THE SATURDAY LIST: Five Favourite “Small Cast” Shows

For today’s Saturday List, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some “small cast” shows. By their very nature, these shows are more intimate than the big musicals that play the biggest houses on Broadway, in the West End and internationally. Some are introspective, others are side-splittingly funny – but many are just as moving as their classic, big, blockbuster counterparts.

5. Ordinary Days

Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days tells the tale of four New Yorkers through a series of songs that range from striking character pieces to poignant philosophical musings. Gwon has spoken of the influence of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway on the piece and the influence is clear in the stream of consciousness style of the lyrics as the characters thoughts emerge during their interactions with one another as well as in its use of contemporary New York as a setting in as vibrant a manner as Woolf depicted London in the years following World War I. I think the thing I love most about this show is how Gwon captures the characters at key moments in their lives so distinctively and true to the popular theatrical adage, “the more specific, the more universal,” they resonate with the colours of our own humanity.  

4. A Grand Night for Singing 

I love the songs of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and I love A Grand Night For Singing, the revue conceived by Walter Bobbie around this pair of musical theatre giants’ songbook. One of the things I love most about the show is the show is the medleys (including the dazzling opening sequence) and the fun arrangements of songs like “Honey Bun” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”. Another great thing about this show is the wonderful cast recording, with Gregg Edelman replacing original cast member Martin Vidnovic. The performers ebulliently make their way through some of the greatest songs in the musical theatre canon. This show radiates sheer joy and it is on my bucket list of shows to do.

3. The Last 5 Years by Jason Robert Brown

I don’t mean to start any arguments about whose side you should be on in this show detailing the love affair of Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein from the heady days of their first dates through to the eventual parting of their ways. (It’s Cathy’s.) Also, I haven’t just spoiled the show for you, as the gimmick that holds it together is that we see the story chronologically from Jamie’s perspective and in reverse from Cathy’s. The pair only meet in the middle for one gorgeous duet, “The Next Ten Minutes, ” but each has incredible set pieces, including the earworm to end all earworms, “A Summer in Ohio,” the sweet and sad “The Schmuel Song,” and the power-posing “I Can Do Better Than That.” The versatility of this piece is super, with a 2014 film version putting onto the silver screen what many might have thought unfilmable, and a virtual production set for June in the midst of our current Covid-19 physically distant reality.       

2. Edges by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul really graduated to the big time with their scores for A Christmas Story and Dogfight, two shows that rank amongst the best of their debut seasons. Before those shows, they put together Edges, which is a song cycle dealing with the experiences of young adults coming of age. Sometimes bouncy, sometimes quiet, Edges is one of those shows that has something for everyone. I was fortunate enough to perform in the South African premiere of the show and had a great time with “Along the Way” and its twist ending, the funky “Boy With Dreams” and the heartfelt “I Once Knew”, as well as with “Be My Friend”, the Facebook song. I also loved listening to songs like the moving “Lying There”, the hysterical “In Short” and the not-quite-ready-to-say-I-love-you duet, “I Hmm You”. I really wish there were a cast recording of this show.

1. Marry Me A Little

Craig Lucas, Norman René and Stephen Sondheim’s Marry Me A Little is a simply wonderful little show. It works whether you do it with lots of props and gimmicks or whether you use a simple set and strip it down to just what is needed to communicate the situation and narrative twists and turns. Featuring songs written by Stephen Sondheim for other shows that were cut or from shows that were unproduced at the time, Marry Me a Little deals with two people living in the same apartment block who both have a strong desire to reach out and connect with someone special. They never meet, except in each other’s fantasies, but they do get to sing song great Sondheim tunes along the way, including “Two Fairy Tales”, “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, “Happily Ever After”, “Pour le Sport” and “Who Could Be Blue?” I was able to perform in this show in 2008 and I loved every moment of it. For me, it was a perfect little emotional journey and I know that many of the audience members who attended the show agreed.

What are some of your favourite smaller musicals? Head on to the comments box below and let us know!

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