Even avid musical fans can sometimes forget the brilliance of the more obscure musicals, and in the shadow of huge showstoppers like Les Miserables and Wicked, it’s easy to see how some have gone unseen by the public. Here, in no particular order, are the top five musicals that I believe deserve more credit.
1. Next to Normal
This is a musical that, although not particularly obscure in musical theatre circles, has struggled to permeate the mainstream musical audiences at least partially due to its challenging subject matter. Next to Normal revolves around Diana’s bipolar disorder, she believes that her dead son is still alive, and we are confronted with her family’s struggle to remain together under the stresses that this causes.
Not only is the storyline highly relevant in a society where mental health is still widely considered a taboo subject, but it also focuses on the effects of a mental illness on close family, something which is often forgotten. The musical supports its devastating and thought-provoking storyline with a strong contemporary soundtrack whose songs both add to the show’s moving nature and stand as brilliant pieces of music in their own right.
“I would certainly suggest you listen to them all”
Best Song: Very difficult to choose from the plethora of amazing tracks, I would certainly suggest you listen to them all! However, if I had to choose it would have to be a toss-up between the stunning opening number Just Another Day which brilliantly sets up the family members various plot threads and the heart wrenching song Superboy and the Invisible Girl in which Natalie, Diana’s daughter, sings of how she is always being overshadowed by her dead brother.
2. Bonnie and Clyde
The story of two of America’s most infamous outlaws is presented in all its raw twenties glitz and grime in this cleverly structured musical. The lover’s gruesome fate is shown on stage at the opening; their bloodied bodies lying in the front seats of a car, and what follows is a brilliantly funny, thoughtful and heart-breaking show that illustrates how this scene came to be.
What is possibly the most moving part of it all is seeing Bonnie’s demise from a hopeful starry-eyed young girl who believes that Hollywood is the only place for her, to a young woman who has accepted her inevitable fate.
“The gritty Made in America never fails to get my foot tapping”
Best Song: Choosing from Frank Wildhorn’s incredibly creative soundtrack that mixes many different genres of music, including rockabilly and gospel is a near impossible task (especially coupled with the outstanding vocals by Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes), but the gritty Made in America never fails to get my foot tapping.
Although I would once again implore you to give the whole soundtrack a listen, to get an idea of the various different styles that the music encompasses.
3. Catch Me if You Can
At opposition to the gritty and tear-jerking nature of my previous two picks, this musical is based on the often hilariously unbelievable true story of fraudster Frank Abagnale Jr. which was documented in the 2002 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio of the same name. Throughout his notorious conning career Abagnale even faked being a doctor and an airline pilot, among many other professions.
By the same creative team who worked on Hairspray, this musical has some of the similar musical nostalgia, making the soundtrack remarkably easy to listen to. Though not as likely to alter your outlook on life as the earlier entries to this list this musical is a reasonably light-hearted enjoyable romp and that is why I believe that it deserves more acclaim than it currently receives.
“It is difficult to overlook Aaron Tveit’s amazing monologue-like solo”
Best Song: For a song that fully embraces the easy-listening style The Man Inside The Clues is a definite. However, it is difficult to overlook Aaron Tveit’s amazing monologue-like solo that serves as a perfect penultimate song to the show, Goodbye.
Now it is likely that you have heard of Stephen King’s Carrie from his novel or the various different movie adaptations, but few people realise that the story which famously sees the telekinetic titular character covered in pig’s blood at her prom has also been adapted into a musical.
Horror is a genre which has been used in stage musicals like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street but few stage shows have managed to show the exaggerated horrors and extrapolate the anxieties of high school kids as effectively as Carrie’s opening song In does.
“Some of the most impressive and effective harmonies that I have ever heard”
Best Song: Really Carrie has made it onto this list because of the pure genius of its opening song; In not only speaks to those of us who have at some point in our school lives felt ostracised or lonely but also does so in some of the most impressive and effective harmonies that I have ever heard.
This was a musical I only heard of recently, and I was incredibly surprised it isn’t more widely known about. Not only did it receive five Tony awards but it also opened in the same year (1997) as James Cameron’s famous film. So it is entirely a mystery to me as to why this musical based on one of the most famous and fascinating tragedies of all time hasn’t been heard of. If it was a terrible story or the music was awful, maybe it’s lack of fame would be understandable.
Yet both the story, which manages to humanise both victims and survivors, and the music, which includes songs like We’ll Meet Tomorrow, which has much of the grand magnificence of songs from hit musicals like Les Mis, excel.
“Barrett’s Song is one of the catchiest songs in the soundtrack”
Best Song: Given its lack of widespread recognition it only seems right that I should choose two songs from the soundtrack. Barrett’s Song is one of the catchiest songs on the soundtrack and provides a voice to the oft-forgotten stokers on the ship. Another song which is highly evocative is The Proposal/The Night Was Alive which culminates in a beautiful melodic climax towards the end.