Top 10 Best Musicals of the 1990s
VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Max Marriott
These are the BEST Musicals of the 1990s! Forget house music and grunge, we're looking back at the 90s for a completely different reason, for this list. We're looking at our favourite musicals that made their Broadway debut in the 90s like Sunset Boulevard and The Lion King, and while many classic musicals such as Chicago and Cabaret had revivals in this time, we're specifically focusing on shows that paying audiences first saw on the Great White Way between 1990 and 1999. Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for the top 10 Broadway Musicals of the 1990s!
Top 10 Best Musicals of the 1990s
Forget house music and grunge, we’re looking back at the 90s for a completely different reason. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 Broadway musicals of the 1990s.
For this list, we’re looking at our favourite musicals that made their Broadway debut in the 90s. While many classic musicals such as Chicago and Cabaret had revivals in this time, we’re specifically focusing on shows that paying audiences first saw on the Great White Way between 1990 and 1999.
Written by William Finn and James Lapine, “Falsettos” follows an eccentric, dysfunctional Jewish family in the 70s. At the centre of the story is Marvin, who must juggle his relationships with his son, psychiatrist, ex-wife, and new boyfriend. Its depiction of both gay romance and AIDS was groundbreaking in a time when the HIV epidemic was at its most urgent. However, its humor, Tony-winning book, and energetic score are what have helped to keep the emotional punch of this musical just as powerful today, decades later. I guess you could say it’s a Miracle of Judaism…
No list of musicals is complete without Julie Andrews, but this is a far cry from Mary Poppins. Adapted from the movie of the same name, Victor/Victoria follows Victoria Grant . . . or is that Victor Grazinski? That’s right, Andrews is a woman impersonating a man impersonating a woman: a screwball comedy premise if ever we heard one, courtesy of Pink Panther creator Blake Edwards. With musical maestros Leslie Bricusse, Henry Mancini and Frank Wildhorn all contributing to the score and lyrics, it’s no surprise that Victor/Victoria was a big success when it debuted in 1995. But the fact it also gave Andrews her final onstage role also makes it a show as important as it is entertaining.
As many of the entries on this list prove, some themes explored in 1990s musicals remain ever relevant today. “Ragtime” combines several genres to depict different cultural experiences in the USA in the 20th century, all the while discussing issues of class, gender, and ethnicity. The musical received a staggering 13 Tony nominations at the 1998 ceremony, but lost out on Best Musical to a certain other show we might get to on this list; hint, it was originally a Disney movie. With incredible performances from the likes of Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald and Marin Mazzie, as well as a huge orchestra playing a sweeping score to bolster insane production design, “Ragtime” is well worth being seen and heard.
#7: Sunset Boulevard
Are you ready for your close-up? Next on our list is another movie-to-stage adaptation, this time giving the song-and-dance treatment to Billy Wilder’s classic Hollywood noir thriller. The story follows a struggling screenwriter as he develops a strange relationship with faded film actress Norma Desmond. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, it’s no surprise this show won Best New Musical at the 1995 Tonys. But it’s Glenn Close’s iconic portrayal of Desmond, honouring Gloria Swanson whilst bringing her own interpretation to the character, that cemented Sunset Boulevard as a classic of the stage as well as the screen.
#6: Beauty and the Beast
It’s a tale as old as time - or in this case, as old as the 1991 Disney film, and the fairytale that inspired it. This show was always going to make a ton of money on Broadway, but the fact that the stage version retained the movie’s heart is amazing. Most of you have probably seen some form of “Beauty and the Beast” and don’t need to be reminded of why “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” are considered some of the best Disney musical numbers. And although it lost to Passion at the Tonys that year, the fact it’s made $1.4 billion and has been performed in 115 cities worldwide says a lot.
#5: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
How’s this for a change of pace? While not the first musical to bring rock music to theatre, Hedwig’s blurring of the lines between both genres and genders has won it a place in the hearts of musical fans around the world. Writer John Cameron Mitchell originally played Hedwig himself whilst Stephen Trask’s blistering rock score made audiences feel more like they were at an Iggy Pop concert than the Jane Street Theatre. Its genderqueer rock star hero is what makes the show important, but just having the song “Sugar Daddy” in its setlist would’ve gotten it on this list regardless.
#4: Miss Saigon
From Boubil and Schoenberg, the creators of Les Miserables, comes another sweeping romantic tragedy set against the backdrop of history. Based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon follows an American soldier during the Vietnam War as he falls for a local bargirl and fathers a son. Like The Secret Garden, Miss Saigon debuted in 1989, and didn’t transfer to Broadway until 1991, where it was nominated for multiple Tony Awards. What’s made this show one of the longest running Broadway musicals is not only the sweeping score, but also the epic scope of the story.
#3: Crazy for You
The Gershwin brothers and the 1990s aren’t necessarily two things you’d put together. But this isn’t a revival, it’s a remake of their 1931 musical, Girl Crazy, adapting the story for modern audiences, and incorporating Gershwin tunes from other shows and movies. This idea worked for An American in Paris, so why not here? The fact that the show is also wildly enjoyable with a good old-fashioned showbiz-centric romance at its heart, as two lovers try to save a failing theatre, is also pretty great. For those of you nostalgic for musicals with a classical flavour, Crazy for You is just what you’re looking for.
#2: The Lion King
Need we say more? The Shakespearian saga of Simba and the Pridelands is a beloved classic, and the stage show is still running to this day at the Minskoff Theatre. Directed by visionary director Julie Taymor, the show has been critically praised for its use of puppetry and costumes to adapt the original film’s animated style into a wholly different medium. What hasn’t been changed in the transition are the classic Elton John and Tim Rice songs, which still bring a smile to our faces all these years later.
Before we unveil our number one pick, here are some honourable mentions:
Jekyll & Hyde
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Once on This Island
Winner of four Tonys, and a Pulitzer Prize, Jonathan Larson’s love-letter to Alphabet City is the epitome of 90s musical theatre. A modernisation of Puccini’s La Boheme, it follows an ensemble of bohemians as they struggle with financial poverty under the shadow of the AIDS epidemic. Songs such as “Seasons of Love” and “La Vie Boheme” have become modern-day musical standards, but the show’s enduring impact is because of its strong message of tolerance, acceptance and, dare we say it, love. There’s no better way to sum it all up than, “no day but today.”