10 underrated musicals we need revived
"Meadowlark", "Waiting for Life" and "Someday" are all songs from this selection!
Theatres may be shut down right now, but when they're back up and running we will need a lot of musical joy to mark the industry's triumphant return! And what better way to celebrate rising from the ashes than to revive some of these highly underrated musicals? Check out our recommendations for shows that we want to see back again on our stages as soon as possible:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Jethro Compton and Darren Clark's bewitching, deceptively ambitious British musical transplanted F Scott Fitzgerald's tall tale – of the man born old who ages in reverse – to Cornwall in the last century and filled it with achingly beautiful music and breathtaking theatrical invention. Having received extraordinary critical acclaim at its Southwark Playhouse premiere last year, this briefly and unexpectedly became the hottest ticket in town, then disappeared without trace. We need it in our lives.
The Baker's Wife
In between his early successes (Godspell and Pippin) and the global blockbuster Wicked, Stephen Schwartz worked on this little gem inspired by a French film, about a rural boulanger whose wife leaves him for a handsome younger model only to have a change of heart. The disastrous original, starring Patti LuPone, never made it to Broadway while Trevor Nunn's 1989 West End version fared little better. With exquisite songs including the standard "Meadowlark", gentle humour and theme of forgiveness, this could be the perfect time to bring it back.
Once on This Island
Another musical driven by the human need for storytelling, this one is a variant of the Little Mermaid legend transported to the French Antilles and with a lilting, propulsive, heart-melting score by Ahrens and Flaherty (Ragtime). The original London production flopped despite winning the 1995 Olivier Award for Best New Musical but the recent Broadway revival was a thing of beauty and joy. Can we have that here soon please?
Most people in the UK only know Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's ultra-glamorous musical from the poorly received 2009 film version with Daniel Day-Lewis as the Italian film director having a midlife crisis, supported by a clutch of fine actresses including Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Sophia Loren and Judi Dench. The stage show is cleverer, darker, funnier and has only been seen in London in an all-star one night concert at the Royal Festival Hall and a brief 1996 Donmar production.
Set in the titular city during the 1950s, this interracial love story played out against the birth of Rock 'n' Roll is an exhilarating, soul-stirring blast. The original Broadway production won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical while the West End version, which starred Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, picked up the 2015 WhatsOnstage Award for Best New Musical. It lasted a year first time round, but it would be so good to have another look at it.
The Most Happy Fella
Happiness is in short supply at the moment, so what better time to revisit this intensely romantic, winningly funny 'Broadway Opera' by Frank Loesser, the man who gave us the better known Guys and Dolls. The demanding score means that it has been revived on almost as many opera stages as musical theatre ones but this delightful, unexpected tale of an epistolary courtship between a middle-aged man and much younger woman has a heart that's pure Broadway.
The Drowsy Chaperone
This is the one that got away. Arriving festooned with Tony Awards from New York, the 2007 London production had a starry cast – including Elaine Paige, John Partridge and Summer Strallen – rave reviews, unanimously positive word-of-mouth, and yet lasted less than 100 performances. It has had a fringe revival but it would be great fun to see a lavish, full-scale mounting of this knowing tribute to light-hearted romantic musical comedies of yesteryear and the simple escapism they provide.
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Not seen in this country since the 1992 pre-Broadway run at the Shaftesbury starring the legendary Chita Rivera, this groundbreaking musical has a thrilling Latin-inflected score from Kander and Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago). The hard-hitting story, based on Argentinian writer Manuel Puig's play, combines the brutal realities of prison life, a tender gay love story, and the transformative power of fantasy and the imagination. And we could all do with a little fantasy right now.
We may be about to stream it from the comfort of our own homes, but Ben Adams and Chris Wilkin's thunderously tuneful, hyper-caffeinated charmer missed out on its West End run back in 2018, following two successful seasons at The Other Palace. A 'live' new version of this joyful, escapist mixture of comic strip capers, sci-fi, 1980s nostalgia, irresistible comedy and high camp would be a glorious way to reopen the West End.
Although they're better known now for the stage version of Mary Poppins, Stiles and Drewe cut their creative teeth on this melodic, witty, wonderfully strange musical adaptation of Rudyard Kipling stories. First presented by Cameron Mackintosh in 1990 up at the Tricycle (now Kiln) Theatre with a cast including Linzi Hateley, Jenna Russell and Clive Rowe, plans for a transfer were shelved. The 2005 Chichester revival didn't come in either, and it really would be a treat to have this adorable, quirky show in the West End.