My Top 10 Underrated Musicals

June 14, 2020

With classics like Wicked and Les Mis, and blockbusters like Six and Hamilton, it’s so easy to overlook other musicals that are equally as deserving of recognition. There are hundreds of famous stories out there that people don’t know have been adapted into musicals, and even more new stories people have yet to discover. Here are my top 10 underrated musicals I’d love for more people to know!

 10. The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years composed by Jason Robert Brown tells the story of Cathy, a struggling actress, and Jamie, a budding novelist as they meet, fall in love, marry, and divorce over the course of five years. Cathy tells the story from the end of their marriage and Jamie begins from when they first met.

The show debuted at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Illinois in 2001, running from May – July 1. The production starred Lauren Kennedy as Cathy and Norbert Leo Butz as Jamie. It has since had many productions all over the world including two Off-Broadway runs, two London runs and many European performances.

I only discovered this musical in the past 6 months or so, but it’s suddenly become one of my favourites. This musical is nothing like the typical 'Romeo and Juliet' story but is much more real and compatible with real issues and reality. The songs are well balanced throughout, with the upbeat more humorous songs balancing out the slower sadder ones, making the score a joy to listen to. The musical is sung-through and each song is so unique and unlike anything I’ve heard before. I’ve never seen a production of this show unfortunately. I had plans to see its recent London revival at the Southwark Playhouse in London but sadly missed out due to the current situation, however, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched the film adaptation during lockdown. The film stars Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick as Jamie and Cathy and they are both terrific. Whilst the story can be a little confusing at first due to the time-jumps, it does work and adds so much to each scene as the characters play their opposite emotions. If you’re a musical fan and haven’t yet listened to this show, this is one to add to add to the list!

9. Cats

Now, here me out…

There’s this whole stigma around Cats where people automatically hate it or don’t give it a chance just because it’s…Cats. People often ask what Cats is actually about and whether there is any real story to it. So, the musical follows a group of cats, known as Jellicles, who meet every year at the Jellicle Ball to decide which one of them should ascend to the ‘Heaviside Layer’. In essence, Cats rapidly introduces more and more Jellicles until we find out which cat is chosen. It is based on T.S Eliot’s 1939 poetry book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, with the songs in the musical consisting of Eliot's verse set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s safe to say music and dance are the main focus of the show at the expense of a traditional narrative structure.

Whilst the story is a little odd and not what you’d normally expect, the show has so many great things about it. I’ve never seen the show live, but I have seen the live recording of the 1998 West End production. I’ve also seen the 2019 film, but we won’t talk about that right now…that’s a completely different story, (should I do a post about my thoughts on the new film version?)

In the show, the costumes are so unique to each individual character. Some of the outfits were simple in nature, especially one that was made to resemble an Egyptian cat, while others were more flamboyant such as Mr Mistoffelees. I was amazed at how incredible the attention to detail was. There was clearly a lot of time and effort, and I’m sure blood, sweat, and tears, that went into the design and construction of each and every single one of these costumes. As for the dancing, you can’t really fault it. The choreography is very smart and brought the whole cast together for a powerful beginning in ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’.

Now I don’t think Cats will ever be in my top 10 shows, or top 20 for that matter, but if the opportunity came up to see it live I would 100% go for it. I haven’t listened to every song religiously, but some of my favourites have to be ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’ and ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ which I really love listening to daily. I really think this show deserves more of a chance, and it definitely isn’t the ‘bad’ show it’s made out to be.

 8. Ordinary Days

Set on the bustling streets of New York City, Ordinary Days singles out four average New Yorkers whose lives end up unexpectedly entwined. The plot follows Jason and Claire, a couple inching towards marriage but ultimately can’t seem to completely figure each other out, due to an unspeakable tragedy from years ago. Intersecting their story is the friendship between Deb, who is a graduate student whose lost notebook containing all her notes for her thesis is found by Warren, a struggling artist. Adam Gwon’s four-person song cycle has played around the world professionally, in university settings, and at community theatres, and is aimed to leave audiences finding and appreciating the beauty in their everyday lives.

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen this show in person as it’s never really been produced anywhere near me since I first heard about it, but I absolutely love the idea of behind it, and also that it’s a sung-through musical, with very few spoken lines, all in 80 minutes. There’s very few shows out there that are simply just one act, although it does seem to be coming more popular with shows like Six and Come From Away being huge hits. It’s a shame that Ordinary Days isn’t talked about as much. Since I’ve not seen a production of it myself, I can’t really comment on whether the storyline is successful or not, but the cast recording is constantly on repeat. Claire’s final number ‘I’ll Be Here’ is an emotional, high-quality theatre song, and probably one of my favourite musical theatre songs of all time. Other highlights have to be ‘Don’t Wanna Be Here’ and ‘Gotta Get Out’ which are full of energy and comedy.

I’d love to see this show in person one day, whether it be at a small local theatre or on a West End stage! I urge you to have a listen to this unique and intriguing show.

 7. Carrie

Carrie: The Musical (based off the Stephen King novel) follows a young woman with telekinetic powers who is dominated by her oppressive and religious mother. Also an outcast at school, Carrie is pushed to the brink after a humiliation at her high school prom and threatens to devour everyone around her in flame.

The show originally premiered in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in February 1988, and went to Broadway the same year, but closed after 16 previews and 5 performances. In fact, the show is considered one of the most notable flops in Broadway musical history. The show received extremely mixed reactions during its short Broadway run and the press was not very kind to the musical; their reviews ultimately sank the project. Though it was sold out every night, the financial investors unfortunately pulled out. Carrie: The Musical officially opened on May 12, 1988 and officially closed on May 15, after only five performances.

Despite its reputation, the show became a cult classic, and inspired a book called Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops, increasing the show’s popularity. Since then it has become a staple for schools/colleges and regional theatre. The huge interest in the show led to an off-Broadway revival in 2012. A lot of the songs from the 1988 production were cut and replaced, and a lot of changes were made, making the newer version much more acclaimed, and an official cast recording was finally made available to the public.

Now, this is another show I’ve never seen in person, I wasn’t even born when it first premiered, but it has been on one hell of a journey! I can’t really remember where I first came across this musical, but I do remember seeing the Riverdale episode inspired by the show and recognising some of the songs. If I’m honest I wasn’t much of a fan of the Riverdale episode, however it led to me to listen to the cast recording simply out of curiosity as I hadn’t really heard much about this show, and I thought it was phenomenal! The music is excellent, the singing is powerful, and the harmonies are just wow. It’s perfect for schools and colleges! I would definitely recommend it to any musical theatre fan.

 6. Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie & Clyde is a musical with music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black and a book by Ivan Menchell. It tells the story of real-life fugitives, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Frustrated with their poor, ordinary lives, they both dream of the exciting lives they have seen in the movies. After escaping from jail, Clyde meets Bonnie and recognizes a fellow dreamer. Their craving for fame leads them into a life of crime and a life on the run. The couple embark on a series of robberies at gunpoint, continuously evading the police and becoming the celebrities they desperately wanted to be.

The world premiere took place in San Diego, CA in November 2009 and debuted on Broadway in December 2011, but unfortunately failed to impress the critics. Not many tickets were sold, and it closed after just four weeks. It was nominated for 3 Outer Critics Circle Awards and 5 Drama Desk Awards, including Best New Musical, as well as two nominations for the 2012 Tony Awards. Further performances have since been staged including an Off West-End production/workshop at The Other Palace in London in 2017 featuring Jamie Muscato as Clyde and Evelyn Hoskins as Bonnie.

This is another show I’ve not yet seen live, but one I’d jump at the chance to see! Its West End workshop came at a time when I was only 14 years old, and as much as I loved theatre, I only really knew the classics. It wasn’t until the beginning of 2018 where I started to widen my musical theatre knowledge and listen to a range of different shows. It was my friend Lauren who introduced me to this show and I instantly fell in love. The score draws on period string-band arrangements, but also reverts to contemporary Broadway tunes. Laura Osnes as Bonnie injects such passion and feeling into every word that she sings, and you really end up rooting for her simply by just listening to the songs. Jeremy Jordan is also fantastic as Clyde Barrow, his voice has a slightly raw quality that really works well, but he's also capable of being incredibly cheeky with it. They’re voices work extremely well together and I’m surprised a musical with such big Broadway stars isn’t more popular.

 5. Jekyll and Hyde

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic thriller, Jekyll & Hyde is the gripping tale of Dr Jekyll who attempts to cure his father’s mental illness by separating good from evil in the human personality. He ends up creating an alternate personality of pure evil named Mr Hyde and begins committing murders on the streets of London. Struggling to control Hyde before he takes over for good, Jekyll must race to find a cure for the demon he has created.

Originally developed for the stage by Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden, the show features music by Frank Wildhorn, a book by Leslie Bricusse and lyrics by all of three. Jekyll and Hyde had its world premiere in Houston, Texas, before embarking on a national tour of the US prior to its Broadway debut in 1997. The musical has toured the UK twice, once in 2004 and again in 2011, and most recently played in Australia in 2019 in concert form.

Jekyll and Hyde is a popular story but not many people know that it’s a musical. I’ve seen two different local productions of this show and was amazed. It’s completely different to any other show I’ve seen, and the character additions and songs are incredible. There is a great range of styles within the score and the performances are excellent. Most people would have heard of the number 'This Is the Moment', which is quite popular in general, but there are so many others great songs to enjoy. Having seen the show, I appreciate it may not be to everybody's taste, and to be honest its style is not usually mine, but there’s just something about it that I really love! I hope to see this show make a return one day.

 4. Eugenius

Eugenius comes from Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins and is the story of socially awkward Eugene, a geeky comic book writer who writes stories about Tough Man, Super Hot Lady and their adventures in space, who manages to rise beyond the stars when he and his vision are discovered by Hollywood producer Lex and his assistant Theo. Little does he know that his imaginary characters are real, and that he must rise to become the hero of his own story to save the world from the threat of the Evil Lord Hector, with the support of his friends Janey and Ferris.

The musical had its world premiere as a concert performance at the London Palladium on 29 June 2016 and was produced by Warwick Davis. Its first fully staged production began at The Other Palace in London from 22 January to 3 March 2018, returning for a second run from 1 September to 7 October 2018, before being extended until 21 October 2018.

I’m so glad I managed to see this show during its second run at The Other Palace as it was simply phenomenal. The story isn’t one I’d immediately go for, but with so many great actors amongst the cast, I couldn’t resist. So, I bought myself a ticket for my birthday (yes I know…I do that) and enjoyed the story unfold from the front row. It’s safe to say that during the run it built up a cult following, with its quirky humour and feel good story. The score is a collection of wonderful rock / pop tunes with some extremely memorable tunes. What really makes this show so special, however, is the irresistible humour with extraordinary attention to detail by Ian Talbot. The choreography is stunning, and each song is followed by the loud cheering and clapping of the audience. This musical is sure to become popular over the next few years.

 3. High Fidelity

This show follows the adventures of Rob, a record store owner who knows almost everything there is to know about pop music, but almost nothing about how to keep a girl. When his girlfriend Laura leaves him, he goes through a painful re-evaluation of his life and lost loves, and slowly learns that he must grow up before he can find real happiness.

The show didn’t do so well on Broadway, but it was rewritten by Vikki Stone for British audience and played at Battersea’s Turbine Theatre late 2019, produced by Paul Taylor-Mills and directed by Tom Jackson Greaves. High Fidelity is a show I had never heard of until a London run was announced, and I went into the theatre knowing pretty much nothing, but it was a brilliant production. First of all, I was sat in a bean bag chair which is very unusual but extremely effective. The whole theatre was made to look like a record store and felt very Brechtian as it ‘broke the fourth wall’, and as an audience member you couldn’t help but feel fully immersed into the show. I hope this new and updated version goes on to have a future life as I’d love to see this show on stage again one day. The 200-seat Turbine Theatre was like the perfect venue to explore High Fidelity's intimate plot, which is what made it so special. The score is not only outstanding theatre music but also very smart and full of humour. One of the most underrated musicals out there.

 2. Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland is the story of successful London playwright J.M. Barrie during the potential end of his career, before he meets widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, and her four sons George, Peter, Jack, and Michael in Kensington Park. They embark on adventures of imagination together - all except Peter, unwilling to play and still grieving from his father’s death. As Barrie helps Peter learn to play again, his writing gives way to a new art form: children’s theatre. Ultimately, the show is based on the true events that led J.M. Barrie to create a story we all know and love, Peter Pan.

This show is one I simply can’t get enough of. I adore the film with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet so was very intrigued to hear that it has been made into a musical. I believe the show initially started at The Curve, Leicester in 2012 for a short run, but was quite different to how it is now. A reworked version made its premiere in 2014 at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and transferred to Broadway in March 2015. After 17 months on Broadway, the production closed on 21 August 2016, and began a US national tour in October 2016.

I’m so gutted the show hasn’t returned to the UK since as if I had to pick one show off this list I haven’t yet seen, it would undoubtedly be Finding Neverland. The cast recording is beautiful and shows off the voices of Matthew Morrison and Laura Michelle Kelly. Every single song is catchy and enjoyable, with diverse styles and subject matter. If you haven’t already, I urge you to have a listen to this show. Finding Neverland is guaranteed to bring out your inner-child and make you cry at least once.

 1. Little Women

Based on Louisa May Alcott's life, Little Women follows the adventures of sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March and their beloved Marmee, at home in Concord, Massachusetts while their father is away serving as a Union Army chaplain. Jo is trying to sell her stories for publication, but the publishers are not interested, and her friend Professor Bhaer tells her that in order to do better, she must write more from herself. Taking on this advice, Jo writes the story of herself and her sisters and their experience growing up in Civil War America.

After 55 previews, the Broadway production opened at the Virginia Theatre on January 23, 2005 and closed on May 22, 2005 after 137 performances. Little Women has been praised for its ambition in adapting such a well-known story for the stage. This timeless story is brought to life in this glorious musical filled with personal discovery and love.

It was brought to the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester in 2017 lead by Amie Giselle-Ward in the title role of Jo March and it’s got to be one of the best shows I have ever seen. The cast were simply remarkable, and the show embodies the complete theatrical experience. The score soars with the sounds of heartache and hope. This jewel of a musical absolutely captivated me! A fantastic collection of songs that clearly represent the story of the March sisters. I would love to see Little Women come to the West End soon or maybe even a UK tour. If you are a fan of Alcott's book, then it will not disappoint you!

 

So, if you’re looking for a fresh vocal palate cleanser or new musical obsession, there’s my top 10 underrated musicals for you to listen to!

 Mia x




            
 

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