Written by Sooz Kempner


7 Wonders: Alternative musical theatre

It’s playlist time again and this time Sooz Kempner is looking at some lesser-known songs from the shows. Let’s all do a celebratory high kick.

Liza Minnelli as Francine Evans in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York.

Liza Minnelli as Francine Evans in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York.

Soliloquy (Carousel)

This list is a few songs you’re unlikely to find on a Songs From The Shows compilation CD. I’ll start with an example of a truly perfect song from Carousel (1945). Arguably Rodgers & Hammerstein’s finest hour, Soliloquy sees Carousel’s anti-hero, Billy Bigelow, contemplate his future as a father.

It’s almost 10 minutes of exquisite storytelling with a big finish that will have you giving a standing-O from your sofa. There’s a bit of 1940s misogyny in there, of course, but I’ll forgive it. Billy is, after all, an antihero, well and truly.

The World Goes Round (New York, New York)

We all know Liza smashed it in Cabaret but for my money her best performance is as post-war singer Francine Evans in Martin Scorsese’s hugely underrated New York, New York. Composers Kander & Ebb are better known for Chicago and Cabaret, but The World Goes Round is the ultimate torch song, a rousing belt-fest about life going on even when it’s kicking you in the shins.

Marry Me A Little (Company)

Choosing just one Sondheim for this list made me bite through both my hands in frustration: I’m typing with my nose right now. I’ve settled on Marry Me A Little.

Our lead, Bobby, wants someone to marry him. But just a little. To want him more than others. Not exclusively. He insists that “I’m ready… I’m ready now” but he needs his imagined partner to “keep a tender distance”. It’s beautiful and it’s funny and the rolling piano underneath it all is glorious.

If you listen to just one from this list make it this.

The Light in the Piazza soundtrack coverThe Light In The Piazza (The Light In The Piazza)

Sondheim has inspired a whole new generation of composers and Adam Guettel is certainly one of them. His musicals haven’t hit the mainstream despite their gorgeously romantic scores. The Light In The Piazza won six Tony Awards in 2005 and this titular song should tell you why.

An emotional Clara sings about what love means to her… that piano… those strings… Fabrizio

Lowdown-Down (The Wild Party)

This show, by Michael John LaChiusa, is one of two musical adaptations of The Wild Party and is dark, grimy and smokier than Dot Cotton’s kitchen. Lowdown-Down will make you feel like you’re in a 20s jazz club with its cool rawness and vulnerability.

She Cries (Songs for a New World)

If you saw The Last Five Years at the cinema last year you might just be familiar with Jason Robert Brown already. His modern, piano-driven sound is perfect car music so give it a blast on your commute. In his 90s revue, Songs For A New World, the standout for me is this frantic tour de force where a man sings about the woman he loves and how much power she has over him.

Hamilton soundtrack coverAlexander Hamilton (Hamilton)

And to finish this list – a gamechanger! Lin-Manuel Miranda had already scored a bit of a hit with In The Heights (currently playing at the Kings Cross Theatre in foggy Londontown) when Hamilton exploded on to the scene and it’s sure to win every Tony known to man in a few months. The story of one of America’s founding fathers as a hip-hop opera (hip-hopera?) might not sound like an instant crowd-pleaser but prepare to have your mind blown.

I’ve chosen the show’s opening number, Alexander Hamilton, so that you can start at the very beginning. I’ve listened to it from start to finish on a loop for months. I urge you to do the same. Work!


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Written by Sooz Kempner

Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.