In April 1991 I went to Montreal to see Les Miserables. It was the first professionally done musical I'd ever seen. I loved it. I was hooked. Since then I've also seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (performed by college students at the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam) and Miss Saigon.
While I've never seen Phantom of the Opera I do have it on CD (in both English and German) and have listened to it countless times (oddly enough I prefer the German version despite my lack of comprehension of the language... the German singers sing it with far more power and emotion than the London cast).
I've started delving into other musicals I've not yet seen-- Whistle Down the Wind, Ragtime, Jekyll & Hyde, Movin' Out, Martin Guerre, Titanic, Mama Mia, and even the German musical Tanz der Vampire. I've especially enjoyed Whistle Down the Wind and Tanz der Vampire both of which were co-written by Jim Steinman (best known for writing all of the material on Meat Loaf's first 2 Bat Out of Hell albums (not to mention much of the material on the 3rd one as well), he also wrote Air Supply's Making Love Out of Nothing At All, Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart, and Celine Dion's It's All Coming Back to Me Now).
I've tried some of the older musicals like Oklahoma, West Side Story, & Carousel but none of them have really grabbed me the way the more contemporary musicals have. Perhaps it's that those musicals haven't aged well. The stories may be good but much of that music does sound dated today. In all fairness the music to many of these more contemporary musicals that I've come to enjoy may also end up sounding a bit dated.
There's an emotional power in the vocal performances in many of these musicals that has the capacity imho to bring even the hardiest of men to tears. The words aren't just sung, the emotions that go with the words come pouring out too, much moreso than in spoken word. The same can be said in certain rock and pop songs but many of them are too "light" to really pull that off.
I've heard that 80s pop mall starlet, Debbie Gibson, only ever pursued pop music to bide her time and make some extra money as her voice matured. She had come from broadway singing the part of "Young Cosette" in Les Miserables as a child but her voice hadn't yet matured enough to sing either the parts of the adult Cosette or even the more heart-wrenching vocal performance of Eponine in that musical. She did inevitably go back to Broadway using her full name, "Deborah Gibson," instead of the more tween-teen sounding "Debbie."