination of its main elements successfully create a cohesive, intricate and interesting telling of the narrative.
1. A Night to Remember from High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2009)
Source: High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2009)
The trilogy of all trilogies and my personal favourite from the High School Musical franchise. There may have been songs that were catchier (I Don’t Dance, Stick to the Status Quo), emotional (Can I Have This Dance) and meme-worthy (literally every Troy Bolton solo). A Night to Remember, however, was one of the most musical-like performances from the entire franchise (next to I Want it All). From the elaborate set designs to the numerous costume changes, you can tell that the final instalment had been given the largest budget out of the three. The high production value, high energy performance by the ensemble and the choreography? Thank you, Kenny Ortega for this fine piece of cinema.
2. If I Didn’t Believe in You from The Last Five Years (2014)
Source: The Last Five Years (2014)
The soundtrack to this movie-musical depicts romance in such a genuine way that it hits you twice as hard when you realize early on that the two lovers are incompatible. The film is relatively stripped down, with no grand gesture and exceptionally written songs carrying the narrative. Its lyrics are honest yet biased as they come from two very unreliable narrators, providing viewers a different interpretation of the film upon each viewing. Of all the songs in the soundtrack, the most impactful track for me had been Jamie’s solo, If I Didn’t Believe in You, where audiences bear witness to Jamie confronting his wife, Cathy, regarding the issue of trust. Perhaps what makes this particular performance all the more heart-breaking is that it is evident, both through his actions and words, that Jamie himself does not understand their failing relationship nor is he certain of his feelings for her anymore.
3. Meant to be Yours from Heathers: The Musical (2014 – )
Source: Heathers: The Musical (2014)
Luckily, Riverdale had skipped past this song in their recent Heathers episode. In this musical, JD gives us several memorable solos, most notably Freeze Your Brain and Meant to be Yours. What sets apart the latter from the former, which simply worked as an introductory piece to the character, is that Meant to be Yours perfectly captures the complex nature of JD’s character. Unlike in the 1988 cult classic film of which it is based on, musical JD is not merely a clear-cut psychotic murderer; rather, he has a softer side, a disturbed character driven by his unstable mental state to inflict pain upon those around him. His erratic behaviour is ingrained within this number, shifting from aggressive, up-tempo rock music to an almost worship-like love confession. The accompaniment of the choir nearing the resolution of the piece echoes the loud voices in his head, telling the audience that JD’s desire for destruction triumphs over his love (read: obsession) for Veronica . With that being said, it’s hard to dismiss the appeal of his character with how charming he’s portrayed (the entire premise of the story makes you question your moral compass anyways).
4. Go the Distance from Hercules (1997)
Source: Hercules (1997)
Personally, I don’t think Hercules gets enough credit for its soundtrack. From “The Gospel Truth” to “Zero to Hero” to “I Won’t Say I’m in Love”, the perfect blend of pop, gospel, soul and R&B secures this film’s soundtrack a high ranking in my list of favourites from animated features, next to the likes of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Princess and the Frog. Out of all the songs, Go the Distance in particular had resonated with me and still does to this day. I consider it to be one of those power anthems that’s released once every decade, at least within the context of Disney. Michael Bolton’s power ballad rendition may be more commonly known due to its frequent plays on the radio but the original version sung by Roger Bart showcases Hercules’ innocence in his pursuit in finding not only his sense of belonging but his life’s purpose. The lyrics can be seen as immature and naïve but Hercules’ pure determination and overall positive outlook on life can warm even the coldest of hearts.
5. The Song of Purple Summer from Spring Awakening (2006 – )
Source: Spring Awakening (2006)
Based on the 1891 German play with the same title, the musical deals with topics such as teenage sexuality, suicide, and abuse. A large portion of the soundtrack is alternative/folk-infused rock music, reflecting the fleeting yet punchy existence of these rebellious teenagers experiencing their coming of age. In this number, the cast, now older, gather on stage to sing about the eventual change in generation, where the progressive youth will bloom and inevitably replace the ideologies previously brought upon by the conservative adults. This number is heavily carried by the performance of the ensemble as they stand, stationery, pouring their hearts out through the simple yet haunting composition. The lyrics are full of symbolism, the transition from spring to summer hinting at the youth’s gradual integration into adulthood. Though this may not have been the most age-appropriate musical I could have seen at age 12, it is certainly one of the most impressionable.
PS: If you’re interested in venturing out, here’s one of my musical playlists which includes the songs listed above!