Just as with any art form musicals come in sub genres like drama and tragedies, but for us, at this very moment, no other category under the heading of “musical” delights us more than the musical comedy.
Some of the earliest musicals go as far back as ancient Greek theaters. Musicians accompanied dancers and actors to tell comedic stories. Since then, not only have musical comedies dominated the Broadway landscape, they have dazzled us in the movies for generations.
There is no denying the general populations love of the musical comedy, which brings us to our inventory of great musical comedies.
1. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
This musical, which started out as a Broadway production in 1978, was eventually adapted to fit the silver screen and released as a movie in 1982. Both versions had their own level of success.
The Broadway show being nominated for six Tony Awards in 1979 with Henderson Forsyth winning for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical and Carlin Glynn taking home the Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.
Of course, the memorable comedic performances of Burt Reynolds as Ed Earl Dodd, Dolly Parton as the Chicken Ranch madam Miss Mona, and an unforgettable Charles Durning as the slippery Governor are what gives this musical a spot on our comedy list.
The movie edition of the musical added songs written by Dolly Parton, specifically “Sneakin’ Around” and the award winning “I Will Always Love You.”
While Broadway aficionados were not as easily offended there were still parts of the country that considered the word “whorehouse” vulgar. In certain areas the word was bleeped out where other communities didn’t see the promotions at all.
Still, after opening in the summer of 1982, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas pulled in nearly twelve million dollars the weekend it opened. Criticism was mixed but it is hard to deny the charming chemistry between Reynolds and Parton in this film. The songs alone make it a classic with two tunes making it to top ten lists.
2. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
The next example of musical comedy on our list is different from the first because it was first a movie then adapted to a musical, unlike our first entry.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a 1988 film starring Steve Martin, as Freddy Benson, and Michael Caine, as Lawrence Jamieson, who play rival con men. They devise a bet to see who of the two could first rip-off an innocent Janet Colgate, played by Glenne Headly.
Of course, the competition is enough to keep you laughing for days and that year Michael Caine received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in Musical or Comedy.
In 2004 the musical production of this story opened in San Diego and eventually made its way to Broadway less than a year later. Despite the mixed reviews the Broadway production of this comedy was nominated for ten Tony Awards in 2005 and ten Drama Desk Awards that same year.
3. Once Upon a Mattress
This musical comedy, which originally opened on May 11, 1959 at the Phoenix Theatre off-Broadway, is based on the legendary tale of the princess and the pea. In less than a year the production moved to the now Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.
Once Upon a Mattress’s initial cast included a debut performance by famous comedienne Carol Burnett as Princess Winnifred. The Princess is the next to be tested for possible matrimony with the prince.
The Queen is highly protective and possessive of her son and the tests she devises to test possible wives are impossible to pass. Hence, the idea of putting a pea in her mattress.
Still, two other court members, Lady Larkin and Sir Harry, are desperate for Prince Dauntless the Drab to get married. There is a marriage law throughout the kingdom that decrees no one shall marry until the Prince marries.
Through a moment of weakness Lady Larkin and Sir Harry find that they need to get married and soon. The only way they could do this is by ensuring Princess Winnifred passes Queen Aggravain’s impossible test.
Burnett has gone on to star in three television adaptations of Once Upon a Mattress with her playing the Queen in the final television musical production in 2005. She played alongside Tracey Ullman as Princess Winnifred, Matthew Morrison of Glee as Sir Harry, and Zooey Deschanel as Lady Larkin.
For the original production on Broadway Carol Burnett was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress and the entire show was nominated for that year’s Best Musical.
4. The Great American Trailer Park Musical
This more recent musical to make it to our list of favorite musical comedies opened off-Broadway in September of 2005. After one hundred and twenty-one performances the show closed in December of that same year. The Great American Trailer Park Musical held a performance at the first annual New York Music Theater Festival.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical didn’t go on to Broadway like the other musical comedies on this list. But it did premiere regionally on June 2, 2006 in Gainesville, Florida at the Hippodrome State Theatre.
Two years later, in 2008, the First National Tour of this comedic musical kicked off in Spokane, Washington and made its way to the UK that same year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Later, in 2008, an English production opened in Birmingham, England.
This musical comedy focuses on the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in Florida and the people who live there. The two the show focuses on the most are Pippi, a stripper, and Jeannie, who suffers from agoraphobia. Jeanie is married to Norbert who works as a tollbooth-collector.
In 2010 theatre company Arizona Onstage Productions utilized this musical comedy while introducing the world to the first scratch and sniff musical. Cards were handed out to the audience with instructions on when to ignite the scent during precise points in the show.
In 2009 webisodes were created for greater access to the story of The Great American Trailer Park Musical.
Here is the first episode to it:
5. You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown
Based on the lovable Peanuts characters created by Charles M. Schulz the original cast opened in an off-Broadway production in the East Village.
This musical comedy began in the early sixties when composer Clark Gesner began to write songs based on the Peanuts characters. United Features Syndicate would not give Gesner permission to use the names of the characters in his songs. This prompted Gesner to go around the conglomerate. He sent Schultz a recording of his tunes and Gesner got permission.
The original plan Gesner had was to record the songs and he did in 1966. The idea of taking these tunes and utilizing them to create a musical had never crossed Gesner’s mind. Producer Arthur Whitelaw urged Gesner to take that step.
It was on February 10, 1967 the first cast of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown began rehearsals. It opened on March 7th of that same year at Theatre 80. On June 1, 1971 a Broadway production opened at the John Golden Theater. Unfortunately, this show closed on June 27th after only thirty-two performances.
Still, it opened in the West End in London in 1968 and staged one hundred and sixteen performances. After that this musical comedy would lay dormant until a 1998 opening in Skokie, Illinois and a Broadway revival in 1999.
There was a one-night performance of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown at a Manhattan benefit for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This musical comedy remains a standard production for small community theaters because the cast is small and the set is rather simple.
6. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Our final musical comedy, written by Stephen Trask, in today’s list can also be categorized as a rock musical or opera. This is an original story about a singer named Hedwig. He fronts a band, East German, and gender non-specific.
Hedwig has a sex change operation to marry an American man. This is his way of escaping communist East Germany. To his dismay, the operation is botched and Hedwig has to go on deformed sexually.
The original production of this musical comedy opened at the Jane Street Theatre in an off-Broadway production on February 14, 1998 and remained there for a little more than two years. They gave eight hundred and fifty-seven performances before it’s closing in April of 2000.
From there Hedwig and the Angry Inch opened in London at the Playhouse Theatre in September 2000 and went on to be produced in Italy, Canada, the Czech Republic, Thailand, Mexico, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Brazil, and Turkey. Yet the first Broadway production didn’t open until April of 2014, sixteen years after the original.
The original 1998 production was nominated for two Outer Critics Circle Awards winning for the category Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical. Cast member John Cameron Mitchell won an Obie Award that same year as did composer Stephen Trask.
The Broadway production was nominated for multiple awards winning many. Some award wins worth mentioning are the 2014 Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Neil Patrick Harris), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Lena Hall), and Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Kevin Adams).
Besides the Tony Awards in 2014 Hedwig and the Angry Inch won two Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Revival of a Musical and Outstanding Actor in a Musical and also won two Drama League Awards for the same categories.
This Broadway production of this musical comedy also won two Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Revival and Outstanding Lighting Design.