Ten Out-of-the-Box Musicals
By Ray Rogers
Sweeney Todd (1979)
Sondheim's reworking of the classic gothic tale turns it into a dark opera with the vast bulk of the text told in song. The barbarous material opened Broadway's doors to future horror shows like The Phantom of the Opera.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1998)
Sporting a blond winged hairdo, Hedwig's John Cameron Mitchell tackles the great divides: east and west, male and female, gay and straight, Broadway queens and rock 'n' roll fags. With songs by Stephen Trask, this glam-bam-thank-you-ma'am tranny rock opera cracked the genre wide open.
Avenue Q (2003)
A wild romp with potty-mouthed Sesame Street'esque puppets manned by actors, this production took the Broadway musical down an entirely new block. Inside the witty production, the singing puppets dealt candidly with gay life and adult themes. Roll over, Big Bird, and tell Bert and Ernie the news.
Spring Awakening (2006)
Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and 19th-century German schoolboys? Creativity bloomed anew on Broadway in this reawakening of an 1891 German play, reborn as an alt-rock musical. The most inspired work of singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik's career brought to life the story's themes of sexual pain and pleasure and took home eight Tonys.
Passing Strange (2008)
Grappling with issues of race, class, and sexuality, musician Stew's African-American protagonist took passage from '70s middle-class America for the artistic and political hubs of Europe. Everything from angry rock to rousing gospel and blues to spoken-word punk is thrown into this heady quest for something 'real.' A boldly moving journey.
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