Recently, a high school theatre director (Hi Hannah!) asked me if I could compile a list of musicals that high schools can do. While every high school and town is different, there are quite a few shows that are performed pretty much nationwide.
When choosing a show for your school or community theatre or wherever, there are quite a few criterion to keep in mind:
- Do I have actors that can successfully play the leads?
- Know what level of comfort your superiors have with violence/delicate subject matter in high school musicals.
- Some shows have plots that revolve around racial tension.
- Cast size & composition.
- Dancing requirements.
- Technical requirements.
- Licensing fees.
Choosing the right musical for a high school production can be a bit . . . overwhelming. As long as you keep the above guidelines top of mind, you’re sure to choose an excellent musical that is well-suited for high school productions:
Do I have actors that can successfully play the leads?
Don’t make directing a musical more difficult than it needs to be. If you have 4 extremely talented males (which is super rare, so if that’s you…wow!) DON’T choose Gypsy. You should strive to pick a show in which the most students have the opportunity to shine. Choose Fiddler on the Roof or Sweeney Todd!
Speaking of Sweeney…
Know what level of comfort your superiors have with violence/delicate subject matter.
It’s theatre. Trust me, I understand the importance of actors and audiences experiencing a story in which difficult situations are unpacked and more easily understood. Just because you and I understand this does not mean that the school principal or fine arts director or city council will. Don’t pick a show that everyone in your town is ‘too good’ to come see or that will get you in trouble.
That being said: there will always be people who think the musical you choose is too inappropriate. Footloose talks about a girl who ‘gets around.’ Once Upon a Mattress has an unintended out of wedlock pregnancy. Both of these musicals are pretty wholesome, but ya know. People like to complain and feel self-righteous.
Some shows have plots that revolve around racial tension.
Don’t choose West Side Story if you do not have actors that can successfully play Puerto Rican Americans and Caucasian Americans. (Maybe I’ll get into my opinion on that in another post.)
Cast size & composition of your high school / theatre troupe.
Do I have enough girls and boys to play the roles needed? (Some more minor roles can usually be gender-bent, but some licensing companies have strict rules against this.) If there are young kids, where will you find the actors to play them?
Dancing requirements for high school musicals.
Choose a show that you are confident you or your choreographer can choreograph AND that your students are able to perform well. Take into account their ability to sing while moving. Don’t do Newsies unless you are 100% sure you have a group of STRONG singers and dancers!! Check if the show requires tap. Do you have the budget to buy those shoes?
Technical requirements for high school musicals.
Without costumes, lights, and set, a musical is just a bunch of actors roving around and singing. There’s no context. Be sure that your budget is large enough to provide the context the audience needs for an understandable, enjoyable, and polished show.
Okay! Without further ado, let’s get to the list of musicals high schools can perform.
To start, here’s a list of musicals that most high schools can do justice to:
- Annie (needs littler girl/student who passes as a 10 year old.)
- Oklahoma! (classic)
- Annie Get Your Gun (classic)
- Bye Bye Birdie (classic)
- All Shook Up!
- Hello, Dolly! (classic)
- Seussical the Musical (lots of great set design/costuming–seriously, high schools should put on this musical more often)
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (I don’t love this show, but high schools seem to do it a lot…)
- White Christmas
- Fiddler on the Roof (classic–this is the first high school musical I ever directed)
- Little Shop of Horrors (classic and has quite a few heavily involved roles for your students)
- Footloose (some dancing, but nothing too crazy)
- You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown (written as cast of 6, but ensemble can be added to some songs/scenes)
- 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
- The Drowsy Chaperone (some adult themes–nothing too racy)
- Once Upon a Mattress
- The Music Man
- James and the Giant Peach (newer show)
- The Little Mermaid (lots of great set design/costuming)
- The Wiz (lots of great set design/costuming)
- Elf (newer show)
- Hairspray (classic)
- Grease (classic)
- Beauty and the Beast
- Mary Poppins (classic)
- Legally Blonde (some adult themes–nothing too racy–though it requires a large cast of female high schoolers who can sing)
- The Addams Family (lots of great set design/costuming)
- Side Show
- Big the Musical
- Bonnie and Clyde (LOVE THIS SHOW–some racy content but nothing crazy)
- Freaky Friday (newer show)
- High School Musical (ugh)
- The Sound of Music (classic)
- Kiss Me, Kate (classic)
- Little Women (classic)
- My Fair Lady (classic)
- Oliver! (classic)
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
- Thoroughly Modern Millie
- Young Frankenstein
- A Christmas Carol
- Tuck Everlasting (newer show)
- Big Fish (easy for high schools to put on AND somebody gets to be on stilts for that extra insurance nightmare)
- The Secret Garden
- Catch Me if You Can
- The Fantasticks
Here are some that are more difficult because of their vocal/movement/technical/costuming requirements:
Difficult musically (anything Stephen Sondheim is on this list!!):
- Sweeney Todd
- Into the Woods
- Sunday in the Park with George
- Big River (multiple ethnicities represented; diverse high school a must)
- The Phantom of the Opera
- Love Never Dies
- Meet Me in St. Louis
- Les Miserables
- The Hunckback of Notre Dame
- Jekyll & Hyde
- A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
- The King and I
- Bring It On
- West Side Story
- 42nd Street
- A Chorus Line
- Newsies (double difficult if you don’t have a bunch of high school boys who can sing)
- Crazy For You
- Peter Pan (legit making people fly)
- Shrek the Musical (I have nightmares about Shrek costumes gone wrong in high school productions.)
- Side Show
- Singin’ in the Rain (you have to make it rain…literally).
Finally, here are some musicals that high schools can do BUT the PTO might not be super happy about it:
- Chicago (stripper vibes)
- Jesus Christ Superstar (questionable treatment of God)
- Urinetown (crass humor)
- Guys and Dolls (crass humor)
- Heathers (sexual scene/dark content)
- Anything Goes (stripper vibes)
- Spring Awakening (sexual scene/dark content–I seriously don’t know if a high school theatre department would ever be okay with this one)
- Dogfight (sexual scene/dark content)
- Parade (racial violence)
- Ragtime (racial violence)
- Cabaret (actual strippers…but they’re in the 30s so it could be done tastefully.)
- The Light in the Piazza (sexual scene)
Remember, choosing the right musical for your high school production is a matter of balancing your resources and student talent with your department goals. With a little research and careful consideration, you’re sure to find the perfect musical for your high school.
Did I miss any shows? Let me know in the comments below! I’ll try to keep updating this list regularly 🙂