The 50 Most Underrated Musicals

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Audra McDonald in 110 in the Shade. Google Images

What makes a musical underrated is when the show, despite reflecting genuine craft, somehow gets lost in the dust of another musical that garners all the attention that season. For instance, Ragtime had the misfortune of premiering shortly before the entertainment monolith, The Lion KingThe Full Monty also got lost in the dust of The Producers. Other shows, like Rags and My Favorite Year, possess moments of genius but don't quite add up to a satisfying whole.

Why Musicals Become Underrated Shows

Some underrated shows are such big blockbusters that the theater insiders dismiss or disdain them, simply because they're popular. Wicked may be considered in this category, although it is left off this list because there are other more obscure shows that deserve to be highlighted. Then, there are shows that were commercial and critical successes in their day, but have since disappeared, such as Fiorello! and Fanny

"Attention" or "disappeared" in this context generally refers to regional productions and Broadway revivals. Very few of the musicals listed below make the regular rounds in the community, high school, and summer stock theaters, except for the more adventurous and well-heeled theater companies. When Christopher Caggiano, professor of musical theater at Boston Conservatory, talks to his students and young people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to the craft of musical theater, it's rare for any of the shows listed to come up in discussions.

Nonetheless, each of the musicals on this list has a tremendous amount going for it. In some cases, the shows themselves are nearly perfect, as is the case with She Loves Me and Nine. In other cases, there are shows that are severely flawed but contain a great deal of fascinating material, such as High Fidelity, The Rink, and Smile.

The Top 50 Musicals That Deserve More Acknowledgement

No matter what the reason may be that these shows haven't received the attention they deserve, they nevertheless hold many joys for the uninitiated, and even for the well informed. 

  1. She Loves Me
  2. 110 in the Shade
  3. Violet
  4. The Secret Garden
  5. Adding Machine 
  6. Lady in the Dark
  7. Nine
  8. Falsettos
  9. Ragtime 
  10. On the Twentieth Century
  11. Baby 
  12. A Man of No Importance
  13. Once on This Island
  14. Far From Heaven 
  15. Anyone Can Whistle
  16. The Baker's Wife
  17. Tintypes
  18. The Bridges of Madison County 
  19. The Cradle Will Rock
  20. Bring It On 
  21. A Catered Affair
  22. Romance/Romance
  23. City of Angels
  24. A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine
  25. Flora the Red Menace
  26. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  27. The Full Monty
  28. Grey Gardens 
  29. A Minister's Wife 
  30. High Fidelity
  31. Carnival
  32. Lost in the Stars
  33. Mack and Mabel
  34. A New Brain
  35. Dessa Rose
  36. The Story of My Life
  37. Sunset Boulevard
  38. tick, tick...BOOM!
  39. Fanny
  40. My Favorite Year
  41. Fiorello!
  42. Titanic
  43. Smile
  44. Is There Life After High School?
  45. Coco
  46. The Wedding Singer
  47. 13
  48. Working
  49. Xanadu
  50. Barnum

Honorable Mentions

Shows that would have made the list if expanded it to more than 50 are as follows.

  • Caroline or Change
  • The Golden Apple
  • Assassins
  • Cry-Baby
  • A Class Act
  • The Grand Tour
  • Dear World
  • High Spirits
  • I Love My Wife
  • The Life
  • Little Me
  • Romantic Poetry
  • Steel Pier
  • Sugar
  • Woman of the Year
  • Triumph of Love
  • The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island
  • Rags
  • The Rink
  • The Kid
  • Plain and Fancy
  • Whoop-Up
  • Murder Ballad 
  • The Memory Show 
  • Nobody Loves You
  • One Touch of Venus
  • The Glorious Ones
  • Happiness
  • The Grass Harp