The unexpected musical

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Okay, time to come out of the closet. I’m an enormous fan of musical theatre. How every other post on here has not been a queeny rave of something all-singing, all-dancing is quite beyond me.

But I rarely see something that I’m pleasantly surprised by. The West End has become rather cynical, relying heavily on safe commercial bets like film adaptations, mainstream Broadway transfers and big-name star casting. So you see a lot of crap that is exactly as good/bad as you expected it to be from the months of hype and the glitzy poster (not you, Book of Mormon. Never you. You are genius and perfect just the way you are.)

But I love it when something hardly-hyped comes along that thrills me to the core, makes me ache laughing or well up completely out of nowhere. Last week that show was Urinetown. I’d heard of it, of course, an offbeat Broadway hit that took New York by storm and became a cult favourite with truly in-the-know luvvies. I don’t know what I expected, but this wasn’t it. To avoid me waffling on here, you can read my full review over at thepublicreviews.com, but safe to say it is surreal, brilliant and full of surprises. It also manages to be super slick and feature serious performers with serious chops, but retain a sense of spontaneity and batshit twitchiness throughout (how do directors do that?)

If you’re a broke musical-lover and can only spring for one ticket this season, Urinetown should be it.

Three musicals that made me leap out of my seat (mentally, and at applause time, of course):

1. Parade
Not traditional kick line subject matter from off-Broadway treasure Jason Robert Brown. But it knocks you sideways. See also The Last Five Years – I’ve never seen a truly great production of it, but the soundtrack is applause-worthy enough and I have high hopes for the upcoming film.

2. The Hired Man
This British musical is penned by Howard Goodall and based on Melvin Bragg’s book of the same name. It deals with something small scale – a mining town changed by the turn of the 20th century and the First World War – but the score is spirited and the heart of it proudly British. Another great fringe show in the same vein is Return of the Soldier, recently seen at the Jermyn Street theatre starring the excellent Laura Pitt-Pulford, who I also saw in Parade.

3. Assassins
Sondheim’s darkest and most political musical looks at the many individuals who tried to assassinate US presidents over the years. Also in the hands of Urinetown‘s director Jamie Lloyd, it’s coming to the Menier Chocolate Factory, a haven of great fringe musicals in London, this Christmas. The somewhat… diverse… casting includes comedian Catherine Tate and Broadway candy Aaron Tveit.

Image: The cast of Urinetown London/urinetown.co.uk

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