More than just Show tunes

Liz Chirico 

OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

If you sort the music on my iPod probably 75% are show tunes, stemming either from movies or theatrical musicals. You might think, “how boring” or “there’s so many musical genres, why close yourself off” and well you’d be wrong. For me, show tunes is the perfect gateway genre, opening my eyes to the broader musical world. 

Bright Star: From the opening twangs of the banjo to the intense fiddle playing, this is not your average musical. As someone who only enjoys country lite (more of the country/pop crossover) I was hesitant to explore this show. Carmen Cusack’s soaring vocals and the story-filled songs (almost each song could stand alone and tell its own story) opened my eyes to the world of blue grass and true country music. Next up- cowboy boots!

Hamilton: Of course I had to mention this one as it’s been in my car’s CD player for over a year now. This show opened mine and millions of other eyes to rap and hip-hop in a theatrically-accessible way. I had no idea how many more words and thoughts could be conveyed in one minute of rap and hip-hop vs other genres. I had no idea the different rhyming structures there were to be used. Once again- all hail Lin-Manuel Miranda!

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grille: OK technically, this isn’t a musical it’s a play. But it still features jazz music made famous and accessible by the legendary Billy Holiday, performed by the legend-in-our-time Audra McDonald. This show opened my eyes and ears to the intricacies of jazz; it’s complex and beautiful structure. Jazz can be heart wrenching and moving and upbeat sometimes all in one song. I know this isn’t limited simply to jazz music but because of this show I’m taking a closer look at jazz music.

Show Boat/Porgy and Bess: It makes sense to travel back to the start of the last century to find shows with influences of opera and operetta. After all they are the pre-cursors to our current musical theater. A particular favorite of mine is Show Boat’s “You are Love”. This duet could find a home in virtually any opera then or now.

Waitress: One of the more well-known genres pop can have a negative connotation as being very pedantic and common. Listen to the radio these days, it seems like anyone can be a pop “star”. Enter Sara Bareilles. She made pop beautiful again with her gorgeous lyrics and sweeping melodies in the Waitress score. Everyone loves “She Used to be Mine” and rightfully so. That song brings on all the feels. But her other songs, like “A Soft Place to Land” and “You Matter to Me” stand up just as well with lyrics that feel simultaneously fresh and as if you heard them before somewhere in a dream.

It’s all too easy to sit in your own little world with blinders and headphones on, never opening yourself up to the wider world. I might not be jumping into that wider musical world with both feet but I’m content knowing through musicals, my musical world grows wider every day.