Since about the age of fourteen, I’ve been into musicals. I’ve been a singer since I was eight, and the logical next step seemed to be auditioning for a school musical at fourteen – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – which I both got a main role in (Olive Ostrovsky) and broke my wrist in rehearsals. Then, after a brief hiatus, I got the role of Cosette in Les Miserables at the age of seventeen. And while I haven’t been involved in any musical ventures at St Andrews, I certainly haven’t stopped listening to them (and watching the occasional sneakily-named bootleg on YouTube – want a slime tutorial?).
So, I thought I would foist my musical opinions upon you all, while giving you some ideas as to what to watch/listen to. Because that’s probably what you’ve clicked on this article for, I’d hope.
Let’s get into it.
Falsettos (2016 Broadway Cast)
‘Homosexuals, women with children, short insomniacs: we’re a teeny tiny band.’
Find yourself dropped into the story of Marvin, who leaves his wife and child for his ‘friend’ Whizzer and sets the ball rolling for new relationships, friendships and dramatics embroiled in the climate of 1980s New York. This musical, originally comprising of three one-act instalments off-Broadway, came crashing to Broadway in 2016 with an all-star cast, including Andrew Rannells (Hamilton, The Book of Mormon), Christian Borle (Legally Blonde, Something Rotten), and Tracie Thoms (Rent), and was an instant hit. Although arguably (read: definitely) robbed at the Tonys, Falsettos is genuinely one of the best musicals I have ever had the privilege of watching, with an absolutely killer storyline and personality-driven execution that gives real punch to the characters. I think we all have one character to relate to within this musical, no matter who you are, and I’m sure all of us have been through an I’m Breaking Down phase at one point or another!
Waitress (Original Broadway Cast)
‘I’ll slice and serve my worries away.’
Stop by Joe’s Diner to discover the lives of Jenna, Dawn and Becky, as they battle abusive relationships, social anxiety and affairs, all while making standout pies for their customers in the Deep South. Written by Sara Bareilles, and based on the 2007 film of the same name, this musical is about as heartfelt and warm as you can get. Jessie Mueller’s (Carousel, Into The Woods) vocals in the Broadway Cast Recording fit the character of Jenna perfectly, as do Kimiko Glenn (Orange Is The New Black, Spring Awakening) and Keala Settle’s (The Greatest Showman) wonderful voices. Homely and masterfully written, the songs will invite you in like a warm hug – especially A Soft Place to Land.
Next to Normal (Original Broadway Cast)
‘Maybe we can’t be okay, but maybe we’re tough and we’ll try anyway.’
They’re just another normal family – or that’s the fiction that Diana and Dan try to keep up, until the past begins to catch up with them. A sensitive portrayal of the nuances and difficulties of mental illness and grief, this will most certainly have you sobbing – and if it doesn’t, you are truly heartless. Alice Ripley (Dreamgirls, Side Show) is absolutely fantastic in the main role, and with a star cast comprising J Robert Spencer (Jersey Boys), Jennifer Damiano (Spider-Man, American Psycho) and Aaron Tveit (Moulin Rouge, Les Miserables), why would you want to miss it out?
Amelie – A New Musical (Original Broadway Cast)
‘They say times are hard for dreamers, but they won’t be hard for me!’
Based off of the French film of the same name, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, this musical is deeply original and romantic, with plenty of doses of humour along the way. Amelie, escaping the clutches of her eccentric parents, lives a little life in Paris and spends her days observing – but when she realises that small acts of kindness go a long way, she decides to recreate herself as a new Princess Diana, helping as many people as she can. Soon, she falls in love – but can she look past her little kindnesses and games to a real relationship? Phillipa Soo (Hamilton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) originated this role, and she fits it perfectly!
Les Miserables (The 2010 Cast Album)
‘Do you hear the people sing?’
If you haven’t heard of this musical, where have you been? Many will have already heard this one through the 2012 film adaptation, but I think a particular adaptation that is often missed out on is the 2010 West End Production. Their cast album is full of so much passion, and houses some big names, including John Owen-Jones (The Phantom of the Opera) in the title role. Get your revolution on.
The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals (Original Cast)
‘Is this the secret? Singing and dancing through life?’
From the lesser-known theatre group Starkid, TGWDLM is about just that: a guy, named Paul, who doesn’t like musicals. Then, a giant comet comes. Then, singing aliens start to take over. With killer vocals and an honestly hilarious storyline, you’ll be happy to know that this show comes with a full professional recording on YouTube.
Twisted (Original Cast)
‘A thousand and one nights with you is not enough to spend, so let’s make ours the story with no end.’
Another musical from the theatre company Starkid, this is a twisted retelling of the story of Aladdin from the point of view of Ja’far, the supposedly evil vizier who actually turns out to be the only one working to change the system. He meets the beautiful Scherrezade, falls in love, and has her taken from him just as quickly – and he takes inspiration from her to continue in his work and do all he can to save the country from the Sultan. Prepare for a lot of inappropriate jokes – and copious fun.
Hadestown (Original Broadway Cast)
‘All I know is you’re someone I have always known and I don’t even know you.’
A modernised retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice (did you really expect me not to include this one?), this musical, written by Anais Mitchell, is certainly a tour-de-force. Of course, I’m a classicist, so I’ll admit that I’m slightly biased in its favour – but Eva Noblezada’s (Miss Saigon, Les Miserables) performance as Eurydice is absolutely astounding, and Andre de Shields (The Wiz, The Full Monty) is a perfect Hermes.
Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast)
‘There’s a million things I haven’t done but just you wait.’
No musical list could be complete without mention of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. Debuting online to wide positive reception on Disney+ last month, Hamilton has been a long-standing hit since it first came out in 2015, with a star-studded cast and award-winning music and staging. Although it takes rather a lot of poetic license with the facts, and many have argued that the musical overlooks many of the awful actions and practices in which the Founding Fathers of America were engaged, it is still certainly worth watching.
A Star Is Born (2018)
‘When the sun goes down, and the band won’t play, I’ll always remember us this way.’
To finish up this list, we have the most widely-available and widely-marketed musical of the lot – the stand-out movie, A Star Is Born. Starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hangover), the musical is a remake of its 1937 and 1956 versions, and sees Allie, a young aspiring singer, meet Jack, a famous country/rock singer with an alcohol and drug addiction. They fall in love, and their tragic ending is beautifully set to gorgeous music. Definitely a must-watch.
So, get watching or listening!