The 100 Best Musicals of All Time

Did your favorite make the list?

oklahoma.jpg

Lists, like awards, are a specious exercise. The very act of comparing one musical to another with an eye toward which one is better is, at its core, a flawed enterprise. Exactly what criteria are we using? How can we compare two radically different musicals - like, say, La Cage aux Folles and Sunday in the Park With George - and make a meaningful determination as to which one is better? 

Well, we can't.

As I said, it's a specious exercise, erroneous from its inception. And yet we love awards. We love lists. We pore over them both with enthusiasm, eager to see our favorites recognized, or to find fault with whomever has done the listing or awarding. 

Well, what follows is my own list of the best musicals of all time. The criteria? Mine, and mine alone. What gives me the right to make such a list? Well, as far as I'm concerned, anybody can make whatever list they like, but I happen to think I'm uniquely qualified to compile such a list, based on the following: 

  • 35 years of performing, attending, and obsessing over musical theater
  • 11 years of teaching the history of musical theater at The Boston Conservatory 
  • 9 years as a critic and journalistic surveyor of the musical-theater landscape 

But, hey, chances are that no matter what my qualifications might be, there will still be some choices, rankings, and omissions with which you might disagree.

That's fine. Feel free to compile your own list.

Incidentally, this is a list of stage musicals, which explains the absence of The Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain, and other such Hollywood fare. Should I ever decide to compile a list of the best movie musicals, rest assured that I will give them every consideration.

Also, I'm not referring to any particular production here, but rather to the inherent quality of the piece itself: the words and the music. 

  1. Gypsy
  2. My Fair Lady
  3. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  4. Fiddler on the Roof
  5. Guys and Dolls
  6. Oklahoma!
  7. Cabaret
  8. West Side Story
  9. The Music Man
  10. A Chorus Line
  11. Chicago
  12. The Fantasticks
  13. Carousel
  14. Company
  15. Show Boat
  16. The King and I
  17. Little Shop of Horrors
  18. Sunday in the Park With George
  19. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
  20. A Little Night Music
  21. She Loves Me
  22. Nine
  23. Follies
  24. Falsettos
  25. Ragtime
  26. Porgy and Bess 
  27. Kiss Me, Kate
  28. On the Town
  29. Into the Woods
  30. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
  31. Urinetown
  32. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
  33. Wicked
  34. Rent
  35. South Pacific
  36. 1776
  37. Hair
  38. Hello, Dolly!
  39. La Cage aux Folles
  40. 110 in the Shade
  41. The Producers
  42. Lady in the Dark
  43. City of Angels
  44. Dreamgirls
  45. Avenue Q
  46. The Book of Mormon
  47. Evita
  48. 42nd Street
  49. Brigadoon
  50. The Cradle Will Rock
  51. Once on This Island
  52. Adding Machine
  53. Les Miserables
  54. Bat Boy
  55. The Pajama Game
  56. The Last Five Years 
  57. The Sound of Music
  58. Hairspray
  59. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  60. Fun Home 
  61. Jesus Christ Superstar
  62. Violet
  63. The Phantom of the Opera
  64. Assassins
  65. A Man of No Importance
  66. You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
  67. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
  68. Ain't Misbehavin’
  69. Anything Goes
  70. Wonderful Town
  1. The Light in the Piazza
  2. The Drowsy Chaperone
  3. The Full Monty
  4. Damn Yankees
  5. Romance/Romance
  6. The Secret Garden
  7. Pippin
  8. Kiss of the Spider Woman
  9. Finian's Rainbow
  10. Once 
  11. Pal Joey
  12. Annie Get Your Gun
  13. Pacific Overtures
  14. On Your Toes
  15. Candide
  16. Annie
  17. Sweet Charity
  18. Beauty and the Beast
  19. Matilda 
  20. Camelot
  21. Mame
  22. Of Thee I Sing
  23. Bye Bye Birdie
  24. Man of La Mancha
  25. Floyd Collins
  26. Grey Gardens
  27. A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine
  28. A New Brain
  29. Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk
  30. The Scottsboro Boys