5 musicals that changed modern musical theater


Modern musical theater has evolved over the years. These five musicals have changed how both the audience and the theater community think about musicals.

Musicals today aren’t the same as rivals. Modern musical theater has evolved just like its audiences. While Hamilton brought in a new wave of audiences, many musicals before Lin Manuel Miranda’s historical piece had great impacts. From a modern classic that has become the longest-running musical to a jukebox musical with no spoken words, these musicals have changed how people think about theater.

Phantom of the Opera

The Andrew Lloyd Webber highly dramatic musical has become a classic. Now the longest playing musical on Broadway, this epic love story has woven its way into theater culture. Even non-theater goers know that iconic mask.

Phantom of the Opera has had an impact on musical theater because of the grandeur of the musical itself. The sweeping score appeals to older theatergoers. The epic love story appeals to the masses. Adding to the over the top theatrics, everyone has a memorable evening.

Of course, this musical was during the time that everything Andrew Lloyd Webber touched turned to gold. While Andrew Lloyd Webber has legions of fans, this musical allows non-traditional theatergoers to feel like they are part of the community.

The Lion King

The extremely popular Disney production appeals to a wide audience. With an expansive production. The Lion King has seamlessly brought the movie to life on the stage. Even without a totally new score, this production appeals to a wide audience.

For the theater, The Lion King production is quite impressive. With its creative use of puppeteering, this musical changed how audiences perceived a production. In this musical, the puppets and the actors work together to create one character. Audiences lose the actor into the animal itself.

Lastly, the opening number of The Lion King has been borrowed in various ways by other musicals. As the animals walk down the aisles, the audiences are memorized by the experience. Other productions have implemented similar production effects to immerse the audience from the first note.

The Producers

Based on a Mel Brooke’s movie, this musical didn’t shy away from controversial subjects. Through humor, the musical productions were slightly uncomfortable but funny. Numbers like “Spring Time for Hitler” aren’t the songs that you can sing at will.

The Producers worked well because it made fun of itself. The humor came at the absurdity of the concept of a musical. Sure, people know that people breaking into song isn’t normal, but this musical made light of that premise.

Without The Producers, and Mel Brooke’s genius, Book of Mormon may have never happened. The slightly uncomfortable, yet hilarious story, brings many non-traditional theatergoers to the theater. Who knows what inappropriate, yet funny, musical could be next.

Moving Out

A simple idea brought many people to see a musical. Billy Joel’s songbook has a legion of fans. The Twyla Tharp musical that used the Billy Joel songbook is simple yet stunning. While this musical doesn’t still play today, it paved the way for many more jukebox musicals.

The idea of turning songs that fans knew into a musical wasn’t a popular concept. Adding to that concept that the musical had no dialogue was equally strange.

While this musical might not have the longevity of other musicals, it does have a special place in theater history. Today, jukebox musicals are extremely popular. The familiar music brings non-traditional theatergoers into the theater because they love the music.


Timely topics can be a difficult theater subject. Jonathon Larson’s momentous musical, Rent, tackled the HIV/AIDS epidemic and cultural upheaval with grace and empathy. In a musical that launched numerous actors, this game-changing musical changed how people perceived the modern musical.

Borrowing the themes from La Boheme, Rent showcased a period in New York City. As the HIV/AIDS epidemic raged, this musical showed that those suffering had both dignity and hope in their situation. While the world around them ran scared, these examples raged on against society.

Rent offered a different approach to the traditional musical score. With references to rock, the score is approachable. Also, the sparse set engages the audience with the actors versus the stage. Overall, the audience is invested in the theatrical moment.

Next: After 20 years The Lion King still roars

These five musicals have changed modern musical theater. Of course, the next round of musical productions keeps evolving the classic theatrical genre. But, without these pioneers, we might still be singing the notes from South Pacific or Hello Dolly.