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VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Taryn Crankshaw
The best rock musicals to ever play Broadway still have us on a high. Our countdown includes "RENT," "Spring Awakening," "Next to Normal," and more!

#10: “Jagged Little Pill” (2018)

Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album is one of the best-selling records of all time. Inspired by post-grunge, it’s a masterclass in the art of telling stories through song, so it was no surprise that it was adapted for the stage. Sharing the same title as the album, “Pill” tells the story of a family as they deal with race, gender, addiction and sexual violence. Featuring songs like “Ironic”, “You Oughta Know”, “You Learn” and a book by Oscar winner Diablo Cody, the show is a portrait of the 21st-century zeitgeist, proving that Morissette’s album isn’t just iconic, it’s timeless.

#9: “American Idiot” (2010)

Released in 2004, Green Day’s politically charged album “American Idiot”, became an instant anthem for the anxieties of living in a post-9/11 world. With songs like "Wake Me Up When September Ends'' and “Holiday” it took home a Grammy for Best Rock Album. After listening to the record, director Michael Mayer approached the band about taking it to the stage and the rest is history. The show follows three young men grappling with the confines of suburbia, the hardships of war and the meaning of life. The show ran for 422 performances and featured Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong in his Broadway debut. Since then, the show has carried on its legacy through a documentary, a scrapped film adaptation and a message that still rings true.

#8: “Next to Normal” (2009)

In 2009 an original musical about a woman dealing with bipolar disorder and her family landed at the Booth Theatre. Created by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, "Next to Normal" features a small cast of six actors and does not shy away from unpacking the hidden world of mental health. Starring musical theatre favourite, Alice Ripley, the show received praise for its authentic and poignant portrayal of depression, grief and the ethics of the medical industry. In addition to its themes, the musical has a soundtrack that manages to find both humour and hope in its serious subject matter.

#7: “The Who’s Tommy” (1992)

Often, it can be years or even decades for Broadway shows to go from an idea to execution - as was the case with “The Who’s Tommy”. Based on the British band’s rock opera from 1969, it wasn't until 1992 that the musical version hit the stage. The story follows protagonist Tommy, a Pinball wunderkind who loses his sense of sight, hearing and speech after his father kills his mother’s boyfriend. The original ensemble boasted an impressive lineup including Alice Ripley, Norm Lewis and Sherie Rene Scott. It was announced in late 2019 that “Tommy” would receive a revival in 2021, although due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ll have to wait and see.

#6: “Passing Strange” (2006)

This musical, which borrows its title from a line in Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello”, follows the journey of a young black artist as he travels from Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Berlin in the 1970s. The show mixes R&B, soul and rock to unpack questions around philosophy and existentialism that brings both the characters and the audience on an epic odyssey unlike anything else. Winner of the Tony for Best Book for creator Stew, the show received critical acclaim during its run by the press and theatregoers. Spike Lee directed a recording of the Broadway production which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 for audiences around the world.

#5: “Spring Awakening” (2006)

Featuring music by Duncan Sheik, this musical is based on playwright Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play about a group of teenagers facing the trials and tribulations of adolescence in 19th century Germany. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of repression and the importance of sex education. The show departs from the tradition of using musical numbers to advance the plot and instead uses songs to tap into the minds of the characters. The original production featured pre “Glee” and real-life BFFs Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff and took home the Tony for Best Musical. The show was revived a decade later with Deaf West's groundbreaking production featuring both deaf and hearing performers, breathing new life into one of Broadway’s most groundbreaking stories.

#4: “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1970)

Long before he was serving up those famous “Phantom of the Opera” orchestrations, Andrew Lloyd Webber brought us “Jesus Christ Superstar”. A joint project between the prolific composer and Tim Rice, the musical chronicles the last week of Jesus’ life. While the musical takes many liberties with its source material, it digs deep into the relationships between the religious figure and his close contacts, including his friend turned betrayer, Judas. Infused with contemporary lyrics and music, the show became a smashing success and only 10 years after its debut, grossed nearly $240 million internationally. It’s no surprise considering this musical is one of biblical proportions.

#3: “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” (1967)

The 1960’s were a major turning point in the United States with events like the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War igniting a revolution. The hippies that were part of this counterculture sought to use peace and love to fight against violence and intolerance. This ideology sparked the creation of the musical “Hair”, about a group of free spirited activists protesting the war in 1967. Songs like “Let the Sunshine In” became an anthem of peaceful protest against the evils that plagued society. The beauty and tragedy of the show is that no matter when it’s staged, it’s never simply a time capsule of a bygone period but continues to hold up a mirror to society.

#2: “RENT” (1996)

In the mid-90s, Broadway was forever changed when a musical known as “Rent” leaped onto the stage. The show, based on the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera “La boheme”, is about a group of bohemian artists living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the AIDs crisis. The production launched the careers of Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs and brought a new sound, look and energy to New York’s theatre scene. Sadly, creator Jonathan Larson died the day of the show’s first Off-Broadway premiere and never got to witness its success, including its Tony win for Best Musical and Pulitzer Prize for Drama. After an astounding 12 year run “Rent” closed and is credited with paving the way for every rock musical since.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” (2010)
A Rock Musical About the Life of US President Andrew Jackson

“The Rocky Horror Show” (1973)
Cult Classic About a Couple's Wild Night at Dr. Frank-N-Furter's House

“Cry-Baby” (2008)
Based On The 90's John Waters Film Of The Same Name

“Grease” (1971)
This Musical About High School Greasers Premiered in Chicago in 1971 & Broadway a Year Later

“School of Rock” (2015)
Based on the Jack Black Film of the Same Name About a Rocker Who Becomes a Teacher

#1: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2014)

Long before John Cameron Mitchell was directing shows like “GLOW” and “Nurse Jackie”, he created the character of “Hedwig”, a genderqueer rocker from East Germany, inspired by his childhood babysitter. Alongside composer Stephen Trask, the show premiered Off-Broadway in 1998 followed by a film version in 2001. The show centres around the character’s stage act and her desire to find fame and love. Neil Patrick Harris stepped into the Hedgwig’s platform boots when the show made its grand Broadway debut in 2014. Harris then passed the mic along to performers Andrew Rannells, Taye Diggs, Michael C. Hall, Darren Criss and Mitchell himself, before the show closed. “Hedwig” is glam rock at its finest and proof that rock and roll will always have a home on Broadway.