Broadway has only become more and more popular over the years. This is no surprise as the best Broadway musicals often tell stories everybody can relate to. Love, friendship, and even more difficult themes like grief are told through interesting dialogue, catchy songs, and amazing choreography.
With so many musicals to choose from, it can get overwhelming. With this guide, however, you don’t have to worry! If you’re interested in learning about the best Broadway musicals, their synopses, and other trivia, then keep on reading!
What is a Broadway musical?
Every Broadway musical is a theatrical performance, but not every theatrical performance is a Broadway musical. Only theatrical performances staged in Broadway theatres are Broadway musicals.
These Broadway theatres refer to 41 professional theatres in Manhattan. However, contrary to popular belief, not all 41 Broadway theatres can be found on Broadway. Only three theatres, namely the Broadway Theatre, the Palace Theatre, and the Winter Garden Theatre, are along Broadway, Manhattan. The remaining 38 Broadway theatres are in the Theater District and the Lincoln Center.
How is a Broadway theatre different from an “off-Broadway” theatre?
Because most Broadway theatres aren’t actually on Broadway, people often confuse Broadway theatres with “off-Broadway” theatres. Broadway theatres have a seating capacity of at least 500 seats.
On the other hand, “off-Broadway” theatres are smaller, with only 100 to 499 seats, and off-Broadway musicals refer to musicals off-Broadway theatres host. Meanwhile, the smallest venues in New York with less than 100 seats are “off-off-Broadway”.
While off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway shows all attract tourists, Broadway is what most people look for in New York. The best Broadway musicals are likely one of the top reasons people dub New York “the cultural capital in the world”.
What are the best Broadway musicals of all time?
Hamilton: An American Musical
Broadway Premiere: July 13, 2015
Music by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Hamilton: An American Musical, or simply Hamilton, is a play about the life of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton. The two-act play tells the story of Hamilton’s early life, marriage, and political career. The musical comprises little dialogue with most conversations sung and rapped throughout.
Despite being a relatively new production, Hamilton is undoubtedly one of the best Broadway musicals ever. The musical broke records at the 70th Tony Awards when it received 16 nominations, 11 of which it won. These awards include Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Choreography.
In the same year, Hamilton won Best Musical Theater Album at the Grammy Awards.
Broadway Premiere: April 9, 2001
Music by: Mel Brooks
Among the best Broadway musicals is Mel Brooks’ The Producers. The Producers is about two men, Max and Leo, who try to scam investors by producing a flop musical and running away to Rio with the money.
After its Broadway debut, The Producers ran for 2,502 performances. It set the record for most wins at the Tony Awards with 12 awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.
The Producers also had a successful West End production, which premiered in 2004 and closed in 2007 after over 900 performances. Unfortunately, its film adaptation was not as successful. With mixed reviews and box office disappointments, The Producers (2005) was considered a critical and commercial failure.
The Phantom of the Opera
Broadway Premiere: January 26, 1988
Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber
One of the most popular musicals is The Phantom of the Opera. Based on the novel of the same name by French author Gaston Leroux, the story is about a masked “Phantom” and Christine Daaé, an opera singer he becomes infatuated with.
The musical first premiered in London’s West End before it opened on Broadway. Both the London and Broadway original productions received critical acclaim. In 1986, The Phantom of the Opera’s London production won Best New Musical in the Laurence Olivier Awards. In 1988, its Broadway production also won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Aside from being one of the best Broadway musicals ever, The Phantom of the Opera is also the longest-running Broadway show with over 13,000 runs.
The Book of Mormon
Broadway Premiere: March 24, 2011
Music by: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone
If you’re a fan of animated TV shows like South Park, then you will probably enjoy The Book of Mormon! Trey Parker and Matt Stone, writers of South Park, also wrote this musical comedy.
The Book of Mormon is a satirical play about Kevin and Arnold, two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Assigned to Uganda, the two must preach other issues the community faces, like HIV/AIDs, war, and famine.
As one of the best Broadway musicals ever, The Book of Mormon is very successful. In 2011, The Book of Mormon received nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. It is also the 14th longest-running Broadway show with over 4,000 performances.
Broadway Premiere: March 12, 1987
Music by: Claude-Michel Schönberg
When it comes to the best Broadway musicals, Les Misérablesis quite the fan favorite. Also called Les Mis or Les Miz, it is a musical based on a novel of the same name by Victor Hugo.
The two-act play is about the story of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who assumes a new identity after adopting the orphan Cosette. He only wants to live a new life, but police inspector Javert relentlessly pursues him after Valjean breaks his parole. Amidst their cat-and-mouse chase, Parisian republicans stage a barricade to overthrow the government.
During its original Broadway run, Les Mis won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Since then, the production has had several revivals, tours, and concerts.
In 2012, a film adaptation was also released. It has an ensemble cast with big Hollywood names such as Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Helena Bonham Carter.
West Side Story
Broadway Premiere: September 26, 1957
Music by: Leonard Bernstein
If you’re a fan of William Shakespeare, then you’ll definitely like West Side Story. Itis a modern take on the Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet. The play revolves around the love story of Tony and Maria, who are members of two rival gangs.
At the 1958 Tony Awards, the musical received six nominations. Unfortunately, it only won two awards: Best Choreography and Best Scenic Design. Despite this, West Side Story is still one of the best Broadway musicals ever. Its success and large fanbase led to multiple revivals and even two film adaptations.
While Leonard Bernstein wrote the music, the famous Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics. In fact, West Side Story is his first Broadway musical. With his songs in West Side Story and many more, Sondheim challenged the traditional themes of 20th-century musical theater.
Broadway Premiere: October 30, 2003
Music by: Stephen Schwartz
The best Broadway musicals often focus on stories of love and friendship. Wicked is no different. Wicked is an adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which draws from the characters and story of The Wizard of Oz (1939).
The story takes place before the events of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and focuses on the friendship between Elphaba and Galinda before the former became the Wicked Witch of the West. Throughout the play, their contrasting personalities constantly challenge their bond.
While the original Broadway production didn’t win Best Musical at the 2004 Tony Awards, it won in three other categories. This includes Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Actress for Idina Menzel, who played Elphaba.
Broadway Premiere: April 4, 2013
Music by: Cyndi Lauper
Kinky Boots is a musical adaptation of the British film Kinky Boots (2005). The story follows Charlie Price, who partners with a drag queen named Lola. Together, they produce a line of high-heeled boots to save his father’s shoe factory.
During its premiere, other popular Broadway musicals were showing, and Kinky Boots drew little attention in comparison. However, after it received six wins at the Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Kinky Boots went from underdog to champion.
Since then, Kinky Boots has had several revivals, a West End production, and a UK tour.
Fiddler on the Roof
Broadway Premiere: September 22, 1964
Music by: Jerry Bock
Fiddler on the Roof focuses on the story of Tevye the Dairyman and his family. Tevye is a Jewish man whose religious beliefs contrasted with his daughters’ wishes. He struggles to maintain his relationship with them while also staying true to his faith.
In the 1964 Tony Awards, Fiddler on the Roof received 10 nominations. The show won nine, including Best Musical. Its critical acclaim led to several revivals and a successful film adaptation in 1971.
Fiddler on the Roof was also the first musical to surpass 3,000 performances. The musical held this record for 10 years, proving that it is no doubt one of the best Broadway musicals ever.
Broadway Premiere: June 3, 1975
Music by: John Kander
Chicago is a two-act play about aspiring singers Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. After committing murder, Roxie lands herself in the same prison as Velma. The two ladies become rivals, and they fight for the sympathy of the public and the attention of Billy Flynn, their lawyer.
While its original Broadway production did not win any Tony Awards, Chicago still stands out among the Best Broadway musicals. Its revival won several Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. In 1998, Chicago also won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. In 2002, its film adaptation won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Broadway Premiere: July 25, 2019
Music by: Various artists
For many, the best Broadway musicals are those with great original scores. Moulin Rouge, however, differs from most.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical, or simply Moulin Rouge, is a jukebox musical that uses pre-existing songs. The musical features songs by iconic artists like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. It even features a mash-up of songs by Madonna and Beyonce.
These mash-ups make the music sound fresh and unique, even if most audiences have already heard the songs before. Moulin Rouge received mixed reviews, but it still won several Tony Awards. In 2020, the Broadway production won 10 out of its 14 nominations, including Best Musical.
Broadway Premiere: March 20, 2014
Music by: Alan Menken
If you ask a Disney fan to list down the best Broadway musicals ever, you can expect many of them to name Aladdin. Based on Disney’s Aladdin (1992), Aladdin is a musical set in Agrabah, a fictional city in Arabia.
The story centers on Aladdin, a poor man who finds Genie’s lamp and a magical carpet. Genie grants Aladdin three wishes, and he uses them to woo Princess Jasmine and defeat the Sultan’s evil adviser, Jafar.
Despite the production’s success, it only won one Tony Award in 2014. James Monroe Iglehart, who played Genie, won Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical.
The Lion King
Broadway Premiere: November 13, 1997
Music by: Elton John
In 1994, Disney released the animated film The Lion King, and three years later, The Lion King musical premiered on Broadway.
The plot of the musical is the same as the film, which is about the lion Simba’s journey of reclaiming the throne from his usurping uncle, Scar, and finally becoming the king of the Pride Lands. In contrast to the film, however, the musical has new songs, such as “Morning Report”.
In 1998, The Lion King received 11 Tony Awards nominations. It won six out of 10 nominations, including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical.
As one of the best Broadway musicals, The Lion King’s success is undeniable. The production has premiered in several countries, such as Germany, Africa, and Japan. An international tour also opened in 2018, with the Philippines, Singapore, and South Korea as some of its stops.
The Sound of Music
Broadway Premiere: November 16, 1959
Music by: Richard Rodgers
The Sound of Music is a story set in Austria, just before World War II. It centers on Maria, whose Mother Abbess sends her to act as the governess of the Von Trapp household. As she spends her days with them, Maria slowly falls in love with Captain Von Trapp and his children.
Among the best Broadway musicals, The Sound of Music might have the most popular score. Even people who aren’t fans of the musical or Broadway know the lyrics to “My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi”. Songs from The Sound of Music are often part of music classes and other performances.
Aside from its popular songs, The Sound of Music also had a popular film adaptation. The 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Scoring of Music.
Into the Woods
Broadway Premiere: November 5, 1987
Music by: Stephen Sondheim
Some of the best Broadway musicals are adaptations of favorite classics. Into the Woods, on the other hand, draws from different fairytales.
The story focuses on a couple who want to start their own family. Unfortunately, The Witch cursed The Baker’s father years ago, causing his family to be infertile. In their quest to lift the curse, the couple comes across characters like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.
The play never reveals most of the characters’ actual names. Instead, the characters are merely referred to as what they do: “The Baker”, “The Baker’s Wife”, and “The Witch”.
In 1988, the original Broadway production won three Tony Awards, including Best Original Score. In 2002, its Broadway revival also won Best Revival of a Musical.
Broadway Premiere: April 29, 1996
Music by: Jonathan Larson
The best Broadway musicals don’t always have to be stories of fantasy and fairytales. Some take place in less glamorous settings. The story of Rent, for instance, takes place in the gritty streets of Lower Manhattan.
It follows a group of young friends who struggle to survive in a community plagued by poverty, drug abuse, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Rent spawned the popular song “Seasons of Love”, which people often sing during New Year’s Eve. Because of its themes of love and hope, “Seasons of Love” is also a common choice for graduation anthems.
In 1996, the original Broadway production won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who played Angel, also won Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical.
In 2005, Heredia and most of the original Broadway cast returned to star in the 2005 film adaptation.
Broadway Premiere: August 15, 2002
Music by: Marc Shaiman
For the best Broadway musicals with 1960s dance and rhythm and blues music, Hairspray is at the top of the list! Hairspray is a musical about Tracy Turnblad, who becomes a celebrity after appearing on The Corny Collins Show.
During its premiere, Hairspray received mostly positive reviews. Many critics praised it for its upbeat music and dancing. Fans also applaud how the show explores themes of racial injustice and discrimination.
In 2003, Hairspray won nine awards out of its 13 nominations at the Tony Awards. This includes Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Direction of a Musical.
Little Shop of Horrors
Broadway Premiere: October 2, 2003
Music by: Alan Menken
If you’re looking for horror, comedy, and rock music, then the Little Shop of Horrors has it all for you. Little Shop of Horrors is a musical about Seymour, a poor florist who finds a plant that looks like a venus flytrap. Later on, Seymour discovers the plant actually eats human blood and flesh. The show features 1960s rock and roll music with songs like “Suddenly, Seymour” and “Skid Row (Downtown)”.
Unfortunately, the Broadway production does not have a single Tony Award win. However, its success has led to several US revivals and productions in Australia and Canada.
Among the best Broadway musicals, Little Shop of Horrors is the common favorite for community theater productions. Its small cast of only nine characters makes it ideal for small productions.
In the Heights
Broadway Premiere: March 9, 2008
Music by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
In the Heights is a musical about Usnavi de la Vega and his neighbors living in Washington Heights who all dream of returning to the Dominican Republic. It is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s second entry on this list of best Broadway musicals. Miranda didn’t just write the music and lyrics. He also played the role of Usnavi in the original Broadway cast. Like his other musical, Hamilton, Miranda won a Tony Award for Best Original Score for In the Heights.
In the Heights also won Best Musical, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations at the Tony Awards. In the same year, the musical was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Broadway Premiere: November 16, 2006
Music by: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman, and George Stiles
The best Broadway musicals often lead to film adaptations and West End productions. Mary Poppins, on the other hand, is the opposite.
In 1964, Disney released Mary Poppins, a film adaptation of a children’s book series by P. L. Travers. In 2004, Mary Poppins first opened in the West End, and the musical used elements from both the film and the books. It wasn’t until 2006 that Mary Poppins finally opened on Broadway.
Mary Poppins, the titular heroine, takes on the job of being the nanny of troublemaker siblings, Jane and Michael. Mary soon discovers the entire household is struggling with more than just the children’s behavior and she is determined to save the day with a little bit of love and magic.
Singin’ in the Rain
Broadway Premiere: July 2, 1985
Music by: Nacio Herb Brown
Like Mary Poppins, Singin’ in the Rain is also an adaptation of a film. In contrast to Mary Poppins, however, Singin’ in the Rain follows the plot of the original 1952 film.
Singin’ in the Rain revolves around silent film actor Don Lockwood. After the success of the first sound film, the studio turns Lockwood’s current film project from a silent film to a talking picture. This leads to several problems, such as the unpleasant voice of his co-star Lina.
Unfortunately, Singin’ in the Rain does not have any Tony Award wins. Despite this, its success is undeniable. It has several revivals, UK tours, and a Paris production. Singin’ in the Rain is no doubt a strong contender among the best Broadway musicals ever.
My Fair Lady
Broadway Premiere: March 15, 1956
Music by: Frederick Loewe
My Fair Lady is a story about Eliza Doolittle, who enlists the help of Professor Henry Higgins, a phonetician, for lessons on how to talk and act like a “proper lady”.
As one of the best Broadway musicals ever, My Fair Lady has six Tony Award wins, including Best Musical.
The original Broadway cast included the famous actress Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. She reprised her role in the 1958 West End production. The 1964 film adaptation, however, starred Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews. This sparked controversy among fans as many saw Andrews as the perfect Eliza. Despite this, the film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Broadway Premiere: March 1, 1979
Music by: Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim has written some of the best Broadway musicals of all time. Yet another example is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Sweeney Todd is a musical about Benjamin Barker, an exiled man who returns to Fleet Street under a new alias. As Sweeney Todd, he becomes a barber again but this time also a murderer to avenge his wife.
In 1979, the original Broadway production received nine Tony Award nominations. It brought home eight awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. Since then, Sweeney Todd has had several revivals, a national tour, and a UK and Irish tour. The musical also spawned a Tim Burton film adaptation.
Newsies The Musical
Broadway Premiere: March 29, 2012
Music by: Alan Menken
Newsies The Musical, or simply Newsies, is a musical adaptation of the film Newsies (1992). The story is about a group of orphan newsboys who live in Lower Manhattan. Jack Kelly leads the boys, and together, they protest against the rising costs of printing.
As you would expect from only the best Broadway musicals, Newsies has bagged its share of Tony Awards. In 2012, Newsies won two Best Choreography and Best Original Score.
Its success has also led to a US tour and a “junior” version of the play. The junior version is a one-hour adaptation that is only one act, and it is for middle school and youth theater productions.
Broadway Premiere: November 20, 1966
Music by: John Kander
Cabaret is a musical set in Berlin during the late 1920s when the Nazis were rising to power. The story follows Clifford Bradshaw, an American author who moves to Berlin to work on his novel. Bradshaw visits the Kit Kat Club, where he meets and falls in love with the carefree Sally Bowles.
The best Broadway musicals don’t shy away from controversial topics and Cabaret is no different. The musical explores themes of war, abortion, and discrimination while highlighting the decline of the Jazz Age.
The original Broadway production won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It also won Best Musical in the New York Drama Critics Circle and the Outer Critics Circle Award.
The Music Man
Broadway Premiere: December 19, 1957
Music by: Meredith Willson
The Music Man is a musical about Harold Hill, a salesman who moves to River City, Iowa. Under the guise of starting a boys’ marching band, Hill tricks the residents to buy instruments and uniforms from him.
However, there is no actual marching band, and he plans to run away with the money before people find out. Things don’t go according to plan after Hill falls in love with Marian the Librarian.
As one of the best Broadway musicals ever, The Music Man is the first to win the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The original cast recording spent over 200 weeks on the Billboard charts.
Beauty and the Beast
Broadway Premiere: April 18, 1994
Music by: Alan Menken
There is no shortage of Disney classics among the best Broadway musicals today. Back then, however, Beauty and the Beast was the first and only one.
Like the film, the musical adaptation follows the story of beloved Disney characters, Belle and the Beast. However, the musical included new songs and more scenes to give other characters depth.
At the 1994 Tony Awards, the original Broadway production received nine nominations. Many believed Beauty and the Beast would sweep the awards for that night. Unfortunately, the musical only won one award (Best Costume Design).
Despite its losses, Beauty and the Beast started a new wave of Broadway musicals. It inspired more studios, especially Disney, to produce Broadway adaptations of their best films. This led to the productions of The Lion King, Aladdin, and more.
Come From Away
Broadway Premiere: March 12, 2017
Music by: Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Most people expect the best Broadway musicals are from the 1900s. This is true, but some musicals are also relatively young. Come From Away, for instance, first opened in 2013 in California and in 2017 on Broadway.
Come From Away is a story set in Gander, a town in Canada where 38 planes from the 9/11 attacks landed. The musical follows the story of both town residents and refugees in the week following the attacks.
In 2017, Come From Away won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical. It also won Outstanding Musical at the Drama Desk Awards. With over 1,000 performances, Come From Away became the longest-running Canadian musical on Broadway.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Broadway Premiere: October 12, 1971
Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera loosely based on the Passion of Christ. The plot centers on one of Jesus’ apostles, Judas Iscariot, who often disagrees with Jesus’ choices.
With its topic, this Broadway musical is a popular target of criticism. Many religious groups have called out the musical’s portrayal of Jews, with some even calling it blasphemous. South Africa banned the musical for the same reasons.
Despite this controversy, Jesus Christ Superstar sparked several revivals on both Broadway and the West End. It also went on tour in the UK and the US.
Broadway Premiere: April 24, 2016
Music by: Sara Bareilles
If you’re a fan of the famous American singer Sara Bareilles, then you’ll love Waitress. Waitress is a musical adaptation of the 2007 film of the same name but with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles.
Like the film, the musical follows the story of Jenna Hunterson, a baker and waitress at Joe’s Diner. After finding out she’s pregnant, Jenna enters a pie baking contest, hoping to use the prize money to escape her abusive husband and live a better life.
While Waitress didn’t win a Tony Award, it remains one of the best Broadway musicals ever. The musical had a US tour in 2017, followed by a UK tour in 2021. It also sparked international productions in countries all over the world. The Philippines, Argentina, and Tokyo are just some examples.
Broadway Premiere: April 11, 1991
Music by: Claude-Michel Schönberg
If you’re looking for one that tells tragedy among the best Broadway musicals, Miss Saigon is the answer. Miss Saigon is a musical set in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Vietnamese orphan Kim and US Marine Chris fall in love against all odds.
With over 4,000 runs, Miss Saigon is the 13th longest-running Broadway show ever. Countries all over the world have also staged their own versions of the show. In fact, Miss Saigon has been translated into 12 languages.
In 1991, Miss Saigon did not win the Tony Award for Best Musical. However, three of the cast won Tony Awards for their acting. These are Lea Salonga, who played Kim, Jonathan Pryce, who played Chris, and Hinton Battle who played John.
Broadway Premiere: October 18, 2001
Music by: Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Another jukebox musical among the best Broadway musicals is Mamma Mia! Unlike most jukebox musicals, however, Mamma Mia! only includes songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA.
The plot follows Sophie, a bride-to-be who wants nothing more than to meet her father so he can walk her down the aisle. To fulfill this dream, she invites all three of her mother’s past lovers to her wedding, hoping one of them is her father.
Unfortunately, Mamma Mia! won nothing at the Tony Awards. However, it was a box office success. Mamma Mia! is also among the longest-running Broadway shows ever.
Broadway Premiere: June 7, 1972
Music by: Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Set in 1959, Grease is a musical about the students of Rydell High School. Over the summer, Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko have a brief love affair, and they reunite after Sandy transfers to Rydell High School. Stereotypes and peer pressure, however, keep the two apart as they come from different social groups.
Over the years, the story, music, and characters of Grease have changed. This is largely because of the success of the 1978 film adaptation. Grease (1978) changed several aspects, such as removing characters and replacing songs.
Subsequent revivals of the musical often followed the film adaptation more than the original. However, some revivals also combine elements of the two.
Broadway Premiere: September 25, 1979
Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Another historical play among the best Broadway musicals is Evita. It tells the story of Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón.
In 1980, Evita won seven Tony Awards, and it became the first British musical to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. Patti LuPone, who played Eva, also won Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.
A film adaptation premiered in 1996. It included a new song, “You Must Love Me”, which won the Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. Madonna, who played Eva, also won a Golden Globe for her performance.
Broadway Premiere: April 21, 1977
Music by: Charles Strouse
Annie is a two-act play about an orphan named Annie who dreams of finding her parents one day. Until then, Annie stays with a wealthy man named Oliver Warbucks for Christmas.
The original Broadway musical won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Its success has led to several revivals and international productions. It also spawned a sequel, which opened in 1989. Unfortunately, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge was not as successful as the original.
As one of the best Broadway musicals ever, Annie often appears in pop culture references. One example is Donkey singing “Tomorrow” in Shrek 2 (2004).
Broadway Premiere: January 16, 1964
Music by: Jerry Herman
Hello, Dolly! is a comedy musical about professional matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi. The story follows Dolly as she travels to New York City with her client, a wealthy man named Horace Vandergelder. Unknown to Horace, Dolly plans to marry Horace herself.
In 1964, the original Broadway production swept the Tony Awards with 10 out of 11 wins. This includes Best Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Carol Channing, who played Dolly.
In 2017, Hello, Dolly! had a successful Broadway revival. The production won several Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. Bette Midler, who played Dolly, also won Best Actress in a Leading Role in Musical.
Broadway Premiere: March 31, 1943
Music by: Richard Rodgers
Today, the best Broadway musicals tell interesting stories by combining the plot, characters, and songs cohesively. This wasn’t always the case. Back then, songs in musical plays were usually just spectacles. However, Oklahoma! changed all that. All of its musical themes, including the music, lyrics, and dancing, matched the story itself.
Oklahoma! is a musical about Laurey Williams, a farm girl who has feelings for the cowboy, Curly McLain. However, Jud Fry, Laurey’s new farmhand, intervenes between the two after he becomes obsessed with Laurey.
Aside from its title as the predecessor of American musical theater, Oklahoma! is also an award-winning musical. In 1944, Oklahoma! received a special Pulitzer Prize for its original score. In 1993, it also received a Special Tony Award for its 50th anniversary.
The Rocky Horror Show
Broadway Premiere: March 10, 1975
Music by: Richard O’Brien
If you’re a fan of horror and sci-fi films from the 1930s, then you’ll love The Rocky Horror Show. The Rocky Horror Show is about a newlywed couple, Brad and Janet, who get caught in a storm. They stumble into the house of a mad scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Soon, the couple discovers the strange people who live in the house, including an artificial man named Rocky.
Unfortunately, its original Broadway run was unsuccessful. On April 6, 1975, it closed after only 45 performances. Despite this, many consider Rocky Horror to be one of the best Broadway musicals ever.
Today, Rocky Horror has a large cult following. It has led to several revivals, international productions, and a successful film adaptation.
Broadway Premiere: March 26, 1964
Music by: Jule Styne
Funny Girl stands out among the best Broadway musicals as a musical about Broadway itself. It is a semi-biographical story about Broadway star Fanny Brice andis a two-act play that details her early life, rise to fame, and relationship with Nick Arnstein.
Many praised Barbara Streisand for her performance as Fanny Brice, and she reprised the role in the 1968 film adaptation. In 2004, the Grammy Hall of Fame inducted the musical’s original cast recording.
Broadway Premiere: April 29, 2007
Music by: Neil Benjamin and Laurence O’Keefe
Another musical adaptation of a film is Legally Blonde. Like the original 2001 film, the musical tells the story of Elle Woods, who is a stereotypical sorority girl. However, she defies expectations and proves she can be serious by enrolling in the same law school as her ex-boyfriend.
The original Broadway run had mixed reviews, but many praised its fun and upbeat story. Legally Blonde also had a successful West End production. In 2010, Legally Blonde won three Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical.
Broadway Premiere: December 10, 2006
Music by: Duncan Sheik
Spring Awakening is a rock musical about a group of teenagers undergoing puberty. The story centers on Wendla, a naive teenage girl, and Melchior, an intelligent but troublemaking boy.
The plot highlights social issues like suicide, teenage pregnancy, and abuse. Above all, the musical highlights the failure of adults to properly guide the youth in their naivety.
Despite its controversial topics, Spring Awakening became one of the best Broadway musicals ever. In 2007, it won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. In 2008, it also won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
Broadway Premiere: January 6, 1963
Music by: Lionel Bart
Oliver! is an adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist. While it isn’t the first adaptation of a Charles Dickens work, it is the only one hailed as one of the best Broadway musicals ever.
The musical tells the coming-of-age story of Oliver, an orphan who finds himself in the company of a group of young pickpockets.
In 1963, the show won three Tony Awards, including Best Original Score. Its success led to several revivals, a film adaptation, and a UK tour.
Matilda the Musical
Broadway Premiere: April 11, 2013
Music by: Tim Minchin
Based on Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Matilda the Musical tells the story of Matilda, an intellectual 5-year-old girl who loves to read. Her intelligence isn’t her only gift as Matilda also has the power of telekinesis.
In 2013, the original Broadway run won five Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical. Sophia Gennusa, who played Matilda, also won the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre. Many critics hailed the show as one of the best Broadway musicals ever.
Its success led to an Australian and New Zealand tour in 2015. Asian countries like the Philippines, Korea, and Japan also staged the production. A Netflix film adaptation of the musical will also premiere in 2022.
Broadway Premiere: November 21, 1934
Music by: Cole Porter
Anything Goes is a musical about Billy Crocker, a Wall Street broker who sneaks onto the SS American ship to pursue his love for Hope Harcourt.
Because the first Tony Awards occurred in 1947, the original Broadway run didn’t win any accolades. However, both the 1987 and 2011 Broadway revivals won the Tony Award for Best Revival.
Because of its popularity, Anything Goes spawned three film adaptations in 1936, 1956, and 2022. In 1954, an adaptation of the musical also aired on live TV.
Broadway Premiere: November 6, 2005
Music by: Bob Gaudio
Jersey Boys is a two-act musical about The Four Seasons, a popular rock and roll group from the 1960s. The musical follows a documentary-style format, where members of the group each narrate their experiences through an interview.
In 2006, Jersey Boys won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The musical also received positive reviews from critics, with many praising the score. Its success has led to a West End production, US and UK tours, and a 2014 film adaptation.
Broadway Premiere: April 26, 1970
Music by: Stephen Sondheim
Company tells the story of Robert, a single man with several close friends. On his 35th birthday, his friends, all married or engaged, throw him a surprise birthday party. Throughout the musical, Robert’s birthday party resets repeatedly as Robert’s past lovers are introduced.
In contrast to most musicals, Company did not have a linear plot. The two-act musical features a series of vignettes or brief scenes with no chronological order.
In 1971, Company received 14 Tony Award nominations. It won six categories, including Best Musical. Its most recent Broadway revivals in 2006 and 2021 also won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
Dear Evan Hansen
Broadway Premiere: December 4, 2016
Music by: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Dear Evan Hansen is a musical about a high school student named Evan Hansen. Connor Murphy, who suffers from drug abuse, commits suicide at the start of the musical. Connor’s parents mistake Evan for Connor’s friend, and the misunderstanding soon gets out of hand as Evan goes viral online.
At the 2017 Tony Awards, Dear Evan Hansen won six awards, including Best Musical. Ben Platt also won Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for his role as Evan.
What makes Dear Evan Hansen one of the best Broadway musicals ever isn’t just its awards. It is also the impact it had on promoting conversations about mental health. Many critics and young audiences praised the show for its depiction of depression and grief.
Broadway Premiere: April 17, 2019
Music by: Anaïs Mitchell
For Greek mythology fans, there is only one winner among these best Broadway musicals. Hadestown is a musical retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Eurydice, desperate for a better life, becomes a worker at Hadestown, an underground factory. She soon discovers there is no freedom in Hadestown, and she has no choice but to stay after signing a contract from Hades. Orpheus, her lover, finds her under the guidance of Hermes.
In 2019, Hadestown received 14 Tony Award nominations. It won eight categories, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Direction of a Musical.
Rock of Ages
Broadway Premiere: April 7, 2009
Music by: Various artists
If you’re a fan of 1980s rock music, then you’ll love Rock of Ages! As a jukebox musical, songs by classic rock bands like Bon Jovi, Journey, and Styx all appear on the score.
The musical is about an aspiring rockstar named Drew Boley. While working at a Hollywood club, Drew tries to write original songs about his life. He eventually falls in love with Sherrie Christian, who moved to Hollywood to pursue her acting dream. As German developers try to take over the city, Drew and Sherrie fall in love.
Rock of Ages is regarded as one of the best Broadway musicals that break the “fourth wall”. In films, TV shows, and plays, the fourth wall is an imaginary wall that separates the actors from the audience. By breaking the “fourth wall”, the characters in Rock of Ages directly acknowledge they are in a musical. This opens new opportunities for more humor and plot development.
Broadway Premiere: October 7, 1982
Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Cats is a musical about a tribe of cats called the Jellicles. They all gather one night for the Jellicle Ball, where their leader chooses one cat to be reborn.
With over 7,000 runs in 18 years, Cats is the fourth longest-running Broadway musical ever. Its London production ran for even longer with almost 9,000 performances in 21 years.
Among the best Broadway musicals, Cats is the first “mega-musical”. As a mega-musical, Cats has extravagant sets, light, and sound designs. The marketing appealed to families and tourists instead of only locals. This ushered in a new era of musical theater. It led to more extravagant productions, like The Phantom of the Opera.