The 50 Best Musicals of the 21st Century....So Far...

The 50 Best Musicals of the 21st Century....So Far...

The 21st Century is young, in fact, it just turned sweet sixteen. But in that short time we've seen some incredible musical theatre that will no doubt go down as some of the best works of all time. 

These musicals aren't just filled with gorgeous scores or interesting characters. They raised the bar with their creativity, originality and themes. Given the influence of the work on this list, one can only imagine what the rest of this century will bring. Some of these you may know and love, and some you may be hearing them for the first time. 

So without further ado here is our list of the Top 50 musicals of the 21st Century. 

50. If/Then

"If/Then" sometimes falters as it homes in on familiar home truths, and there are, to be sure, moments where the earnestness feels more wincing than revealing. But it also has some lovely insights into how the phantom pains of missing a life we never had can haunt and shape our choices — and that we can always find something new to live for, if we just remember to look up every once in a while." - Kerry Reid / Chicago Tribune

49. Murder Ballad

"Like the pounding backbeat of the music, the assertive lyrics tell it loud and clear and put no romantic spin on this earthy story. “Sara and Tom were good in bed,” according to one typically blunt verse. And when they part, they don’t cry and they don’t look back...It isn’t the content as much as the context of these comings and goings that makes this doomed love story so electrifying. Every element of the production, including the set and costumes, advance the story and contribute to the impact of the performances." - Marilyn Stasio / Variety

48. The Bridges of Madison County

"It helps that Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years) has written a lush and deeply romantic score, filled with rich and melodic duets that show off its leads’ terrific voices ? their second act rafter-shaker ”One Second & a Million Miles” is destined to become a cabaret staple. The tunes help compensate for Marsha Norman’s more problematic book, which stumbles whenever the spotlight isn’t on Francesca and Robert." - Thom Geier / Entertainment Weekly 

47. A Man of No Importance

"Sentimentality can be a bore, but the warm wash of feeling in the musical "A Man of No Importance" is often glorious. Stephen Flaherty, the composer of "Ragtime," knows how to write uplifting music, and his score for this tale of a stage-smitten ticket-taker on a Dublin bus is at once humble and enthralling." - Nelson Pressley / Washington Post

46. Zanna, Don't!

"The musical style and feel of this show lies somewhere between High School Musical and Rent. The legitimacy of the subject matter has been given the handling of an after-school special, perhaps to take the edge off of what might be perceived as confrontational. The presentational style of the characters and their conflicts, and the song lyrics and music are what one would expect to hear on The Disney Channel in an alternate universe. There is plenty of humor in reversed stereotypes and plays on situations. There are also inside jokes for the musical theatre devotees. One would wish that we are told how Zanna comes to be the only person in Heartsville with magical powers, but after all this is a fairy tale." -  John Lariviere / Talkin' Broadway

45. Hands on a Hardbody

"I feel about "Hands on a Hardbody" much as I felt about "Once," the current Broadway hit that sprang from an almost as unlikely cinematic source: chiefly, that it's a relief to encounter a musical that isn't afraid to follow its own idiosyncratic vision. The folksy low-key aesthetic is especially seductive in these days of overproduced spectacles. If the show could rid itself of the sprawl that causes the momentum to sag noticeably in the second half, "Hardbody" could be an offbeat winner." - Charles McNulty / Los Angeles Times

44. Shrek: The Musical

"The chief appeal of the show lies in the fact that it reverses Oscar Wilde's dictum that "it is better to be beautiful than to be good". What it proves is that there is hope for all of us, however ill-favoured." - Michael Billington / The Guardian

43. Kinky Boots

"The sincerity and yearning in Lauper's lyrics infuse the characters with emotional veracity, as in Charlie's duet with Lola, "Not My Father’s Son," where they commiserate over misunderstandings with their fathers. Lauper’s roster of pop tunes are underscored with a retro '80s synth bed, or in songs by Lola and her Angels, a funky '70s beat. Beginning the second act, an ensemble number between men and women on the factory floor, "What a Woman Wants," delightfully illuminates misperceptions between the sexes. But "Soul of a Man" has echoes of the Procul Harum classic, "Whiter Shade of Pale," based loosely on Bach's "Air on a G String" – a musical mind-bender that points out the limits of Lauper’s originality." - Jordan Riefe / The Hollywood Reporter

42. Once

"Start with intimate. Simultaneously bittersweet and uplifting. Deeply moving. Surprisingly funny. Gorgeous in its simplicity and emotional honesty. Great, great musical theater." -  Bob Fischbach / World-Herald

41. The Producers

"It's the type of musical people say they pray for; a gleeful return to the good old days of undemanding musical comedy with laughs, pretty girls, laughs, a couple of catchy songs, laughs, soon to be legendary performances by some of the best talents of the Broadway stage, laughs, and . . . well . . . lots and lots of laughs." - Thomas Burke / Talkin' Broadway

40. Dear Evan Hansen

"Watching “Dear Evan Hansen,” now playing at Off Broadway’s Second Stage Theater, is like falling down a rabbit hole that leads back to high school. Steven Levenson’s book for this bittersweet musical captures both the humor and the pathos of a hopeless misfit (played to perfection by Ben Platt) who achieves popularity through no fault of his own. And not since “Next to Normal” has a score (by Benj Pask and Justin Paul) tapped so deeply into the psyches of its troubled characters." - Marilyn Stasio / Variety

39. Passing Strange

"Instead of billing "Passing Strange" as a rock 'n' roll musical, it might be more appropriate to sell this production as a concert depicting the stages of Youth, particularly, Black youth, in late 20th century America. It is a dynamic musical that vibrates right to your heart. Bring ear plugs if you must, but leave your mind open." - Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus / NY Theatre Guide

38. bare: A Pop Opera

"This sly, raucous show manages to avoid the sugary-sweet ending typical of the genre. Adolescence is traumatic enough without sexual identity crises; Bare explores both sexual identity and its ties to religion with sensitivity and depth, while portraying entirely accurate teenagers. They're just confused kids masquerading under their adopted personas--cynical Goth girl, beautiful blonde jock--and they'll make every adult in the audience cherish their old age." - Jenny Sandman / Curtain Up

37. Dogfight

"It’s an intimate show with moments of attempted cinematic grandeur. It’s a story about the close kinship of cruelty to innocence, and how, ultimately, they annihilate one another, a story with deep violence underneath its soldiers-on-the-town picaresque ... and yet its governing musical mood is a wistful, rippling reflection. It’s brutally honest, yet persistently muted. Dogfight, as tenderly realized by director Joe Mantello, isn’t quite a show for the ages, but it’s a production to remember and celebrate, as well as the announcement of several major talents" - Scott Brown / Vulture

36. Amour

"The score for this production is truly beautiful (as you may expect from an Oscar-winning composer) and is played perfectly by the band (as you may expect from the Royal Academy of Music!). The lyrics, adapted by Jeremy Sams, are fiendishly clever and kind on the ears, with some of the wordplay worthy of Sondheim at his best. The score is entirely sung through and there are way more hits than misses, with the character solos and lively ensemble numbers soaring and captivating throughout. They say a sign of a good musical is when a song gets stuck in your head and I’ve had several of the recurring refrains bouncing around my sinuses for about half a day now." - Danny Coleman-Cooke / 

35. Memphis

"Without descending into pastiche, the music captures, in numbers such as Everybody Wants to Be Black on a Saturday Night, the heady excitement of a moment when pop was undergoing seismic change. The show may lack the formal inventiveness of The Scottsboro Boys, but it is on the side of progress, and in Christopher Ashley’s recast Broadway production the story is put across with great verve." - Michael Billington / The Guardian

34. Billy Elliot

"For "Billy Elliot" is a freewheeling piece of working-class populism that, despite the structural inconsistencies and, yes, despite this not being the greatest score, makes the best case of any modern blockbuster musical for the arts as a means of escape. The show seems to just be about an unlikely kid from an anti-arts environment trying to get into the Royal Ballet School. But it's really about how artistic truth flows from deep within us and how a dancer dances — and thus works, leaves, betrays — because nothing else makes him or her feel the same way. And it's about how as parent, one thing matters most of all: that you get behind your kids." - Chris Jones / Chicago Tribune

33. Altar Boyz

"The religious references that permeate the musical are a mixed bag of tropes and truisms, depending on your beliefs. The pre-“Book of Mormon” show has a song with the same title and refrain, “I Believe,” and there are other ways you can see its influence on that satirical juggernaut.What sets “Altar Boyz” apart is an endearing sincerity even when its aim is the big laugh and a charismatic group of guys going at full tilt to lift your spirits." - Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

32. Something Rotten! 

"While it's been done countless times before, watching a musical that pokes fun at the very idea of a musical remains irresistible sport, especially when the digs are as celebratory as these. There's nothing mean-spirited even in the taunts aimed at frequent spoof targets like Cats or Les Miserables. The first-act high point is a riotous self-parodying number simply titled "A Musical," which represents with mounting excitement everything that's ludicrous and wonderful about the form at its most ebullient — people bursting into spontaneous song; perky chorus members thronging the stage; an explosion of tappers, fan-dancing showgirls and a kickline; even the magnificently cheesy tradition of the encore reprise." - David Rooney / The Hollywood Reporter

31. Thoroughly Modern Millie

"Tesori, best known as the composer of Off Broadway musical “Violet,” seems a surprising participant in this gleefully nostalgic concoction (her upcoming Tony Kushner collaboration would seem more likely), but her affection for the musical forms of the era appears genuine, and she and Scanlan have come up with some appealing and astute pastiche items here, including a bluesy paean to making it in the Big Apple that’s delivered with smooth relish by Ralph and a snazzily hummable act-two opener for Millie, “Forget About the Boy,” that’s a real keeper." - Charles Isherwood / Variety

30. A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

"As crafty as it is unabashed silly, the show, written by Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics), blends lighthearted murderous intrigue with British upper class outlandishness and romantic shenanigans so brazenly self-seeking only a dolt would be left misty eyed." - Charles McNulty / Los Angeles Times

29. Heathers

"The music isn’t as consistently fresh as the lyrics, but some of the best numbers evoke 1980’s pop styles. “Seventeen” is a power ballad that sounds as if it could have been on the soundtrack of Top Gun, and “Meant to Be Yours” connotes J.D.’s anxiety through jittery drums and massed synthesizers." -  Tim Dunleavy / DC Metro Theatre Arts

28. Sweet Smell of Success

"Despite its grim subject matter, The Sweet Smell isn't rank. True, it isn't as good as the film. It certainly won't be a Broadway classic. But in many ways it is a better musical than "The Producers," the very successful show covering the same general era, cast of characters and locale. Both shows depict the dark side of Times Square show business, circa 1950's. But while "The Producers" gets cheap laughs from offensive stereotypes (addled, horney old ladies; mincing, limp-wristed gays), "Sweet Smell" confronts the serious issue of abuses
of power, and does so with generally fine acting, creative choreography and evocative sets." - John D. Delmar / The City Review

27. Monty Python's Spamalot

"The Spamalot score is one aspect in which the show differs from its early-musical-comedy predecessors. Though the scores of those shows naturally included comedy numbers, they were also intended to show off the abilities of outstanding melodists and wordsmiths (not to mention outstanding singers). Mocking everything in their wake, Idle and Du Prez set out to be no more sincere than two riverboat gamblers. They are masters of the throwaway ditty; while their tunes are almost unfailingly delightful, they give the impression of having been written in a flash and are instantly forgettable. Except, that is, when they sound very much like something else -- as, say, the number titled "The Holy Grail" pays homage to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." - David Finkle / Theatremania

26. The Fully Monty

"To claim that The Full Monty is an important or significant contribution to musical theatre would be absurd. To say that it's one of the most enjoyable, light weight evenings at the theatre in the last several seasons would be nothing less than the plain truth. Terrance McNally has provided a book and David Yazbek songs which, inconsequential as they are, nevertheless catch your fancy and provide a context for a first rate cast to strut their stuff with joyful abandon." - Thomas Burke / Talkin' Broadway

25. Wicked

"Depicting the façade and inner workings of the Time Dragon Clock, a predictor or perhaps moderator of fate, the cogs and complex weight systems comprising Eugene Lee's set for Wicked , the new musical at the Gershwin, are unavoidably prophetic: this is a thoroughly mechanical and unmagical musical." - Matthew Murray / Talkin' Broadway

24. The Drowsy Chaperone

"It is one of the funniest productions I've ever seen. The laughter started before the stage lights even went up, and continued to the very end.  Indeed nothing is sacred to the creators of "The Drowsy Chaperone". They take equal opportunity pot shots at everyone, anything and get away with it all. I'm not sure if hilarious is an apt enough word to describe this show. It is sweet, gentle, nostalgic, loving, funny, and funny and funny.  I guess you'd have to call it hilarious or even hysterical at times." - Paula Jessop / Splash Magazine

23. Here Lies Love

"David Byrne and big-beat master Fatboy Slim’s new musical, “Here Lies Love,” owes less to the Great American Songbook than to the disco. With their booming bass and propulsive rhythms, the songs make you want to get up and dance. And at this show, you can do just that." - Elisabeth Vincentelli / New York Post

22. The Color Purple

"The raw folk-lyricism, epistolary structure and hard-edged conviction of “The Color Purple” make Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-winning novel a challenging proposition for translation to a populist entertainment medium. Neither Steven Spielberg’s prettified, Amblin-ized 1985 movie nor this big, messy patchwork of a musical entirely do justice to the story of poor black women from the Deep South in the first half of the 20th century. But in both cases, the book’s vibrant characters and soaring emotional arc remain uncrushed. While the show crudely reduces the sprawling feminist saga to cartoonish episodes, it can count on an audience willing to connect the dots." - David Rooney / Variety

21. A Year With Frog and Toad

"There’s a lovely sense of recurrence in A Year with Frog and Toad which seems particularly apt for a show tied to the passing of the seasons. The return of migratory birds opens and closes the piece and in each vignette that make up the bulk of the play’s action we are invited to overcome adversity through friendship, every time affirming that Frog needs Toad, as Toad needs Frog. Finally, for those audience members whose feet reach the auditorium ground from their seat, there is also a chance to return, if for a short time, to our own childhood. The show is vividly rendered, engaging, and enjoyable even without a detailed knowledge of the classic Arnold Lobel books on which the musical is based. In the final scene a Taoist allusion to the fine line between waking (hibernating) and dreaming invites the possibility that the whole play may itself be a pleasant recurring dream." - Chris Williams / MD Theatre Guide

20. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

"In the end, what succeeds best is Malloy's sensitive setting of Tolstoy's thoughts to music, particularly the softly sung finale, '"The Great Comet of 1812." The creative innovations by the artistic team, the exuberance of the cast, a score that captures the mood and the period, and especially the emotional resonance of Tolstoy's characters, combine to make this an unforgettable theatrical experience that resonances long after the stage lights have faded." - Iris Fanger / Theatremania

19. Matilda the Musical

"No one saw it coming. A debuting musical theater team adapting a Roald Dahl children’s story about an unhappy girl whose life is saved by the magic of books? True, helmer Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage”) was aboard, but his tuner credits include “Lord of the Rings” and “Ghost.” Yet “Matilda” turns out to be an explosion of joy, the most exhilarating and flat-out best musical since “Billy Elliot.” - David Benedict / Variety

18. James Joyce's The Dead

"Longer than the usual short story, “The Dead” is deceptively simple, seeming at first to be a typical, warm, meandering tale of a family and friends who join together to celebrate the Christmas holidays. Almost Henry Jamesian in its accretion of small details, however, it is in reality a cerebral masterpiece conveniently nestled into its Christmas party frame. Its emotional payoff tiptoes quietly into consciousness like a barely perceptible but inevitable tide." - Terry Ponick / DC Theatre Scene 

17. The Scottsboro Boys

"So, yes, do rush to see this ingenious, pain-filled, feel-good show but be prepared to be ambushed by ambivalence. You may be torn between wanting to clap and beat yourself up." - Dominic Cavendish / The Telegraph

16. Bat Boy: The Musical

"What seems, at first, to be a one-joke rock musical soon evolves into a diverse pastiche of everything from My Fair Lady to The Lion King. The referential aspects of the show are fun to pick out; but you need not, for instance, realize that at one point they're spoofing Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde to enjoy the moment. The show works on its own energy and inventiveness, lifted by a cast that could hardly be improved upon. In the title role, Deven May gives a career-making performance. His acting is physical yet internalized, and his dramatic skills are as rangy as his exquisite voice. He's also wonderfully funny." - Barbara and Scott Siegel / Theatremania

15. Hairspray

"Every song, though completely new, seems recognizable. There's the lovably cheesy 1960s pop of "Good Morning Baltimore," the television corniness of "The Nicest Kids in Town," and the adolescent emotions of the wailing "Mama, I'm A Big Girl Now." The invention of the score doesn't stop until the show does - "Welcome to the 60s" is as likely to break into a sizzling turn for the Baltimore girl group trio, the Dynamites (Kamilah Martin, Judine Richard, and Shayna Steele) as the show's finale, "You Can't Stop the Beat" is to send the audience out humming and, probably literally, dancing." - Matthew Murray / Talkin' Broadway

14. The Wild Party

"Lippa’s work is more overtly entertaining than LaChiusa’s, as the series of showstoppers so effectively rendered here proves again. In many cases, though, these numbers come across as just that, numbers: separable entities only notionally connected to the story. (Lippa’s reshuffling of the running order, so that the title song, which used to come near the end of the first act, now comes at the start, only enhances this effect.)" - Jess Green / Vulture

13. In The Heights

"This salute to the bodega-dotted Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights turns the soap opera struggles of Latino tenement dwellers into an occasion for a salsa-swinging block party. (Even when trouble hits, it’s a beautiful day in the barrio.) Conceived by the eminently likable composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has a leading role in the cast, the show brings a multicultural sound and sensibility to what is ultimately a very conventional feel-good musical experience." - Charles McNulty / Los Angeles Times

12. The Light in the Piazza

“The Light in the Piazza,” the highly anticipated new musical from playwright-director Craig Lucas and composer-lyricist Adam Guettel, is unlikely to be — in this form — Broadway-bound. Its story, while romantic, is not at all sentimental. Its music, while lovely, is not easily hummable. And these are to be counted among the show’s many, many charms." - Lynn Jacobson / Variety

11. Caroline or Change

"How deep is a musical allowed to get on Broadway? The daring, beautiful and profoundly moving Caroline, or Change has now transferred to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre after a sold-out run at the Public, and conventional wisdom says that it's endangered. Broadway, we're told, is in the middle of an overdue renaissance of musical comedy, after years of dreary fallow in the age of British megashows. The Producers, Hairspray and Mamma Mia! are hits of the New Broadway, tasty trifles that want nothing more than to entertain. This is a laudable goal, but a limited one; bubblegum shows provide only so much to chew on, and nothing to digest." - Adam Feldman / Timeout

10. Avenue Q

"It's in the balance between reality and fantasy, and between paying homage to Sesame Street and parodying it outright, that leaves Avenue Q on somewhat shaky footing. Presenting itself as a children's show for grownups is a clever idea, but not enough alone to hide the weaknesses in the material. However cleverly presented and however charmingly performed, the show's jokes and gimmicks run dry before the first act comes to an end. No amount of intricate puppetry, mocking life lessons (such as a song-length examination of the word Schadenfreude), or tackling other children's television conventions can hide the fact that Avenue Q isn't capable of completely filling two hours any more than it is a Broadway-sized theater." - Matthew Murray / Talkin' Broadway

9. [title of show]

"Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, a couple of funny guys struggling to make it in musical theater, have written a mighty cute show about a couple of funny guys named Jeff and Hunter struggling to make it in musical theater. While “[title of show],” the whimsically titled musical these buds pretend to be writing on the spot, is hardly in the same league as “A Chorus Line,” it’s likely to be loved to death by showbiz working stiffs, the built-in audience whose collective ego the show simultaneously sends up and strokes." - Marilyn Stasio / Variety 

8. Spring Awakening

"Sheik's absolutely haunting and often breathtaking score still outshine Sater's poetic lyrics, and many of these songs clearly stand up to repeated listening. What's most remarkable about Sheik is his adeptness at so many musical styles, from the girl-group harmonies of "Mama Who Bore Me" to the Elvis Costello-like rock of Mortiz's "Don't Do Sadness" to the art-rock balladry of "Whispering." (One song, "The Guilty Ones" has been added to the beginning of the second act.)" - Brian Scott Lipton / Thearemania

7. Urinetown

"Urinetown describes itself as an "absurdist melodrama about a city in the midst of a drought so devastating that a malevolent corporation has been able to take control of all the toilet facilities. Greed, corruption and betrayal run rampant and the public desperatley seeks relief." Yes, it's all that and less. The book, music, and lyrics remind one of nothing so much as an earnest academic exercise, reveling in a plethora of allusions to ill understood theatrical styles and traditions." - Thomas Burke / Talkin' Broadway

6. The Last Five Years

"The Last Five Years is an enjoyable, tuneful pastiche. Robert Jason Brown's score is in a pleasing to the ear pop idiom. Of the new young composers working in today's musical theater, Brown is the one who has not sacrificed melody to modernity. His closest resemblance to Sondheim is in his ability to write smart story-telling lyrics that are witty and at times even poetic -- as when Cathy, in her last number sings "I open myself one stitch at a time." 

5. Fun Home

"New! Fresh! Original! We toss those kudos around a lot in this business. (It’s like calling everyone “darling.”) But “Fun Home” really earns the praise. Lisa Kron, who wrote both book and lyrics, assembles words and images in unexpected ways to dramatize the bittersweet memoir (based on the 2006 graphic novel by Alison Bechdel) of a grown woman remembering the troubled father she loved in spite of himself.  Sam Gold’s direction brings lucidity to the complex mechanics of staging a story that takes place in three time frames. And Jeanine Tesori’s haunting music doesn’t sound a bit like anyone else’s music." - Marilyn Stasio / Variety

4. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

"No one captures exquisite inner pain and pleasures better than composer William Finn, whose tuners “Falsettos” and “A New Brain” and song cycle “Elegies” are just the most notable examples of his signature style of smart and tender angst. In “The 25th Annual Putnam County Bee,” receiving its world preem after a workshop earlier this year at Barrington Stage Co., Finn turns to a special kind of American ritualistic self-abuse known as the spelling bee and creates one of the funniest, sweetest and quirkiest small-scale musicals to come along in a long time. It’s destined to have a life on many professional and amateur stages alike." - Frank Rizzo / Variety

3. The Book of Mormon

"The two-and-a-half hour show is saddled with the schoolyard humor we've come to expect from the men who thought up Eric Cartman. It's riddled with profanity and even manages to make "baptism" a dirty word. It's not for pearl-clutchers or do-gooders.

But it's fresh, it's shocking and it's damn funny. It's full of cartoonish energy, wit, perversion and religious blasphemy -- none of which would matter if it didn't offer a truly huge helping of heart." - Chris Baker

2. Hamilton

"What even the most patriotic American knows about Alexander Hamilton can probably be scrawled across his face on the 10-dollar bill, and how much we care about his backstory could be inscribed on a dime. He created the country’s first regulated banking system and established tariffs to fund the national debt, you say? Scintillating! In fact, though, his life was the stuff dramaturgy dreams are made of, full of tragedy and intrigue, and Hamilton’s Tony-winning star/lyricist/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) has turned a Founding Father’s largely forgotten narrative into one of the most joyful, kinetic, and extravagantly original musicals ever imagined for the stage." - Leah Greenblatt / Entertainment Weekly

1. Next to Normal

"Its choice of subject alone is reason to admire “Next to Normal.” Too many small-scale musicals think even smaller — the trite growing pains of “Glory Days,” the self-congratulatory artistic masturbation of “[title of show],” the wishy-washy sentimentality of “The Story of My Life” — so it’s unsurprising they disappear fast. But the creative team here poses a potentially hackneyed question — is it better to feel pain or smother it? — and gives it freshness, urgency and emotional integrity." - David Rooney / Variety

Just Feel It

Just Feel It

"Why aren’t you on Broadway?  Don’t you even want to try? "

"Why aren’t you on Broadway? Don’t you even want to try? "