Five Best Quirky, Off-Beat Stage Musicals
Enjoying Off-the-Wall Musical Theater
Musical theater is a place where the viewer suspends his or her disbelief--not only are you entering a world where people spontaneously burst into song to share their feelings, you're also entering a world where the impossible can--and often does--happen.
There's something undeniably magical about musical theater, and it seems to draw both performers and fans who have an off-beat sense of humor and a willingness to accept even the craziest story if the music's good.
In the world of musical theater, even the quirkiest, weirdest characters and stories have their place. Read on to learn about the five best quirky, off-beat musicals to have hit the stage.
A Scene from "Bat Boy"
Bat Boy: The Musical
"Bat Boy: The Musical" was inspired by a World Weekly News tabloid story about a half bat/half boy child found in a cave by a scientists; the tabloid hit the news stands in 1992 and became one of the paper's best selling issues.
Was the story true? Of course not--but that didn't keep it from inspiring the creators of "Bat Boy," who took the basic premise and built a truly odd musical from the story.
The "Bat Boy" of the musical is discovered by teenagers exploring a cave, and the sheriff eventually takes the creature to the home of the local vet, as he's not sure what else to do with him. The vet (Dr. Parker) is going to put Bat Boy to sleep, but his wife (Meredith) begs for the boy's life, and slowly begins to teach him to speak. Eventually, the Bat Boy falls in love with Dr. Parker and Meredith's daughter and dreams of a life with her--though the secret revealed at the end of the musical will make that impossible, and also deeply disturbing.
What makes "Bat Boy" one of the best and oddest musicals to hit the stage? It has catchy songs, a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humor, and a story so off-the-wall that you can't help but be entertained.
A Scene from "A New Brain"
"A New Brain"
"A New Brain" has a serious subject matter that seems better suited for a stage play: a man discovers he has a brain tumor and must face the fact that his life has not been fulfilling and that he hasn't made the most of the few relationships he cherishes. Gordon, the main character, is a songwriter who longs to write great music--but is stuck writing dreck for a children's performer who dresses like a frog. As Gordon recovers, he discovers the music within himself and frees himself as an artist.
Despite the weighty sounding storyline, "A New Brain" is full of dark humor and rollicking songs, often veering into the surreal, and is based on the very similar experience of the man who wrote the music and lyrics.
What makes "A New Brain" a great off-beat musical? Its heart--even when the situation is absurd or the lyrics get a little bumpy, Gordon is an eccentric misfit you come to care about deeply.
A Scene from "Amour"
"Amour" is a musical fantasy, completely sung-through, and features a sweet, wistful romance between its two main characters. Its hero, Dusoleil, is a meek civil servant whose main interactions are with his cat at home and his cruel boss at work--though Dusoleil does long to reveal his love to his beautiful neighbor, Isabelle.
When Dusoleil realizes he suddenly has the power to walk through walls, his life is transformed--though he first uses his talent to torment his boss, he soon discovers his better nature and begins to help the needy, and is named the hero Passepartou in the press. He briefly finds love with Isabelle, helping her vanquish her cruel husband, before his powers fade.
What makes "Amour" such an appealingly quirky musical? Dusoleil's delight at finally being someone of importance and how he uses that for good, as well as Isabelle's girlish, optimistic nature even in the face of tyranny. That the ending is bittersweet makes that which goes before it even more enjoyable.
A Scene from "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Arguably the most popular entry on this list, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" won two Tony Awards. The story line focuses on six misfit kids who are competing in the spelling bee, hopeful to win first place and secure their spot in spelling bee history.
The two breakout characters are William Barfee--who spells out each word with his foot before spelling it out loud--and Olive, who struggles with what many children today do: absentee, disinterested parents. Each of the characters is memorable, however, with alternately hilarious and poignant songs about their personalities and what led them to the competition.
What makes "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" such a great weird musical? Every character in it has quirks yet remains appealingly human. Another fun fact--audience spellers are pulled before the show starts and get to participate in the bee themselves.
A Scene from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is a cult musical, with strong rock songs and an alternately cruel and vulnerable lead--Hedwig (born Hansel). As a boy, Hansel dreams of getting out of East Berlin--and a marriage to a U.S. soldier who falls in love with him seems like a ticket out. He undergoes a botched sex change operation (the source of the "angry inch") and does make it out of Germany, going on to America to meet Tommy, with whom he writes songs for his band.
Tommy steals the best of the songs and becomes a rock star, breaking Hedwig's heart and leaving him to play at dive joints and and deal with his anger and regret.
What makes "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" a great quirky musical? The story is bizarre, of course, but the songs elevate it to another level--they're memorable, moving back and forth between poignant beauty and hard rock. (And where else will you hear Plato's origin of love turned into a song?)
Unique and Memorable Musicals: A Conclusion
Musical theater has long been a haven for the slightly odd, a place where performers and fans can seek refuge and find like minds. While mainstream musicals dominate Broadway, there are also more than a few off-beat musicals that offer a unique viewer experience.
What's your favorite quirky musical?