The musicals as a genre are arguably among the highest achievements of the 20th century, whose history is clearly divided into two parts: before Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and after it, WSS being arguably one of the best musicals ever and the best one in the 20th century for sure.
The roots of the musical are distinctly operatic. The overall evolution looks like this: opera –> operetta –> musical. Some purists affirm this was the “simplification” of the opera. No, no, no, and million times NO. Evolution is about finding new forms and adapting to new circumstances, not about getting worse or better.
Here is the list of musical “musts” of the second half of the 20th century:
* Leonard Bernstein “West Side Story” (watch the legenadry 1961 film by Robert Wise with Jerome Robbins’ mesmerizing choreography)
* Stephen Sondheim “Follies” (1971), “Sweeney Todd” (1979)
The systematic (and fabulous) adaptations of large-scale literary works started reinstating themselves with the rise of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and it was something unheard of in the “classical” era of the American musical (1920s-1950s).
* Andrew Lloyd Webber
— “Cats” (1981) after Thomas Steans Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”
— “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1970, classified as a rock opera) after the Evangil (it produced a storm of protests from those ‘religiously offended’)
— “The Phantom of the Opera” (1986) after Gaston Leroux’s “Le phantôme de l’opéra”
— “Evita” (1976/1978) based on the biographical book by Mary Main “The Woman with the Whip”, Eva Perón’s life story (watch the Madonna/Banderas 1996 film)
* Claude-Michel Schönberg
— “Les Misérables” (1981), originally in French, it succeeded at conquering the Broadway, although most non-Anglo-Saxon Europeans fail to do so
— “Miss Saigon” (1989): it was already composed in England and premiered in the West End. One of the most dramatic things I ever saw on stage: “Madame Butterfly” set up in 1975 Saigon before it fell. American G.O. falls in love with a Vietnamese girl and they are separated for years…