5 Musical Theater Recommendations to Kickstart Your Broadway Obsession

For hundreds of years, modern musical theater has served as a powerful source of culture, artistry and humanity. Especially in light of recent Broadway juggernauts, such as the critically-acclaimed “Hamilton,” more and more people are being introduced to the world of cast albums, the endless struggle of never being able to find a good enough bootleg, and the ongoing dream that one day you might be able to see your favorite musicals live. Whether you’re a theater kid, an audience member or anything in between, there are so many wonderful musical theater albums to be enjoyed, and I’m going to introduce you to a few of my favorites.

  1. 1. Dear Evan Hansen

    Lonely kid

    This one might seem like a given. “Dear Evan Hansen” tells the story of an imperfect protagonist  named Evan whose social anxiety and desire for a different life lead him down a path of lies and deception, which shake the foundations of his entire life. It offers a realistic portrayal of important topics like depression, anxiety, friendship and teenage mental health — all the while developing a poignant and relatable cast of characters which both establish the seriousness of the story and temper it at times with their humor and charisma. Take one listen to “Waving Through a Window,” and I promise you’ll fall in love.

  2. 2. Heathers

    retro radio

    Based on the 1989 cult classic film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, “Heathers” is a deeply satirical black comedy which details the romance between troubled teens Veronica Sawyer and Jason Dean, whose disregard for their popular and selfish schoolmates takes them  on a journey of revenge. Not only does the musical have a fun 80s aesthetic and a soundtrack full of catchy tunes, it also makes some important points about society and the treatment of teenagers and mental health. The show’s more popular song “Freeze Your Brain” offers a seemingly breezy take on depression and personal struggle, and serves as a great example of the musical’s entire approach to a whole host of pressing issues.

  3. 3. Newsies

    woman reading newspaper

    This one has it all: tap dancing, extravagant musical numbers and inspirational labor revolutions. It’s a creative take on the New York City Newsboys’ Strike of 1899 in which child workers were forced to unionize to demand fair working conditions and treatment from publishing giants such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Not only does the show feature an insanely talented cast of singers and dancers, but it offers a rich retelling of a critical moment in history.

  4. 4. Be More Chill

    vintage video games

    This one’s for the losers, the geeks or whatever, as the musical’s protagonist Jeremy would say. It tells the tale of an unpopular high schooler named Jeremy who dreams of being the hero of his own story instead of sitting on the sidelines. He finds acceptance among his peers through the help of a supercomputer, which plants itself in his brain and tells him how to act socially — but the technology soon presents problems. Characterized by electro-pop, a unique video game aesthetic, messages about self-acceptance and painfully real songs like the internet sensation, “Michael in the Bathroom,” in which the titular character experiences a panic attack in the bathroom at a party after losing his best friend to peer pressure and popularity, “Be More Chill” offers an important solace for anyone who’s ever felt like they had to be someone they’re not to fit in.

  5. 5. Rent

    new york city

    Taking  a vastly different sound, “Rent” is a rock musical based loosely on Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème. It details the adventures of a group of starving artists in the Bohemian Alphabet City under the threat of HIV and AIDS. The musical features a cast richly diverse in race, gender, religion and sexuality, and it poses a real look into a situation where so many people struggle greatly. The show has remained a classic since the 1990s as a result of its lovable characters, grand musical numbers and such iconic lines as, “The opposite of war isn’t peace. It’s creation.”

Cast albums are a lot of fun. I was never a theater kid myself, but many aspects of my high school experience were shaped by the Broadway albums I was listening to and the way that their characters, songs and messages informed my understanding of myself and the world around me. Many of us don’t have the resources to travel to places like New York to witness live theater in the way it was intended, so these recordings are a great replacement in the meantime. Happy listening, and you can blame me when you inevitably develop a new obsession.