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.
The Drowsy Chaperone is definitely one of the more well-known shows in this column, but I still feel like it deserves a mention. It’s a parody of early 20th century American musical comedies (think Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and the Gershwins) and mashes every convention you could think of from these shows into its two acts: mistaken identities, spit takes, dream sequences, an English butler, comedic gangesters, a Grande Dame, and even a deux ex machina. The plot sees a theatre-obsessed man known only as “Man In Chair” sharing his favourite musical recording with the audience – the titular The Drowsy Chaperone – through a ‘show-within-a-show’ format. It’s a brilliantly intelligent and hilarious piece of theatre helmed by a creative team with deep roots in comedy – its book is by Bob Martin (who also starred in the show) and Don McKellar, and its music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. The Drowsy Chaperone ran for 674 performances on Broadway, but less than 100 in its West End run. It has since seen great success in U.S. tours and international productions, including the Australian Premiere at the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2010.
Standout track/s: Show Off; Cold Feets; Bride’s Lament; As We Stumble Along
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Golden Age Musical Theatre, musical comedies like An American in Paris, Girl Crazy, and Top Hat.
Falsettos is a personal favourite of mine. It’s another more well-known show, but still holds quite a cult following in comparison to the typical Broadway favourites. The musical as we know it today was originally two separate shows – March of the Falsettos, written in 1981, and Falsettoland, written in 1990, both with book by William Finn and James Lapine (Into The Woods, Passion) and music/lyrics by Finn. It follows Marvin as he tries to keep his family together for his son’s Bar Mitzvah after leaving his wife for a male lover. It’s very much centered around themes of family, masculinity, and gender roles, and explores Jewish identity and gay life during the 70s and 80s. It’s also one of the few musicals that openly discusses the AIDS epidemic and shows the harm that AIDS/HIV caused to the queer community. As with most of William Finn’s work, the topics discussed are ones that he has some experience with – in the case of Falsettos, being a queer Jewish man living through the 70s and 80s – which adds a lovely level of nuance to the show. The newly-aggregated Falsettos made its Broadway premiere in 1992, being met with great praise. In 2016, a Broadway revival production was mounted, starring Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Stephanie J. Block, Brandon Uranowitz, Tracie Thoms, and Betsy Wolfe, and, in my opinion, is quite possibly one of the most well cast productions of the decade. Australia has seen several productions of the show, including a 1994 run at the Sydney Opera House, a 2014 run at Darlinghurst Theatre in Sydney, and a 2018 run at Chapel off Chapel in Melbourne.
Standout track/s: Thrill of First Love; I’m Breaking Down; Making A Home; The Games I Play
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Other William Finn shows like A New Brain or The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Musicals about LGBTQIA+ experiences like Rent, Bare: A Pop Opera, Fun Home, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch
It absolutely breaks my heart that Groundhog Day isn’t as popular as it should be. With music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (Matilda), it seemed like the perfect recipe for success, adapting the well loved 1993 film into a full-blown stage musical. However, due to the technical complexity of the show, the original West End run had its previews cancelled and delayed. The issues didn’t stop there, with the Broadway transfer delayed due to issues with producers. Once it had successfully transferred, there were further technical difficulties, particularly with the stage’s revolve. As if things couldn’t get any worse, leading man Andy Karl injured himself during a preview performance. Despite all this, the show was met with reasonable success, running for 176 performances and receiving several Olivier and Tony Award nominations, winning the former’s Best New Musical and Best Actor awards. It’s a show packed full of heart, and Minchin’s trademark wit and satire is clear in the clever writing. More than anything, the music is absolutely beautiful. Of course, you have your straight-up comedy numbers, but in many of the ensemble songs you’ll find some absolutely heart melting harmonies. If you’re familiar with the film or story, have a listen through the soundtrack and see if that gets you on board. This is a show I’d really, really love to see this make its way down under.
Standout track/s: There Will Be Sun; Nobody Cares; One Day; Dawn
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Tim Minchin’s music, the original Groundhog Day film.