Just like there’s a book or movie or song out there for everyone, there is a musical out there for everyone, too. I’ve been obsessed with shows ranging from puppets living in poverty to teens taking supercomputer pills to gay Jewish couples struggling through the AIDS crisis and what it means to be a family. That’s called variety. And, after finding yet another album that deals with history in a refreshing way, I’ve decided to create this list of five musicals that tackle historic figures and events.
“Six” (Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss)
This is the show that inspired this list. Imagine a concert experience, complete with music that sounds like it’s straight off of the Top 40, based around Henry VIII’s six wives. In eight songs, these women tell their life stories, throwing in references to other musicals and lamenting what they sacrificed to get to where they wound up. The opening number, “Ex-Wives,” begins with each woman saying what the audience is most familiar with—how they died (or, in Catherine Parr’s case, survived). The songs are exactly like what you hear on the radio or Spotify, which makes it easy listening for you non-musical-theatre fans, and the feminist overtones make you wish you could know these women even more.
Recommended Song: “Ex-Wives”
“Assassins” (Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman)
If you’re a true crime fanatic, this is the musical for you. “Assassins” deals with—you guessed it—various assassins from throughout history. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme take the stage alongside other anarchists and assassins, each character desperate to improve his or her life by taking that of an American President’s. It’s a thrilling revue that elaborates on the lives of people we associate with death, and with a classic Sondheim score to boot! Whether you want to hear killers sing or just have a unique experience, this soundtrack will have you humming along for days.
Recommended Song: “Something Just Broke”
“Hamilton” (Lin-Manuel Miranda)
It’s near impossible to get tickets for this show. Luckily, listening to the soundtrack is the next best thing! If you’ve been living under a rock, “Hamilton” tells the dramatic life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton through music and characters that represent the diversity of America today. Where else but on this soundtrack can you hear a Chinese-American Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton come to terms with her husband’s affair, or a Jewish African-American Thomas Jefferson duke it out against Hamilton in not one, but two rap battles? This show is a journey from start to finish, and with a record 16 Tony Award nominations under its belt, “Hamilton” is worth at least three listens.
Recommended Song: “My Shot”
“Bonnie & Clyde” (Frank Wildhorn, Don Black, and Ivan Menchell)
You know their story from SNL sketches and countless hits. Now, you can hear it one more time from a theatrical point of view. A mix of rockabilly and blues music, the soundtrack takes you through the first meeting to their final breaths. It’s a story we can all relate to, even if we haven’t robbed a bank—young love and the lengths we’ll go to in order to keep one another safe and happy. Even if you’ve heard the music before and know how the show ends, that doesn’t stop those first few songs from tugging at your heartstrings and making you hope that this time, just maybe, they’ll end up alright in the end.
Recommended Song: “What Was Good Enough for You”
“1776” (Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone)
Want to experience “Hamilton” but in a more traditional style? Check out “1776.” It’s the only production on this list with a film adaption, which can definitely enhance the music tenfold. You’ve got the loveable, huggable teddy bear Ben Franklin, the fired-up John Adams and the cocky Richard Henry Lee amongst the star cast of Founding Fathers on a journey to perfect the Declaration of Independence. It’s a traditional musical, but there’s plenty of humor and ridiculousness to keep the songs and characters stuck in your head. Also, what would our country be like if our national bird had been a turkey? Thanksgiving might be a lot different…
Recommended Song: “The Egg”