When Broadway Was In The Spotlight

looks back at the brief post-Hamilton Broadway boom

Dear Evan Hansen. Groundhog Day. Natasha, Pierre And The Great Comet of 1812. Come From Away. That was the stellar quartet of original musicals nominated for the grand prize of Broadway, the  71st annual ‘Best Musical’ Tony Award. Moreso than in any year in the past two decades the spotlight was shining on the awards to deliver a follow-up to the 70th winner of the award, a little musical called Hamilton. Winner of 11 Tony Awards and the biggest cultural phenomenon in musical theatre since Rent in 1996 (though a case could be made for Wicked ten years later), the musical suddenly made people pay attention to Broadway again as anything other than a novelty as it made mainstream headlines as “the musical with rapping presidents in”. Finally, musical theatre was given another shot at the mainstream and those who pump money in the industry were keen not to miss their shot.

For those following the industry the 2016/17 Broadway season was a baffling feast of an affair complete with a bumper crop of astounding musicals given more publicity than ever. Hamilton’s success being attributed to the popularity of its publically-released soundtrack meant that more than ever Broadway took to the streets outside of its own to spread the popularity of its shows in an attempt to provide the world with another cultural sensation to sing and rap at their friends no matter how much they ask them to stop. The industry and its fans seemed to crown its heir to the throne in Dear Evan Hansen, a heart-warming musical with music and lyrics by the renowned Pasek and Paul, the minds behind cult classic Edges and the much-maligned NBC musical TV show Smash. A show focusing on teenage problems and overcoming them, it tells a simple and effective story with catchy melodies and the considerable vocal talents of Ben Platt. At the 71st Tony Awards it was the eventual winner of the Best Musical prize, along with five others. Despite that, it has failed to set the world outside of Broadway-nerds alight.

Finally, musical theatre was given another shot at the mainstream and those who pump money in the industry were keen not to miss their shot.

So it seems as though the light shined on musical theatre outside of Hamilton is to be short-lived. Though many shows on Broadway are still riotous successes by their own metric and Hamilton continues to enjoy sold-out runs in London, New York and Chicago, many fans would struggle to name the shows currently beginning to fill out the ‘Original Musical’ spots at next year’s Tony Awards. The Band’s Visit is a phenomenal dramatic musical about an Egyptian police orchestra who arrive in Israel from Egypt (if this sounds like inaccessible source material, note that two of last year’s nominees were based on an extract from War & Peace and a human interest story about 9/11) but it has received little to no outside interest. The same can be said of Prince of Broadway and the surprisingly well-scored Spongebob Squarepants musical. These shows deserve more attention, but a bigger loss from the 2016/17 Broadway season are the shows that went overlooked for the crime of not being Hamilton.

The original Broadway cast of Rent. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The casualties are numerous, from the delightfully homespun Bandstand to the marvellously creative adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Anastasia, though perhaps uncreative musically, looked as though it was a visual spectacle to behold and In Transit was, albeit a little cheesy, hugely accomplished as Broadway’s first entirely acapella musical. The biggest casualty of this season was the musical adaption of the 2001 film Amelie.

The biggest casualty of this season was the musical adaption of the 2001 film Amelie.

Starring Hamilton-graduate Philippa Soo, it is a startlingly sweet and tender musical with laugh-out loud jokes weaved into the soundtrack and some stunningly creative instrumentation. From the looks of its publicity materials the unique nature of the show carried over into the staging and choreography as well with a candy-coloured visual design and a light-heartedness that permeates every note of the melodies. It is a truly fantastic musical but in the most ruthless musical theatre season in two decades it barely ran two months on Broadway before closing. Listening to it now it is truly a tragedy that such a show was ignored simply because it didn’t have the mainstream-grabbing attention of Hamilton’s rapping presidents or Wicked’s ability to employ Idina Menzel at her peak.

So take a look at the playlist we have provided and if you’re at all interested in musical theatre take a look at some of the casualties of the one Broadway season in recent memory where everyone involved suddenly realised that they had a shot at the kind of success movies and television are afforded. Though we on this side of the pond are unfortunately not afforded the ability to go and see these shows without the price of a plane ticket we can still listen to their soundtracks, absorb promotional materials and if we’re lucky track down filmed versions of the shows online. This is a thoroughly great use of one’s time and it serves to show just how much talent there is every year on Broadway as long as you are paying attention.

 

PLAYLIST:

Times Are Hard For Dreamers – Amelie

Once Upon A December – Anastacia

If I Had My Time Again – Groundhog Day

Deep Beneath The City / Not There Yet – In Transit

Bad Idea – Waitress

Sister’s Pickle – Amelie

Day One – Groundhog Day

If You Knew My Story – Bright Star

Everlasting – Tuck Everlasting

Omar Sharif – The Band’s Visit

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