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.
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.
Calvin Berger follows a boy with a big nose trying to fit in at high school. Honest to god. That’s the plot. It’s not quite that vapid though, drawing its plot from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, a play which too is about a man with an incredibly huge nose. There’s a little less incest in the musical (thankfully), and a little more teen romance, with Calvin trying to woo the beautiful Rosanna – but alas, his nose just gets in the way. A funny, almost ridiculous reimagining of a classic romance play, the musical shows how recontextualising a text into a more modern context can prove successful. And really, it just goes to show that beauty is more than skin – or should I say, nose – deep.
Standout track/s: Mr. Potato Head; I Can See Him Now; More Than Meets the Eye
You’d like this if you enjoy…: Lysistrata Jones; Dear Evan Hansen or other angsty teen musicals
The Frogs may sound familiar to anyone who considers themself a Sondheim connoisseur. It’s super fun. And was staged in a pool. Yes, a pool. The one at Yale University in fact. Another adaption of an Aristophanes play (aptly titled The Frogs), the plot follows Greek God Dionysus, famously played by Nathan Lane in the Broadway revival, as he travels to Hades to bring back famous playwrights from the past – in the musical, it’s George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare. Bookended with instructions to the chorus, it’s completely obvious that Sondheim and Shevlove were not holding back at all when writing the show. Mashing characteristics of traditional Greek theatre and more modern musical theatre, The Frogs is a show theatre lovers, both old and new, will enjoy.
Standout track/s: I Love to Travel; The Frogs; Ariadne; It’s Only A Play
You’d like this if you enjoy…: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sondheim/Shevlove, Greek Theatre, Nathan Lane (who doesn’t!)
The Scottsboro Boys is yet another product of legendary duo John Kander and Fred Ebb. Sadly, this was one of their last, with Ebb passing away during the writing process and Kander leaving the show for several years before finishing it. The show is incredibly unique in my opinion, utilising the framework of a ‘minstrel show,’ however using African-American performers in the place of the traditionally used blackfacing. It follows the trial of the Scottsboro boys in 1931, a case famous for its address of racism and the right to a fair trial. Performed in one solid act, the show uses heavy satire and comedy to deal with an incredibly intense and horrible story, and in my opinion, handled the issue at hand with extreme precision and caution. The original Broadway cast featured a collection of some of Broadway’s finest, including Joshua Henry (Hamilton, Carousel).
Standout track/s: Go Back Home; Alabama Ladies; Make Friends with the Truth
You’d like this if you enjoy…: The Color Purple, Ragtime, the works of Kander and Ebb