Like many passions, musical theatre is often revealed to its lovers through intrepid exploration. After falling in love with the PBS "American Playhouse" broadcast of the original production of Into The Woods (with Bernadette Peters, Joanna Gleason and Chip Zien), I sought out their release of Sunday In The Park With George (Peters this time co-starring with Mandy Patinkin). From there, I "rabbit-holed" onto Sondheim's other musical captured on public television at the time, Sweeney Todd (Angela Lansbury, George Hearn) and then to video of The Pirates of Penzance also featuring Lansbury. These were natural leaps to make as the musicals shared composers and cast members, but there's another kind of connection that can inspire growing knowledge of the form; some shows have something more intangible in common, a certain essence of similarity, either in tone or style. It's not a thing you can Google, so here are some suggestions of what you might like based on what you already enjoy.
Scroll down to read my selections for "If You Like X, Then You'll Enjoy Y" Musicals.
10. If You Like An American In Paris, Then You'll Enjoy On Your Toes.
Do you find that everything is beautiful at the ballet? Does your heart yearn for European grandeur? Is your kind of music the kind written before 1969? Before 1949? If so, you're probably a fan of Broadway's hit Gershwin musical, An American In Paris, based on the Academy Award-winning 1951 film. Looking for another show to love? How about On Your Toes, the 1936 Rodgers and Hart musical about the Russian ballet world? As if their timeless songs weren't enough, both shows hold the distinction of being choreographed by major classical talents like Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon.
9. If You Like Something Rotten!, Then You'll Enjoy Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The story behind William Shakespeare's biggest hits is being given a new twist in the St. James Theatre's current tenant, last season's popular new musical comedy Something Rotten! Ever night, Brad Oscar as Nostradamus stops the show with the elaborate "A Musical" foretelling the many permutations of the genre being born. The 1971 Best Musical Tony-winner, Two Gentlemen of Verona put its own spin on the Bard by retelling one of his tales as a rock musical with an edgy post-Sexual Revolution vibe.
8. If You Like Chicago, Then You'll Enjoy The Life.
Since 1996, Broadway has been sizzling to the sultry sounds of Kander and Ebb's sexy, sensationalist musical, Chicago. Opening the same season as this record-breaking production was jazzy Sweet Charity composer Cy Coleman's final Broadway production, The Life. While The Life didn't last as long on Broadway, it's hard to imagine any Chicago fans not feeling equally turned on by the hilarious and darkly sultry show.
7. If You Like Les Misérables, Then You'll Enjoy Metropolis.
Les Misérables (now enjoying its third production on Broadway in under 30 years) has long billed itself as "The World's Most Popular Musical." It could use the word populist as the story of the downtrodden working class of Revolutionary France, told through emotive theatrical pop is poised for mass adoration about as much anything could be. A show with fewer fans, but similar charms is Metropolis, the 1989 West End musical adaptation of the influential 1927 silent film of the same name. Don't believe me? Check out the cast recording starring Fun Home star (and two-time Les Misérables alum) Judy Kuhn.
6. If You Like Fun Home, Then You'll Enjoy Falsettos.
If it's Fun Home you crave, but you're wearing out the tracks on your iTunes and needing a change of pace, may I suggest William Finn and James Lapine's Tony Award-winning Falsettos, the combination of their two earlier Off-Broadway musicals, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland? Similar themes of coming out and family dynamics are explored and the shows both use modern sounding music and conversational lyrics to get right to the heart of contemporary life.
5. If You Like The King and I, Then You'll Enjoy The Girl Who Came To Supper.
Do you enjoy a fish-out-of-water leading lady charming a monarch along with his royal matriarch and teenaged son while simultaneously singing melodic musical theatre in the soprano range? Of course I might be talking about Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, but the same could just as easily apply to Noel Coward's 1963 Broadway musical The Girl Who Came To Supper. I'm not the first to see the similarities; both Supper stars José Ferrer and Florence Henderson later when on to tackle the leads in The King and I in regional productions.
4. If You Like Fiddler on the Roof, Then You'll Enjoy Rags.
I know I'm not alone in being overwhelmed with excitement that Fiddler on the Roof is coming back to Broadway this season. The award-winning, record-breaking 1964 musical about the breaking down of traditions in the final years of Jewish "schtetl" life has proven popular not just on Broadway or in the United States or where Jews make up a significant portion of the population, but everywhere in the world—including Tokyo where it ran longer than any other musical. There's another musical about the Jewish diaspora's early twentieth century transition from Eastern European village ghetto life and it's not without its pleasures. Charles Strouse, Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein's 1986 Rags can almost be looked at as a sequel to Fiddler in how it picks up the story of a similar family (to Tevye's) upon their arrival in America.
3. If You Like Hamilton, Then You'll Enjoy 1776.
It seems like no one can get enough of Hamilton these days. Everywhere you look, from theatre websites to newspapers to late-night talkshows to crossword puzzles, the world's gone "Ham4Ham." Fortunately for us fans who wish to broaden our palette just a bit, there's another witty, wordy musical about our founding fathers, 1776. Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone's 1969 chamber musical may lack Hamilton's hip-hop beats, but it offers a similarly human portrait of the behind-the-scenes of our country's birth.
2. If You Like The Lion King, Then You'll Enjoy Once on this Island.
There's never been much on Broadway that can lay claim to the music genre heading, "World Music." There are two shows, though, that sometimes sound a bit like it in their exotic rhythms and moods. One is the long-running megahit The Lion King and the other may be less known to today's theatregoers, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's 1990 Once on This Island. That's a shame because Once on This Island is an enchanting show with a rapturous score that simply must be heard.
1. If You Like Rent, Then You'll Enjoy Spring Awakening.
Oh, what a beautiful morning it ain't, but many of us today enjoy some sturm und drang in our musicals. If that's you and you rock out to rock and roll, then you're probably already a fan of landmark watershed hit Rent. Well, there's another angsty landmark rock musicals and it happens to be playing in on Broadway today in an acclaimed revival by the innovative Deaf West Theatre. Spring Awakening may be just the thing for all the Rent-heads missing the once long-running show.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed solo plays Patti Issues and Bad with Money. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)