Seemingly strange plots sometimes turn out to be the best theater shows. "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" with music, on stage, shouldn't work, but you have Monty Python's Spamalot, which has been going strong since 2004. Should a musical about two naive missionaries sent to Uganda to convert its residents to Mormonism that boasts an appearance from Hitler do well? Probably not, but The Book of Mormon is the best-selling show on Broadway.
So weird shows have their place in entertainment (let's not forget The Producers, a show about two guys who set out to make the worst musical ever, only to have it be a wild success). Yet sometimes, when you break down the plot to its bare bones, it's impossible not to pause for a moment and think, "Really? Someone thought this would be a hit?" To be fair, this list is not a list of the worst musicals. It is a list of STRANGE musicals... most of which were incredibly successful. And even good. But still strange. Got it?
Hands on a Hardbody
Basic plot: In Texas, 24 people compete to win a car by seeing who can keep their hand on a pickup truck the longest.
Why it's weird: Well, aside from the fact that the contest itself is a bit weird, this is a musical, so there's a lot of singing and dancing... about a truck. Okay, fine, they aren't really singing about the truck, but also, they're kind of singing about the truck, since that's what the whole play is about! The stranger thing is probably that this is based on a real-life event.
How it fared on Broadway: The show debuted in February 23, 2013 and opened nearly a full month later, on March 21. It closed on April 13, afer just 28 previews and 28 performances, but not before receiving 3 Tony Award nominations.
Basic plot: This musical tells the story of cats known as the "Jellicles" and it's set during the night where they decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.
Why it's weird: I will admit I am not a huge fan of cats, the animal, to start. I don't hate them or anything, but given the choice, I would pick a dog so this play is already not one of my favorites. It features a lot of people in body suits, wearing tails and fur. I get it, they are supposed to be cats, but man, the costume design is creepy. The only way it could be worse is if people wore giant mascot-like cat suits. Also, they break the fourth wall a lot, so the audience then has cats talking to it. I'm not okay with that.
How it fared on Broadway: What do I know? Nothing, obviously, since this musical had a strong run for 21 years in London and 18 years on Broadway in NYC, making it the second longest-running musical in Broadway history.
Urinetown: The Musical
Basic plot: Set in a parallel universe in the mid-1900's, a city finds itself in dire straights when a 20-year water drought has made private bathrooms impossible. Instead, a megacorporation owns and operates the only public bathrooms, and people must pay each time they need to use the restroom. If the laws are broken, offenders are sent to "Urinetown" and never allowed to return.
Why it's weird: The title? The synopsis? That the entire play is about going to the bathroom? I understand the cheekiness of it, and I also understand what it's trying to do. But in its most literal form, it's a play about going to the bathroom. It also includes songs like, "It's a Privilege to Pee."
How it fared on Broadway: This musical ran from 2001 through 2004, tallying 965 performances and 25 previews. It won three Tony Awards.
Little Shop of Horrors
Basic plot: A florist named Seymour raises a plant that feeds on human blood and flesh.
Why it's weird: This is billed as a "comedy horror rock musical," which in itself sounds a bit messy and... odd. Then there's the flesh-hungry plant, which is named after Seymour's crush, Audrey (not creepy at all, right?). Audrey II eventually reveals that it can talk, and then kind of influences Seymour to start feeding people to it? And then the plant that eats people just becomes a normal thing. So there's that.
How it fared on Broadway: The play first found success as a 1960 film (which influenced the creation of the play), followed by an Off-Broadway play in 1982, West End play, and then a 1986 film. It wasn't until 2003 that the play opened on Broadway, but it lasted a year. It's also had subsequent national tours and reprisals.
What strange plays would you add to this list?