In the last 14 years, the 21st century has already offered some incredible additions to the musical theater pantheon. These are the best new musicals, both on and off-Broadway.
43. American Idiot
Bryan Bedder / Getty
Book: Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael MayerMusic: Green DayLyrics: Billie Joe ArmstrongOriginal Broadway cast: John Gallagher Jr. as Johnny, Michael Esper as Will, Mary Faber as Heather, Rebecca Naomi Jones as Whatsername, Christina Sajous as The Extraordinary Girl, Stark Sands as Tunny, Tony Vincent as St. JimmyPerformance dates: April 20, 2010-April 24, 2011
What it’s about: Johnny, Will, and Tunny are three disaffected youths living in Jingletown, USA. While Johnny and Tunny escape to the city, Will is forced to stay behind with his pregnant girlfriend Heather. The city offers new thrills, but Johnny falls into drug abuse and Tunny is recruited and enlists in the army.Why it’s essential: There were rock musicals before American Idiot, but few were as effective at capturing the raw energy that infuses the show. Although the music isn’t original, it’s transformed in its theatrical context. Like the album on which it’s based, American Idiot feels like a time capsule of Bush-era rage and ennui.
42. Legally Blonde
Book: Heather HachMusic and lyrics: Laurence O’Keefe and Nell BenjaminOriginal Broadway cast: Laura Bell Bundy as Elle Woods, Richard H. Blake as Warner Huntington III, Christian Borle as Emmett Forrest, Orfeh as Paulette, Michael Rupert as Professor Callahan, Kate Shindle as Vivienne Kensington, Nikki Snelson as Brooke WyndamPerformance dates: April 29, 2007-Oct. 19, 2008
What it’s about: Based on the 2001 film of the same name, Legally Blonde follows Elle Woods, a sorority girl who gets dumped by her boyfriend Warner and ends up following him to Harvard Law School to win him back. She turns out to be adept at the law and ends up defending a woman falsely accused of murder.Why it’s essential: It may not be the deepest musical, but Legally Blonde — like Elle Woods — deserves credit for what it does well. The show is just fun, a pitch-perfect adaptation of the similarly delightful film, and it was the ideal showcase for the bubbly talents of Laura Bell Bundy.
Book: David ZellnikMusic: Joseph ZellnikLyrics: David ZellnikOriginal off-Broadway cast: Nancy Anderson as Women, Jeffry Denman as Artie, Ivan Hernandez as Mitch, Bobby Steggert as Stu, Andrew Durand as Tennessee, Zak Edwards as Melanie, Todd Faulkner as Sarge, Denis Lambert as Lieutenant, Joseph Medeiros as Dream Stu, David Perlman as Rotelli, Christopher Ruth as Professor, Tally Sessions as CzechowskiPerformance dates: Feb. 24, 2010-April 4, 2010
What it’s about: A young man in San Francisco finds an old diary belonging to Stu, who writes about being drafted to fight in World War II back in 1943. Among his fears about combat, Stu has to confront his feelings for fellow soldier Mitch. Working as a photographer for Yank Magazine, Stu discovers a hidden gay world.Why it’s essential: Yank!, which was first performed as a workshop in 2005, was revived off-Broadway in 2010, a time at which DADT was very much part of the national conversation. The music and style evoke a classic 1940s musical, but the timeless themes and military context made it relevant for a modern-day audience.
40. Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Book: Dave MalloyMusic and lyrics: Dave MalloyOriginal off-Broadway cast: Brittain Ashford as Sonya, Gelsey Bell as Mary, Blake DeLong as Bolkonsky/Andrey, Amber Gray as Hélène, Ian Lassiter as Dolokhov, Dave Malloy as Pierre, Grace McLean as Marya D, Paul Pinto as Balaga, Phillipa Soo as Natasha, Lucas Steele as AnatolePerformance dates: May 15, 2013-March 2, 2014
What it’s about: Based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace — or rather, one section of the epic Russian novel — Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 sees the titular Natasha romanced by Anatole in 19th century Moscow high society. Complicating matters, Pierre also has eyes for Natasha, much to his despair.Why it’s essential: A musical based on War and Peace is already a tough sell, but add to that the fact that Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 is performed in a tent while the audience eats and drinks, making this an impressively immersive show. Thoroughly unique experiences like this one are few and far between.
Book: Enda WalshMusic and lyrics: Glen Hansard and Markéta IrglováOriginal Broadway cast: Steve Kazee as Guy, Cristin Milioti as Girl, David Abeles as Eamon, Will Connolly as Andrej, Elizabeth A. Davis as Réza, David Patrick Kelly as Da, Anne L. Nathan as Baruška, Lucas Papaelias as Švec, Andy Taylor as Bank ManagerPerformance dates: March 18, 2012-
What it’s about: A stage adaptation of the 2006 musical film, Once is about an unnamed man and woman who form a musical partnership and fall in love over a few days in Dublin. Sadly, Guy, an unsuccessful busker, and Girl, a Czech immigrant, are both involved with other lovers, and their brief affair goes unconsummated.Why it’s essential: Today’s Broadway loves musical adaptations of films, but Once stands out from the rest. It’s a hauntingly bittersweet show made all the more memorable by its intimate staging, including the stage doubling as a bar during intermission. Like the film, its power lies in being an untraditional love story.
Book: Sybille PearsonMusic and lyrics: Michael John LaChiusaOriginal off-Broadway cast: Kate Baldwin as Leslie, Brian d’Arcy James as Bick, P.J. Griffith as Jett, John Dossett as Bawley, Michelle Pawk as Luz, MacKenzie Mauzy as Lil Luz, Bobby Steggert as Jordy Jr., Jon Fletcher as Bobby Jr./Bobby Sr.Performance dates: Oct. 26, 2012-Dec. 16, 2012
What it’s about: Like the classic 1956 film, Giant is an expansive story based on Edna Ferber’s 1952 novel. It begins in 1922, with cattleman Bick marrying Leslie. Also in love with Leslie is Jett, a handyman who discovers oil on his own. The story covers decades of shifting relationships and changing ideals.Why it’s essential: Giant tests the limits of how long a musical can be, clocking in at an impressive three hours and 45 minutes. Originally presented in three acts, Giant may simply be too much for some, but the show’s length aptly reflects the expansiveness of the plot and of the Texas setting. It’s called Giant for a reason.
37. Adding Machine
Mark L. Saperstein
Book: Jason Loewith and Joshua SchmidtMusic: Joshua SchmidtLyrics: Jason Loewith and Joshua SchmidtOriginal off-Broadway cast: Cyrilla Baer as Mrs. Zero, Joel Hatch as Mr. Zero, Amy Warren as Daisy Devore, Joe Farrell as Shrdlu, Jeff Still as Boss/Fixer/Charles, Adinah Alexander as Mrs. Two, Niffer Clarke as Mrs. One, Roger E. DeWitt as Mr. Two, Daniel Marcus as Mr. OnePerformance dates: Feb. 25, 2008-July 20, 2008
What it’s about: A musical adaptation of the 1923 Elmer Rice play, an Expressionist classic, Adding Machine is a bit hard to describe. Antihero Mr. Zero learns he has been replaced by an adding machine after 25 years of work, so he kills his boss in revenge. He is tried for murder and hanged — but that’s not the end.Why it’s essential: It’s fitting that an odd Expressionist play would become an odd Expressionist musical. Adding Machine represents the kind of unconventional theater that can find a comfortable home off-Broadway. And the theater community takes notice — the show won the Lucille Ortel Award for Outstanding Musical.
36. A Class Act
Book: Linda Kline and Lonny PriceMusic and lyrics: Edward KlebanOriginal Broadway cast: Lonny Price as Ed, Randy Graff as Sophie, Nancy Anderson as Mona, Jeff Blumenkrantz as Charley, Donna Bullock as Lucy, David Hibbard as Bobby, Patrick Quinn as Lehman, Sara Ramirez as FeliciaPerformance dates: March 11, 2001-June 10, 2001
What it’s about: The semi-autobiographical A Class Act reflects on the life and work of composer-lyricist Edward Kleban by those who knew him. The musical begins with a 1988 memorial service for Kleban, then moves backward in time, showing Kleban’s interactions with friends and colleagues through his music.Why it’s essential: Just as A Chorus Line — for which Kleban wrote the lyrics — offered invaluable insight into the lives of performers, A Class Act is an intimate and revelatory peek behind the curtain. It’s a fascinating study of how an artist’s personal life interferes with his work — and vice versa.
Book: Joe DiPietroMusic: David BryanLyrics: Joe DiPietro and David BryanOriginal Broadway cast: Chad Kimball as Huey Calhoun, Montego Glover as Felicia Farrell, J. Bernard Calloway as Delray, Derrick Baskin as Gator, James Monroe Iglehart as Bobby, Cass Morgan as Mama/Gladys, Michael McGrath as Mr. SimmonsPerformance dates: Oct. 19, 2009-Aug. 5, 2012
What it’s about: Memphis is inspired by the story of Dewey Phillips, who was one of the first white DJs to play black music in the ’50s. Here, Dewey is reimagined as Huey, who enters the world of underground black clubs in Memphis because he loves the music, and ends up falling for Felicia, against societal conventions.Why it’s important: While Memphis isn’t the first musical to cover similar subject matter, it still offers a different and important take on the relationship between racial segregation and rock ‘n’ roll. What makes the show especially effective is that the music, while recalling the era, is all original to the musical.
Book: Brian YorkeyMusic: Tom KittLyrics: Brian YorkeyOriginal Broadway cast: Idina Menzel as Elizabeth, LaChanze as Kate, Anthony Rapp as Lucas, James Snyder as Josh, Jenn Colella as Anne, Jerry Dixon as Stephen, Jason Tam as DavidPerformance dates: March 30, 2014-
What it’s about: Recently divorced Elizabeth imagines two different paths for herself based on a chance decision — does she go with Kate or Lucas? The show explores both timelines, in which Elizabeth is alternately Liz and Beth, and how her relationships with Kate, Lucas, and a soldier named Josh play out differently.Why it’s essential: Some have criticized If/Then for being messy, but the show’s intricate, complicated nature is the perfect representation of Elizabeth’s life. The dual lives format is a fantastical conceit that’s also grounded in reality, which makes for some heartbreaking moments in a musical that is ultimately life-affirming.
33. [title of show]
Book: Hunter BellMusic and lyrics: Jeff BowenOriginal Broadway cast: Hunter Bell as Hunter, Susan Blackwell as Susan, Heidi Blickenstaff as Heidi, Jeff Bowen as JeffPerformance dates: July 17, 2008-Oct. 12, 2008
What it’s about: This is what happens when you scramble to write a musical. Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen based [title on show] on… well, writing [title of show]. It’s a musical about the creation of a musical, inspired by the conversations they had as they were struggling to write a new original work.Why it’s essential: Few shows capture the artistic process better than [title of show], which is the definition of a happy accident. Yes, it’s meta and post-modern, but it’s also just a wonderful musical in its own right. It’s an example of creative people getting together to make something new, and stumbling on genius.
32. Jersey Boys
Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick EliceMusic: Bob GaudioLyrics: Bob CreweOriginal Broadway cast: Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito, Daniel Reichard as Bob Gaudio, J. Robert Spencer as Nick Massi, John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, Tituss Burgess as Hal Miller, Steve Gouveia as Hank Majewski, Peter Gregus as Bob Crewe, Donnie Kehr as Norm Waxman, Michael Longoria as JoeyPerformance dates: Nov. 6, 2005-
What it’s about: In documentary style, Jersey Boys tracks the rise and fall of 1960s rock band the Four Seasons, from their formation and subsequent fame to their eventual break-up. With music by the group, the show covers high points and low points, with band members directly addressing the audience at key moments.Why it’s essential: The jukebox musical gets a bad name, and sometimes that’s warranted — as audiences yearn for more originality on Broadway, it can be disheartening to see shows with recycled music. But Jersey Boys perfected the form. Its structure and stellar performances make it the clear standout of the genre.
31. The Color Purple
Book: Marsha NormanMusic and lyrics: Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen BrayOriginal Broadway cast: LaChanze as Celie, Brandon Victor Dixon as Harpo, Felicia P. Fields as Sofia, Reneé Elise Goldsberry as Nettie, Kingsley Leggs as Mister, Krisha Marcano as Squeak, Elisabeth Withers-Mendes as Shug Avery, James Brown III as BobbyPerformance dates: Dec. 1, 2005-Feb. 24, 2008
What it’s about: Based on the novel of the same name by Alice Walker, The Color Purple follows sisters Celie and Nettie over the course of four decades in rural Georgia at the first half of the 20th century. Forcefully separated and kept apart, Celie and Nettie struggle to reunite and survive their circumstances.Why it’s essential: As when the novel The Color Purple was released in 1982, the themes of the musical remain timeless. The shocking depictions of racism and sexism perpetuated against the subjugated sisters are harrowing but necessary, and the overall experience is aided by a gorgeous score that made LaChanze a star.
30. Grey Gardens
Book: Doug WrightMusic: Scott FrankelLyrics: Michael KorieOriginal Broadway cast: Christine Ebersole as ”Little” Edie Beale/Edith Bouvier Beale, Mary Louise Wilson as Edith Bouvier Beale, Matt Cavenaugh as Joseph Patrick Kennedy/Jerry, Jr., Erin Davie as Young “Little” Edie Beale, Kelsey Fowler as Lee Bouvier, Sarah Hyland as Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier, John McMartin as J.V. “Major” Bouvier/Norman Vincent Peale, Michael Potts as Brooks, Sr./Brooks, Jr., Bob Stillman as George Gould StrongPerformance dates: Nov. 2, 2006-July 29, 2007
What it’s about: The first act of Grey Gardens shows Little Edie and Big Edie when they were younger and rich, before their lives fell into disrepair. The second act is based on the classic documentary Grey Gardens, in which an older Little Edie and Big Edie live an isolated existence in a dilapidated mansion.Why it’s essential: Another musical based on a movie, Grey Gardens significantly expands on the 1975 documentary by offering an imagined glimpse at life for its protagonists before everything went to shit. It makes the more familiar second act all the more heart-rending, creating valuable context where once there was none.
29. Billy Elliot the Musical
Book: Lee HallMusic: Elton JohnLyrics: Lee HallOriginal Broadway cast: David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish as Billy Elliot, Santino Fontana as Tony, Haydn Gwynne as Mrs. Wilkinson, Gregory Jbara as Dad, Carole Shelley as GrandmaPerformance dates: Nov. 13, 2008-Jan. 8, 2012
What it’s about: As in the 2000 film, Billy Elliot finds himself more drawn to ballet than to wrestling — against his father’s wishes. But Billy finds solace in dance and lessons from Mrs. Wilkinson, even as the world around him is in turmoil. The musical takes place during the U.K. coal miners’ strike that lasted from 1984 to 1985.Why it’s essential: Cute kids aren’t always what you want to see front and center in a musical, but the tremendous dancing by the young actors of Billy Elliot transcends any doubts even the most curmudgeonly audience members might have. And the show’s concerns about masculinity, which should be dated, are still contentious.
28. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Book: Alex TimbersMusic and lyrics: Michael FriedmanOriginal Broadway cast: Benjamin Walker as Andrew Jackson, Kristine Nielsen as The Storyteller, James Barry as Male Soloist, Darren Goldstein as Calhoun, Greg Hildreth as Red Eagle, Jeff Hiller as John Quincy Adams, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe as Van Buren, Cameron Ocasio as Lyncoya, Bryce Pinkham as Clay, Maria Elena Ramirez as Rachel, Ben Steinfeld as MonroePerformance dates: Oct. 13, 2010-Jan. 2, 2011
What it’s about: Part rock musical, part history, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is about the founding of the Democratic Party in 1828. The show covers the eponymous U.S. president’s life and work, in particular the rise of populism, the Indian Removal Act, and Jackson’s relationship with his wife Rachel.Why it’s essential: Like other rock musicals, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is relentlessly energetic, which only underscores the serious issues it addresses. Despite the fact that its politics are firmly rooted in the 1800s, they’re relevant to a modern-day populace, a stirring reminder that the more things change…
Deen van Meer
Book: Harvey FiersteinMusic: Alan MenkenLyrics: Jack FeldmanOriginal Broadway cast: John Dossett as Joseph Pulitzer, Ben Fankhauser as Davey, Lewis Grosso and Matthew Schechter as Les, Capathia Jenkins as Medda Larkin, Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly, Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Crutchie, Kara Lindsay as KatherinePerformance dates: March 29, 2012-
What it’s about: Based on the 1992 Disney film — and the true events that inspired it — Newsies is about the titular young men, largely orphaned and homeless, who hock newspapers on the street. When the price of papers is raised 10 cents by the greedy Joseph Pulitzer, Jack inspires his fellow newsies to protest.Why it’s essential: Say what you will about the Disney musical — Newsies shows what Disney gets right. The inspiring story and infectious music is as delightful here as it was in the original film, appealing to young audience members and the young at heart, like any good Disney production should.
Book: Rupert HolmesMusic: John KanderLyrics: Fred EbbOriginal Broadway cast: Debra Monk as Carmen Bernstein, David Hyde Pierce as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi, John Bolton as Daryl Grady, Jason Danieley as Aaron Fox, Edward Hibbert as Christopher Belling, Michael X. Martin as Johnny Harmon, Michael McCormick as Oscar Shapiro, Jill Paice as Niki Harris, Noah Racey as Bobby Pepper, Ernie Sabella as Sidney Bernstein, Megan Sikora as Bambi Bernét, Karen Ziemba as Georgia HendricksPerformance dates: March 22, 2007-June 29, 2008
What it’s about: In 1959 Boston, the untalented star of Robbin’ Hood of the Old West is murdered during the opening night curtain call. Enter Lieutenant Cioffi, who in addition to his detective skills is also a fan of musical theater. Cioffi has to solve the case and save the show, and he’s got a murderer on his tail.Why it’s essential: Curtains may not be up there with Chicago and Cabaret, Kander and Ebb’s most famous works, but it’s an engaging and hilarious mystery that perfectly satirizes a very specific genre, the backstage murder mystery. More than that, it’s also a love letter to classic musical theater.
25. The Bridges of Madison County
Book: Marsha NormanMusic and lyrics: Jason Robert BrownOriginal Broadway cast: Kelli O’Hara as Francesca, Steven Pasquale as Robert, Whitney Bashor as Marian, Hunter Foster as Bud, Caitlin Kinnunen as Carolyn, Derek Klena as Michael, Michael X. Martin as Charlie, Cass Morgan as MargePerformance dates: Feb. 20, 2014-May 18, 2014
What it’s about: In 1965, disaffected housewife Francesca contemplates her life in Iowa, far away from her home in Italy. With her husband and kids away at the State Fair, Francesca meets National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid, and the two embark on a passionate but short-lived affair that ends in heartbreak.Why it’s essential: The fact that The Bridges of Madison County didn’t earn a Tony nomination for Best Musical is a travesty, made all the more tragic because the show was forced to close early. It’s a beautiful, haunting show, with a rich score by Jason Robert Brown, and stunning performances by Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale.
Book: Greg KotisMusic: Mark HollmannLyrics: Mark Hollmann and Greg KotisOriginal Broadway cast: Hunter Foster as Bobby Strong, Jennifer Laura Thompson as Hope Cladwell, Nancy Opel as Penelope Pennywise, John Cullum as Caldwell B. Cladwell, Spencer Kayden as Little Sally, Jeff McCarthy as Officer Lockstock, Daniel Marcus as Officer Barrel, John Deyle as Senator Fipp, David Beach as Mr. McQueenPerformance dates: Sep. 20, 2001-Jan. 18, 2004
What it’s about: In the dark world of Urinetown, a 20-year drought has made private toilets a thing of the past. Now all bathrooms are public and controlled by a megacorporation, which forces people to pay for the privilege of peeing. Charismatic Bobby Strong leads his fellow citizens in a revolution — with mixed results.Why it’s essential: Part of what makes Urinetown such a funny show is how unexpected it is. The musical repeatedly subverts expectations to darkly comedic effect, parodying far more serious works like Les Misérables and reminding audiences that not all musical comedy has a happy ending.
23. The Producers
Book: Mel Brooks and Thomas MeehanMusic and lyrics: Mel BrooksOriginal Broadway cast: Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom, Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock, Roger Bart as Carmen Ghia, Gary Beach as Roger De Bris, Cady Huffman as Ulla, Brad Oscar as Franz LiebkindPerformance dates: April 19, 2001-April 22, 2007
What it’s about: Adapted by Mel Brooks from his 1968 film, the titular producers are Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, who conspire to dupe investors by purposely making a Broadway flop. Their plan backfires when Springtime for Hitler, despite being an offensive disaster on paper, is celebrated as a hilarious comedy.Why it’s essential: Despite being based on a 30-year-old film, The Producers breathed new life into musical comedy. The book is sharp and relentlessly entertaining, but it’s also full of great musical numbers, “Springtime for Hitler” being the obvious standout. The Producers paved the way for more great shows like it.
Book: Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry HwangMusic: Elton JohnLyrics: Tim RiceOriginal Broadway cast: Heather Headley as Aida, Adam Pascal as Radames, Sherie Rene Scott as Amneris, Tyrees Allen as Amonasro, John Hickok as Zoser, Daniel Oreskes as Pharaoh, Damian Perkins as MerebPerformance dates: March 23, 2000-Sep. 5, 2004
What it’s about: In this musical based on the Giuseppe Verdi opera, Radames, who is next in line to become Pharaoh, falls for a captured Nubian slave named Aida, who is secretly a princess. Their forbidden love is complicated by Radames’ intended bride Amneris and Aida’s true identity, culminating in a tragic ending to their affair.Why it’s essential: It’s hard to imagine that Aida was once intended to be adapted as a Disney film — the elements are still there (Elton John and Tim Rice), but it’s a heavy, depressing love story. In addition to its undeniable power, Aida is significant for the way it blurs the lines between musical and opera.
21. Passing Strange
Book: StewMusic: Stew and Heidi RodewaldLyrics: StewOriginal Broadway cast: De’Adre Aziza as Edwina/Marianna/Sudabey, Daniel Breaker as Youth, Eisa Davis as Mother, Colman Domingo as Franklin/Joop/Mr. Venus, Chad Goodridge as Terry/Christophe/Hugo, Rebecca Naomi Jones as Sherry/Renata/Desi, Stew as NarratorPerformance dates: Feb. 28, 2008-July 20, 2008
What it’s about: The unnamed Youth, a black man from South Central Los Angeles, rebels against his mother and his religious upbringing. He embarks on a journey to find “the real,” traveling across Europe and exploring different genres of music, including rock, jazz, gospel, and punk, in order to find himself.Why it’s essential: Like other great rock musicals, the thrill of Passing Strange is that its creator Stew had no theatrical background. The result is something truly original, informed not by other musicals but by Stew’s background as a rock ‘n’ roll performer. This is a rare reflection of a thoroughly unique new voice.
Book: Jim Lewis and Bill T. JonesMusic and lyrics: Fela Anikulapo-KutiOriginal Broadway cast: Kevin Mambo and Sahr Ngaujah as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Saycon Sengbloh as Sandra, Lillias White as Funmilayo, Ismael Kouyaté as African Chanter/Geraldo Piño/Braiman/Orisha, Gelan Lambert as J.K. Braiman/Tap Dancer/EgungunPerformance dates: Nov. 23, 2009-Jan. 2, 2011
What it’s about: In the ’70s, Fela Kuti was an influential performer and composer in Nigeria. The musical is based on real events, when government soldiers were assigned to end Fela’s public performances at the Shrine nightclub. Fela becomes involved with opposition, balancing his quest for fame and his desire for civil rights.Why it’s essential: Calling Fela! a jukebox musical feels misleading — yes, the music here comes from the work of the show’s subject, Fela Kuti. But the appeal of Fela! is in its breathless, colorful performances — so intensely physical that two actors played the eponymous musician and alternated performances.
19. The Wild Party
Book: Michael John LaChiusa and George C. WolfeMusic and lyrics: Michael John LaChiusaOriginal Broadway cast: Yancey Arias as Black, Toni Collette as Queenie, Nathan Lee Graham as Phil D’Armano, Adam Grupper as Gold, Leah Hocking as Mae, Eartha Kitt as Dolores, Marc Kudisch as Jackie, Norm Lewis as Eddie Mackrel, Michael McElroy as Oscar D’Armano, Brooke Sunny Moriber as Nadine, Sally Murphy as Sally, Mandy Patinkin as Burrs, Tonya Pinkins as Kate, Jane Summerhays as Miss Madelaine True, Stuart Zagnit as GoldbergPerformance dates: April 13, 2000-June 11, 2000
What it’s about: Based on the 1928 narrative poem, The Wild Party is presented as a series of vaudeville sketches reflecting the setting, a swinging ’20s party hosted by Queenie and Burrs, whose relationship is collapsing. The eclectic cast of characters include a fading star, a black prizefighter, a morphine addict, and a gay couple.Why it’s essential: Timing for The Wild Party was a little odd — there’s another Wild Party musical, based on the same narrative poem, that emerged off-Broadway during the same season. Fans of both continue to debate which is better, but LaChiusa’s offers a richer cast of characters and steamy interactions.
18. Tick, Tick… Boom!
Book Jonathan Larson and David AuburnMusic and lyrics: Jonathan LarsonOriginal off-Broadway cast: Raúl Esparza as Jon, Jerry Dixon as Michael, Amy Spanger as SusanPerformance dates: May 23, 2001-Jan. 6, 2002
What it’s about: In this autobiographical musical first conceived as a one-man show, Jon approaches his 30th birthday with anxiety over his failure to succeed as a composer. Meanwhile, he struggles with commitment to his girlfriend Susan, who wants a more stable life, and Jon’s best friend Michael learns that he’s HIV-positive.Why it’s essential: While not the instant classic that Rent was, Jonathan Larson’s other major work is a far more personal look at the struggles that led him to write the iconic 1994 musical. The knowledge that Larson died before he could see the extent of his success adds another level of melancholy to Tick, Tick… Boom!
17. In the Heights
Book: Quiara Alegría HudesMusic and lyrics: Lin-Manuel MirandaOriginal Broadway cast: Seth Stewart as Graffiti Pete, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Usnavi, Eliseo Román as Piragua Guy, Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia, Janet Dacal as Carla, Andréa Burns as Daniela, Carlos Gomez as Kevin, Priscilla Lopez as Camila, Robin de Jesús as Sonny, Christopher Jackson as Benny, Karen Olivo as Vanessa, Mandy Gonzalez as NinaPerformance dates: March 9, 2008-Jan. 9, 2011
What it’s about: In the Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City, Usnavi, the owner of a small bodega, narrates the events happening around him. The cast of characters include matriarch Abuela Claudia, Usnavi’s love interest Vanessa, recent Stanford drop-out Nina, and gringo Benny.Why it’s essential: Before In the Heights, musical theater hadn’t dived into the Dominican-American cultural experience. This is a story about people who don’t often see themselves represented on stage (or on film and TV, for that matter), and the music — rap and salsa — is long overdue for a Broadway presence.
Book: Mark O’Donnell and Thomas MeehanMusic: Marc ShaimanLyrics: Scott Wittman and Marc ShaimanOriginal Broadway cast: Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad, Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnblad, Laura Bell Bundy as Amber Von Tussle, Kerry Butler as Penny Pingleton, Mary Bond Davis as Motormouth Maybelle, Linda Hart as Velma Von Tussle, Dick Latessa as Wilbur Turnblad, Matthew Morrison as Link Larkin, Corey Reynolds as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Clarke Thorell as Corny Collins, Danelle Eugenia Wilson as Little InezPerformance dates: Aug. 15, 2002-Jan. 4, 2009
What it’s about: As in the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray is about Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenager who dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show and win the heart of Link Larkin in 1962 Baltimore. When she does finally make it onto the show, she shakes things up by taking a stand for racial integration.Why it’s essential: John Waters on Broadway could have gone a lot of ways, but Hairspray is pretty darn wholesome — Pink Flamingos this is not. And yet, it’s just the right amount of edgy mixed with bubble-gum colors and tunes that evoke the best of ’60s pop music. Harvey Fierstein’s Edna remains one of his finest performances.
15. Here Lies Love
Book: David ByrneMusic: David Byrne and Fatboy SlimLyrics: David ByrneOriginal off-Broadway cast: Melody Butiu as Estrella, Jose Llana as Marcos, Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda, Conrad Ricamora as Aquino, Kelvin Moon Loh as D. J.Performance dates: April 24, 2013-July 28, 2013 (but now running again)
What it’s about: What began as a concept album became a rock musical, detailing the life of Imelda Marcos, the former First Lady of the Philippines — from her early life, raised by Estrella Cumpas, to her career as a singer and model, and finally to the moment she and her family were forced to leave the country.Why it’s essential: Some of the best theatrical experiences are the oddest on paper. The parts of Here Lies Love are strange: It began as a concept album, it’s about Imelda Marcos, Fatboy Slim is involved. But it all comes together to create a breathtaking, immersive production helmed by the incomparable Alex Timbers.
14. Fun Home
Book: Lisa KronMusic: Jeanine TesoriLyrics: Lisa KronOriginal off-Broadway cast: Beth Malone as Alison Bechdel, Michael Cerveris as Bruce Bechdel, Judy Kuhn as Helen Bechdel, Sydney Lucas as Small Alison, Alexandra Socha as Medium Alison, Griffin Birney as Christian Bechdel, Noah Hinsdale as John Bechdel, Roberta Colindrez as Joan, Joel Perez as Roy/Pete/Bobby JeremyPerformance dates: Oct. 22, 2013-Jan. 12, 2014
What it’s about: Based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel, Fun Home explores Alison’s relationship with her father Bruce over the years. Presented in non-linear format, the show covers Alison’s discovery of her sexuality and coming out, as well as her father’s hidden sexuality and eventual suicide.Why it’s essential: Like the graphic novel on which it’s based, Fun Home is a heartbreaking musical. Even those who have criticized elements of the show acknowledge its impressive emotional core and the effect it has had on audiences. It was a highly personal story for Bechdel to share, and that intimacy remains.
13. The Drowsy Chaperone
Book: Bob Martin and Don McKellarMusic and lyrics: Lisa Lambert and Greg MorrisonOriginal Broadway cast: Danny Burstein as Aldolpho, Georgia Engel as Mrs. Tottendale, Sutton Foster as Janet Van De Graaff, Edward Hibbert as Underling, Troy Britton Johnson as Robert Martin, Eddie Korbich as George, Jason Kravits as Gangster #1, Garth Kravits as Gangster #2, Beth Leavel as the Drowsy Chaperone, Kecia Lewis-Evans as Trix, Bob Martin as Man in Chair, Jennifer Smith as Kitty, Lenny Wolpe as FeldziegPerformance dates: May 1, 2006-Dec. 30, 2007
What it’s about: The Drowsy Chaperone is the name of the musical, but it’s also the musical within the musical. The Man in the Chair, a Broadway enthusiast, plays one of his favorite records, The Drowsy Chaperone, and relives the classic (fake) 1920s musical comedy, complete with a wedding and gangsters in disguise.Why it’s essential: There are plenty of other self-referential musicals out there, but there’s something truly special about The Drowsy Chaperone. The book is consistently clever, giving just enough insight into the agoraphobic Man in the Chair. The musical within the musical is both a perfect parody and delightful in its own right.
12. The Full Monty
Book: Terrence McNallyMusic and lyrics: David YazbekOriginal Broadway cast: Patrick Wilson as Jerry Lukowski, John Ellison Conlee as Dave Bukatinsky, Jason Danieley as Malcolm MacGregor, Romain Frugé as Ethan Girard, Annie Golden as Georgie Bukatinsky, Marcus Neville as Harold Nichols, Emily Skinner as Vicki Nichols, André De Shields as Horse, Lisa Datz as Pam Lukowski, Kathleen Freeman as Jeanette BurmeisterPerformance dates: Oct. 26, 2000-Sep. 1, 2002
What it’s about: The Full Monty is inspired by the 1997 film but Americanized — here, unemployed steelworkers in Buffalo decide to make money by performing a strip act. Because they’re not as in shape as the Chippendales dancers their wives love, they decide to distinguish themselves by ending with full nudity.Why it’s essential: It’s hard to believe that a musical about out-of-work (and out-of-shape) steelworkers who decide to become strippers would be as stirring and poignant as The Full Monty is. That’s not to take away from the fun of the show, which is a given, but the