Let’s face it: I talk about musicals a lot. And when you talk about musicals a lot, people wonder what your favorite musical is. But what if you can’t just choose one? Well… that’s more or less my problem with that question. I can’t really just choose one. I do have three that usually come up though and those would be: ELISABETH, LES MIZ, and WICKED.
But which one’s my favorite? Well. Like I said, I have difficulty choosing. But for the most part, I generally feel inclined to say either ELISABETH or LES MIZ. But that doesn’t mean that WICKED is my least favorite of those three. That’s not true. At all. I love all three. But I love all three for different reasons. And I want to delve into that today.
ELISABETH: DAS MUSICAL
So, ELISABETH. When people ask me what my favorite musical is and I know that I can’t give my “Well… this is going to be a long, complicated answer…” answer, I usually almost automatically say “Well, it’s this German / Austrian musical that’s called ELISABETH.” But why do I do that?
I think that there are a few reasons.
For one thing, the idea of ELISABETH is wonderful. The idea, the concept, the imagery, the symbolism, everything. And I love it for that reason. I seriously love it. It’s something that I have never, ever seen before in a musical and I think that it’s absolutely superb for that reason.
Next, there’s the fact that listening to the music of ELISABETH was actually what finally kicked me into working on my German again after a two-year hiatus in which I pretty much just spoke German but didn’t really work to enhance my skills. Listening to ELISABETH made me want to learn German again and further my knowledge of the language. And I’ve gotten some non-German speaking friends of mine to listen to the musical and they’ve also fallen in love with it. Maybe not to the extent that I have but… you know what I mean.
Then, there’s the fact that ELISABTH makes me cry. Yes, I love it because it makes me cry. In general, I like musicals that make me cry more than musicals that make me laugh. And well… I cry during most musicals because I get emotional when listening to music and watching things on TV. And while musicals that make me laugh are also near and dear to my heart, I just have this closer connection to the musicals that make me cry. Maybe it’s because musicals that make me cry have been more prevalent in my life whereas musical comedies are a relatively new thing to me.
And well… ELISABETH also makes me laugh. Yes, it makes me cry and it makes me laugh. It’s the best of both of those worlds. And the thing that makes the difference between ELISABETH and other sad musicals that have funny parts is that ELISABETH isn’t you know… trying to be funny. It just is. Luchini’s sarcastic remarks, Rudolf’s proud proclamation that he killed a cat to none other than Death himself, and der Tod (Death) just coolly lounging on a riser. All of those things work together to add some humor and to make me laugh and the best thing is that the humor here is sarcastic and wonderfully played, not necessarily just throwing in characters for comic relief.
Also, the music from ELISABETH is absolutely wonderful. The range of things that we get is just amazing. We get that classic ballad in “Ich Gehör Nur Mir” (“I Belong to Me”), we get a good, solid duet in “Boote in der Nacht” (“Boats in the Night”), we get a fun, super catchy song in “Wenn Ich Tanzen Will” (“If I Want to Dance”), we get an utterly amazing opening that mixes together several genres in “Alle Tanzten Mit der Tod” (“Everyone Has Danced With Death”), we get heartbreakers in “Rudolf, Wo Bist Du” (“Rudolf, Where Are You”), we get a bit of rock / metal in “Die Schatten Werden Länger (Reprise)” (“The Shadows Grow Longer (Reprise)”) and finally, we get an absolutely beautiful ending in “Der Schleier Fällt” (“The Veil Descends”).
Then, there’s the total emotional value of the musical. From Sisi’s want to be a circus performer to her being forced into being someone that she’s not by her controlling mother in-law who takes her children away from her, to Sophie, her young daughter dying, to Sisi feeling abandoned by everyone but Death himself, to Sisi feeling triumph at gaining political ground, to Sisi telling Death to leave her alone, to Rudolf, Sisi’s son, turning to Death as his friend because he has no one else in the world, to Rudolf committing suicide because he feels that his mother does not love him, to Sisi at Rudolf’s funeral, weeping at how she turned her son away, to Sisi being killed by Luchini and finally being able to be free with Death. It’s a musical that has emotional quality that I don’t think that any other musical has in quite the same way.
Finally, I think that I have to rant about the sheer beauty of the musical. ELISABETH is a beautiful, gorgeous, absolutely phenomenal musical. I really don’t know how else to explain it. But seriously. It’s simply elegant without trying too hard to be.
When people ask me what my favorite musical is, LES MIZ is also one of my automatic answers though it isn’t one that pops up nearly as often as ELISABETH. But if that’s the case, then why don’t I just go ahead and say that ELISABETH is my favorite musical? Well… because LES MIZ is something completely different than ELISABETH. And I also talk about LES MISÉRABLES a whole lot more than I talk about ELISABETH. So, let’s get to all of the reasons why I love LES MIZ.
Characters, characters, characters. LES MISÉRABLES is largely character-driven and not so much plot-driven. It’s characters like Jean Valjean, Javert, Fantine, Enjolras, and Éponine that people immediately know when you talk about LES MISÉRABLES. Maybe they don’t know a thing about the plot of LES MIZ. That’s not an altogether rare thing. After all, a lot of people think of LES MIZ as “that musical about the French revolution”. Except that couldn’t be further from the truth. Because the actual amount of time we spend on the revolution is very little. And the main plot has little to do with the rebellion of 1832 (which is not the French revolution). But they’ll know who Jean Valjean is. “He’s that guy who stole bread.” They’ll say. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. No. But a large reason as to why I love LES MIZ so much is due to the characters.
The music is amazing. It’s music that doesn’t just play but it almost lives. When I hear “On My Own” or “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, I can literally hear Éponine’s heart singing about how much she loves Marius although he’ll never love her and I can hear Marius’s grief over his friends’ deaths and the remorse that he feels. And you know, it’s not every musical that can do that. Not at all.
LES MISÉRABLES, like ELISABETH, has great emotional value but LES MIZ also holds this certain key to just being so inspirational. Inspirational as in, making me want to be a better person and to change something about the way that I live. And again, that’s not something that many musicals can do.
LES MIZ has made me a better writer. Let’s just say that I’ve learned a thing or two from Victor Hugo’s writing. I’ve learned how to tie life events into my stories (though I’m probably not nearly as good at it as he is).
And another reason that I love LES MIZ? It’s brought me many friends. Friends that I am glad every day to have. Just as I am glad every day to have LES MISÉRABLES as a part of my life.
Of the three, WICKED is probably the musical that’s the most different from musicals that I generally like. In fact, I was surprised that I liked WICKED. Prior to WICKED, happy musicals, to me, were kind of well… non-existent almost. Well, that is, happy musicals in the same sense that WICKED is a happy musical. Sure, musicals that I love like OLIVER!, ELISABETH, and LES MIZ have happy moments within them but they are just not happy throughout like WICKED is.
I’ll be the first to admit that the music style of a lot of the songs from WICKED is not my favorite. I mean, I like it. But it’s just not really… me. I’m not big into pop music and a lot of WICKED’s music has that sort of feel to it. Which is great! I like the fact that it’s different like that. But it’s just not a personal favorite genre of mine. But it introduced me to a new sort of genre of music and I appreciate it for that. And there are songs from WICKED that I absolutely adore like “No One Mourns the Wicked”, “I’m Not That Girl”, “Defying Gravity”, “For Good”, and “Solang Ich Dich Hab” (the German version of “As Long as You’re Mine”; for whatever reason I don’t like this song in English very much).
And the costumes for WICKED? Absolutely gorgeous. Never see anything quite like them. Never.
And ah! Characters. The clear theme of friendship in the musical is so beautiful and I absolutely love it. The general way in which the characters interact with one another is absolutely wonderful, I think.
SO… WHAT’S MY FAVORITE MUSICAL?
Well… all three of these musicals. Of course, ELISABETH, LES MISÉRABLES, and WICKED are all musicals that I absolutely adore. And I can’t really choose between them. But of course, there are parts of each musical that I feel like pushes it far ahead of the others. But in the end, I always come to the decision that I love all of these musicals for their own reasons. They’re all very different musicals but I love all of them. They’re all so different that I can’t compare them. That wouldn’t be fair. I mean, imagine that I decided what my favorite musical was completely based off of emotions? That would leave ELISABETH and LES MIZ far out of WICKED’s ballpark because of the emotions in musicals that I am personally used to and just in general have higher appreciation for. So I don’t pick a definitive favorite out of these three. No. They all have a very special part of my heart. And besides, three is better than one, right?
So, do you have a similar problem to me where you just can’t pick one favorite? If so, which musicals cause this strife? If not, what musical is your favorite?