Broadway Bound: The Best Broadway Musical Soundtracks to Own on Vinyl
There's nothing quite like live theater. Each participant, from the principal actors to the ensemble to the pit orchestra must deliver absolute perfection night in and night out, often for hundreds of performances. Understudies must be ready to perform at a moment's notice, many times stepping in for a Broadway legend. June 11th marks the Tony Awards, the night in which the Broadway League will hand out its major awards, among them the awards for the best new and revived musicals. The greatest Broadway musicals transcend the medium, and there are likely few among us who can't finish the lyrics to "Do You Hear the People Sing" or "My Shot." To commemorate Broadway's big night, here are some of the best musical soundtracks to own on vinyl.
Stephen Sondheim is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, with innumerable classics to his name. For this list, we chose Into the Woods, his take on the Brothers Grimm fairytales. Sondheim weaves together several stories, exploring well beyond the traditional tales to examine the aftermath of key decisions by the characters. The music is some of Sondheim's best, containing elements of witty humor and one of his signature patter songs in "Your Fault."
Adapted from John Waters' 1988 film of the same name, Hairspray was a massive hit, winning Best Musical at the 2002 Tony Awards. Hairspray took full advantage of its early 1960s setting, with its music reflective of the R&B stylings of the day. The Civil Rights Movement is at the center of the plot, which is illustrated through stylistic differences in the music, especially during "New Girl in Town." The song begins as a relatively sanitized dance number that gives way to a much more energetic, soulful performance by Black artists, who are revealed to have written the song originally before it was co-opted for a white audience.
A hip-hop musical about the United States' first Secretary of the Treasury sounds dubious at best, like something dreamed up by a college theater department. In Lin-Manuel Miranda's hands, however, the show took on a life of its own. Miranda sought to have the cast reflect modern-day America, selecting non-white actors to play the historically white Founding Fathers as he tells of Alexander Hamilton's life and death. Miranda's signature flow is on display during tracks like "Hurricane" while Daveed Diggs impresses on "Guns and Ships." Hamilton was a massive success, with tickets still difficult to come by eight years after its premiere.
Chicago was Bob Fosse at his finest. The legendary choreographer and director put his jazzy stamp on the musical when it first hit Broadway in 1975, delighting audiences with his take on murder in the jazz age. It was revived in 1996 and continues to run, becoming the longest-running musical revival in Broadway history. The opening number, "All That Jazz" has become one of musical theater's most recognized tunes, while "Cell Block Tango" is a dance number virtually everyone looks forward to.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone always had a flair for the dramatic with their parody, teaming up with EGOT winner Robert Lopez to produce The Book of Mormon. Though a biting religious satire, the musical is not without heart, as Parker and Stone make us care for the lead characters, despite the nonsensical lyrics that poke fun at religious adherence. The Book of Mormon is still a hot ticket more than a decade after its opening, with no signs of slowing down.
Hair was revolutionary when it was first staged on Broadway in 1968. One of the first rock musicals, it told the story of a group of hippies practicing free love and protesting the Vietnam War. Broadway was a relatively stuffy industry with an audience of upper-class elites, so presenting hippies in a positive light, as people rather than caricatures, was a radical departure from most portrayals. The musical is noted for its finale, "Let the Sunshine In", a number that invites audience members up on stage with the cast.
Tina Fey began developing her seminal millennial high school film Mean Girls into a musical around a decade after its release. When it opened on Broadway in 2018, it was an instant success, garnering an incredible 12 Tony nominations. Fey's trademark wit translated perfectly to the new medium, with its snarky, well-written tunes captivating audiences. Mean Girls is one of the few properties to come full circle, with the musical being re-adapted as a film that will likely hit screens in 2024.
West Side Story marked a major shift in musical theater, introducing audiences to a much more realistic story with a far grittier tone than the shows that dominated Broadway through the 1940s and 1950s. Where glitz and glam once ruled, West Side Story focused on its narrative, with themes of racial tensions, forbidden love, and tragedy. The show's ballet inspired dance numbers have become iconic, as audiences got a darker look at the American Dream.
Adapted from the Disney film of the same name, The Lion King wowed audiences when it debuted on Broadway in 1997. The show is a technical masterpiece, a marvel of stage direction and puppetry. Live actors portray the characters in costumes inspired by the animals of the African Serengeti, with inventive props and puppets supporting the music conceived by Elton John and Tim Rice. The Lion King celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, and has paved the way for several more Disney productions.
Where many Broadway musicals seek to put on an elaborate show, Once is simply a love letter to music. Adapted from the film of the same name, it tells the story of two unnamed musicians brought together by their love for music. The show features a minimalistic orchestra, with the cast playing their own instruments on stage in an effort to preserve authenticity. Once is defined by the reverence it shows for its own songs, seeing them as individual works of art rather than a means of advancing the plot.