Some musicals are fun. Some are not. Some are both. In this particular post, we are going to take a look at the dramatic themes in some of our favorite musicals. Because serious subjects in our entertainment are just as important as the laughs, because through these musicals we are able to experience another life, without ever leaving ours.
Now we will proceed with five of our favorite dramatic musicals.
5. West Side Story
West Side Story is the Romeo & Juliet inspired romp through the streets of New York. The Jets are the Italian gang led by Riff and the Sharks are the Puerto Rican gang led by Bernardo. The two street gangs are fighting each other over territory boundaries. Tony, a founder of the Jets meets Maria, Bernardo’s sister meet and they fall in love. When they begin to dance together tempers flare and Bernardo pulls Maria away from tony.
Still, the connection between the two is far too strong and the star-crossed lovers start to see each other in secret. Meanwhile a rumble is set for the two gangs to resolve their dispute once and for all. Tony tries to help them settle their dispute peacefully but Bernardo taunts him. Riff punches Bernardo to defend Tony but Bernardo kills Riff. Enraged over the death of his friend Tony kills Bernardo, the brother of Maria, the woman he loves.
When a friend tells Maria that Tony has killed her brother she doesn’t believe him but Tony confesses to her. Maria realizes she loves him despite his murdering her brother (drama!) The two agree to meet later and run away.
Furious and heartbroken over the death of her lover Bernardo, Anita tells the Jets that Maria has been shot dead. When Tony gets the news he is distraught. He goes to a member of the Sharks and begs to be shot dead as well but it his wish is granted just as he sees Maria is alive.
Maria holds Tony until he dies. The gangs move to fight but Maria threatens to kill herself and explains that their feud is what killed her lover and her brother. Maria drops the gun and the gangs declare peace.
4. Purple Rain
This full length film tells the story of “The Kid” who is a rising star in the pop world. Kid is a bit spoiled and is at war with another group called The Time for performance status at the prominent club their groups play. While Kid is trying to get his name and songs out there he is dealing with conflict in his own band The Revolution.
Kid’s home life is no better. Kid catches his father beating his mother and even deals with his father’s attempted suicide. Yet through it all he falls in love with Apollonia and woos her into his bed.
Soon after The Kid’s internal nature of self-destruction causes him to be abusive to the woman he loves, and there he sees the dramatic pattern of his parents, which frightens him. All of this drama is accompanied by some of the greatest pop hits in musical drama history. Prince performs a racy scene with members of his band The Revolution to Darling Nikki and brings a tear to our eyes when he sings When Doves Cry or the title track Purple Rain.
3. The Sound of Music
While this musical drama has comedic scenes and parts that could be considered light and cherry, there is no mistaking that the subject matter of this particular musical drama is as dramatic as it gets.
Maria meets the VonTrapp children and their father the Captain when she leaves the abbey to become their governess. Hilarity ensues until Maria and the Captain fall in love and get married, which includes love scenes that are filled with crises of their own. Once they return from their honeymoon the newlywed couple finds that they are being watch by the Third Reich who is doing everything in their power to force Captain VonTrapp to become a member.
Captain VonTrapp opposes everything the Nazi’s stand for and is openly vocal about his loyalty to Austria. Still, the Captain and his family realize that the takeover of Austria by the Germans is inevitable and they escape. Of course, their escape is filled with drama and nothing short of frightening but they make it over the mountains with the help of some charitable nuns from Maria’s abbey.
This type of drama, that which involves genocide and Nazi’s is nothing we would smile at. Still, the serious subject is brought to our attention through the world of music and done very well at that.
This adaptation of Charles Dicken’s famous Oliver Twist is set in London during the Victorian period. Oliver is an orphan who runs away to the London only to befriend a pick pocket named The Artful Dodger. Dodger, as his friends call him, sees potential in his sweet face to be a great pickpocket so he brings him to meet Fagan, an old man who trains orphaned boys to steal.
They bring him their bounty for the day and in turn he takes care of them. These boys are loyal to Fagan no matter how selfish he is or how poorly his tends to their needs. Nancy is a friend of Fagan and she and Oliver strike up a friendship.
Of course, when her boyfriend Bill Sykes asks Fagan for a small boy he can fit through a window Fagan gives him Oliver. Oliver is meant to open the door for Sykes so he can enter freely and rob the wealthy residence Oliver accidentally wakes up the owner of the home, Mr. Brownlow, discovers Oliver and, after the boy passes out, takes him in.
It doesn’t take long for Brownlow to realize he can do more good by adopting the boy then sending him to jail so he lets him live there. Bill Sykes is insistent that Nancy help them get Oliver back otherwise they run the risk of his spilling the beans about their entire operation. Nancy learns that she has to do what Bill wants otherwise it means her life. So she entices Oliver away from safety and Bill Sykes kidnaps the boy.
Nancy regrets her decision and she tries to help Oliver escape. Sykes discovers her and kills her. Her body is discovered right away and the townsfolk chase Sykes until he accidentally hangs himself trying to escape. Later we learn that Mr. Brownlow is actually his biological uncle, the offspring of his missing niece who died after giving birth to Oliver.
This is the recipe for drama from beginning to end. There is murder, and intrigue, and corruption. All set to some of the catchiest numbers you’ll ever hear. This musical drama is well worth multiple viewings.
1. Les Misérables
This adaptation of the Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name starts with convict Jean Valjean, who was sentence to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. His penchant for trying to escape lengthens his sentence to nineteen years. Our musical drama starts when he is released.
Valjean finds himself living with a bishop, who is the only person that will take him in knowing he has just been released from prison. Valjean shows his gratitude by stealing the bishop’s silverware. Valjean is caught but the bishop doesn’t press charges on the agreement that Valjean will start a new life and not commit any more crimes.
Moved by the bishop’s kindness Valjean does what he is asked and relocates to another French town. He changes his name and becomes a very successful businessman and eventually the mayor of the town.
Enter Fantine, a young woman who becomes pregnant with a man’s child who abandons her to raise her daughter alone. After she has the child Fantine starts to work at the factory owned by Valjean. Once her coworkers find out she has an illegitimate child she is fired.
With no choice Fantine starts prostituting herself out to make money to support her child. Then Fantine falls ill and she gives her daughter Cosette to innkeepers who work her like a slave. Fantine dies and Valjean saves Cosette from the evil innkeepers.
This story continues with Valjean being arrested again, his escape from prison, and his separation and subsequent reunion with his adopted daughter. Cosette, who, in the meantime, deals with a love triangle.
Les Misérables is consistent in its dramatic content, sometimes to the point of feeling like you got punched in the gut after viewing, which is why it was given our number one slot today.
Looking for more musical dramas? Here are some extra for you!