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Four Sweetest Romances in Musical Theater
Feel-Good Romance on the Musical Stage
Some of the world's greatest love stories end in tragedy, but audiences aren't always in the mood to leave the theater feeling sad and heartbroken.
Sometimes you just want to be entertained and see the couple start their happily ever after.
Plenty of musicals offer that feel-good romantic wish fulfillment, but some couples are more memorable and satisfying than others.
Read on for the four sweetest romances in musical theater.
A Scene from Les Miserables
Cossette and Marius (Les Miserables)
"Les Miserables" is one of the most popular musicals of all time; it's been attracting fans since the 1980s when it first premiered. While the musical itself is full of sorrow and drama, two of its young leads do find happiness and love: Marius and Cossette.
"Les Miserables" centers around an ill-fated uprising after the French Revolution, and Marius is a young leader of the movement. Though he comes from a wealthy family, he sympathizes with the working class and wants a new order in Paris. Cossette is a young lady of privilege, the ward of the successful but mysterious Jean Valjean--a convict in hiding who has started a new life with a new identity.
When Marius and Cossette spot each other, it's love at first sight--and Valjean risks his own life to save that of Marius and reunite him with Cossette.
What's touching about Marius and Cossette? Love at first sight is one of the most romantic concepts in storytelling, and their instant connection and heartfelt emotion makes their love come alive on the stage. They don't act like foolish teenagers, however; Marius won't sacrifice his revolution, and Cossette won't go against Valjean's wishes. These actions, pragmatic and putting others before themselves, makes them deeply likeable. The fact that they end up together makes their relationship all the more fulfilling to the viewer or listener.
A Scene from The Light in the Piazza
Clara and Fabrizio (The Light in the Piazza)
In "The Light in the Piazza," Clara and her mother journey alone to Italy to enjoy the culture--when Clara's hat bows away, a handsome young man catches it and returns it to her. Instantly, they are smitten with one another, despite the fact that Clara's childlike personality goes beyond an innocent upbringing.
Clara and Fabrizio experience first love together, delighted in each other's company and struggling through the language and cultural barrier. When they announce their engagement, Clara's mother has a decision to make--she can tell the truth about Clara and break her heart, or allow her to stay in Italy with Fabrizio, letting a lie continue.
Ultimately, Clara's mother reflects on her own failing marriage and decides to let her daughter feel joy.
What makes Clara and Fabrizio's love so sweet? It's the excitement they feel at having met each other and the joy in finding that perfect someone--even if the circumstances aren't perfect. Fabrizio is charming and sincere, and Clara is fragile and full of happiness at finally attaining something normal--it's both touching and sweet.
A Scene from 110 in the Shade
Lizzie and Sheriff File (110 in the Shade)
Though not as popular as the other musicals on this list, "110 in the Shade" might very well be my favorite musical romance. It tells the story of a small town suffering from drought, praying for rain to relieve the heat and help their crops. It's also the story of Lizzie's spiritual drought--she's an old maid, plain and unloved except by her father and brothers, and all she dreams of is finding someone to love--even though she's almost given up hope.
She has a tentative flirtation with Sheriff File, who's too blinded by his own bitterness that his wife left him to really engage with his feelings for Lizzie. But when Starbuck comes to town, promising he can bring rain for a price, Lizzie's world opens up--Starbucks sees the beauty within her and likes what she brings out in him, and asks her to go away with him. It's only then that Sheriff File realizes he isn't willing to lose another woman--and Lizzie decides she wants a real life instead of a dream one.
What makes Lizzie and Sheriff File's romance so sweet? Because it's real--Lizzie and Sheriff File are older, and they've already been through a period of suffering and pain. That means that when they do find love, they're all the more grateful for it and realize how precious it is--which is a lesson we all would do well to remember.
A Scene from Ragtime
Mother and Tateh (Ragtime)
"Ragtime" is an epic of a musical, its characters and storylines looping over one another until it all comes together at the end. It deals with race issues, class issues, gender issues, and the inevitability but difficulty of change. It also has some amazing, soaring music.
While the central relationship is that of Sarah and Coalhouse--her murder drives the plotline of the entire second act--there's also a sweet, gentle love that blossoms between Mother, an upperclass society woman, and Tateh, an immigrant who comes to America with his daughter to make a better life for himself and becomes rich through inventing a form of motion picture.
Mother, though she tries to be a good wife for her husband, eventually realizes that her own moral code and beliefs don't align with his and begins to think (and act) for herself. Tateh is struggling to deal with an America that at first isn't the land of dreams he imagined, but he is a patient, kind father with an optimistic spirit.
What makes Mother and Tateh's romance so pleasing to the audience? It's the tentative sweetness with which it starts. They meet by chance and recognize a kindred spirit in each other--and though they can't act on those feelings at first, by the end they've created a new, blended family representing the change that would eventually come to America.
Love in Musical Theater
There are so many kinds of love, and musical theater captures many of them in the myriad of stories it brings to the audience. Some of those love stories make us cry, some make us laugh, and others make us smile in remembrance.
What's your favorite feel-good romance in musical theater?