There are some amazing contemporary shows on Broadway at the moment, from “Dear Evan Hansen” to “Hamilton.” However, there are plenty of fantastic shows that never make it to the Great White Way. Thankfully, these contemporary Off-Broadway hits do create cast recordings.
Here are 10 of the best contemporary Off-Broadway albums:
1. ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’
Probably one of the more well-known Off-Broadway recordings, “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is an autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson. It tells the story of Larson as a struggling composer before he wrote “Rent.” He initially performed the score in a solo show in the ‘90s, but after his death, the show played Off-Broadway in 2001 with a three-person cast.
Bonus Track: At the end of the cast recording, there is a song that is not featured in the show that is sung by Larson himself. Try not to get chills.
2. ‘Daddy Long Legs’
Based on the 1912 novel of the same name by Jean Webster, this musical tells the story of an orphan with a mysterious benefactor. The score for this show is sweet and charming, and the plot is great for those who love a good old-fashioned love story (think “Jane Eyre” and Jane Austen). This is a more classical musical done right.
This show ran Off-Broadway in 2016 at the New York Theatre Workshop. With a book and score by Anaïs Mitchell, the story revolves around the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. This bluegrass and soulful score hits all the right notes and beautifully tells this tragic tale. If you are a fan of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” you’ll recognize the names Rachel Chavkin, the director, and Amber Gray, who starred as Persephone. Though this show is currently shelved, many hope it will make its way to Broadway soon.
Bonus Track: Much of this score is upbeat, but this love ballad is one of the most entrancing songs in the show.
This original musical tells the story of two gay students struggling to cope in Catholic school. Their story parallels the play their school is putting on, “Romeo and Juliet.” This pop opera is gritty, emotional and thought-provoking.
Bonus Track: Give this a listen if you wanted a snippet of “Romeo and Juliet” in song.
Based off the movie by the same name, this musical played Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theater in 2012. The music for this show is composed by a little duo called Pasek and Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”). This contemporary musical follows a group of friends serving in Vietnam. Also featured is Derek Klena before he was in “Anastasia.” With a killer cast and amazing music, this is a great musical that fell through the cracks after its short stint Off-Broadway.
6. ‘Be More Chill’
Based on the book of the same name by Ned Vizzini, this contemporary musical ran in 2015 at the Two River Theater in Riverbank, New Jersey. Though not officially Off-Broadway, this musical did receive a cast album and gained a bit of a cult following since its run. This is not your average musical, with a story about teenagers trying to fit in and a crazy robotic pill that has the ability to make you cool.
Bonus Track: Performed by George Salazar, “Michael in the Bathroom” is one of the best tracks from the show, embodying all the anxieties of wanting to fit in.
7. ‘A New Brain’
This autobiographical musical first premiered Off-Broadway in 1998 and was revived at the New York City Center with Jonathan Groff in 2015. With its book, lyrics and music by William Finn, this musical tells the story of Finn as a struggling songwriter when he is suddenly told he may die if he doesn’t have brain surgery. The story is both gripping and funny, while the music is just beautiful. This one is definitely worth a listen if you love “Falsettos” or “Tick, Tick…Boom!”
8. ‘Fortress of Solitude’
This musical had a short stint at the Public Theater back in 2014. Based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem, this musical is a coming-of-age story about two boys growing up in Brooklyn. Chronicling the boys’ lives from the ‘70s to the ‘90s, Michael Friedman’s score includes R&B, hip-hop and contemporary tunes. This musical will make you smile, dance and cry, so listen at your own risk.
Bonus Track: All songs from this show are amazing, but the finale is probably one of the most well-known from this musical.
Of course this list would be incomplete without this angsty teenage musical. Opening Off-Broadway in 2014, this beloved ‘80s movie-turned-musical gained a huge following. From the shoulder pads to the catchy score by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy (“Legally Blonde”), this musical is definitely to die for. With “Mean Girls” opening on Broadway soon, maybe there is hope for the original mean girls to follow.
10. ‘The Last Five Years’
Shockingly, this fan favorite has never had a Broadway run. With music by Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown (“Parade,” “The Bridges of Madison County”), this musical tells the story of an ill-fated couple. The story is told out of sequence, so you see all the stages of this couple’s relationship over the five years they were together.
Bonus Track: Though this is about an ill-fated couple, this is a very uplifting finale and one of the best songs in the show.
Bonus Album: ‘21 Chump Street’
Even if you like listening to Off-Broadway musicals and are a huge Lin-Manuel Miranda fan, this musical may have been off your radar. This 15-minute musical, based on an episode from the podcast “This American Life,” was showcased at the Brooklyn Academy of Music back in 2014. The story revolves around an undercover police officer and a high school student who sold her drugs. Anthony Ramos starred as the lead next to Lindsay Mendez, and though this musical is short, the story and music really pack a punch. It’s definitely worth a listen for true crime lovers and Miranda fans.