Bellowing out from the bedrooms of every high school introvert and through the rehearsal rooms of drama clubs nationwide, the sound of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s seismic sensation Hamilton has been nigh inescapable since it’s rise to prominence in 2015. Sweet relief from this admittedly stellar musical comes only when the playlist shifts towards a small group of shows such as Les Miserables or the golden age of Disney. Musical theatre in general is beloved by people of all ages looking for a catchy chorus or a heartfelt ballad, so why are only a few select shows allowed in the spotlight when Broadway, even just in the last twenty years, has offered up so much quality music?
This article is anything but an attack on the aforementioned theatre kids who cling to their copies of RENT and Wicked. Anyone reading the Arts section of a university newspaper would be lying to themselves if they said they saw nothing of themselves in that kid. This article isn’t an attack on anything, but rather a celebration. Eventually the songs from the golden tier of Broadway grow stale and the quicker one delves into the archives, the quicker one discovers that there is a whole world of songs waiting for them that are just as beautiful, touching and powerful as the hits. Some of the shows that fly under the radar aren’t even small wonders but sensational successes that never caught fire outside of the Broadway bubble.
Take for instance the 2009 musical Next To Normal. Starring the sensational Alice Ripley and Les Miserables star Aaron Tveit, the show was a powerful insight into mental illness and the effect it has across generations. The show is phenomenal and was rewarded as such with three Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an award it shared with the likes of Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. It is a beautiful work of drama that also has a stunning rock soundtrack, so the fact that it is not seen on the same level as its contemporaries is baffling.
It is true that one could cynically cite marketing reasons for so few shows leaping from the Broadway pack. While Hamilton is undoubtedly an incredibly-written show, it is also one of the most marketable premises in decades with a powerhouse of an elevator pitch: “A rap musical about Alexander Hamilton with a largely non-white cast” is as attention-grabbing as it gets in musical theatre and it is admittedly easier to ignore another show about a young girl trying to make it in the big city.
But with some Spotify spelunking there is a musical for everyone. Why be the lightning rod of scorn playing ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ for the thousandth time when you can find your own perfect musical? It’s there, somewhere in the archives of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows that litter the depths of the internet. There is Hands On A Hardbody, the musical based on a documentary about 12 people whose hands are fixed to a truck throughout the show. There is Story Of My Life, the tearjerking two-person musical about a man trying to write a eulogy about his dead best friend. In the past few years alone there have been accomplished stage adaptations of everything from Amelie to Freaky Friday to Anastacia, all waiting to be explored by the intrepid musical theatre fan.
There really are too many to go into detail and what is the hidden treasure of one listener will be the baffling atonal mess of another, but this particular internet rabbit hole is undoubtedly one of the most fun ways to spend a couple of hours background listening. You’ll come out of it with a whole new host of favourite musicals and hopefully next time you listen to The Room Where It Happens it’ll sound a little more fresh.
To conclude this article, here is a playlist of personal favourites from my voyage into the musical unknown. Ranging from Broadway hits that haven’t transferred to mainstream attention like Waitress to true off-broadway deep cuts like Meet John Doe, this playlist should have something for everyone. Although there is still a few hundred shows I’ve yet to explore, this is just a taste of the quality of the songs hidden just below the surface: