Lesser-known musicals to expand your love of theatre

Obscure musicals to enjoy after you’ve left your “Hamilton” phase

Musical theatre. Love it or hate it, it is becoming an ever-present genre in today’s pop culture. With musical films like Mean Girls, Wicked, and Wonka generating buzz, and songs from shows like Six and Hamilton creating viral TikTok trends, many today wonder: “Why are musicals becoming so popular?” Of course, for terminal theatre kids like myself, this surge in musical theatre prevalence is both welcome and terrifying. While it is great to see something we love become so popular, there is also the lingering fear of the over-commercialization or “TikTokification” of certain things. I am of the belief that the more people that can be exposed to a genre, the better—with this in mind—here is my list of more lesser-known musicals that will please even the most casual theatregoer. While these shows may be popular among musical lovers or theatre kids, these are some that I think could be enjoyed by a broader audience. These are defined both by genres, but also by similar, more popular musicals.

First off, there are the jukebox musicals. These are shows that contain little or no original music, often songs that have been previously recorded or by other artists. I like to think of these as gateway musicals. Shows featuring a familiar sound or songs you already know are a great way to introduce yourself to the structure and themes found in most musicals. Of course, for many the go-to would be more popular shows like Mamma Mia or Moulin Rouge, but there are also many lesser-known jukeboxes. My favourite would have to be & Juliet. This bold, new take on Romeo & Juliet answers the question, “What would happen if Juliet did not die?” This show uses the music of producer extraordinaire Max Martin, who you may not know by name, but know most or all of his songs. Featuring songs like “Roar,” “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” “Since U Been Gone,” and many more hits, it is a fantastical and thrilling take on the definition of a love story. It is an incredibly accessible show to listen to and features a diverse and talented cast. I predict that many high schools will clamour to perform & Juliet when the rights become available.

If you are a fan of the uber-popular Dear Evan Hansen, there are several musicals with similar themes you may also enjoy. My recommendation is Next to Normal. This is one of my all-time favourites. Next to Normal follows a woman, Diana, and her family as they navigate the struggles and hardships of dealing with her complex mental illness. The show has a little bit of everything: Harsh realities of mental health and treatment options, family dynamics, grief, and even budding romance. Featuring a small cast of only six actors, it is an impressive and moving musical that will get you thinking. Fans of Dear Evan Hansen will enjoy Next to Normal, not just because the themes are consistent across the two, but also because there is an equal level of memorable songs that will stick in your head for quite some time.

You may be the type of person who was exposed to musical theatre through adaptations. These are increasingly becoming one of the most common sub-genres of musicals. Recent hits include Mean Girls, Back to the Future, and even The Notebook. For many, the Disney on Broadway adaptations are some of our first glances into the magical world of the musical. These include popular shows like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, and Frozen. But did you know that there are multiple other Disney adaptations that have yet to make it to Broadway or mainstream success? My personal favourite is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This may be one of the boldest and most breathtaking of all the Disney musicals. Firstly, it features an expansive score that evokes both the charm of the original movie as well as the religious and choral music of the cathedral setting. The show, when performed, features a full choir in addition to its orchestra, ensemble, and main cast. Fans of Les Miserables and the stories of Victor Hugo will also enjoy Hunchback, as it includes more plotlines from the original novel. 

Gabriel Theriault – Argosy Illustrator


Others may be familiar with some lesser-known musicals, but without even knowing it! Some songs from musicals spawn memorable TikTok sounds or viral trends that become even more popular than the shows themselves. My favourite example of this is Ride the Cyclone, an original Canadian musical that has a wild premise. Six members of a Saskatchewan Catholic school’s chamber choir are killed in an accident on a roller coaster called the Cyclone. They are presented with an opportunity to live again, only if they can unanimously agree on who that lucky person is. Despite its dark subject matter, this show is hilariously funny with an amazing score. Featuring a cast of only seven actors, this show gives each person an equal opportunity to shine and for you to fall in love with each character. I particularly love this show for the distinct personalities of each person, from the overachieving valedictorian to the lovelorn SoundCloud rapper. Take a listen to Ride the Cyclone, and you may uncover the source of some popular TikTok sounds.

Enjoying musical theatre is not an activity with strict rules and guidelines. It is something you appreciate for your own self and in your own way! I hope you will take my recommendations not as something to deviate from the musicals we already know, but to expand your love of the art form even more. So, next time you go to listen to some musical theatre, maybe give a new show a listen. It will make you realize why you love theatre all over again.

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