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.
Once again, I may be biased in saying this, but The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is such a well written piece of theatre. It could be my undying love for William Finn shows talking here, but I genuinely think it would be hard to hate this show. There’s comedy, there’s improv, there’s spelling, there’s even an entire song about an erection. What more could you want? Set during a fictional spelling bee, we meet 6 zany and hilarious kids competing to take out the top prize. The show also requires audience participation, with several lucky people being brought in to compete alongside the students as part of the bee. But of course, it wouldn’t be a William Finn show without an absolute emotional gut punch, so expect some really beautiful and poignant moments thrown in alongside the humour. I cannot recommend this show enough to people, and I think it is an absolutely perfect choice for high schools (there’s a ‘clean’ version available for licensing, don’t worry!), university groups, or community theatre productions.
Standout track/s: Pandemonium, I’m Not That Smart, I Speak Six Languages, The I Love You Song
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Other William Finn shows (A New Brain, Falsettos, Little Miss Sunshine), Avenue Q, 13 The Musical
Allegro marks the third stage collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. After absolutely changing the game with Oklahoma! and Carousel, the pair set out to write something more serious – giving us Allegro, the story of an ordinary man trying to keep up with the modern world. It is structurally very different to their other work, with no major set pieces – instead, props and projections would suggest setting and location, and two lead men rather than the ‘boy and girl’ format typical of the time. Allegro’s tryouts were an absolute disaster, and ultimately critics found the show too ‘moralistic.’ Despite this, I do think that it’s worth a listen. It is definitely more cynical of life and society, but in true R&H style, the music and writing is wonderful.
Standout track/s: So Far; The Gentleman Is A Dope; Come Home
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Other R&H musicals like Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, shows set during the depression like 42nd Street and I Can Get It For You Wholesale
The Life is a thrillingly dark exploration of New York’s 42nd street prior to its Disneyfication. Lyricist and bookwriter Ira Gasman had the idea after seeing the once dangerous and dirty block filled with crime, prostitutes, drug dealers, and runaways, transformed into a clean cut and colourful theatre district. It’s gritty, and shows a glimpse of the past, showcasing the struggles of the communities that inhabited the now iconic streets. More often than not, New York is painted as a glamorous and idyllic city, so it’s always nice to get a blast from the past. And with Cy Coleman responsible for the score, it’s no surprise The Life took home a fair few Tony and Drama Desk Awards in its 1997 Broadway season.
Standout track/s: Use What You Got; Easy Money; Step Right Up
You’ll like this if you enjoy: The works of Cy Coleman such as City of Angels and Sweet Charity, Pretty Filthy, Pretty Woman The Musical