Friday 9 June 2017

Day 9: Top Five recent musicals that you possibly weren't aware of yet...

So, unless you've been living under a rock for the last two years, you've no doubt been caught up in the fandom of Hamilton: An American Musical. A diversely-cast, pop and rap-infused retelling of the story of one of American's lesser-known founding fathers, this brilliant work cleaned up the Tony Awards last year.

And whilst creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has moved on from the title role on Broadway (and several off-Broadway productions), and working on Disney's Mary Poppins Returns, I've recently found myself wondering - where do we go from here?

Well, fear not - for I am here to help you move forward and discover new shows - especially since this Sunday night (or Monday morning in Australia) the 2017 Tony Award winners will be announced. Here's my top five recent discoveries...

5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame 

So, the Disney animated movie musical about racial discrimination, sexual repression / liberation and the corruption inherent in the Catholic church, set in medieval Paris, completely slipped under my radar when it was released in 1996. I only recently got around to watching the film recently when I discovered that it had been developed into a fully-staged off-Broadway musical, and yes, some of the darker elements of the storyline had been sugar-coated, but I loved the music - especially when I realised that they'd been written by musical theatre legends Alan Mencken (music) and Stephen Schwartz (lyrics). Last year, the Studio Cast Recording was released, and it blew me away. Such a shame that this show never made it to Broadway - it would definitely have been a contender at the Tony's...

4. Waitress

I only first heard of this musical last year when one of its beltiest ballads "She used to be mine" was performed at the Tony Awards.

Yet another musical theatre adaptation of a film - this time, a bittersweet indie romantic drama about a waitress with a passion for making pies who dreams of escaping her unhappy relationship and the small town that she lives in. These dreams shatter when she discovers that she's pregnant, and whimsical drama ensues when she starts having an affair with her doctor. Music by largely-underrated pop singer-songwriter, Sara Bareilles, who made her Broadway debut earlier this year when she took over the title role. This show is pretty much all about the songs, and they are very good.

3. Come From Away

I recently discovered this little gem a few months ago on NPR's "First Listen". This musical recalls the events surrounding a small town in Newfoundland immediately following the New York City bombings of September 11, 2001. 38 planes with almost 7000 passengers were grounded in this tiny community when US airspace was shut down, and the residents mobilise to try to accommodate this sudden influx in visitors. I was a little skeptical at first, to be honest, but this musical grew on me very quickly. It's very much an ensemble piece, about community and supporting one another in difficult times. It follows a diverse cast of characters, exploring a whole range of attitudes and perspectives, and the reality of how an event like this can change the way that people see and relate to one another.

2. Dear Evan Hansen

A month ago, this was my latest obsession.

A modern musical about awkward teenagers dealing with social anxieties, and the peer pressures involved in just surviving high school. The music, written by young songwriter and composer duo Benj Hasek and Justin Paul is pop-infused and infectious, and this is very much a musical for the YouTube and social media generation. It hits all the sweet spots and will make you laugh and bawl and want more.

1. Groundhog Day

Yes, another musical based on a movie... but this one has been penned by Tim Minchin. The Broadway cast recording was released last month, and it is musical and lyrical genius. Where the film was a quirky parable about a mean weatherman who is doomed to live the same day again in the small town of Punxatawny, the musical draws much more strongly on the themes of how we waste our lives getting stuck in our own loops and meaningless habits. And the question is posed - if we could have our time again, would be do things differently or exactly the same?

It feels like Tim Minchin has poured so much of what I've loved about his work in the past into this magnificent mid-life-crisis masterpiece. There's a lot of his trademark misanthropy - so much commentary on how people waste their lives, whether it be in natural remedies, religions, or just general shallow-ness. His lyrics are sometimes profound, sometimes crass, but always impeccably placed. I listen to this musical and get lost in a combination of existential angst and inspired motivation to do more with my life. It also makes me want to go and watch the original Bill Murray film again.

So, that's my Top Five for today. Sorry to all the Great Comet fans... I know that this musical will probably clean up the Tony's but I just can't seem to get into it at the moment.

And if you want to listen to any of these, here's a handy Spotify Playlist I made... enjoy!

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