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.
Blood Brothers is a musical with book, lyrics, and music by Willy Russell. It follows the story of twins Edward and Mickey, who are separated at birth and raised in completely different ways – Edward in a life of privilege, and Mickey in poverty. The pair manage to find their way back to each other, growing to be close friends, however their contrasting childhoods bring about conflicts that ultimately end in tragedy. It’s a really interesting discussion and exploration of class, and how upbringing can really shape an individual – are each of the boys responsible for how they were raised? Or have they become products of their environment? Blood Brothers was a roaring success on the West End, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical and played for 3 consecutive years. The show’s revival ran for over 27 years and played 10,000 performances, making it the third longest running musical in West End history (after Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera).
Standout track/s: Marilyn Monroe; The Devil’s Got Your Number; Madman; Tell Me It’s Not True
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Billy Elliot, other works by Willy Russell such as Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine.
Death Takes A Holiday is a secret favourite of mine. The story is more well known than you may initially think – the source material is a 1924 Italian play called La Morte in Vacanza, which received an English adaptation for Broadway in 1929. A movie of the same name was produced in 1934, which was remade in 1998 as Meet Joe Black with Brad Pitt. And after all that, it received a musical adaptation in 1997. We follow Death (yes, the Death), who wants to try and understand human emotion. To do this, he takes the form of a young and handsome man, falls in love, and learns just what sacrifice means. The show’s music and lyrics were penned by Maury Yeston (Titanic, Nine), and its book written by Peter Stone (1776, Titanic), with Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) taking over after Stone’s passing. With a creative team like that, it’s a real wonder why this show has disappeared into the archives. It opened off-Broadway in 2011 for a limited run, receiving mixed reviews. I wish I could have seen that production – it had set design by Derek McLane and costumes by Catherine Zuber, who both recently won Tony Awards for their work on Moulin Rouge. More than anything, the music is beautiful. Please just take an hour to sit and listen to the recording.
Standout track/s: How Will I Know; Why Do All Men?; Something Happened
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Maury Yeston has a really distinct style of composing, so I can’t quite pinpoint similar shows (except for other work he’s written). I would recommend Titanic specifically, as it was a past collaboration between Yeston and Stone.
Hello Again is a super interesting show, with music, lyrics, and book all by Michael John LaChiusa. It is very closely based on a play named La Ronde, written. by Arthur Schnitzler in 1897, and focuses on the love affairs of ten different characters across ten different decades in the 20th century. The show is not in chronological order, which allows him to really explore different musical styles of the decades, as well as modifying the plot to include more contemporary issues. And in true LaChuisa style, the music is bonkers. He really has a truly distinctive and complex way of writing that cannot be compared to anything. Hello Again was adapted into a film in 2017, and it is fantastic (but I’m biased), with a cast including Audra McDonald, Jenna Ushkowitz, Cheyenne Jackson, Rumer Willis, and Martha Plimpton. It’s a great way to experience the show, especially since it is rarely staged.
Standout track/s: Hello Again; Listen to the Music; Silent Movie
You’ll like this if you enjoy: Similar to Yeston, LaChiusa really has his own unique style of composition. Have a listen to some of his other shows – Marie Christine, The Wild Party, Bernarda Alba, and Giant.