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Musical theatre isn’t just showtunes and sunshine 

By Sheroog Kubur, September 1 2023—

Musical theatre is, arguably, the campiest form of art out there. The pristine choreography, the drawn-out high notes and the exaggerated acting make it an acquired taste. While there are certain plays that have certainly redefined the medium, there are others that decide to tell stories as campy as you would expect from a musical. Here are a couple of those plays. 

Death Note

I know how ridiculous the concept of a musical based on the hit anime Death Note seems. The play brings together frequent collaborators Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy, features vocals from Jeremy Jordan on the 2015 concept recording and only saw the light of day for Japanese and Korean audiences. Thanks to the recent revival, the play came to English-speaking audiences in July. Following all the expectations of a musical, it’s a campy rendition of the beloved tale of Light Yagami as he faces his morality. In a weird way, the silliness of the play almost feels on brand for the melodramatic characters of the original. A strong highlight is the duets between Light and L, proving that no matter what medium, their dynamic will always be entertaining. 

Bat Boy: The Musical

Bat Boy is the official theatrical debut of Laurence O’Keefe, the mind behind contemporary mainstream classics like Heathers: The Musical and Legally Blonde: The Musical. It has the musical charm one would expect from O’Keefe with a healthy dose of pure absurdism. The play is a horror story following Edgar, the half-bat half-boy, being villainized by all the townspeople and resisting his bat-like urges to kill. The story itself is bizarre to say the least — there’s a menagerie of twists and turns that will make you question exactly what you’re even watching most of the time. Combined with the stellar special effects make-up, this play will leave you confused. There’s a moral towards the end about the importance of acceptance, but that’s only after you get past the grand reveal of how Edgar exists. 

Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier 

Team Starkid is a production company with a roster that could put most big names to shame. Since their creation in 2009 by Darren Criss, they have produced 13 original productions, although Twisted remains one of their most cohesive. It is a retelling of Aladdin from the perspective of Ja’far, the misunderstood royal vizier. They take the story and completely turn it on its head, showing the politics of Aghrabah and the messy relationships that Ja’far is forced to fix. It’s a surprisingly touching play, asking questions like is it better to be a phony hero or an honest villain and how far are you willing to go to protect the ones you love. Luckily, Team Starkid posts all their productions in their entirety for free on YouTube, so if this one isn’t enticing, there’s plenty of where that came from. 

The Toxic Avenger 
The Toxic Avenger is another simply bizarre play. It follows nerd-turned-superhero Toxie or Melvin. Melvin has a remarkable sense of justice and plans on stopping those responsible for dumping toxic waste in their town, however, as he is a nerd, he is instantly bullied by goons and dumped in a barrel of toxic waste. He emerges as Toxie, a green mutant with a superhero physique and women lining up at his door. The play revels in its silliness, playing on tropes of classic superhero stories while keeping the story relatively original. At the end of the day, it ends up being an interesting social commentary on the lengths the people in power will go to to make some extra money. It’s silly, it’s fun and it knows this. 

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