Tired of Listening to Hamilton? Try These Underrated Musicals for a Change!

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Anna Gribbell, Staff Writer

Currently, the Jonathan Alder Highschool is preparing its rendition of My Fair Lady for this year’s musical. In the meantime, here are some wonderful musicals that don’t get as much attention as shows like Hamilton or Legally Blonde that you can enjoy while we wait to see another wonderful performance from the high school.

Chess – Made by the same great mind behind Les Mis, Chess’s soundtrack was made by Benny Andersson who was joined by Björn Ulvaeus of Swedish pop group ABBA. Chess premiered in 1986 and ended production in 1989. This musical takes the title game and transforms it into a metaphor for love and war, specifically the Cold War that was still going on at the time of the musical’s production and performance. At the center of the musical, there is a love triangle between the American Grandmaster and the Russian champion of chess, as well as the Hungarian-American female chess second. She arrives with the American player but falls in love with the Russian champion. From across the world, chess players, politicians, and even the CIA join together on the stage to perform various pop songs, some being international hits, that are sure to take the listener on an emotional journey spanning various layers of the metaphor and literal. The cast recording is available to listen to on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.

The band of Chess performing on stage (Photo Credit: https://1.bp.blogspot.com/_-VCvZFCV5hI/TT_36IRATRI/AAAAAAAAEIM/qROcGBWzegw/s1600/Chess+Musicians+on+Stage.jpg)

Next to Normal – The longest show on our list, Next to Normal is a double act featuring 38 songs, first performed off-Broadway in 2008, on Broadway the following year, and toured the US from 2010-11 where it finally closed. Written by Brian Yorkey with music by Tom Kitt, this story follows Diana Goodman and her family after a tragedy 17 years ago. Her infant son passed away from an undiagnosed intestinal obstruction, leading her to go down a path of a spiraling mental state. Her bipolar depressive disorder and delusional episodes have impacted the people around her, nearly  tearing apart her family. An energetic pop-rock score lightens the mood from the pressing issues presented in the musical of mental health and loss. This musical is sure to be an emotional journey for listeners. The cast recording is available on Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Spotify.

A photo from a performance of Next to Normal (Photo Credit: https://www.writerstheatre.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/next-to-normal_110.jpg)

Ride the Cyclone – Starting off-broadway in 2008 with a cult following in Canada, Ride the Cyclone was ready to hit the American stage for performances spanning 2015-16. The show begins with a mechanical fortune teller behind a glass box reminiscent of old circuses. Our protagonists, six teenage choir members, are told that they have died due to a freak accident involving a rollercoaster. Each character follows a familiar trope; the popular mean girl, the outcast, etc. The fortune teller, the Amazing Karnak, informs the teens that one of them will get a chance to rejoin the land of the living. The choir members will take a vote on who gets to live, only after each one has argued their case through song. A fan favorite of these songs is “The Ballad of Jane Doe.” Jane Doe is the only unidentified member of the accident. Decapitated in her death, she moves throughout the show like a broken doll with pitch-black eyes. The journey this musical will take you on is an emotional rollercoaster not unlike the one that is at the center of the show. There is no cast recording currently out but there are clips from the show available for you to view here.

A photograph from a performance of Ride The Cyclone (Photo Credit: https://chicagocritic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/01_CST_CYCLONE_LizLauren.jpg)

35MM: A Musical Exhibition – A concept musical with songs unconnected from each other can be confusing for listeners unfamiliar with the idea. The songs of 35MM are written by Ryan Scott Oliver and are based on various photographs by Matthew Murphy. Each song is about a different photograph, sung by a cast of five actors. First shown in 2012, the 22 songs in a single act make for a unique show. The small set and lack of an overarching connection can be a turnoff for some theatergoers but for those that just want a small bite of a story, listening to one of 35MM’s songs may prove to be an enjoyable treat. The cast recording is available on Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Spotify.

A photograph from one of the performances of 35MM (Photo Credit: https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-_I2c9bS4PuQ/WcO9XrE2WlI/AAAAAAAAVqM/kzGSKjsi59wIHAXOEoDYWJp3H7CvjskEgCLcBGAs/s1600/DKLYGTFX0AAjhhb.jpg)

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 – Joining Broadway in 2016 and coming to an end just a year later, The Great Comet composed by Dave Malloy is certainly an interesting listen. A vibrant and rocking musical, it may come as a surprise that it was based on a 70 page excerpt from none other than Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The story follows Natasha, a young and beautiful lady visiting Moscow as she waits for her fiancé, Andrey, to arrive home from the war. There, she meets Anatole, a married man who seduces her into an affair. Her societal status ruined, she turns to Pierre, a lonely man who may be the solution to her return to society. The soundtrack combines the genres of rock, pop, soul, folk, and electronic dance and is sure to make listeners want to get up and dance while they enjoy War and Peace in a way that they wouldn’t be able to do in any standard English classroom. The cast recording has been uploaded to Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Spotify.

A photo of a performance of "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812" (Photo Credit: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2012/10/18/arts/SUBNATASHA/SUBNATASHA-superJumbo.jpg)

The Band’s Visit –  Joining the Broadway stages in 2016 and closing in 2019, we have The Band’s Visit. This musical follows the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra after they are stranded at the Tel Aviv airport after the van meant to pick them up doesn’t arrive. They end up having to take a bus instead. During this period of travel, we meet the townsfolk of Beit Hatikva including the cafe owner and his employee as well as a married couple. The band arrives and asks to be directed to the Arab Cultural Center where they are supposed to perform the following night. They find that the bus has taken them to the wrong town and are invited to spend the night in Beit Hatikva instead. The musical shows the band members and their interactions with the townsfolk through heartfelt lyrics. The Band’s Visit is sure to be an enjoyable listen whether you play the violin yourself or are just a fan of musical theater. The cast recording is available on Apple Music and Spotify. A full recording of the show is available on Amazon’s Prime Video service.

A photograph of two of the actors in The Band's Visit (Photo Credit: https://atlantaintownpaper.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/te7Lq9aw-scaled.jpg)

Flahooley – This allegorical story mocking large corporations received backlash from none other than the very companies it was based on. It closed in 1951, the same year it started after just 40 performances. Eventually, the director, Alisa Roost, was convinced to revive the show, and after a rewrite, Flahooley was ready to hit the stage again in 1979. Set in the fictional Capsultani, USA, puppet designer Sylvester prepares to show the prolific toy manufacturing company B. G. Bigelow, Incorporated his brand new laughing doll. The showcase of his doll, named Flahooley, is interrupted when a delegation asks for help restoring a magic lamp so that the genie that lives inside can continue to help run their country. Bigelow assigns Sylvester to help them in this endeavor. He succeeds and asks the genie for help on how to get rich. The genie, not aware of capitalism, starts giving out Flahooley dolls. A witch ends up trying to stop the genie from causing destruction with his “help.” For those that knew the other musicals on this list, Flahooley hopefully is a new show to listen to. The original cast recording is available on Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Spotify.

A photo of three of the actors of Flahooley performing on stage. (Photo Credit: https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/53cdd8f4e4b0c984e433fab1/1530282420162-LVKJTI3MQRLER1MTJANC/ke17ZwdGBToddI8pDm48kE4OFYXgYsdrFqQ_jZNRKIVZw-zPPgdn4jUwVcJE1ZvWQUxwkmyExglNqGp0IvTJZamWLI2zvYWH8K3-s_4yszcp2ryTI0HqTOaaUohrI8PIPR-dbM5n7su6SoSTgqDme5Mcak2RG0R4TxEaykY-F5MKMshLAGzx4R3EDFOm1kBS/static.playbill.jpg)

According to Jonathan Alder’s choir teacher, Mr. Mayes, the makings of a good musical include dedication within the cast. “I think there’s a lot of discipline that’s needed for when you’re in a musical, especially if you’re a lead role like [senior, Honour Lackey] who plays Eliza,” says Mayes. His definition of a good musical also includes “creativity and freedom, because sometimes a lot of people do musicals and they’re exactly like the book. My least favorite thing is what we call the “semi-circle,” when people are dialoguing while standing in a semi-circle and you lose interest because there’s nothing to look at. That’s something we try to avoid.”

When asked if he had any musicals that he doesn’t think get the recognition they deserve, he said, “One new musical that doesn’t get enough hype would be Come From Away, it’s really good.” He also mentioned Hadestown as a newer musical that still doesn’t get enough recognition.

 

Keep an eye out for tickets to the school musical, My Fair Lady coming out soon!