Broadway shows and musicals are a huge part of the theatre genre, and thousands of people go and watch these productions around the world. While some productions only last a couple of years, others last decades, bringing the same energy they did when the curtains opened for the first time. And, there are those Broadway musicals that stay at the forefront of theatre discussions, of which we have selected twenty. Keep reading to see what our best Broadway musicals are, and if your number one is the same as ours.
20. The Rocky Horror Show (1973-1980)
Our first selection on the best Broadway musicals list is more of a cult classic. The Rocky Horror Picture Show may not have garnered a lot of fans when it first premiered in 1973, but it has gradually gained a large following over the years. The musical combines sci-fi and goth elements when sweethearts Brad and Janet discover the mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter after getting a flat tire. They meet a cast of hilariously strange characters, including Frank-N-Furter’s latest creation “Rocky.”
– Performances: 2,960
19. Falsettos (1992-1993)
Falsettos did not run long on Broadway, but there have been several remakes and appearances of this musical in recent years. The Broadway version combines William Finn and James Lapine’s Off-Broadway works The March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, which ultimately tells the story of a gay man Marvin, his lover Whizzer, Marvin’s wife Trina and their family during the early 1980s. The story is set against the early days of the AIDS crisis, and brings to light the trials some couples went through during this time.
– Performances: 487
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18. Newsies (2012-2014)
Coming to the Broadway stage twenty years after its Disney film release, Newsies brings to life the story of newsboy Jack Kelly, who strives for a new life away from the hardship of the streets. When Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices though, Jack finds his purpose and rallies his fellow newsboys to strike. It’s a heartwarming coming-of-age story, as well as highlighting the ability to fight for what you believe in.
– Performances: 1,004
17. Annie (1977-1983)
“It’s a hard-knock life for us!” Annie has traveled across the Broadway stage several times, whether it was the original 1977 premiere or in other Broadway venues like Cincinnati, or even high-school plays. In each rendition, a spunky orphan named Annie finds a home with a New York millionaire during the Depression. But, she must evade her evil orphanage mistress to stay in the new home she’s come to love.
– Performances: 2,377
16. Into the Woods (1987-1989)
What would happen if fairy tale characters got mixed into each other’s stories? That’s exactly what happens in our next best Broadway musical Into the Woods. In the musical, Little Red, a Witch, Cinderella, the Baker, and his wife must come together to set everything right with their stories and the impending consequences. This show displays the importance of coming together, and even though it had only 765 performances, Into the Woods is still quite popular today.
– Performances: 765
15. In the Heights (2008-2011)
Dive into Lin Manuel-Miranda’s past with In the Heights, a story of preserving a way of life for those who lived in NYC’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Housing costs and racial tensions are on the rise, contrasting with the welcoming corner bodega where the community comes together. In the Heights is a great view into the lives of those who struggled, but continued to push towards their idea of hope. The musical won four Tonys during its three-year run and was performed 1,184 times.
– Performances: 1,184
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14. Dear Evan Hansen (2016-2022)
Intensely uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time, Dear Evan Hansen took the world by storm when it first premiered on Broadway in 2016. Later getting turned into a film in 2021, both of the leading roles of Evan Hansen are played by Ben Platt, who received a Tony Award for his performance. In the musical, Evan is an anxious and isolated high-school student who only wants to fit in. When a letter he writes for a writing exercise falls into the hands of a couple whose son took his life not long before, he gets pulled into a whirlwind of events that completely changes his life.
– Performances: 1,672
13. Hairspray (2002-2009)
Prompting several remakes with star-studded casts, Hairspray all began with a 1988 film which led to a 2007 and 2016 remake, and of course the Broadway production in 2002. In each of the renditions, teen Tracy Turnblad aspires to make her appearance on a TV dance show in 1960s Baltimore called “The Corny Collins Show.” When she wins, she not only introduces a new way of dancing and dressing but finds a way to integrate the show as well.
– Performances: 2,642
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12. Cabaret (1966-1969)
First premiering in 1966, the original Cabaret ran for three years with 1,166 performances. Creators Kander and Ebb produced a musical focused on British nightclub singer Sally Bowles and American writer Cliff Bradshaw, all set during the glamour of 1929 Berlin. As mounting fear gathers outside Kit Kat Club’s walls, the Emcee coaxes you into another world, whether your troubles and worries are left behind. Cabaret won a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical in 1967.
– Performances: 1,166
11. West Side Story (1957-1959)
Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story was originally supposed to be about a Jewish girl and an Italian Catholic boy who struggled to be together due to their religious ties. But, when street riots by Chicano Americans in Los Angeles occurred in 1955, a new idea emerged highlighting New York’s West Side and the love between two teenagers. Since then West Side Story has been a contemporary classic and was most recently portrayed in a 2021 film.
– Performances: 732
10. Fiddler on the Roof (1964-1970)
Fiddler on the Roof, another contemporary classic and hit on Broadway tells the story of Tevye, a Jewish milkman in the early 1900s who lives in Russia with his five daughters. He must balance his religious traditions while also dealing with growing anti-Jewish sentiment. Nominated for ten Tony Awards, the production won nine of them including Best Musical. Over the six years of production, the musical was performed 3,242 times.
– Performances: 3,242
9. Mamma Mia! (2001-2015)
You’ve probably seen one of the Mamma Mia films, or at least heard about them. Their popularity stretches into the Broadway world as well, with the production running from 2001 to 2015, with over five thousand performances. In the production, listen to several of ABBA’s timeless classics as you meet a mother, a daughter, and three possible dads all culminating in a trip down the wedding aisle.
– Performances: 5,758
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8. Cats (1982-2000)
Another one of those cult classics that has leached into mainstream media with lots of fans, Cats is our eighth-best Broadway musical. Based on the book of poems titled “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, viewers get immersed in the world of nocturnal “Jellicle Cats.” Each scene introduces a new cat until the very end when they all gather for the Jellicle Ball, where one cat will become the “Heaviside Layer.” Though many people disagree with this Broadway musical being any good, several others will wholeheartedly defend Cats.
– Performances: 7,485
7. The Lion King (1997-Present)
Now the third-longest-running Broadway show, The Lion King has entranced viewers with its blend of music, entertainment, and art. Telling the story of Simba and his father Mufasa’s death, watch as this popular Disney film translates to real-life people and props that are intricately decorated. Earning 70 Major Theatre Awards internationally, if you want to watch a brilliant story unfold, then you might want to buy some tickets to The Lion King.
– Performances: 9,812+
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6. Rent (1996-2008)
A popular Broadway show amongst theatre buffs, Rent is situated in AIDS-era East Village, New York. Focusing on several downtrodden characters such as Rodolfo, Mimi, and Marcello, each goes through a transformation while living in the neighborhood – some good and some bad. The main theme that courses through the play is the ability of love to endure beyond any obstacle. It won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1996.
– Performances: 5,123
5. Lés Miserables (1987-2003)
There’s no way we could have had a best Broadway musicals list without including the infamous Lés Miserables. Premiering at the Broadway Theatre in 1987, there were 6,680 performances before closing in 2003. Over that period, the production received twelve Tony Award nominations, winning eight including Best Musical. Lés Mis is adapted from Victor Hugo’s novel, telling the story of love, struggle, and perseverance during the French Revolution.
– Performances: 6,680
4. Hamilton: An American Musical (2015-Present)
Taking the world by storm, Hamilton is our fourth-best Broadway musical, telling a revolutionary story about passion, ambition, and the dawn of a new country. We focus on Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, as he charts his legacy all set to a score that blends several music genres into something new and refreshing. Since its premiere, Hamilton has had a huge impact on culture, politics, and education. For awards, the production has received eleven Tonys, a Grammy, an Olivier, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and a citation from the Kennedy Center Honors.
– Performances: 2,901+
3. Wicked (2003-Present)
Take a step back to before Dorothy’s time in Oz, and see the story of a young woman born with emerald-green skin who is often misunderstood. When she meets a popular blonde teen, their initial rivalry turns into a tight friendship until the world decides to call one “good” and one “wicked.” After its premiere, Wicked won three Tony Awards in 2004, a Broadway phenomenon still going to this day.
– Performances: 7,486+
2. Chicago (1996-Present)
Our second choice for best Broadway musical is also the second-longest-running Broadway musical to date. Chicago is set during the Roaring Twenties, where aspiring chorus girl Roxie Hart and vaudeville star Velma Kelly are facing a murder trial. Both cynical and sexy, they each battle for shady lawyer Billy Flynn, who promises to make them stars and get them out of a murder sentence. Between the dancing and musical numbers, everyone who watches this production is blown away.
– Performances: 10,000+
1. The Phantom of the Opera (1988-2023) / Best Broadway Musicals
Finally, we have reached our best Broadway show, and what else could it be other than The Phantom of the Opera? The longest-running Broadway show ever, The Phantom of the Opera ran for a staggering thirty-five years and nearly 14,000 performances. Beneath the beauty of the Paris Opera House hides the Phantom, shamed by his physical appearance and feared by all. That is until he meets protégée Christine Daaé, and falls deeply in love with her to the point where Daaé’s heart cannot even resist.
– Performances: 13,981
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