There’s nothing quite like taking in a Broadway show at a real theater. The music, the lights, and the storytelling are all simply spellbinding. With cinematic versions of some of the best musicals around, it’s become even easier for fans to get the same experience at home.
Folks looking to try and find the best broadway musicals to watch should make sure they don’t miss any of these all-time classics. They cover a variety of genres and are certain to leave anyone that watches them singing or humming the tunes to themselves.
1. Rent (1996)
One of the most popular musicals of the twenty-first century is Jonathan Larson’s Rent, which premiered on Broadway after his death in 1996. It was holding off-broadway previews when Larson passed and was never finished in terms of reviews, but it still grossed over $280 million on opening night. Not to mention, Rent has one of Broadway’s most iconic songs, Seasons of Love.
Rent takes place at the end of the nineties and the changing of the millennium as a group of friends in New York City live through the Aids epidemic. Because of how stigmatized the disease was at Rent’s time of opening, it was a statement piece. It showed people suffering from Aids in a realistic light, showing that they’re human beings and it isn’t the ‘gay disease’ as so many in the nineties believed it to be.
With its rock score and intriguing characters, Rent is one of the best and most impactful musicals. The diversity in a show from the nineties does more than a lot of present-day pieces of theatre, it withstood the test of time and solidified Jonathan Larson’s status as a Broadway legend.
2. Next to Normal (2009)
Much like Rent, Next to Normal showcased stigmatized issues to an audience in a time when mental health was still rarely discussed. Next to Normal addresses mental illness, grief, drug abuse, and even the lack of ethics in psychiatry. Diana, the matriarch of the family, struggles with Bipolar disorder and it’s only getting worse as time goes on. Not only does she face the struggles of her mental illness, but also the struggles of being a mother to a teenager and trying to keep a happy family.
Next to Normal does a great job at showing the effects mental illness has on the family as a unit in addition to the individual struggling. Both Diana’s husband and daughter are characters as well, her husband struggling to understand how to help her and her daughter trying to be perfect but failing and turning to drugs. Along with her family, Diana also deals with hallucinations of her dead son, Gabe who represents her grief and guilt from losing him as a baby.
It shows just how detrimental mental illness can be when there’s not enough education or communication surrounding it. It’s a realistic portrayal of mental illness and one of the strongest I’ve seen on stage or screen. Education and accuracy is important when discussing mental health, and Next to Normal did an amazing job taking steps to end the stigma.
3. A Chorus Line (1975)
The musical was an instant hit and went on to win nine Tony Awards as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A Chorus Line follows seventeen Broadway hopefuls as they find themselves in an audition where the task is to explain how they got where they are. This is an unorthodox audition, to say the least, so at first, they’re all a bit confused and hesitant. Eventually, the characters are revealing their deepest secrets and what they’ve done for the love of the theatre.
A Chorus Line is a show by theatre kids and for theatre kids. The book was written by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante. This musical was created through taped sessions with actors and dancers. These sessions were used to create characters and backstories that felt human, and that’s because they were. Even in the 2006 Broadway revival, some of the original people whose stories were used to create the characters sat in on auditions to help find a good version of themselves that seemed ‘real.’ That’s what made it so successful, the raw stories and emotions that were pulled from so many actors’ real lives.
4. Hair (1967)
If for no other reason, Hair makes this list for its impact on America. Hair premiered at a time in American history when the country was divided nearly as much as it is now. The Broadway production follows a group of the peace movement, known as The Tribe, who are fighting oppression, sexual repression, and the Vietnam War draft.
Along with its memorable music that includes Age of Aquarius, Hair also made a name for itself in the U.S. Supreme Court. For the show’s finale, the entire cast went nude on stage, which didn’t fare well for the touring production. The case led to laws about nudity and expressionism and proved that theatre is capable of change.
5. Wicked (2004)
One of the more well-known musicals on the list is Stephen Schwartz’s, Wicked. Taking place in the wonderful land of Oz, Wicked tells the story of Elphaba who the world now knows as the Wicked Witch of the West. Through her friendship with Glinda the Good Elphie, as she’s affectionately been nicknamed, she learns to embrace who she is and what she believes even if others punish her for it. It’s a tale as old as time while also spinning a classic story on its head from a different point of view.
The music from Wicked is known far and wide as the show has had tours in nearly fifteen countries, but the most recognizable of them all is Elphaba’s showstopper ‘Defying Gravity.’ It’s her pivotal moment, and seeing her fly off of the stage and belt out the final notes is something no audience member will ever forget.
6. Les Miserables (1986)
Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Les Miserables follows Jean Valjean as he tries to survive during the French revolution after receiving parole. As a classic musical, anyone with even the slightest connection to the theatre knows about it, and that audience expanded when the film version was released in 2012. While it can be confusing to follow, it’s worth the watch because of how enticing the characters and their stories are.
The musical is an ensemble piece as it tells the stories of different characters who are all connected back to Valjean in some way. Unlike some of the other musicals on the list, Les Miserables is sung completely through, which can turn some people off from it. Much like Wicked, Les Miserables has a few signature songs, the most notable being ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ or ‘On My Own’, both of which are known to be overdone in musical theatre auditions, which only proves its status on this list.
7. Beauty and the Beast (1994)
It’s only right to include a Disney musical on the list, and to me, Beauty and the Beast is the obvious choice. It’s one of Disney’s most beloved films and became one of Broadway’s most beloved shows during its thirteen-year run. It was also the first Disney movie to be successfully translated to the Broadway stage.
The film version has its own incredible music, but the reason Beauty and the Beast deserves a spot here is because of the new music and character depth that was added for the stage version. Two new songs were written for The Beast and multiple solos were written for Belle that explored their characters more than the film.
The Beast’s song, ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ is full of heartache, sorrow, and hopelessness when he realizes his curse can’t break. It gave his character a vulnerability we didn’t see before, and with an already amazing story from the film, it only made the stage version that much better.
8. Hamilton (2015)
No list of Broadway’s best is complete without Lin Manuel Miranda’s record-breaking Hamilton. Not only was it entertaining, but the number of awards, praise, and attention it received was like nothing Broadway had ever seen before. It came at a time when America was divided over the upcoming election and seeing people of color represented on stage in roles that had never been written for them was something so powerful.
The representation plus the unique rap style to the show’s soundtrack solidified Hamilton’s place on this list.
9. Jesus Christ Superstar (1971)
One of Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber’s many masterpieces was Jesus Christ Superstar which tells the story of none other than Jesus Christ himself. Like Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar is completely sung through rather than having dialogue in between. This music though is disco-based, with the upbeat songs telling the story of Jesus’ life until Judas’ betrayal.
While there aren’t any specific songs from the show that the masses would know at first listen, the whole soundtrack is incredible. The genres range from disco, pop, rock, and of course classic show tunes. There’s been multiple movies and shows based on Jesus’ life, but Jesus Christ Superstar does an amazing job at telling the story while keeping it entertaining and a bit lighter than the usual portrayal of the Messiah.
10. Newsies (2012)
I can’t lie and say I don’t love this show, because I do. However, I still believe it truly deserves a spot on this list. Newsies is based on the 1992 movie of the same name and has the same composer as Beauty and the Beast, Disney royalty Alan Menken.
Newsies has everything that makes a Broadway musical so enticing; catchy songs, intriguing characters, and big and exciting dance numbers. It’s different from most other Disney shows, but because of the true events behind the music, it still resonates with audiences. Newsies is most known for their insane dance numbers like ‘King of New York’ and ‘Seize the Day’, both of which include energetic tap numbers with tumbling passes and turning like you’ve never seen. If nothing else, Newsies is a spectacle for everyone to enjoy, regular theatergoer or not.