We all know Hamilton, The Book of Mormon, and Mama Mia. Yet, there are some undiscovered musicals that have not made it as a household name, in fact, some of them barely make it out of the theater. Still, the efforts of the writers, composers, directors, actors, stage hands, designers, and so many more people who come together for the love of live theater, will not go unnoticed by us.
Here are some musicals that you may not have heard about.
1. The Scottsboro Boys
Written by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and David Thompson, this first little known musical got its start as an Off-Broadway production. It opened at the Vineyard Theatre in 2010 and it ran for a little more than a month before it was transferred to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There it would preview for Broadway, moving to the Lyceum Theatre on October 31, 2010.
Yet their run on Broadway was short, total of seventy-eight shows and previews but it was revived by the Philadelphia Theatre Company in 2012 for the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Pennsylvania. Both the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco also planned productions for that same year.
The Young Vic Theatre in London had their own staging and the reviews were positive and the shows were sold out. This group won six Laurence Olivier Awards for their interpretation of The Scottsboro Boys taking home the trophy for Best New Musical, Best Director, and Best Choreography. The success of the production had it moved from its Off-West End location to the Garrick Theatre in London’s historical West End.
The story tells the tale of nine young black men in 1930’s Alabama who are wrongly accused of raping two white women on a train. It highlights the unfair court system and how race and racism are considered in situations like this.
The winner of six Drama Desk Awards, this next little known musical was written by Jason Robert Brown with lyrics by Alfred Uhry. It was also decorated with two Tony Awards out of the nine they were nominated for. Strangely enough, the box office numbers were low, only performing the production 124 times before shutting down.
Another tale about a trial surrounding rape and murder, this time the year is 1913. Leo Frank is accused of raping and killing a thirteen-year-old girl who worked in the factory he managed. When the media began to cover the story anti-Semitic feelings began to sweep Atlanta, where the trial was being held. After he gets sentenced to life in prison a group kidnaps him and hangs him in his victim’s home town.
Stephen Sondheim was the first composer Harold Prince approached with the idea but with little luck, so Prince suggested it to Brown. This tale is based on some true events and writer Alfred Uhry is closely related to the tale because his great-uncle owned the factory where the unfortunate occurrence happened.
The story comes from the viewpoint of Uhry, who believed Leo Frank to be innocent and targeted due to his being Jewish. It shows the press, police, and other authority figures as dishonest and corrupt.
3. The Bridges Of Madison County
Based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, this adaptation opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway on February 20, 2014 but closed in May. It only had a little more than 100 performances but it is the perfect example that not all successful books can become a hit as a musical.
The story is of an Italian woman who married an American and has lived as his wife for years in the farmlands of the United States. She meets a photographer who is taking photos of the bridges in her area for a National Geographic article. They meet while her family is away on a trip and have a fleeting romance that is not judged by the audience for the infidelity, but is revered as the story of soul mates who weren’t on time to meet each other.
Few reproductions of this musical have been made but it has toured the United States several times and a separate production was given in Manila.
4. Heathers: The Musical
Based on a 1988 cult movie by the same name, which starred Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, this story was adapted as a musical by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy. Tryouts were held in Los Angeles and it played to a sold-out auditorium. Heathers moved to an Off-Broadway location in 2014. The New World Stages opened its doors for preview on March 15, 2014 and closed in August of that same year.
Yet, the Los Angeles production was not the first time this musical hit the stage. First, a reading was held in 2010 with Kristen Bell, Christian Campbell, Jenna Leigh Green, Corri English, and Christine Lakin.
From there it was performed as a concert at Joe’s Pub, a theater in the East Village of Lower Manhattan. When moving to Los Angeles, Heathers previewed at the Hudson Backstage Theatre and opened for weekends only on September 21, 2013 and ran until October 6. It starred Barret Wilbert Weed, Ryan McCartan, Sarah Halford, Kristolyn Lloyd, and Elle McLemore.
Due to its darkly humorous way of touching on teenage suicide, this musical has garnered a cult following and has been produced in a revised version suitable for youngsters titled Heathers 101: High School Edition. Just last year J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas, put on the world premiere of this version on September 15, 2016.
5. Side Show
This story revolves around the conjoined Hilton twins, who were stage performers in the 1930s. Written by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger and was premiered at the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway, but their run was short.
Robert Longbottom served as both choreographer and director with sets built by Robin Wagner. Gregg Barnes designed the costumes that were worn by performers Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley, Norm Lewis, Jeff McCarthy, and Hugh Panaro. Side Show is another example of poor box office numbers not equaling artistic achievements, while it only ran for 122 performances, Side Show was nominated for four Tony Awards that year.
It didn’t take long for Side Show to find another home, the very next year, just outside of San Francisco; TheatreWorks, a non-profit company, staged their own production of this little-known musical at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts. The crowd and the critics loved it, it was the winner of several Dean Goodman Critics’ Awards as well as the Garland Award in 1998. In 2001, the Signature Theatre Company put on a shortened production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Have you seen any of these controversial musicals? Learn more about these shows that undoubtedly pushed some boundaries!