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Top 10 Best Modern Stage Musicals

VO: Emily Brayton
Script written by Nick Spake These are the best modern stage musicals! For this list, we’re taking a look at stage musicals that made their Broadway debut in the year 2000 or later. We are not considering revivals of shows that initially premiered before the turn of the millennium. Musicals like Jersey Boys, Once, Spring Awakening, The Book of Mormon, Hairspray, Wicked, Hamilton, The Book of Mormon, Legally Blonde, Newies, Once and Kinky Boots are some of the best of the millennium!

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Top 10 Best Modern Stage Musicals

These musicals are the stuff standing ovations are made of. Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Best Modern Stage Musicals.

For this list, we’re taking a look at stage musicals that made their Broadway debut in the year 2000 or later. We’re not considering revivals of shows that initially premiered before the turn of the millennium.

#10: “Jersey Boys”

Jukebox musicals caught on like wildfire at the dawn of the 21st century. “Jersey Boys” stands out above all the rest with its unique style, clever narrative structure, and a soundtrack composed of classic tunes. This biographical musical follows the American rock band, the Four Seasons. The story of their rise to fame and ultimate downfall is broken up into four sections, each told from the perspective of a different band member. Our four main characters might have different views of their years together, but a few things are for certain: egos clashed, hearts were broken, and these boys from New Jersey will always hold a special place in rock ‘n’ roll history.

#9: “Kinky Boots”

Despite receiving somewhat mixed reviews from critics following its Broadway debut, this show-stopping underdog quickly took off as an audience favorite, winning the Tony for Best Musical. Based on the 2005 film of the same name, the show centers on a young man struggling to save his late father’s shoe factory. He finds an unlikely partner in a drag queen, who has a few ideas to bring the old-fashioned business into the modern world. An outrageous good time, “Kinky Boots” will have you dancing in the aisles, no matter what kind of shoes you’re wearing. What’s more, the story encompasses meaningful themes regarding family, following your passion, and embracing who you are on the inside.

#8: “Once”

When people think of musical theater, extravagant sets, flashy costumes, and over-the-top choreography usually come to mind. “Once,” on the other hand, is about as minimalist as Broadway shows get. Like its Oscar-winning film counterpart, though, this Tony-winner manages to accomplish so much with so little. At the heart of this bittersweet tale is a romance between a guy and a girl who share a mutual passion for music. The story might seem simple, but “Once” is one of a kind thanks to its beautiful songs and empathetic characters. The fact that the actors play their own instruments makes the experience all the more genuine, guaranteeing somebody in the audience will be moved to tears.

#7: “Newsies”

Initially conceived as a feature film, “Newsies” hit the silver screen in 1992. Although it was considered one of the biggest duds from Disney and composer Alan Menken at the time, the film spawned a cult following, paving the way for this smash musical. Since the movie was already directed, performed, and choreographed with a theatrical flare, perhaps “Newsies” was always better suited for Broadway. The story of the 1899 Newsboy Strike sprung to life like never before on stage, making plenty of headlines. In a reversal of fortune, Menken and Jack Feldman went from winning the Razzie for Worst Original Song to winning the Tony for Best Original Score. Way to seize the day!

#6: “Legally Blonde”

Bright, colorful, and carried by a lively performance from Reese Witherspoon, “Legally Blonde” was already like a musical, but without the music. The 2001 film, as well as the original novel by Amanda Brown, was a natural choice to adapt for the Broadway stage. This musical comedy wonderfully captures the spirit of its source material with eccentric numbers, witty dialog, and an upbeat tone, not to mention lots of pink to give it a little something extra. At the show’s bubbly center is Elle Woods, who shows Harvard that brains and blondes go hand in hand. If you’re in the mood for a feel-good musical, “Legally Blonde” is sure to have you singing, “Omigod!”

#5: “Spring Awakening”

One of Broadway’s most acclaimed coming of age stories in years, “Spring Awakening” is a profound, honest, and beautiful musical about teenage sexuality. Although the story takes place in the late 19th century, its themes regarding puberty, desire, and love can speak to any generation. Above all else, the show demonstrates the consequences of sexual repression and not preparing adolescents for the changes they’re bound to endure. The songs perfectly set the tone for this tale of self-discovery, fusing folk music with modern rock. Speaking to audiences young and old, “Spring Awakening” won top honors at the Tony and Drama Desk Awards. Plus, the original Broadway cast featured Rachel Berry and Jesse St. James.

#4: “The Book of Mormon”

Who would’ve guessed that Matt Stone and Trey Parker were Broadway bound? Then again, “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” scored an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. So maybe it’s not all that surprising that “The Book of Mormon” dominated multiple award shows. Along with Robert Lopez, Stone and Parker delivered a hilarious musical satire that doesn’t just sendup the Mormon religion, but religion in general. Yet, the show doesn’t come off as one-dimensionally anti-religious. Actually, there’s a very positive and insightful message at its core: if religion inspires people to live better lives without hurting anyone else, it must be doing something right… even if the beliefs and practices sound made up.

#3: “Hamilton”

In 2009, Lin-Manuel Miranda mentioned at the White House Evening of Poetry that he was working on a rap album about Alexander Hamilton. It might’ve seemed crazy at the time, but you should never doubt the musical genius behind “In the Heights.” Fast-forward a few years and “Hamilton” is a Broadway phenomenon that everyone’s raving about. Brilliantly mixing hip-hop and history, this sung-through musical is as enthralling as it is educational. In addition to its revolutionary soundtrack, “Hamilton” has earned widespread praise for its diversity and dignified portrayal of an American icon. Scoring an unprecedented 16 Tony nominations and winning 11, “Hamilton” is a must-see musical experience. If only tickets weren’t impossible to get…

#2: “Hairspray”

Based on the 1988 John Waters movie, “Hairspray” encompasses everything we look for in a Broadway musical. Its unyielding good cheer will make even the most cynical viewers smile. Its message regarding acceptance is as relevant now as it was back in 1962. Its songs are an infectious blast, encouraging the audience to rush out and buy the soundtrack immediately after the curtain goes down. In short, it’s no wonder why this musical danced away with 8 Tony Awards and 4 Laurence Olivier Awards. “Hairspray” initially ran on Broadway from 2002 to 2009, but its legacy has lived on through a 2007 film adaptation and a 2016 television special. You can’t stop the beat, indeed.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

“Avenue Q”

“Thoroughly Modern Millie”


#1: “Wicked”

Even over a decade after its Broadway premiere, audiences are still going over the rainbow for this enchanting musical. “Wicked” draws inspiration from Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, not to mention the 1939 film and L. Frank Baum’s original book. Although it has numerous nods to its predecessors, “Wicked” manages to be a unique experience with smart political commentary, mind-blowing production values, and some of the most joyous songs Stephen Schwartz has ever composed. What really holds everything together, though, is the touching friendship between Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Not-So Wicked Witch of the West. If you haven’t seen this uplifting musical yet, it’s not too late to look behind the emerald curtain.

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