Breaking news: I’ve found my new obsession. Since theatres across the UK have been shut for over a year now, I’ve not had much to say about musical theatre. Well, that was until I discovered my new favourite cast recording, The Mad Ones. And you should listen to it too.
The Mad Ones is a Kerrigan and Lowdermilk musical formerly called The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown. The show follows 18-year-old Sam as she tries to decide what to do with her life following the death of her best friend, Kelly. As Sam works through her memories and learns to fully come to terms with what happened, she is guided by Kelly in her imagination. The show also touches on Sam’s relationships with her mum and boyfriend too as she works through her grief and struggles to decide what her next step in life should be after graduating high school. That’s really all you need to know about the plot going into your first listen.
Though grief is a huge theme of the show and some songs are really packed with emotion, it’s not a downer at all. There’s plenty of comedy and lighter moments. I especially love the way the show presents friendship, especially teen female friendship. The people you grow up with shape your personality so much that when you spend more time apart after leaving school and entering adulthood, you almost learn to be yourself all over again without those people having as big an impact as they once had. For Sam, this is so much more intense after Kelly’s death. But, the process that Sam goes through with trying to find herself and learning to not just see her identity through comparisons to Kelly (“She was everything I’m not, my whole universe”) is really touching and shows just how intense and impactful friendship can be. The song Go Tonight, when Sam finally confronts all her emotions over losing Kelly is truly heartbreaking as she confesses the darker side of her grief, including her feelings of inferiority compared to Kelly and how she feels partially responsible for Kelly’s death.
One small part of the story that really gets me is Sam trying to recall the specifics of her last interaction with Kelly and struggling to pinpoint the details. Memories are so important in the grieving process but they’re also so fragile. I think the way the show explores Sam piecing together her memories of Kelly and all that’s happened since she died is such a unique but realistic take on grieving.
I also love the small, intimate vibe of the recording. The whole show only requires four people, which reminds me of the likes of Next to Normal. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and ultimately, I think I miss smaller shows like this the most since theatres have been closed. Don’t get me wrong, I love a big West End show as much as the next Wicked or Les Mis fan, but there’s something special about these smaller-scale productions in off-West End and off-Broadway venues. That’s not to say that I don’t believe this show has a place on the West End or Broadway, I just think it would suit a smaller, more intimate venue more.
The three songs I’ve been listening to the most are The Mad Ones, Go Tonight and Run Away with Me. And, I mean, these songs aren’t just beautiful and emotional, they’re also serious earworms!
Thanks for reading and if you haven’t listened to The Mad Ones yet, get on it! Bye for now!