Welcome back to Musical Mondays!
In case you’re new here, this column is a peek into the depths of the Musical Theatre archive, where I will showcase a few musicals that I think deserve a little more love. You can read my past posts by clicking here!
They’re the smaller, niche shows that not everyone will be familiar with – and that’s the point! They deserve just as much love as the big name shows, so every second Monday I’ll list a few, give you some comparisons, and a few examples of songs for you to check out.
Jasper in Deadland follows a young high school swimmer who finds himself in Deadland, an Underworld-eqsue place, in order to save his best friend Agnes. On his journey, he encounters a slew of monsters and gods from Greek, Roman, Norse, and other mythologies. While on his journey, Jasper learns and re-evaluates what it means to live. It’s a very loose interpretation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, of a hero journeying to save their love, but reframed in a contemporary rock musical style. It’s a really clever mesh of mythology and modern society, and the music is fantastic – the show was composed by one of my favourites Ryan Scott Oliver (35mm, Three Points of Contact), and book by acclaimed actor-writer Hunter Foster (Little Shop of Horrors, Urinetown). The cast recording features a stellar cast of Matt Doyle, Ben Crawford, and Bonnie Milligan, just to name a few. There’s just so much to like about this show, but sadly it isn’t as popular as I feel it should be – I would love to see Jasper’s journey of the underworld head down under.
Standout track/s: The Killing; Jasper in Deadland; Hungry for Your Heart
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Ryan Scott Oliver’s music, Mythology (and shows based on it, such as Hadestown and The Lightning Thief).
The Hatpin is a musical inspired by the true story of Amber Murray and her baby. Although some of the names are different to the original case, the plot is quite close. Set in the late 1800s in Sydney, Amber is a young mother forced to send her baby to baby farmers Charles and Agatha Makin’s care as she can’t support it on her own. As time passes, the Makins refuse to let Amber visit her son, and she grows suspicious about the entire situation. Amber launches an investigation into the family, leading to the revelation that several infants in the Makin’s care have gone missing. Without giving away the ending, it’s definitely not a show for the lighthearted – but it’s an incredibly moving one. The real life legal case launched by Amber lead to the introduction of the Children’s Protection Act of 1892, meaning orphaned and destitute children would be taken into state care. The music of The Hatpin extremely unique as well, and suits the jarring and gothic tone of the show. The original Australian production starred Melle Stewart, Peter Cousens, Michelle Doake, Tyran Parke, Nick Christo, Gemma-Ashley Kaplan, Jennifer Peers, Jodie Harris, Octavia Barron-Martin. Barry Crocker, and the legendary Caroline O’Connor. I was fortunate enough to be part of a recent production of the musical, and it was one of the most rewarding, albeit challenging, pieces of theatre I’ve ever worked on.
Content Warning – The Hatpin contains strong themes including infanticide.
Standout track/s: Twisted Little Town; Gathering Sirens; Bad Fruit; Sail
You’ll like this if you enjoy: The Hatpin is quite unique as a show, but if you enjoy Australian musicals like Ned Kelly and Ladies in Black, and Historical musicals like Lizzie, you might like it. The tone is definitely darker than those suggestions.
The Burnt Part Boys tells the story of a group of teenagers in West Virginia whose fathers passed in a tragic coal mining accident. It’s a less traditional iteration of the well known bildungsroman (or ‘coming of age’) plot, with some lovely friendships built as the story progresses. The main characters are forced to grapple with loss, and are catapulted prematurely into adulthood as a result, leaving them with situations they have never had to face before. It’s a really moving piece, and I think that everyone can connect to at least one of the characters and their journey. More than anything, the music of this show is absolutely stunning. The orchestration is beautiful, and the harmonies are absolutely gorgeous. It’s a mash of pop and bluegrass, and aids the storytelling so well. The show is just one act and has a reasonably small cast, so it would make for a great high school or community theatre production.
Standout track/s: Davy Crockett; Good Morning Gun; Balancing; Disappear
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Bluegrass/folk shows such as Bright Star and Once, Miller and Tysen shows like Fugitive Songs.