The Broadway Musical Is A Singular Art Form, Read On For The List Of The Top 20 Of The Most Brilliant Shows To Have Ever Graced The Hallowed Boards Of The Rialto
What are the top 20 Broadway musicals of all time?
Here’s the top twenty list of the brightest and best Broadway Musicals that the Great White Way has had to offer over the years
20. The Music Man (1957-1961, 2021-2023)
Everyone loves a redemption story and this tale of huckster Harold Hill has been a crowd pleaser for decades. From Robert Preston to Robert Sean Leonard to Hugh Jackman, the titular music man charms River City off its feet and in the process, redeems himself. Classic narrative structure and a delightful score make this show a classic in the Broadway canon.
19. Cats (1982-2000)
While some may scoff at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline fantasia, his setting of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats kept the concept musical alive and well for 18 years! The very loose architecture— which cat will ascend to the Heavyside Layer!— and, well, memorable score made this a very accessible experience for audiences of all ages.
18. Evita (1979-1983)
Who could’ve predicted that a musical chronicling the life and times of Eva Peron would not only be wildly compelling but would launch the iconic career of one of Broadway’s most beloved leading ladies, Patti LuPone? Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s infectious score exuded star quality all while giving Broadway audiences an education in Argentine politics.
17. West Side Story (1957-1959)
Based on Romeo and Juliet, the tragic tale of star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria never fails to be poignant. With a lush, transcendent score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, and a sturdy book by Arthur Laurents, the timeless rendering has earned its place in Broadway history. The show is also notable for its powerful use of dance by way of choreographer Jerome Robbins.
16. Cabaret (1966-1969)
The successful original run of John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff’s heartbreaking saga of cabaret singer Sally Bowles set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, featured Joel Grey as the seedy Kit Kat Club’s emcee. But Alan Cumming’s emcee portrayal in the 1998 revival injected a fresh perspective on the already renowned musical drama.
15. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1961-1965)
Scrappy window washer J. Pierrepont Finch, played by the likes of Robert Morse, Matthew Broderick and Daniel Radcliffe, climbs the corporate ladder to the chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Company in this entertaining book driven musical. Frank Loesser’s brisk, melodic score keeps the action moving.
14. Come From Away (2017-2022)
An unlikely subject for a feel-good musical, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 serve as the basis for this rousing paean to good will and kindness. Canadian writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein may not subscribe to standard Broadway craft but their quirky and uplifting telling of a small town selflessly rescuing 38 stranded passengers beautifully brought home its love thy neighbor message.
13. La Cage Aux Folles (1983-1987)
No one writes a showtune like Jerry Herman and La Cage is full of ‘em— lilting ballads, inspiring anthems, toe-tapping ditties— La Cage has it all, including a witty book by Harvey Fierstein. What seems like an old fashioned comedy digs into sexual politics, marking the very first Broadway musical to center on a gay relationship. We’ve come a long way, baby.
12. Les Miserables (1987-2003)
Les Miz turned protagonist Jean Valjean’s arduous journey of redemption for stealing a loaf of bread into one of the most ubiquitous theatrical properties of all time. Notable for its poperetta sung-through style, the show had an everyman appeal. French writers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg created a worldwide phenomenon.
11. Once On This Island (1990-1991)
This Caribbean infused folktale by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens was a slow burn. Its original run did not make a huge splash but over the years has warmed hearts and souls all over the world who can’t resist the tragic, gorgeously wrought story of Ti Moune, who dies for love. The score is one of the finest examples of true Broadway craft.
10. Falsettos (1992-1993)
William Finn’s talky, tuneful score makes the darkness of the story even more heartbreaking. The tension between what the characters are experiencing (divorce, grief, AIDS) and how they convey those experiences (through simply resplendent songs) makes for a robust tearjerker of a musical. Even though the piece ends with death, it still manages to reinforce hope and family values.
9. Fiddler On The Roof (1964-1970)
Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s exploration of life in the Jewish village Anatevka remains canon. The story follows Tevye, a milkman trying to preserve his cultural and religious traditions in the face of outside influence. And while the musical centers on a Jewish family, it’s relatable to beyond its Hebrew context.
8. Annie (1977-1983)
Little Orphan Annie burst into song and captured the hearts of Daddy Warbucks and America. The show that made every little girl want to be a Broadway star (and perhaps get adopted by a millionaire), Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin and Thomas Meehan taught all of us to believe in the power of tomorrow.
7. Newsies (2012-2014)
While other Disney shows may have more brand recognition, this David and Goliath saga inspired by the NYC Newsboys Strike of 1899 showed how to take down the man. Writers Harvey Fierstein, Jack Feldman and master tunesmith Alan Menken provided respectively the book, lyrics and music.
6. The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985-1987)
Based on the unfinished Dickens novel, this show is notable for being the first to allow for multiple endings. With an English music hall vibe, Rupert Holmes’ lighthearted murder mystery was appealing for its ingenuity, razor sharp wit and appealing score.
5. City of Angels (1989-1992)
With a jazzy score by Cy Coleman and some of the cleverest lyrics ever to grace a Broadway stage, by David Zippel, this satirical ode to Hollywood deftly weaves parallel storylines through both real and fictional characters. The portrayal of 1904s film noir was unmistakably Broadway at its best.
4. Into The Woods (1987-1989, 2022-2023)
Sondheim and Lapine’s intertwining of several Grimm fairy tales along with an invented plot of a baker and his wife trying to conceive a child, runs the gamut from broad humor to soul-crushing loss. This is not your grandmother’s happily ever after but its persistent, essential message that children will listen comes through loud and clear.
3. A Chorus Line (1975-1990)
A long running hit, this docu-style musicalization of a chorus line of dancers presented raw truths of the potentially harrowing path to and on Broadway. Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban created a masterpiece that wore its wounded heart on its sleeve unabashedly sharing with audiences what artists do for the love of it all.
2. South Pacific (1949-1954)
Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Joshua Logan wove this compelling drama about an American nurse who struggles to accept the mixed-race children of the French ex-pat she loves. Unforgettable songs like You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught hammer home the musical’s strong, progressive anti-racism stance.
1. Guys and Dolls (1950-1953)
The lovable saga of two primary couples navigating gambling, gangsters and other parts of the old-timey New York underworld is pure musical comedy heaven. The score by Frank Loesser contains hit after mobster hit and will have even the biggest curmudgeon singing along to Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat.