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It’s arbitrary list time, folks! Being a consummate nerd, I keep a spreadsheet of every professional musical production I’ve seen. I’m up to 67 unique shows at this point, and I was curious how I would rank them. I don’t feel it’s really fair to rank a show unless I’ve actually seen it, so that’s what I’m doing here.

I define “professional musical production” as any show appearing on Broadway, West End, in a national tour or as an out-of-town tryout. Regional/school theatre doesn’t make the cut for this. And these are musicals we’re talking about, folks—not plays.

I originally set out to arrive at a top 10 list, but when I got down to 12 I realized I couldn’t pare it down further without significantly hurting the diversity of content on the list. I started with the full list of 67, then cut it down to 32, then 20, then 15, then 12. I’ll include the raw data at the end of this post for the curious (and so you can see which shows I didn’t pick). I was somewhat surprised by a few of the shows on this list—can you guess which?

Let’s dig in. It’s musical time!

#12: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

Many of the shows on this list don’t fare very well on their cast album alone. So it is with GGLAM—the live experience is everything. This is the second-funniest show I’ve ever seen, and sometimes you just need some humor in the theatre. The show is insanely clever and fast-paced, but the real magic is the D’Ysquith family, played almost entirely by one performer in the show. The endless quick-changes and self-aware jokes make this a gut-busting show of epic proportions. This is one you must see live to appreciate.

#11: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

A gender-bending rock romp with one of the best books I’ve seen on stage, Hedwig and the Angry Inch must be experienced to be understood. It’s a character breakdown and transformation occurring live before your eyes. It challenges preconceptions and tropes at every turn. It’s powerful, it’s sad, it’s sexy and fun and hilarious and mature. Sit close so you can be sweat on, and you might just get a chance to make out with Hedwig herself. Seeing this show broke down the walls for me in terms of gender and sexuality norms, and for that it earns a place on this list. Plus it’s just damn good.

#10: Legally Blonde

This show didn’t get nearly the amount of love it deserved, despite being the only Broadway show (to my knowledge) ever to air in its entirety on television with the original cast while it was still being performed on Broadway. This is a whip-smart score from the underappreciated Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, with some of the most rhythmically clever lyrics I’ve ever heard. Elle Woods’ ascent from Malibu temptress to seriously fashionable lawyer is a story that—believe it or not—resonates. It’s a high-energy, polished dose of pizzazz that can’t help but put a big smile on your face. Plus, that opening number: oh my god.

#9: In the Heights

In the Heights has a fantastic score by the immensely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda. But the material transcends the score when it’s up on stage: the clever choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, the orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire and the scenic and lighting design by Anna Louizos and Howell Binkley come together to make for an experience that will send chills of pleasure down your spine. It’s got heart, it’s got emotion, and it got us all started on Broadway rap. In the Heights is an incredible musical experience, and it was also a Pulitzer finalist.

#8: Les Misérables

The first of the “modern classics” to make this list, Les Misérables defines the epic sung-through musical. And it’s still powerful today, with the ability to drive audiences (and me) to tears. The sheer scope of the show is unparalleled (except, one might argue, by Hamilton), and it features some of the most difficult and beautiful vocal parts in the business. Once you’re cast in Les Mis, you’re a Broadway lifer. The show’s staying power is a testament to its quality, though I will admit some annoyance at the fact that Phantom lives on while Les Mis does not. (Phantom is the inferior show, and did not make this list.)

#7: A Chorus Line

Officially the oldest musical on this list, A Chorus Line is also the first Pulitzer Prize winner here. It earned that distinction by dint of its impeccable score, its striking exploration of character, and its commentary on the nature of success and fitting in. A Chorus Line is musical theatre geekery for the geeks, but it’s also a poignant series of vignettes that manage to be funny, endearing, and tearful all at once. Its signature finale, What I Did For Love, is a fitting tribute to the pain and glory that is musical theatre—and life.

#6: Fun Home

Truly outstanding musicals are startlingly rare. And in today’s age of pop musicals littered with C-A-F-G progressions and rap/rock interludes, a show that chooses to eschew those forms in favor of a more classical approach may seem risky. But Fun Home makes it work, not least because the score is immensely clever at every note. A musical about a lesbian comic artist trying to find her way in a world where her home is falling apart, Fun Home isn’t generally very fun. But it is sad, and heartfelt, at times deeply moving. The real pain of this family is evident on stage, and you just want to reach out and tell them it’s going to be okay. This show was a Pulitzer finalist—a well-deserved honor.

#5: Groundhog Day

If you’d have told me that a musical based on the comedy Groundhog Day would have made it into my top five shows of all time, I’d have laughed in your face. Loudly. But here we are, and Groundhog Day is really, really good. This is the funniest and easily the most jaw-droppingly complex show I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. From a purely technical standpoint, it’s almost unbelievable. In terms of comedy, this thing will have you crying with laughter. But it also exudes a great deal of heart, and the character lessons learned within it are real. Groundhog Day is one of those shows I really didn’t see coming—unlike Phil’s shadow, which (spoiler alert) he saw.

#4: Hamilton

The great juggernaut of modern musical theatre finally makes its appearance here at #4. Is that too high? Too low? Perhaps we’ll never know, but at least it took its shot. Okay, I’m as tired as everyone else of the constant Hamilton lyric drops, so perhaps it’s time we gave that a rest. Still, you have to admit that Hamilton earned its Pulitzer-winning spot: it’s clever, relentless, epically-scoped, with strong performances that will leave you breathless. My only criticism of Hamilton—and this is a big one—is that the live show never stops to let you feel. But it’s modern, it’s energetic, and it’s a really good show. Hamilton would have been proud.

#3: Rent

Here we come to Pulitzer #3, and one of the most influential musicals of the past two decades. Lin-Manuel Miranda cites it as one of his primary influences, and you can see it reflected in his work. Rent was extremely edgy for its time, featuring a sung-through rock score that explores class, sexuality, the AIDS epidemic, and what it means to love. Made even more poignant by the tragic passing of its creator (Jonathan Larson) just before the show opened, Rent has gone down in history as a story that, while not quite timeless, is nevertheless powerful. (It also served as the career launching point for a number of the cast!)

#2: Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon has always held a special place in my heart. From its lush, sweeping orchestrations to its tragic, teary finale, Miss Saigon never fails to tug on the heartstrings. This is Boublil and Shönburg’s second musical on this list, and the reason is apparent: they are experts at crafting epic tales in musical form. Miss Saigon was the first piece of theatre to ever make me cry—and it still does, every single time.

#1: Dear Evan Hansen

Pasek and Paul are new on the scene, but boy did they arrive in style. This young duo has crafted the poppiest of musicals—that will have you in tears nearly the entire time. Never has a cast emoted so much on-stage. Never has a lead actor been so deep into his role. Never have moments of levity felt so welcome as you process the grief and longing to belong from your seat safe in the fifth row. As a teenager, I felt ostracized. My entire life, I’ve struggled to connect. I’ve never attempted suicide, but I know what it feels like to want to. And I understand the anxiety, the fear of getting caught in a lie, the flutter your heart makes when you’ve said the wrong thing but it’s far too late to correct it. Dear Evan Hansen gets me, and its message is something we all need to hear: that even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need someone to carry you—when you’re broken on the ground, you will be found.

Parting observations

Of the twelve musicals listed here, three are Pulitzer Prize winners, while two more were Pulitzer finalists. Nine of them won Best Musical (and if Groundhog Day had been released in a year with less competition, it would have). Only two of them are comedies. Two heavily feature rap. Four are sung-through, two of them are based on operas, and two are based on movies. Two composers have two shows on the list: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Boublil and Shönberg. Disney did not get any shows into my top twelve, though they did have two in my top twenty and one in my top fifteen. The shows skew heavily modern—partly because those are my sensibilities, and partly because this list is based on musicals I’ve actually seen.

Did you enjoy this list? What do you agree or disagree with? If you want to see how I arrived at it (including all the shows I dropped along the way), stay tuned below.

A Chorus Line
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Aladdin
Altar Boyz
American Idiot
Anastasia
Annie
Avenue Q
Beauty and the Beast
Billy Elliot
Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk
Burn the Floor
Cabaret
Catch Me If You Can
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Chicago
Cinderella
Come From Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Dirty Dancing
Evita
Finding Neverland
Fosse
Fun Home
Grease
Groundhog Day
Hairspray
Hamilton
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
In the Heights
Into the Woods
Jekyll and Hyde
Jesus Christ Superstar
Legally Blonde
Les Miserables
Little Shop of Horrors
Martin Guerre
Mary Poppins
Miss Saigon
Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
Newsies
Notre-Dame des Paris
Parade
Ragtime
Rent
Rock of Ages
Roman Holiday
Shrek the Musical
Spamalot
Spring Awakening
Stomp
Sunset Boulevard
Sweeney Todd
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
The Beautiful Game
The Book of Mormon
The King and I
The Light in the Piazza
The Lion King
The Phantom of the Opera
The Producers
The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Witches of Eastwick
Titanic
White Christmas
Wicked
Young Frankenstein
A Chorus Line
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Aladdin
Avenue Q
Cabaret
Cinderella
Dear Evan Hansen
Finding Neverland
Fun Home
Groundhog Day
Hairspray
Hamilton
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
In the Heights
Into the Woods
Legally Blonde
Les Miserables
Little Shop of Horrors
Miss Saigon
Newsies
Parade
Ragtime
Rent
Shrek the Musical
Spamalot
Spring Awakening
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
The Book of Mormon
The Lion King
The Phantom of the Opera
Titanic
Wicked
A Chorus Line
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Aladdin
Dear Evan Hansen
Finding Neverland
Fun Home
Groundhog Day
Hairspray
Hamilton
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
In the Heights
Legally Blonde
Les Miserables
Miss Saigon
Newsies
Ragtime
Rent
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Titanic
Wicked
A Chorus Line
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
Aladdin
Dear Evan Hansen
Finding Neverland
Fun Home
Groundhog Day
Hamilton
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
In the Heights
Legally Blonde
Les Miserables
Miss Saigon
Rent
Titanic