If you like musicals but aren't really familiar with Broadway and theatre, we've created this ultimate guide to musicals with all the information you need to know to become a musical theatre geek.
Many people dream of attending a Broadway show in New York or they dream of performing in one. Succesful shows are typically made up of beautiful music, outstanding performances, and good stories.
These performances feature famous stories that many generations know and love, which is why you can still hear young kids and parents singing along to a famous song from a known musical.
We all know the lyrics to "You're the one that I Want" from Grease, the vocal power of Idina Menzel while singing "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, or the fun dance number of "Dancing Queen" from Mama Mia!.
Continue reading to learn about what the critics consider are the best musicals of all times, some of the vocabulary and keywords in theater, schools where you could study, and popular songs from Broadway and the movie industry.
Favorite musicals of all time
There are so many beloved productions both on Broadway and in movies. Some of the classic Broadway shows are Les Miserábles, Wicked, Cats, Rent, Grease, and more recent ones like Hamilton or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Each of the productions from the list below has been performed at least 1,000 times on New York's famous Broadway stage. Thousands of fans have paid to watch a cast of stars sing and dance to their favorite music, whether it is a classic show or a newer production, this industry attracts new fans every year.
Top 3 shows of all time
The Phantom of the Opera opened on January 26, 1988, and it featured more than 13,000 performances up until the start of 2020. The Phantom of the Opera is based on a French novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux.
The central plot of The Phantom of the Opera revolves around a beautiful soprano, Christine Daaé, who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius living in the subterranean labyrinth beneath the Opera House in Paris.
Chicago opened on November 14, 1996, and it featured more than 9,600 performances up until the start of 2020.
Chicago is an American musical set in the jazz era in Chicago and it is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about actual criminals and crimes she reported on. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the "celebrity criminal".
The Lion King opened on November 13, 1997, and it featured more than 9,200 performances up until the start of 2020. The Lion King is a musical based on the 1994 Walt Disney Animation Studios' animated feature film of the same name with music by Elton John, and book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi.
For more information continue reading about Favorite musicals of all time.
Learning about musicals
Musical theatre has many important characteristics that you should learn about. Students who go to a drama school don't only learn acting, dancing, or vocal development; they learn what each production needs to run smoothly and how to put a show together.
Here are the main characteristics of a musical:
- Music and lyrics: characters breaking into song is the most important characteristic of musical theater. Music and lyrics are used as a prop to tell you what a character is feeling, to foreshadow a near event, to present a moment of reflection, and more.
- Plot and dialogue: compared to plays, the plot, and dialogue in a musical is more dynamic and brief. The main point of these shows is to set focus on the music.
- Venues: the architecture of a theater is made so that the audience can listen to the actors and songs even in the back rows.
- Costumes: are used to create the characters' personalities and wow the audiences. The Lion King is known for its amazing costume design.
To learn more about keywords and characteristics go to our article Learning about musicals.
Why and where you should study musical theatre
People who chose to follow a career in acting, singing, or dancing usually get a Bachelor's in Fine Arts (BFA) where they will learn more than acting and singing. This degree contains a complete education geared towards the performing arts.
The degree includes classes about stage presence, public speaking, show production, book and story development (writing scripts), guides for performance, including some history lessons.
Many students believe that any degree requires long hours in the library and tons of books, but the Bachelor's in Fine Arts has a strong studio component, which means that students spend more time working in a studio than in a library.
Here are some schools that offer the best BFA programs in the country:
- University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM)
- Baldwin-Wallace University
- Ithaca College
- Penn State University
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Pace University
- Boston Conservatory at Berklee
- Elon University
- University of Michigan
- Syracuse University
Are you planning to study musical theater? Learn more about the degree and the schools on Why and where you should study musical theatre.
Popular favorite songs from musicals
If you're looking for the best songs from musicals, either from Broadway or movies, there are a number of options to consider in your search. You can look at songs from musicals that have won awards, the ones with an amazing dance number, a classic version of a song, or that includes other details.
You can consider songs from musicals like Wicked, Hamilton, Grease (movie or theater version), Cats, West Side Story, The Rocky Horror Show, Sweeney Todd, and many more.
Some categories can be musicals about New York or other cities, that make a historic reference, that answer existing questions, or a guide to life and love. Musical theater can be about any subject as long as they attract audiences and sell tickets.
Top songs on Broadway
- Memory from Cats: this song, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is known for dividing the opinion between love and hate
- Ya Got Trouble from The Music Man: popular for introducing the theme of warning adults that their kids are turning into street-tough “cigarette fiends”.
- Satisfied from Hamilton: crazy story-telling technique as the story is told in a flashback on the amazing score by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
- And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls: All-time Broadway classic, this song follows a character's speech after being rejected by her lover and friends.
- Some Other Time from On the Town: tells the story of three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in NYC and it holds an eternal message, “When you’re in love, time is precious stuff
Top songs on movies
- Circle of Life from The Lion King: composed by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, this song is one of Disney’s most-loved songs that talk about life and birth.
- Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: outstanding performance by Marilyn Monroe.
- Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz: described as a "timeless ballad" sung by Judy Garland.
- You’re the One That I Want from Grease: this great musical number needs no explanation, every generation of kids will sing and dance to John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
- I Wan’na Be Like You from The Jungle Book: in this Disney classic, King Louie comes up with the catchiest of tracks to try and get ‘man’s red fire’ from Mowgli.
A great musical will sell tickets like crazy if it includes amazing music, performances well done, great plot stories, sometimes a pop culture reference, and many other resources like a stage in NYC or London, a tale about cities (New York, Chicago, LA, etc), and more.
If you're looking to create the best playlist with music from musicals read about it on Popular favorite songs from musicals.