10 musicals that break the mould

We highlight some of the notable shows to deviate from pop-oriented soundtracks

Amber Gray in the Broadway production of Hadestown
Amber Gray in the Broadway production of Hadestown
© Matthew Murphy

It isn't always jazz hands or jukebox tunes, some musicals relish using alternative genres as their soundtracks to provide fresh and exciting experiences. With Orfeus: A House Music Opera opening at the Young Vic on 11 April, here are ten productions that deviate from the trend.

Poet in Da Corner

Debris Stevenson in Poet in da Corner
Debris Stevenson in Poet in da Corner
© Benji Reid

Although not strictly a musical, the influence of grime music in Poet in Da Corner means that it qualifies for our list. Writer Debris Stevenson was inspired by Dizzee Rascal's 2003 Mercury prize-winning album to write a semi-autobiographical story about a young girl growing up in a strict Mormon household who listens to the album for the first time. Stevenson has been very open in the past about how grime has influenced her as a writer and this is a show that celebrates the genre. On UK tour until 4 April

The Secret Garden

Adam J Bernard, Ben Forster, Melanie La barrie and Celinde Schoenmaker
Adam J Bernard, Ben Forster, Melanie La Barrie and Celinde Schoenmaker
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

A story that has been immortalised by the film adaptation starring Maggie Smith, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden was initially published over 100 years ago. A musical version first opened on Broadway in the 1990s with music by Lucy Simon and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman – this musical leans more in the classical direction than any other production on this list. A concert version of the show will run in London and star Lucie Jones, Ramin Karimloo, Jac Yarrow, Adam J Bernard, Ben Forster, Melanie La Barrie, Celinde Schoenmaker and more. The London Palladium, on 4 April


Bernadette Bangura, Shaq Taylor and Grace Farrell
Bernadette Bangura, Shaq Taylor and Grace Farrell will all star in Orfeus
© Left: Ruth Crafer, centre: Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage and right: Emma Bullivant

Intriguingly labelled a "house music opera", Nmon Ford's Orfeus makes its world premiere in London at the Young Vicon 11 April. The show is a modern adaptation of the Roman poet Ovid's epic story and uses a number of different music genres in its radical retelling. Any musical that warns theatregoers of heavy bass sounds gets a nod of approval from all of us! Check out a video of baritone Ford – who also wrote the words, lyrics and libretto for the show – singing "Slow Burn" here. Young Vic, from 11 April to 30 May


Lin-Manuel Miranda at the West End opening night of Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda at the West End opening night of Hamilton
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

A show that needs little introduction, Hamilton is one of the most successful musicals of all time and the soundtrack draws heavily on hip-hop and R&B to tell the story of America's founding fathers. Fans were delighted recently when Disney announced that they will produce the cinematic release in 2021. Victoria Palace Theatre, currently booking until September 2020

Standing at the Sky's Edge

Nicole Deon as Connie in Standing at the Sky's Edge
Nicole Deon as Connie in Standing at the Sky's Edge
© Johan Persson

Probably most famous for his stint as Pulp's guitarist (although he has had a very successful solo career), Richard Hawley's musical is an ode to his much-loved, native Sheffield. Using old and new material, Hawley collaborated with Chris Bush to create a poignant story that depicts the changing fortunes of a Northern housing estate and the lives that populate it. It was recently announced that Standing at the Sky's Edge will transfer to the National Theatre in early 2021 after the award-winning show returns for another run at Sheffield Theatres later this year. Sheffield Theatres from 30 November to 9 January 2021, then transferring to National Theatre

Get Up, Stand Up!

Bob Marley (left) and Arinzé Kene (right)
Bob Marley (left) and Arinze Kene (right)
© Left: Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, Adrian Boot. Right: Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Another show for next year, this musical follows the life of legendary Jamaican reggae musician Bob Marley. It has already been announced that Arinze Kene will play the role of Marley and the show will feature some of his best-loved tracks like "No Woman No Cry" and "Three Little Birds". This production follows on from Kwame Kwei-Armah's own musical One Love: The Bob Marley Musical which played at the Birmingham Rep in 2017. Lyric Theatre, from February 2021

The Color Purple

T'Shan Williams (Celie) and Danielle Fiamanya (Nettie) in The Color Purple
T'Shan Williams (Celie) and Danielle Fiamanya (Nettie) in The Color Purple
© Manuel Harlan

Based on the Pulitzer prize-winning novel, The Color Purple's unique score draws upon jazz, ragtime, gospel and blues. The show's success has been reflected by the Curve Leicester and Birmingham Hippodrome co-production winning the WhatsOnStage Award for Best Regional Production earlier this month. The cast also performed a number from the hit musical at the WhatsOnStage Awards ceremony and proved why this musical is "Too Beautiful For Words".


Eva Noblezada in Hadestown
Eva Noblezada in the National Theatre's 2018 production of Hadestown
© Helen Maybanks

Another production that reimagines a version of a classic myth, Hadestown is a Tony Award-winning musical with a folk-oriented sound. Written by American singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, the accompanying concept album won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album earlier this year. The show was recently produced at the National Theatre before opening on Broadway.


Based on the life of legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, this production is a must for any fans of his work or Afrobeat music in general. As well as his exceptional musical output, Kuti was also known for being a passionate political activist against the corruption and oppression he witnessed in his native Nigeria during the 1970s. The musical itself portrays events when state police shut down his public speaking sessions at The Shrine, a legendary nightclub in Lagos.

Here Lies Love

Dean John-Wilson (Ninoy Aquino) and Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcos)
Dean John-Wilson and Natalie Mendoza in Here Lies Love at NT Dorfman in 2014
© Tristram Kenton

Here Lies Love is a collaboration between two music heavyweights to tell the story of Imelda Marcos, former First Lady of the Philippines. British DJ Fatboy Slim and Talking Heads founder David Byrne worked together on the rock musical which played as recently as 2017 in Seattle. The studio album features a host of varied and successful singers, such as Santigold, Florence Welch and Cyndi Lauper.

Featured In This Story