A few months ago I wrote an article listing ten Broadway shows (that aren’t Hamilton or Wicked) that deserve just as much recognition as the aforementioned hits. I knew while writing it that ten would not encompass even the tip of the iceberg, as there are so many brilliant shows even the pickiest or most reluctant theatre-goer (or soundtrack listener) should explore. After taking a trip to New York over winter break and falling head-over-heels in love with "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812," I decided it was about time for a second installment.
Theatre is a fast-moving industry and raising awareness of past and present shows is essential to giving them a chance to succeed. Like I wrote in my last article, 'Hamilton' and 'Wicked' are not alone in their brilliance, but not every great show gets the amount of publicity needed to catch the eye of folks who aren’t already in the musical theatre circle.
For this addition to my Broadway musicals series, I’m focusing on four shows that are currently playing, in hopes of inspiring others to go see them. Part 3 will have more shows that have closed or are touring.
If a trip to New York is in your future, do yourself a favor and go partake in the magic!
1. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
An electro-pop opera based on 70 scandalous pages of War and Peace, about love and the meaningfulness of life, Comet is the most magical and immersive stage production I have ever seen. The music combines rock, techno, operatic vocals, and traditional Russian flair (think accordions and acoustic guitars) and fully envelops you as musicians roam through the aisles—the entire theatre is the stage, and many audience members get to sit right in the middle of the action and even make eye contact with the performers (or be handed a freshly made dumpling, or possibly a letter, and/or a maraca you can shake along to a particularly exciting song in Act II). I could talk about this show forever—seriously, stay tuned for a full review—but these are some of the highlights.
Best Songs: Comet is best enjoyed when listened to in full (similar in a sense to Les Miserables), but if I had to pick: “Prologue,” “Pierre,” “Letters,” “Preparations,” “The Duel.”
2. Dear Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen is a contemporary, edge-of-your-seat musical revolving around Evan Hansen, a painfully lonely high schooler suffering from social anxiety disorder. Evan’s world hangs in the balance when a letter he wrote to himself as a form of therapy gets taken out of context, and he finds himself stuck in an ever-growing lie: that he was the sole best friend of a classmate who recently committed suicide. Heartfelt and not without humor, Hansen urges that no one is alone, things get better, and that life moves on after a tragedy.
Best Songs: “Waving through a Window,” “You Will Be Found,” “Requiem,” “Finale.”
3. School of Rock
Telling the story of an imposter substitute teacher teaching his elementary school class the only thing he knows, how to play music, School of Rock is a please-all rock musical: nostalgic for those who loved the movie, relatable to children and adults alike, and full of catchy, empowering songs that will have you singing along. The talent of the minors in the cast alone will blow any audience member away—the kids (most under 12) sing and play their instruments live, with prodigal skill.
Best Songs: “Stick It to the Man,” “You’re in the Band,” “If Only You Would Listen,” “When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock.”
Funny and endearing, Waitress follows a baker working at a southern diner as she decides how to proceed after discovering she is pregnant with her abusive husband’s child, channeling her emotions through pie making. Full of unexpected romances, friendship, and an insane amount of pie, the pop musical has something for everyone and leaves you feeling warm inside—and hungry.
Best Songs: “What’s Inside,” “Opening Up,” “You Will Still Be Mine,” “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.”
5. Kinky Boots
Kinky Boots is a major Tony Award winner, and for good reason: it touches on the hot-button issues of gender norms and sexuality, put to great music and framed with dazzling design choices. The story centers on a young man struggling to run a shoe company he did not want, and the drag queen whose advice and friendship turn it around with a new idea: high heels designed specifically for men.
Best Songs: “Raise You Up/Just Be,” “History of Wrong Guys,” “Not My Father’s Son,” “Soul of a Man.”