Mar 27, 2020

Theater may be one of the oldest performing arts (with the Western tradition dating as far back as the Greeks), but it continues to evolve and adapt to the times, not just with its subject matter, but even in its platform. 

With the rise of content on demand, here comes a form of theater that is, I’d like to say, a little unorthodox (at least for now): podcast musicals.

Essentially, it’s similar to cast recordings in that it’s all the songs of a musical, that if you listen to chronologically, would help you envision the entire play’s story in your mind. Except podcast musicals take that a step further, injecting full dialogue and even sound effects, as if you were sitting in a theater watching it—only with your eyes closed.

It’s said that the “Hamilton” original cast recording album was the catalyst for this as listening to the entire album gave listeners a chance to “witness” the full story as closely as they could, away from the Broadway stage. 

One of the first “shows” to launch the podcast musical genre is “36 Questions” created in 2017 by Chris Littler and Ellen Winter. The musical is based on the popular New York Times piece back in 2015: “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.” 

A few more podcast productions have been developed, and it looks like the rest of the theater world may follow suit. Audible, for example, has begun “commissioning dramatists to write plays for its global listener base,” theater critic Peter Marks writes for The Washington Post.

With theater productions put on halt right now amid the global COVID-19 crisis, we can turn to these podcasts and recordings for a little fix. This World Theater Day, check out some of these free podcast musicals:

 

36 Questions


This three-act musical follows a couple (played by Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton) who, after several revelations, attempt to reconcile and save their marriage. It’s interesting because their story is bookended by the questions designed to develop closeness and intimacy between two people. Ultimately it’s a story of love and lies, how we relate and who we become when we’re with other people—especially significant others.

 

Loveville High

Loveville High is a musical in nine parts, featuring around a dozen characters all in high school, in events leading up to and during their prom. The large cast allows for a lot of representation, not just in the personalities, but also the various types of love explored. Playwright David Zellnik shares: “We especially wanted to show a group of kids whose inner lives are not always represented on stage, and a variety of kinds of love: romantic love, friend love, sibling love, even self-love.”

 

Wait Wait Don’t Kill Me

This five-part musical, part of Wondery’s “Secrets, Crimes & Audiotape” drama franchise, is described by Playbill as a “darkly comedic… satire” featuring a young beat reporter who dreams of working for “This American Life” host and producer Ira Glass. Years later, she finally gets to do so, but when Glass asks her “to recount the murder that made her career and possibly solve it… she immediately regrets [it].”

Listen to it here.

 

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TAGS: 36 questions jonathan groff musical theater podcast podcast musical theater