The Best Musicals of All Time and a Quick Synopsis of Each One

Musical theatre has been so influential to the acting realm.

From making tears of happiness to streams of sadness, entertainment has significantly evolved from the beginning of Broadway. This wonderful form of entertainment has the power to evoke strong emotions and cultural references. Here are the best musicals of all time, and why they’ve earned a place in this article.

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The Best Musicals of All Time 

We’ve compiled a list of the best musicals of all time, according to their plot and context. Each of these story lines aren’t afraid to push boundaries and explore issues which communities aren’t always referencing. The joy of live musical entertainment will never leave our hearts. We’re pleased to present the best musicals of all time and reasons why you should watch them (if you haven’t already!).  

1. Fame

Fame is one of the best musicals of all time with a detailed and inspiring synopsis. It follows the triumphs and struggles of a New York City’s Performing Art’s school. Showing their lives in school from 1980 to 1984, it also provides an excellent backstory to their personal and family life.

Throughout the musical, we see the highs and struggles or ambition, fame and combating confidence issues. The main character, Carmen Diaz, is a fame-hungry, talented performer who’s serious about getting famous. She simply won’t let anything get in the way. However, Fame shows the personal struggles of her drug abuse and insistence on making it in show-business.

This musical refers to sensitive subjects, such as dyslexia, sexual exploitation and even racism. We get to see their talents on stage with incredible acting, rapping, singing and dancing. This musical is a great way to see behind-the-scenes of life in the limelight. It’s especially a great watch for aspiring performers who are looking for advice about breaking into the industry or even performance tips.

Carmen is itching for success, and truly believes she’s ready to become a professional actress. She’ll do almost anything it takes to get there. She becomes friendly with Schlomo, who shares an ability to write meaningful songs. As a result, they both become close friends. After Carmen’s drama teacher and students call her out on being fame hungry, she leaves the Performing Art’s school and heads to LA. Upon returning, she pretends it was the best experience ever despite going through some awful times when she was out there. Seeing her life during fame and how she’s so eager to push herself is inspiring and heart-breaking at the same time.

2. Grease

It’s hard to talk about the best musicals of all time without referencing Grease. Set in 1959, it follows Rydell High School’s class and exposes all types of characters and attitudes. The high school dream is to explode into a musical and act rebelliously and provocative.

But, at the core of this musical is the romance between Sandy and Danny. Their secret romance in summer is passionate and makes them both happy. But when they return to school, Danny, the cool, popular kid, feels he has to maintain his high status. With plenty of songs and dance routines, it follows the story of these two high school sweethearts trying to fight peer pressure and wear their hearts on their sleeves.

It’s one of the best musicals of all time for plenty of reasons. Many watchers enjoy how uplifting and fun it is to watch. The musical also exposes the controversial issues at high school, and managing peer pressure whilst feeling like you need to maintain a ‘cool’ status. Danny Zuko is a proud, charming and stubborn teenager, and is never one to back down from a fight. He’s able to talk himself out of almost any situation, thanks to his irresistible charm.

However, he’s torn between continuing his tough-guy image whilst falling for Sandy from another clique. He’s a challenging character who’s always surrounded by his tough friends. But when opposites attract, he’s faced with a tough decision. He’s so involved with his car, Greased Lightning, and his hair. You can either find him fixing his hair or his car, although he often shows he’s a talented dancer and singer. Throughout the musical, Danny believes he’s too cool for school and studying, and would rather cause trouble with his long-time friends.

3. West Side Story

West Side Story follows the finger-snapping street gang which is located in a miserable, small neighborhood and has been for years. They find themselves in a war with another neighborhood, named the Sharks. Riff leads the Jets gang and challenges them to a dance and asks his old friend, Tony, to come along.

However, Tony isn’t any longer in the Jets, even though he was the person who founded it. When Tony arrives for the dance, he notices a girl named Maria, who he can’t take his eyes off of. There’s a huge dilemma in the plot when Tony finds out that she’s Bernando’s sister and is warned to stay away.

Even though Maria and Tony are on separate teams, they meet on the fire escape outside her building. Both of them confirm what everyone suspected – that they both have feelings for one another. Despite being on opposite sides of this fight, they don’t care before of their strong love.

West Side Story is one of the best musicals for a variety of reasons. With exhilarating choreography, vibrant lyrics and rich stores, it’s a perfect piece of theatre to make you feel great. To this day, it remains a brilliant musical composition with a powerful and dynamic plot. With songs which soar up to a top C, casting is taken seriously and only musically-talented performers should apply for this role. With witty lyrics and contrasts of the American life, it also exemplifies the reality faced by immigrants living in America during the ‘50’s. By jokily referencing other social issues, it’s an entertaining watch whilst bringing home problems everyone around the world faces. If you get the chance to watch this musical, prepare to be surprised and end up chuckling at some points.

4. Rent

Rent follows the highs and lows of a year in a group of artistic friends settled in Manhattan’s East Village. Mark Cohen is an aspiring filmmaker who is struggling to find his place in the world. Mark’s roommate, Roger, is an HIV-positive musician who also wonders how he’ll be remembered when he dies. Mimi and Angel search for true love whilst facing the tough reality of life as HIV-positive youngsters. The group’s ambitions, love and losses are all narrated through captivating musicals which illustrate a raw and emotional time in New York City during the ‘80’s.

Mark is penniless and lives with his roommate in an apartment in East Village in New York City. Struggling to stay warm because his electric’s shut off until he pays last year’s rent, money is the main source of his worries. As an aspiring filmmaker, Mark films events which happen around him – including the good and the bad. Observing people and events is one of his biggest interests, and he’s infatuated with how other people lead their life.

Finding himself and supporting himself is a huge challenge for Mark. His friend, Roger, is much worse off than him with depression and HIV. Mark really wants to help his friends get through their hard times, but what does he have to give? However, he’s kind and willing to help anyone out, so Mark dreams of peace and happiness on earth.

Rent revolutionized musical theatre as we know it. Musical Theatre on Broadway was mainly amount entertainment purposes, but Rent touched on sensitive issues no-one talked about. This musical took around 10 years to create, with the writer working as a waiter to earn enough money to pay rent and work on his music.

5. The Rocky Horror Show

Another of the best musicals of all time is The Rocky Horror Show. It all begins when a normal young couple in love – Brad Majors and Janet Weiss – plan to visit an old professor. Unfortunately, this night turns into one they’ll never forget. They’re forced to find help at Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter’s castle. He’s an alien scientist with an insatiable genius head. The three are swept up into the scientist’s latest experiment. As a result of the experiment, Brad and Janet question everything they’ve ever known about themselves and one another. The Rocky Horror Show is a hilarious watch which an audience will never forget.

Janet Weiss is a naïve and innocent character who doesn’t enjoy loud parties or adventure. As she’s a shy and frightened woman, she’d sooner stay at home than embrace danger. Some may even describe her as uptight, although she’s engaged to a normal man called Brad. She’s destined to become the perfect housewife, as that’s all she’s ever wanted. Her love life with Brad is perfect, and they’ve been in love since she caught the bouquet at a wedding. When she leaves Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter’s castle, her relationship and sanity are greatly impacted after the experiment. Her character is challenged with maintaining her innocent image and doing exactly what the doctors want her to do to get out.

The Rocky Horror Show remains one an influential and entertaining musical for many reasons. The characters are goofy and dynamic. It’s untraditional and filled with irresistibly catchy songs.  

What Do You Think the Best Musicals of All Time Are?

Musicals are around for generations, and are often recreated with a new cast and a more recent plot. The above musicals still continue to wow us each time they hit our screen, but you cannot beat the real experience of being in a live theatre.

What are your favourite musicals of all time? If we haven’t mentioned them above, leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments to keep this conversation going.

Related Article: The History of Broadway: How it Began and Interesting Facts

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