Musical theatre is one of my favorite mediums of storytelling. I was introduced to it at a young age in elementary school and soon became obsessed with performing in, and later writing, musicals. While performing in smaller school musicals and originals around my town in middle school was fun, high school introduced me to a whole new world (pun intended) of musical theatre. Here are my fifteen favorite musicals from both Broadway and Off-Broadway of all time.
15. School of Rock (2015-)
Based on the cult classic film starring Jack Black, the musical adapted to the stage by Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Phantom of the Opera) is a fun, brilliant joyride with excellent music and a fantastic performance by Alex Brightman. The show might’ve won the Tony for Best Musical had it not been up against Hamilton.
14. Grease (1971-1980, 1993-1999)
The musical that inspired the classic film, Jim Jacobs’ profane and aggressive treasure was based on his own high school experiences and were transformed into a musical that spoke to youthful audiences of the time. The music is iconic, so much so that after it’s 1980 closing, the musical was revived for a 90s run.
13. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (2013-2015)
Originally written for television, Broadway legends Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II crafted a wonderful adaption of the French version of the classic story. The TV musical was adapted for Broadway in 2013 by Douglas Carter Beane, who translated it with poise and fantastical grace. The show is wonderful and near and dear to my heart, admittedly because I played the role of Jean-Michel in my junior year of high school.
12. The Addams Family (2010-2011)
The Broadway adaption of Charles Addams’ comic strip family came as a surprise to many. The show was adapted by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and featured great music with a wonderful story. The show also had great performances by Kevin Chamberlain, Nathan Lane, Krysta Rodriguez, and Bebe Neuwirth.
11. 21 Chump Street (2014)
Based on an episode of This American Life, the fifteen minute musical debuted as a radio drama before making an Off-Broadway debut. The musical was written by the genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also played the Narrator. The show featured a stellar premiere performance from Anthony Ramos, who would go on to star in Hamilton. The show is often overlooked, but features incredible music and a tragic tale.
10. In The Heights (2008-2011)
Speaking of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius playwright made his debut with this show. A wonderful snapshot of the world of Washington Heights, Lin starred in the lead role and wrote the music. The show’s earliest draft was written by Miranda, but the show’s credited playwright is Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the book. The show features rap, salsa, and tons of wonderful music. The show also introduced the Broadway world to not just Lin, but also the wonderful talents of Christopher Jackson, Mandy Gonzalez, and Javier Muñoz. The show also won the Tony for Best Musical.
9. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (2010-2011)
I’m a sucker for a historically based story, especially when it’s accurate. I’m also a sucker for rock musicals. Alex Timbers brilliantly combines the two into a wonderful show, with a fantastic performance from Benjamin Walker in the title role. The show was snubbed by The Book of Mormon, but this musical is still a fantastic satire with wonderful music.
8. Chicago (1975-1977, 1996-)
The longest running musical in Broadway history, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse’s prolific show is spectacle that is unlike anything else on Broadway. Despite receiving a short original run with mixed reviews, the show was revived to mass praise and acclaim in 1996 and is still running 21 years later. It’s a fantastic show with wonderful music. I played D.A. Harrsion when my school performed it my sophomore year. It’s a show unique in design and style.
7. Wicked (2003-)
One of the greatest musicals of the 21st century, the show, adapted by Winnie Holzman from the prolific book by Gregory Maguire, features great music and breakout performances from Broadway legends Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenowith. Telling the alternative take of the classic story, one of cinema and literature’s greatest villains becomes one of Broadway’s most tragic heroes. It’s a wonderful show that pushed the boundaries of what could be done from a technical standpoint in design for Broadway shows.
6. Little Shop of Horrors (1982-1987, 2003-2004)
One of Off-Broadway’s biggest hits, the show is based on the 1960 film and the musical, in turn, inspired the 1986 remake. It made a brief revival on Broadway in 2003, but was panned by critics. The show features incredible music that is memorable and featured a great performance from Ellen Greene. I played the role of Bernstein in my freshman year production of the show, but lends to my bias, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a wonderful show.
5. Heathers (2014)
The brief Off-Broadway run might seem like it was a failure, but Heathers (based on the 80s cult classic film) found a huge cult audience and won over many fans. With a book wonderfully adapted by Lawrence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, the show features amazing music and breakout performances by Barrett Wilbert Weed, Jessica Keenan Wynn, and Ryan McCartan.
4. Jekyll & Hyde (1997-2001, 2013)
This show is haunting, prolific, and an incredible thrill ride. Adapted from the literary classic by Leslie Bricusse, the show featured a breakout performance from Robert Cuccioli from its original cast, Coleen Sexton from the final cast, and an incredible surprise turn from David Hasselhoff. The show ran for 5 years and received a DVD recording of Hasselfhoff’s final performance. The show made a very brief revival in 2013, but was not very memorable. It is a fantastic show with vocally challenging roles.
3. RENT (1996-2008, 2011-2012)
You thought I wasn’t going to include one of Broadway’s greatest shows? You’re crazy. Jonathan Larson is on the same level of genius as Lin-Manuel Miranda, but his time was tragically cut short. His crowning achievement is this wonderful rock show about living with AIDS, as well as living in New York. Broadway legends are born from this show, including Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia. With great music and a wonderful cast, this show goes down in history as one of the greats. Born in 1996 and running to an end in 2008, the show was revived Off-Broadway for a relatively brief run.
2. Dear Evan Hansen (2016-)
Many will eye-roll because I included a very new musical, but this show truly deserves it. This show is a wonderful treasure, with incredible music and a touching story about suicide and loss. Ben Platt makes a huge star turn with his amazing performance. The show is written by Steven Levenson, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind the Oscar-winning masterpiece La La Land. It’s for sure one of my most favorite shows.
1. Hamilton (2015-)
Of course this my number one. Hamilton is the perfect show in my opinion. It blends everything I love into one massive show: American history, rap music, and great storytelling. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a certifiable genius, writing a masterpiece show. It also features incredible performances from Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, Leslie Odom Jr, and Jonathan Groff, all of which are now certifiable Broadway royalty. It’s an incredible show, with music unparralled and performances unmatched in any musical, on or off Broadway, in the history of the craft.