Since we've all got a lot more time on our hands at the moment, why not get your next stagey fix by discovering some musical theatre scores that may not have been on your radar. The dozen shows on this list are freely available on Spotify…you might discover your latest MT obsession and, in a couple of cases, you'll certainly have a laugh (even if your funny bone wasn't necessarily what some of the creators were going for!) Enjoy…
Emojiland the Musical (Original Cast Recording)
Having just had its off-Broadway run cut short by the current health crisis, it's ironic that the plot of Emojiland turns on a virus infecting the inside of a mobile device. Yes folks, here's a new musical set inside a cellphone and where all the characters are emojis (Kissy Face, Skull, Man Dancing, Nerd Face…even Pile of Poo, yes really). The score is poppy, peppy fun with a high quota of ear worm tunes put over with gusto by a cast of Broadway favourites. This would be ideal for somewhere like The Other Palace.
Taster track: "Sad On The Inside" (co-author Laura Schein) reveals things aren't as rosy as they appear.
Adam Guettel's sophisticated but heartfelt American score, based on a tragic true story and described as "the first great post-Sondheim musical" by the Wall Street Journal, may be 20 six years old but remains curiously under-appreciated here. This challenging, haunting amalgam of folk, bluegrass and contemporary opera has had three London productions, most recently at Wilton's Music Hall in 2016, and gets richer with each listen.
Taster track: "The Ballad of Floyd Collins (reprise)" as a balladeer sings the fate of the titular character who rescuers failed to get out of a crevice in the Kentucky hills in 1925; this is a heartbreaker.
Forever Plaid (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording)
This is the aural equivalent of comfort food. No wonder the original New York production ran four years and the West End version was a solid hit at the Apollo Shaftesbury Avenue 1993-4. There has even been a sequel and a movie version. The premise is simple, if initially a bit unsettling: clean-cut male close harmony quartet the Plaids are killed in a bus collision but reunite from beyond the grave to deliver one last concert of much-loved 1950s standards. Irresistible.
Taster track: "Sixteen Tons/Chain Gang The Plaids" do a mash-up, and it's lounge-tastic.
Musik (Original Cast Recording)
Not really a full album, but rather fabulous, this eclectic sextet of Pet Shop Boys songs was written for the fictional character of Billie Trix: artist, singer, muse, protester, rock chick, drug addict…survivor. Frances Barber didn't so much play Billie as morph into her, both in Jonathan Harvey's original Closer To Heaven musical and in this 2019 one-woman cabaret. Best known as a classical actress and with no previous form as a singer, Barber compellingly and convincingly tears through everything from protest songs to glam rock to disco.
Taster track: "Ich bin Musik" – Billie in disco mode, no further explanation necessary.
Tanz Der Vampire
Ok, so no Eurovision this year, but we do have this, and it's even in GERMAN (apart from a couple of lines in the rollicking finale, which you'll have to discover for yourselves)! This high octane extravaganza, inspired by a Roman Polanski schlock horror flick, has a belting, quasi-operatic Jim Steinman score veering wildly from disco-infused high camp to almost symphonic loveliness, and it's tongue firmly wedged in pallid cheek. A huge hit all over Europe, this is crazy but exhilarating. Spoiler: no happy ending, unless, that is, you're a vampire in which case it's bloody (literally) wonderful.
Taster track: "Totale Finsternis" – you'll recognise this tune, it's ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart' made over as a love song for vampires. Well, why not?
The Beautiful Game
The Andrew Lloyd Webber show that got away, despite being compared to West Side Story in the original Sunday Times review. This hard-hitting, unglamorous, deeply felt collaboration between ALW and, of all people, Ben Elton lasted barely a year in the West End, and even on this London cast album you can tell it's strong stuff. A story of love and football set against the bleak backdrop of the Northern Irish Troubles of 1969, this is some of ALW's most powerful and melodic work, and of course he famously recycled the tune of the ballad "Our Kind of Love" as the theme for Love Never Dies.
Taster track: "If This Is What We're Fighting For" – Thrilling, uncompromising vocal performance by Josie Walker (WhatsOnStage Award-nominated for Everybody's Talking About Jamie)
The Fix (Original London Cast Recording)
Dana P Rowe and John Dempsey may be better known for The Witches of Eastwick but The Fix is arguably the better score and more ambitious show. The story of a murderous, dysfunctional, alcohol- and amphetamine- loaded First Family who will do literally anything to hang on to the White House, this is so much fun, and the score is enthralling. The 1997 world premiere at the Donmar, co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh, had a cast led by John Barrowman and Philip Quast.
Taster track: "Dangerous Games" – starting out as a poisoned cakewalk before developing into a cynical rocky belter this perfectly captures the tone of the piece.
The Other Josh Cohen: A Musical With Songs (Studio Cast Recording)
This is a life-affirming delight…think Seinfeld meets rock musical. In this recent off-Broadway hit, creators Steve Rosen and David Rossmer both play different aspects of lovable loser Josh Cohen, who comes home one day to find his apartment robbed of everything bar a Neil Diamond CD. It's a quirky joy, and this recording features special guest stars including James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin, Hamilton) and Broadway leading ladies Chita Rivera, Kelli O'Hara, Sutton Foster and Caissie Levy. Get to know Josh, you'll like him.
Taster track: "Neil Life" (in the unexpected guise of Come From Away's original Beverley Bass, Jenn Colella) gives our hero a little pep talk.
Vanities: A New Musical (Original Cast Recording)
Seen briefly at Trafalgar Studios a couple of years ago, this cute, funny, tuneful dissection of female friendship -we follow a trio of women from high school through college sorority, young careers and middle-aged disillusionment – is charming but cuts surprisingly deep. David Kirshenbaum's score covers a myriad of American popular music idioms as the years roll by, and the vocal performances of the original off-Broadway cast (Lauren Kennedy, Sarah Stiles and Anneliese van der Pol) are a treat.
Taster track: "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" is a super-catchy, optimistic trio from near the beginning of the show. (Spoiler: hardly anything goes to plan).
Venice (Original Cast Recording)
With its entwined stories of political strife, civil unrest, and romance, and an exciting score combining rap, dance beats, haunting hook lines and massed chorales, it would be easy to assume Matt Sax and Eric Rosen's bombastic tuner is a Hamilton rip-off. That's exacerbated by the presence here of the original Burr, Tony Awar-winner Leslie Odom Jr, and the fact this played off-Broadway at the same Public Theater that premiered Lin-Manuel Miranda's blockbuster. Interestingly though, Venice pre-dates Hamilton by five years. Ignore some iffy lyrics and be thrilled by the music and the voices.
Taster track: "I Wanna Be Great" …and this pretty much is great. Lyrical, edgy, complex, you'll have trouble getting this out of your head.
Which Witch London Cast Album
Another treat for Eurovision fans suffering from withdrawal, as well as musical theatre completists after something camp. Creative duo Benedicte Adrian and Ingrid Bjørnov had already represented their native Norway at Eurovision by the time they unleashed this gothic rock confection about witch hunts in the fifteenth century, on an unsuspecting world. Pitched somewhere between Classic Rock (remember those albums?) and Europop, the astonishingly lavish production limped through a couple of months at the Piccadilly in the early 90s. The songs range from stunning to "WHAT were they thinking?"…but it's never boring.
Taster track: "The Executioner" – The recently deceased Jahn Teigen, who performs this track, famously scored "nul points" in the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest. This feels like him getting his own back. Bizarrely magnificent.
Zorro (Original London Cast Recording)
The public health crisis may have scuppered the Hope Mill revival of this swashbuckling musical distillation of the Zorro legend, but we can still enjoy this rather glorious ‘live' recording of the original 2008 West End production. Featuring the memorable songs of the Gypsy Kings and more stomping and hand-clapping than your average cast album, this is a real tonic. The fact that it was recorded in front of a real audience at the Garrick adds to the frisson of excitement.
Taster track: "Bamboleo" Broadway's Lesli Margherita stopped the show nightly with this cracker, and won an Olivier Award for her efforts.
We've created a playlist featuring all the shows below: