1. Evening Primrose
Evening Primrose is a musical written by renown composer Stephen Sondheim, the genius behind Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd among many others. It tells the story of an entire civilization that has been living secretly in a department store for over a decade.
The heroine is a 19 year-old girl who has lived in the department store for almost her entire life. It premiered in 1966 on ABC but never gained traction. The musical is characteristic of Sondheim with dark and elaborate melodic lines and haunting orchestration.
2. A Man of No Importance
This Stephen Flaherty (creator of Once On This Island, Seussical, Ragtime) musical only lasted on Broadway for three months in 2002! Some say it was the minimalistic approach to the show that made it unpopular, despite rave reviews. Since the musical takes place in Dublin, there is an old-time Irish vibe to the soundtrack. Every song feels like home.
3. Daddy Long Legs
Daddy Long Legs is a brilliant two person show about a an orphan named Jerusha. Jerusha earns a full ride to college after a mysterious benefactor pays her tuition. There is only one stipulation to her free education: she must write one letter a month to her benefactor describing her experiences.
4. Jon and Jen
Jon and Jen is very meta-abstract musical theater. It came out when musical theater was in a very experimental phase (1995). The show is made up of two actors, yet there are three characters in the show.
The show begins with John and Jen, whom are brother and sister, in Vietnam War Era America. Then, it fast-forwards to 1990s America. John has died in the war, and now Jen is alone with her son, also named John. Can you guess which role doubles up? Yup, brother John and son John are played by the same actor.
As Jen fights the demons of her past, the past continues to stare right back at her in the face of her son. The musical was written by Andrew Lippa, who also wrote The Wild Party, A Little Princess, The Addams Family, and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.
5. Ordinary Days
Four characters, New York City. Told through a series of vignettes, this musical is beautiful because of its seamless way of connecting each of the characters through their typical day-to-day lives. It’s a story of love, life, community, and moving on. If you listen to anything on this list, listen to “I’ll Be Here.” It is one of the most powerful ballads ever written for the stage. Adam Gwon is a genius.
Can’t get enough? Here are some additional obscure musicals that didn’t make the top 5:
- A Little Princess
- A New Brain
- Lucky Stiff
- Floyd Collins
- Myths and Hymns
- The Baker’s Wife
- Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
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