For as long as I can remember, I’ve been involved in choir and band- two activities that exposed me to the world of musicals and Broadway. The first full-length musical I saw was RENT (the movie of course) at the age of six and I instantly fell in love with the music and lyrics. Much to my dad’s dismay, I begged him to play ‘La Vie Boheme’ on repeat during our car journeys even though I had no idea what I was singing about. It turns out that even though my first grade self knew nothing about the sex and drugs RENT’s songs represented, the story itself changed my life. RENT was my first musical love, but I’ve discovered a handful of others that have been just as influential on who I am today.
- Les Misérables is my favorite play of all time. I first saw the show when I was eight at a Diamond Head Theater adaptation. Although the musical consists of mature themes such as war, sacrifice and unrequited love, the songs are some of the most beautiful melodies I’ve ever heard. The story of Éponine will always hold a special place in my heart as will the story itself, as it’s the only play I’ve ever seen on Broadway.
- Hamilton is the most recent musical added to my list. I hadn’t heard about composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cult-classic until the cast performed the title sequence at the 2015 Grammy’s. After watching the performance on repeat 24/7, I was instantly obsessed with the story of the U.S.’s first treasury secretary. Who knew that the story of Alexander Hamilton, the American Revolution, his rivalry with vice-president Aaron Burr and his emotional affair with his sister-in-law would translate so beautifully on stage? The most exciting parts of the play are its diverse cast consisting of mostly actors of color and a strictly hip hop and R&B soundtrack- two genres not used on Broadway. Although I’ll probably only encounter Hamilton through its soundtrack and book, imagining the story in my head will be enough.
- RENT was my first love and will always be in my top five favorites. When I first saw the movie, I was a six year old child who knew absolutely nothing about the dramatic themes of the play. I didn’t know that my favorite song consisted of references to sex positions and marijuana use, but I loved the music anyway. Although my parents weren’t too keen on allowing their elementary-aged daughter to listen to a risqué album, the soundtrack has been a part of my life for well over 10 years. I learned about the early AIDS epidemic, living through poverty and the characters’ struggle through their own sexual and gender acceptance.
- The Phantom of the Opera was the second musical I watched solely in movie form. My dad was lucky enough to see the play on Broadway and he brought the DVD (or was it on VHS?) for the rest of my family to watch. Emmy Rossum shined as lead character Christine in her complicated relationship with the Phantom- brilliantly played by Gerard Butler. Although the story seems to be about the good guys versus the evil villain terrorizing the theater, it turns out to be so much more. I won’t spoil the ending for you all, but I’ll just say that I was left crying for the Phantom and all that he represented- an outcast in society aching for the one he loved.
- Allegiance is another recent addition to my musical must-sees. The story is inspired by famous actor George Takei’s experiences in Japanese interment camps during WWII. As a mixed Japanese girl myself, the play struck a chord in my heart and I will always dread the fact that I’ll never be able to see the musical in person. Takei plays the main role in the play along with fellow Broadway Asian stars Lea Salonga and Telly Leung. The story is inspiring must continue to be told in order to avoid letting the past repeat itself.
*The plays that just missed my top five: American Idiot; The Sound of Music; Hairspray; Mama Mia! and Spring Awakening
**Author’s edit: I completely forgot that the first play I saw on Broadway was West Side Story! Thanks to my mom for reminding me!