12 Unexpected Subjects for Musicals
By Mark Mancini
Apparently, on Broadway and elsewhere, one can break out into song over any topic imaginable, no matter how odd. Here are a dozen real-life musicals covering such weird and improbable subjects as Jerry Springer, Hannibal Lecter, and public restrooms.
1. Octomom! The Musical (2009)
Photo courtesy Octomom! The Musical
Shamelessly satirical, this retelling of modern celebrity Nadya Suleman and her famed octuplets’ rise to fame debuted in Los Angeles. But was the real Suleman invited? “We have a whole row of seats—14 of them—reserved just for her,” said director Chris Voltaire. It's no longer playing, but you can see the whole show on YouTube.
2. Moby Dick (1992)
A musical adaptation of the classic novel? Not by a long shot. Instead, we get phallic puns. A handful of scantily-clad schoolgirls plan to rescue their struggling academy by staging the Herman Melville story in a local swimming pool. The title lends itself to plenty of unfortunate innuendos and this production left no double entendre unexplored.
3. Urinetown (2001)
Proof that a weird musical isn’t necessarily a bad one, Urinetown took home three Tony Awards. That’s quite impressive for a show about a city in which private toilets are outlawed and the citizenry is forced to utilize pay-toilets instead.
4. Ben Franklin in Paris (1964)Amazon.com
Ben Franklin in Paris
tracks the beloved founding father’s diplomatic efforts in Europe and includes such musical numbers as “I Invented Myself” and “God Bless the Human Elbow."
5. Charles Darwin: Live and in Concert (2001)
Think Benjamin Franklin’s an unorthodox subject for a musical? Try Charles Darwin. This one-man show features what star and lyricist Richard Milner (a singer/anthropologist) describes as “antiquarian rap.”
6. Carrie (1988)
Stephen King on Broadway? Based on the novel of the same name, Carrie herself is an awkward teenager with an abusive mother, telekinetic powers, and a violent menstruation phobia. Predictably, it didn’t fare well: The New Yorker even asked various playwrights if Carrie was “The Worst Musical of All Time.” Ouch! An Off-Broadway revival this year didn't fare much better.
7. Silence! The Musical (2005)
“Hello, Clarice!” This foul-mouthed off-Broadway farce bills itself as “the unauthorized parody of The Silence of the Lambs" and sports a biting sense of humor. Included are gratuitous violence, songs about nether-regions, and tap-dancing sheep.
8. Via Galactia (1972)
Via Galactia was intended to be a landmark in theatrical special effects and included UFOs and lasers with a plot set 1000 years in the future. Yet this strange show was the first Broadway production to lose over $1 million. In the words of one witness, “Via Galactica seemed plagued from the start. For a moment the show was to be called up, but when posted next to the Uris [the theater it debuted in] name on the marquee, it sent an unfortunate message.”
9. Hope! Das Obama Musical (2010)
It’s a German musical about the political rise of President Obama. Need I say more?
10. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane… It’s Superman! (1966)
Spider-Man wasn’t the first superhero to get the Broadway treatment. That honor goes to the man of steel himself, Superman. The show was adapted into a TV special in 1975 and the clip above has to be seen to be believed (“Oh, Superman, you’re WONDERFUL!” “Yeah, I know.”)
11. Jerry Springer: The Opera (2003)
Despite the title, this show does include spoken dialogue. Unsurprisingly, however, it does not include any semblance of class. Even less startling was the inevitable controversy this musical caused when BBC opted to air a staging of it in 2005 (The Daily Mail newspaper counted “8,000 cases of swearing”).
12. Triassic Parq (2012)
A phony Morgan Freeman narrates the dramatic story of a Tyrannosaur sex-change. I am not kidding one bit about this. This parody of
is told from the perspective of some genetically-revived dinos dwelling on a tropical island who hail the local laboratory as their deity. Live actors in colorful clothing bring these singing saurians to life.
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