Top 10 Underrated Musical Gems

In an age of your Phantom’s and your Hamilton’s, people sometimes forget that there are millions of musicals out there that haven’t truly reached the pinnacle of the aforementioned…maybe because of their commercial appeal… well, it is exactly that. No matter how good a show is, if it doesn’t bring in the big bucks it won’t last, and that’s business, and it’s tough. So to steer away from all that doom and gloom, I’ve compiled a list of musicals scores that if you asked a person on the street would probably say they “didn’t know it was a thing,” and in a way that’s why I love it, because it’s ours and not there’s. For each show I’ve given my favourite songs just to give you an idea of how special they all are.

 

10. Ragtime and “Our Children”

I saw this musical last year and although it was not a full production (as one of the actors was taken ill so they performed a minimally-staged concert version) it was one of the most powerful theatre experiences I’ve ever had. This score is stunning, and this is my favourite song; the first time I heard it last year I was overcome with emotion, not because it’s an overly sad song, but just the melody is so beautiful.

 

9. Michael John La Chuisa’s The Wild Party and “People Like Us”

Earlier in 2017, this show was brought to the West End, and I didn’t know what to expect because Andrew Lippa’s version (which originally had it’s New York debut around the same time as La Chuisa’s) is considered the better version of the same story – and having not seen Lippa’s I can’t comment too much, but all I know is that this show is basically a masterpiece. It’s so powerfully different and the score carries the characters and plot in such a unique crazy way. I remember hearing “People Like Us” for the first time and getting so many chills. The production I saw featured a phenomenally dedicated cast including Frances Ruffelle, John Owen-Jones and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. A once-in-a-lifetime one!

 

8. Titanic the Musical and it’s Opening

Another musical I finally got to see last year and how stunning. I hadn’t been effected by a something in such a way before. I think coming out the same time as James Cameron’s film was not the best for it, but Maury Yeston is a genius – the whole score is tense, beautiful and fulfilling. The opening number showcases the phenomenal voices it takes to make this show a reality.

 

7. The Bridges of Madison County and “Falling into You”

The Last Five Years may be my favourite Jason Robert Brown score, but Bridges comes a very close second. It is perfect in every way, the melodies, the lyrics and Brown’s naturally ability to connect character with song. “Falling into You” closes the first act, and it’s just stunning. Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale’s voices here are majestic and pulse-racing.

 

6. The Toxic Avenger and “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore”

Arguably the funniest thing I have ever seen, Toxie is the gem of all gems. This show is so brilliant it’s unreal. The incredible score helps as well. David Bryan and Joe DiPietro have created a satire that pleases fans of the original material and musical theatre fans alike. This act one closer involves the actresses having to play two characters at the same time – once/if you see it, you’ll get it! It’s genius! As I write this, I’m about to go to the closing night of the show’s limited London run and it’s going to be incredible, high energy, laughs and powerhouse vocals, because it’s that kind of show and one that everyone needs in their lives!

 

5. The Lord of the Rings and “Now and For Always”

Ten years ago I saw my first West End show, The Lord of the Rings. The score of this show remains one of my favourites and has the best Orchestrations of any score. The show didn’t last long because not everything worked i.e. the book, but what was perfect was how each song sounded. My favourite song is “Now and For Always,” which captures the relationship of Frodo and Sam perfectly, doing justice to the material, with some to-die-for harmonies along the way.

 

4. Bonnie & Clyde and “You Love Who You Love”

Oh, Frank. Frank Wildhorn is my favourite composer because I like to think he writes for singers. And that’s what I love. There is always opportunity to show off your vocal ability (and stability) with a Wildhorn song. Broadway flop (I know, what?!) Bonnie & Clyde is my favourite of Frank’s shows because it represents the human condition in a powerful way and the score is perfect. “You Love Who You Love” is a contender for my favourite song in Frank’s repertoire; the multi-dimensional lyrics and the vocals here of Laura Osnes and Melissa van der Schyff kill me every time.

 

3. The Girls and “Scarborough” 

I will forever go on about how much I love and miss this show; in my top 5 now for sure. One of the most special, perfect pieces of theatre ever written; it didn’t have a long commercial run in the West End, but don’t let that dishearten you of the quality of this emotional true story with a lot of laughs along the way. What writer Tim Firth managed to do so effortlessly is capture the real, and that is why I will never forget this show – a true one-off. “Scarborough” introduces us to Annie and her struggle in her current life, the lyrics are simply stunning and Joanna Riding’s heart-breaking portrayal breaks me every time.

 

2. Jekyll & Hyde and “In His Eyes”

Again, another Wildhorn show, this musical actually ran on Broadway for a while, until a lot of terrible star casting dragged it under. Overall, my favourite complete score of any musical, and my favourite music altogether, the concept album of this show in particular is the best thing my ears have ever heard! “In His Eyes” is THE female duet power ballad, and I’m the biggest sucker for it. Carole Carmello and Linda Eder (the latter, my favourite voice of all-time) are perfection on this record.

 

1. Shrek the Musical and “Who I’d Be”

Ah, this show. Next to Wicked, my favourite musical – it changes between the two honestly! So underrated. The Broadway version, starring Brian d’Arcy James and Sutton Foster is everything – and what can I say, I love singing green people!  But not only that, the story is perfect and relatable. To be alienated against, to not think you’re good enough but to remain strong and go for what you love. The incredible “Who I’d Be” which closes act one, encompasses the whole relevance of the show in 4 minutes – nothing can quite compete with it in my eyes.

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Updated: My Top 7 Musical Theatre Roles (Male)

Self-indulgence? Haven’t heard of it. So I thought I might like to write about my favourite musical theatre roles that I would love to play on-stage. Male only although I might do a female one too, because why can I not thrust a broom in a make-believe world if I want to, right? Anyway, for structuring each section here I thought I would pick one song that that character performs to illustrate and support why I would love to do them. But first, honourable mentions: Jean Valjean (Les Miserables), Javert (Les Miserables), The Phantom (The Phantom of the Opera), Clyde (Bonnie and Clyde), Elder Cunningham (The Book of Mormon), King George III (Hamilton), amongst others.

Edit: I thought I would now bump it up to 7 only because I forgot my actual top dream role, ironically. 

 

7. “Nicely Nicely Johnson” in Guys and Dolls
This character is just great fun. I was first introduced to him not so long ago in 2016 when I saw the latest West End revival. I love this show and how “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” was performed in this production was an energetic show-stopping masterpiece. Gavin Spokes was incredible:

 

6. “Fiyero” in Wicked
It would be impossible to turn down any role in my favourite show let alone the romantic male lead. Fiyero is a great character with a depth to him that not many people find unless you know the show very well. And he has great songs. “As Long As You’re Mine” is my favourite love song and it is very hard to match what Oliver Tompsett and his vocals brought to the role. Here is Tompsett with my ultimate Elphaba and Frozen‘s Broadway Elsa, Caissie Levy:

 

5. “Jamie Wellerstein” in The Last Five Years
Jason Robert Brown is such a musical and lyric genius, and in one of my favourite works The Last Five Years, the characters of Cathy and Jamie are though out so skilfully through the unique structure of this piece. For my favourite song of this character I went with “If I Didn’t Believe in You”. The lyrics and structure of this song, what it makes you go through with these characters is just so clever and powerful. Jeremy Jordan’s version in the film is to die for:

 

4. “Dan Goodman” in Next to Normal
The highly emotional show is one of my favourites too. It’s perfect, and the role of Dan is a must; there is such a lot to do with him. “I’ve Been” is such a haunting composition, just the opening chords get me every time and lyrics such as “mine is just a slower suicide” are so resonant and powerful in summarising the show and the character’s journey at this moment – not to mention the rest of the score is just as perfect. It is an emotionally taxing role, but it would be such a great challenge:

 

3. “Shrek” in Shrek the Musical
This show is in my top 2 musicals of all-time. It was one of the first shows I became obsessed with and means an awful lot to me; at that time, I related so much to this strong character that feels like an outsider and is judged by his appearance. It’s still so resonant, and this show, much like the film, is fun but also has that incredible message. And the songs are to die for – “Who I’d Be” remains one of my favourite songs and to perform that every night would be the dream if I wouldn’t be able to kill it like Brian d’Arcy James:

 

2. “Mark Cohen” in Rent
Because why would you pass up the idea of being in Rent? For me personally, I think Rent is the best thing ever written for the stage for so many reasons. Mainly because it makes me feel something I’ve never felt with anything else. It taps into me emotionally on so many levels. The orchestrations and vocals arrangement in “Halloween” inspire me to want to play this role so much. It’s a perfect composition, encapsulating character and subtle emotion but with huge gravitas:

 

1. “Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Edward Hyde” in Jekyll & Hyde
To be able to sing this score every night would be the dream! I love this show so much. The Broadway production was of course not the best version of the show that Frank Wildhorn had envisioned, but other productions have done the material justice. My favourite album is the full Concept Album that was made in 1989 or thereabouts. It’s masterful and my favourite musical score, you can tell it was Frank’s passion project. “The Confrontation” is the accumulation of this multi-layered character’s story, the writing and staging of this song is unlike anything else. The role challenges you from a vocal and an acting perspective that it requires a real pro:

Wicked: My Top 5 Moments

How could I choose which 5 moments I love the most when you love the show from start to finish? Indecisively, that’s how. My favourite moments probably do and will continue to change, but I think the following list is the current general feeling I have. And I couldn’t fit everything I love in, so, some honourable mentions: Dancing through Life (Fiyero’s Arrival), As Long As You’re Mine, Thank Goodness, Governor’s Mansion (Wicked Witch of the East), The Wizard and I.

5. For Good

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The accumulation of the journey we have been on with these two characters. The powerful statement of ‘because I knew you, I have been changed for good’ echoes widely, which is why this song is so successful out of context, and within the show. I particularly love this moment on a cast change in which the Elphaba, Glinda or even both are performing the song for the last time. The above lyric has more than one meaning in this circumstance, which makes it all the most poignant, and to see these amazing women get so emotional when they are leaving the show is a testament to how it affects people so strongly.

4. Dancing Through Life: Ballroom Sequence

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From the end of a friendship to the beginning. A couple of moments still get me every time. The Nessarose/Boq supporting plot always breaks my heart (no pun intended); some performers who have played Nessarose have managed to hit me emotionally in the moment in which she feels loved and dances for the first time. Then in another kick to the gut, Elphaba arrives to the dance. The ensemble as the Students of Shiz are hilarious every time as they mock and tease her, and when Elphaba attempts to fit-in, it’s both hysterical and heart-breaking. But the scene soon changes mood when Glinda realises her mistake and joins in to dance with Elphaba. Just explaining it here does not do justice to how powerful that moment is on-stage. Many times I still find myself getting emotional because its such a poignant and relatable circumstance I feel begins the friendship of the two characters perfectly; the build-up of the Dancing through Life motif, and eventual reprise, compliments the scene so well.

3. The Finale

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The most beautiful sequence in the show. I also look forward to seeing how a show ends – not because it’s ending of course – but you know that it is the scene that will finish the show and the imagery is the last you’ll see before the curtain comes down, so it needs to wow you. And luckily, Wicked has one of the best final scenes. The music (particularly those harmonies!), the strikingly emotional imagery as Glinda descends and Elphaba and Fiyero walk up-stage into their new life, and the link full-circle back to the beginning of the story. Everything about it still give me goosebumps even after so many times.

2. Catfight / No Good Deed

Wicked catfight sceneWithout a doubt my favourite extended sequence of the show. From Dorothy’s house drop to the Witch Hunters rally, so much happens to the characters in this part of the show. Most fans consider the “Catfight” scene and No Good Deed one sequence, because it flows so perfectly. I always look forward to the “Catfight” scene – it’s my favourite fully spoken dialogue scene in the show because it showcases Elphaba and Glinda at this point in their story so effortlessly. Elphaba has turned into the ‘Wicked Witch’ we know from “The Wizard of Oz”, but here, we are still on her side. Glinda has been corrupted by the public figure image, so naturally, the two clash for the first time since before they became friends. Then we have No Good Deed – which is just the most incredible 11’o’clock number and possibly my favourite song in the show. It’s gritty, powerful, and services the character of Elphaba as she attempts to save Fiyero. It’s ridiculously good, and each Elphaba brings their own layers to the complex character which makes this equally a heart-breaking and exciting moment to experience.

1. Defying Gravity

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An obviously choice? Probably. Oh, well. This scene is so powerful in multiple ways; it’s build-up from The Wizard’s chamber scene, to Madame Morrible’s speech and the eventual flying never fails to make my heart go three times faster experiencing it live. You experience Elphaba’s hope turn to torment when she discovers The Wizard’s plan and rebels against him; and the lyrics are relevant without the context of the show, yet work so perfectly inside it too – a factor all the best theatre songs have: they stand-alone, but you can’t have the show without them. Again, each Elphaba I’ve seen brings something different to the role and I’m always excited to experience how this is performed – a sure-fire showstopper! My favourite 100 seconds in theatre is the climax of this song, it’s without a doubt, my life.

 

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