I know if you're not a theatre person you're probably very hesitant to even glance at this list, but hear me out. I promise you these musicals are not your "stereotypical" happy flashy fun jumpy dancy musicals. These musicals will tear you apart. I encourage everyone to give these shows a chance. I came up with a list of the top ten musicals that make me "feel some type of way". I've attached links to trailers or clips from each musical to give you a little taste. PLEASE venture out and give it a try.
The story of Orpheus, Eurydice, Hades, and Persephone. The Greek tragedy is transformed into a somewhat modern-day story with a New Orleans vibe. There is also a bit of hidden political commentary which is always a plus. It's a love story about a young couple, Orpheus and Eurydice, who lose their way due to overwhelming poverty. Hades promises Eurydice a better life and takes her into the underworld. She becomes his slave. Orpheus must find his way into Hell to retrieve his love. How will Orpheus win her back after she's signed her life away to Hades? The show is still wildly successful and is currently running on Broadway. It won the 2019 Tony Award!
Dogfight is set in 1963 when U.S. troops were being shipped off to fight in Vietnam. It follows a group of young marines who decide to throw what they call a "dogfight" on their last night of freedom in the U.S. They all put money in to see who can bring the ugliest girl to a party. Whoever brings the ugliest girl wins the money. One of the men, Eddie, picks this nice waitress named Rose. She finds out about the dogfight soon after the competition ends. Where does their relationship go from there? What happens to Eddie over in Vietnam? It's by the same people who wrote The Greatest Showman, so if you liked that (only God knows why you would) then you'll probably like this one too. The quality of the youtube clip isn't great but it really gives you the gist of the story.
Next to Normal
This show is about an extremely dysfunctional family. Ever since the mother lost her only son he was a baby, she hasn't been the same since and suffers from many psychological disorders. The story follows how the family copes with her insanity. It's heartbreaking and has hit home for many audiences.
This show won a Tony Award for best musical in 2007 and it was well deserved. It's set in 1891 Germany, which I totally understand sounds really boring at first glance, BUT it's actually brutal. Spring Awakening is about teenagers discovering their sexuality with little to no sex education from parents and teachers. The result of the lack of education leads to devastating consequences. This show contains subjects like abuse, neglect, pregnancy, and death. Good luck keeping a dry eye during this one.There was also a recent version of the show completely done in sign language. Super cool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSagsMcak4Q
The Last Five Years
Maybe you've seen the movie with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan; I know it was on Netflix at one point. The story follows a couple through their five years of marriage. Each song alternates between his perspective and her perspective. The coolest part is that her perspective starts with their divorce and travels back in time, while his perspective starts with their first date and travels chronologically through time and the two perspectives meet in the middle in the scene where they get engaged. It follows the ups and downs of a marriage full of love and joy as well as infidelity and jealousy. It's said that the musical is a somewhat autobiography of the composer's real life. That's tea. It's hard to see a couple so in love fall so out of love. Plus, Anna Kendrick can't sing, so if the story doesn't make you cry, her singing definitely will.
Rent is set in 1989 during the AIDS epidemic. It follows eight very diverse characters living in New York City through a journey of scarcity, illness, civil rights, and love. There is also a movie version of this musical that has most of the cast from the original Broadway show.
The Color Purple
The Color Purple was originally a book by Alice Walker, then it was a movie starring Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg, and then it became an award-winning musical. The story is about a young black woman who has two children from her father that sexually abuses her. Her father takes the children away from her and sends her off to be owned by another man. That man also abuses her. She meets many people along the way and eventually finds beauty and strength within herself. You'll cry from the despondent parts of the musical, but you'll also cry because her coming of age growth and power is absolutely inspirational.
Hair was written in 1968 and was also set in 1968 which was completely controversial at the time because the entire show is a political commentary on the horrors of the Vietnam War. It follows a group of free-loving young people who are actively against the war. One young man gets drafted and his fate takes a turn for the worse. It also highlights subjects like racial inequality, sexual fluidity, freedom, and justice. The music is so moving and was even played on the radio during the time of the musical's original run.
This musical was written in 1966 but the subject matter is still extremely effective to a modern audience. It's set in World War II Germany. An author from America travels to Berlin to write about the war and he meets a woman named Sally. She works at a cabaret called the Kit Kat Club. The story follows the two character's complicated relationship. The musical has very serious topics such as abortion, adultery, and Nazi violence. The musical's revival even ends with the narrator, or Emcee, in a single spotlight clothed in striped pajamas singing "auf wiedersehen" or "goodbye" to indicate his death by the Nazis. There is a movie version starring Liza Minelli, but it has a lot of differences from the musical version, so I'd suggest you watch it AFTER you've seen an actual performance of the live musical.
Though the musical has a happy ending, the journey leading up to it is a rough one. This musical was originally a movie starring Kerri Russell. I personally think the musical is much more heartbreaking than the movie. The music was written by Sara Bareilles. The story is about a waitress at a diner who is in an incredibly abusive marriage. She finds out she's pregnant with her husband's child and plans to escape. Along the way, she has an affair with her OBGYN and she sees what true love is supposed to feel like. Does she choose to end his marriage to fulfill her happiness? Does she actually run away with her new baby? If you live in Springfield, the national tour of this show is coming through Juanita K. Hammons Hall for Performing Arts, so get your $25 student ticket and see it to find out!