If you’ve ever had to deal with me in real life, then you know this about me: I freaking love musicals. My mom’s done acting, singing, directing, and more, and I grew up listening to everything from the classics of Sondheim to the more recent works of Jason Robert Brown. I see live shows every chance I get, and I’ve even worked backstage on a handful of productions.
I could talk about my favorite musicals literally all day. (Seriously, if you ever want some recommendations or just to geek out about your favorite shows, hit me up on Twitter.) So it was probably inevitable that I’d do this list eventually. Here are 10 romantic musicals for when you want to feel fuzzy inside. Or cry. Or both.
1. Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Yes, I’m ranking these two together. Yes, that’s sort of cheating. And I know a lot of people (like a lot of people) think these movie musicals are silly. But if you don’t want to smile every time you watch one of these gloriously cheesy fluff-fests, you’re lying to yourself.
Set on a gorgeous Greek island and to the tunes of ABBA, the Mamma Mia! movies follow the romantic exploits of Donna Sheridan. Okay, technically the first movie is about Donna’s daughter Sophie finding out who her father is, but Donna is the real hero here and we all know it. Why else would the sequel be mostly about her whirlwind romances with the three potential baby-daddies? With Donna being played to adorable perfection by Lily James in flashbacks, the second movie is just as joyful and fun as the first. Together, they make for a perfect musical movie night.
Romantic Song of Choice: Why Did it Have to be Me? from the second movie. Bill and Donna dancing on the boat? Adorable.
2. The Prom
Based on the WTF-worthy true story of Constance McMillen, The Prom follows a group of actors attempting to make a name for themselves by helping someone in need. They eventually land on Emma, who’s caused a stir at her high school by trying to (gasp!) bring her girlfriend to the prom. The principal is on her side, but the PTA is dead-set against Emma escorting another girl and has responded by canceling the prom altogether. And the girl in question? Alyssa. Whose mom is in charge of the PTA.
Equally heartwarming and heartbreaking, The Prom is a relatively new show, but it’s one I think will become a classic in time. As much as the gay community is associated with theatre, surprisingly few stage plays and musicals have lesbian protagonists. But with Fun Home breaking that barrier, The Prom continues ushering in what will hopefully be a new era of WLW protagonists.
Romantic Song of Choice: Dance With You, a song for all of us girls who wanted to bring another girl to the school dance.
3. Singin’ in the Rain
A classic! Set in the 1920s, Singin’ in the Rain is in equal parts about the romance between Don and Kathy, and the transition between silent films and talkies. Don is a silent film star who has to contend with hordes of obsessive fans, a cacophonic costar, and the fact that films with sound are the hot new fad. Kathy is a showgirl trying to break into acting, who thinks movies are trite and cliche compared to stage acting and absolutely does not think Don is cute… and certainly hasn’t seen all his movies. When the studio becomes determined to make a sound film, Don realizes there’s a project he and Kathy can collaborate on: a movie musical.
This is one of the most famous movies, um, ever. I had the good fortune of seeing it on the big screen a couple of years ago, and even after over sixty years, it still holds up. It’s funny, full of great choreography, and has an adorable romance between our leads. If you haven’t seen it yet, I implore you to check it out.
Romantic Song of Choice: Singin’ in the Rain… yeah. I’m pretty sure everyone saw that one coming.
4. Moulin Rouge!
This was one of the first movie musicals I ever saw, and I was BEYOND HYPED when I found out it’s officially headed to the stage this year. The story follows the epic, doomed love affair of Christian, a penniless writer, and Satine, a courtesan and performer at the Parisian nightclub, Moulin Rouge. Christian falls hard for Satine the second he sees her, and a few songs later, he’s won her over. The only problem? A wealthy Duke – a wealthy, possessive Duke – is also interested in her, and his patronage is the only thing keeping Moulin Rouge open.
I’ve loved this movie since I was a kid. Not only is the music great, but it has such a beautiful, dreamlike aesthetic to it, and absolutely killer performances from Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. And when I found out Aaron Tveit is going to be Broadway’s first Christian, I was immediately won over. (Seriously, Aaron, if you’re reading this, please know that I’ve loved you since Next to Normal.) I can’t wait to find out how the Broadway shakes things up, and I have faith that no matter what changes they make, they’ll still be able to capture the magic of the original.
Romantic Song of Choice: Come What May, which I have had memorized since I was ten. One day, someone will want to sing this as a duet at karaoke night, and my time will have come.
5. Legally Blonde
Sorority president Elle Woods has been dumped. Why? Well, her Harvard-bound boyfriend thinks she’s not serious enough for him to be with long-term. Elle’s too feminine, too cheerful, too enthusiastic, and, well… too blonde. In an effort to prove him wrong, Elle comes up with a simple plan: get into Harvard Law, reconnect with her boyfriend, and prove she can be just as smart and serious as he is. See? Simple.
Yes, this pink fluff-a-palooza is based on the Reese Witherspoon classic of the same name, and you know what? It’s just as amazing. Seriously, along with amazing vocals from Laura Bell Bundy, it also boasts a really strong, feminist narrative. Elle’s romance with teacher’s aide Emmett is adorable, don’t get me wrong, but the real journey here is Elle realizing she’s worth so much more than her looks. She’s a smart, compassionate, kick-ass woman; sparkles and all.
Romantic Song of Choice: Chip On My Shoulder, because who doesn’t love a blooming romance combined with a training montage?
Jenna is a waitress at her local diner and a pie-making genius. Unfortunately, she’s also trapped in an abusive, deeply unhappy marriage to her worthless husband Earl. To make matters worse, she’s pregnant. But when she meets the charming, dreamy Dr. Pomatter, things might actually start to look up for her. As she tries to fight her growing attraction to the doctor, Jenna also juggles her pregnancy, her quirky coworkers at the diner, and her efforts to provide a better life for her baby – and maybe even herself.
With music from the fabulous Sara Bareilles and a story from a fantastic (and underrated) movie of the same name, this musical is a recipe for success. Much like Legally Blonde, the story’s more about Jenna’s growth as a person than her romance, but her relationship with Dr. Pomatter is still wonderful. With everything Earl puts her through, it’s so nice to see Jenna actually happy.
Romantic Song of Choice: You Matter to Me, which has made me tear up more times than I’m proud to admit.
7. Bonnie and Clyde
The true story of lawbreaking lovers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is probably one you’ve heard before. The infamous duo has been featured in loads of films, TV shows, and books — and musicals! (Well… this one musical. Unless there’s another one I don’t know about.)
Following Bonnie and Clyde from just before their first meeting, the show spotlights not only their romance but also their transformation from a low-level car thief and his girlfriend, into two of the most famous criminals in history. Even though the show didn’t last long on Broadway, there’s a small sect of devoted fans. Plus, the show is noted for being one of the more accurate depictions of the story. Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan give such charming performances that you can’t help rooting for them – even when they start crossing some lines.
Romantic Song of Choice: Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad… though it was very nearly Bonnie. They’re both good. Say what you want about these two, they sure do know how to sing a good love song.
Based on the Don Bluth, definitely-not-Disney animated classic, Anastasia follows the legendary Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. For many years, the public speculated that she might have survived the execution of her family and escaped somehow, with many women even claiming to be her. Sadly, forensics done in 2007 conclusively proved that Anastasia did indeed die alongside her family, but the idea that she survived is still a popular story. This musical proposes: what if Anastasia did survive… but suffered amnesia, and didn’t even realize who she was? Anastasia, now going by Anya, winds up traveling with a charming con artist named Dmitry, who hopes to take advantage of her remarkable resemblance to the vanished Grand Duchess. But as he prepares his scheme, Dmitry not only begins to fall in love with Anya – he realizes that she is, in fact, the real deal.
If you ever want to revisit your favorite animated musicals from childhood, definitely check this show out. It’s a worthy adaptation of the film, without being an exact replica. (Though I am still sad they cut In the Dark of the Night, which was always my favorite song from the movie.) And if you can, look up videos on YouTube – the costumes and sets are simply beautiful.
Romantic Song of Choice: In a Crowd of Thousands, but it was hard to choose. The movie’s a childhood classic for a reason, and I have a feeling the musical will be, too.
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9. La Cage Aux Folles
Georges owns a nightclub in St. Tropez named La Cage Aux Folles, in which his husband Albin is the star performer. Specifically, Albin performs as a drag queen, the fabulously flamboyant Zaza. The two also have a son, Jean-Michel, who was the result of Georges having a one-night stand some years ago. For years, the three have been a happy family, not caring in the least what anyone thinks of them… until Jean-Michel comes home, explaining that he’s engaged to a young woman named Anne.
Anne’s father just so happens to be an ultra-conservative politician who wants to shut down all the local gay clubs, including La Cage. Desperate to make a good impression on his future in-laws, Jean-Michel asks to invite his biological mother over for dinner, with Albin posing as his uncle. Albin is hurt but agrees for Jean-Michel’s sake. Then Jean-Michel’s mother fails to show, and Albin decides to save the day by playing “Mother” for the night.
If you’re thinking that synopsis sounds familiar, you might be thinking of the 90s comedy film The Birdcage, which was based on the same play as this show. The Birdcage is a great movie, but I highly recommend you give the musical a look, too. It’s outrageously funny, and a genuinely heartwarming story about family, love, and acceptance. Happy endings all around!
Romantic Song of Choice: Song on the Sand, which shows us that Albin and Georges really are perfectly matched.
10. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
There are almost too many reasons to love Great Comet to list here. Adapting a very small slice of War and Peace (think seventy-odd pages), the show is set in nineteenth-century Russia. The main plot concerns Natasha Rostova’s romance with Anatole Kuragin… despite her engagement to Andrei Bolkonsky. Meanwhile, Andrei’s friend Pierre is stuck in a rut, an existential crisis, and a loveless marriage with Hélène. Hélène is Anatole’s sister and is sleeping with Dolokhov (Anatole’s best friend). Anatole then enlists Hélène’s help to get Natasha into bed. Natasha is then torn between her love for Andrei and her passionate feelings for Anatole. And what about Pierre?
…Confused yet? Yeah, there’s a reason the show’s original program included a chart showing all the characters’ relationships. But there’s also a reason this show has a dedicated, passionate fanbase (even by the standards of musicals, which are already known for having rather… zealous audiences).
Great Comet is a beautiful, romantic show, with exquisite costumes and sets, and some of the best music the great Dave Malloy has ever written. (And if you’re at all familiar with his work, you know that’s saying something.) The original Pierre was Josh Groban, aka, He Whose Voice Melts Butter. He puts such passion and emotion into every note he sings as Pierre, and I defy you to get through his big solo Dust and Ashes without tearing up. Denée Benton is equally fantastic, flawlessly playing a wide-eyed, romantic ingenue… without making her placid and boring. And when the two finally cross paths – it’s a showstopper.
Romantic Song of Choice: Pierre & Natasha. If you’re listening for the first time, don’t make the stupid mistake I did and listen to it in public. I was sitting in Starbucks, trying not to bawl like a baby.
What are your favorite romantic musicals? Are there any here I didn’t mention? Tell me all about them in the comments below!
Header photo: Broadway.com.
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