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Musicals and Plays

15 Best Musicals for Community Theater

Actors performing one of the best musicals for community theater

Choosing the best musicals for community theater can be surprisingly challenging. These local productions attract actors of all skill levels — and that’s part of the fun! 

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In addition to casting, directors and theater boards need to consider factors like budgets, timing, and available theater spaces.

As you’re researching musicals for community theater, choose shows that are:

  • Familiar enough to attract an audience
  • Appropriate for your local talent pool
  • Available for licensing
  • Suitable for your theater

Want more on how to pick a musical? Scroll to the bottom for tips. Otherwise, on to the musicals!

Top image courtesy of Coachmen76

1. The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music is beloved, and for good reason — the songs are beautiful, it’s uplifting (you know, except for the Nazis), and everyone loves it. What does that mean for your theater? Ticket sales! This is a great show to showcase a strong female singer. Don’t worry if she’s not an uber-soprano; the stage version of The Sound of Music is considerably lower-pitched than the movie with Julie Andrews. Plus, there are plenty of fun parts for all of your regular community theater actors. This one has lots of kids with lots of stage time, so make sure you have enough young performers to choose from.

Why it’s the Best Musical for Community Theater

  • Instantly recognizable
  • Draws a big crowd with minimal marketing
  • Big cast
  • Lots of featured roles

Challenges for Community Theater

  • Complicated costuming (Nazis and nuns, oh my!)

2. Hello, Dolly

Hello Dolly musical
Courtesy of Raph_PH under CC BY 2.0

Hello, Dolly is another one of those classic musicals that’s easy to love. You’re going to need a few solid female sopranos to play Dolly Levi and Irene Molloy, and you must have strong performers for Horace, Barnaby, and Cornelius. If your community theater is lucky enough to have a large group of standout singers, actors, and dancers, this show is a great way to show them off. There’s also a big ensemble with plenty of fun moments: dancing waiters, townspeople, and a few featured roles.

Benefits for Community Theater

  • Big ensemble
  • Lots of featured roles
  • Well-known music
  • Opportunity to showcase female singers

Challenges for Amateur Theater

  • Lots of dancing
  • Complicated staging

3. My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady requires a leading lady who’s a strong singer and actress. This is the type of musical that’s referred to as a “star vehicle” — Eliza has the bulk of the singing and acting. If you’re short on male singers (the plight of community theaters everywhere), it’s no problem. Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering can get away with speak-singing for most of the show. This is another musical with lots of fun chorus parts.

Community Theater Pros

  • Big ensemble
  • Name recognition

Challenges

  • Requires period costumes

4. Crazy for You

If your theater group is ready to move beyond the Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, Crazy for You is a fun place to start. Here’s the thing about this show — your audiences might not recognize the name, but they will instantly recognize the music. It is Gershwin, after all! That means that you’ll need to do some marketing, and said marketing should include audio whenever possible. The musical itself is great fun, with lots of dancing and humor and heart. It’s impossible not to love, and your audiences will leave the theater smiling from ear to ear.

Pros for Community Theater

  • Spectacular music
  • Big cast
  • Leading lady can be a solid mezzo
  • Plenty of featured roles

Challenges for Community Theater

  • Lots of dancing
  • Follies Girls require matching showgirl costumes

5. Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors is another intermediate-level musical for community theater. It’s a challenge, both in terms of casting and stagecraft. Before you license this show, make sure you have the means to make or rent Audrey II, the giant man-eating plant. The plot is campy and fun — plus, it’s a refreshing change from the traditional squeaky-clean love story. Your actors will love playing the fun supporting characters, including the harmonizing Doo-Wop Girls and the absurd dentist, Orin Scrivello D.D.S.  

Pros for Community Theater

  • Memorable characters
  • Music that’s fun to perform and listen to
  • Great vehicle for a female belter

Challenges

  • Relatively small ensemble
  • Challenging staging for Audrey II

6. Guys and Dolls

If you love theater, chances are good that you’ve done or seen Guys and Dolls. It’s a classic show with fantastic music, but it has one major challenge for community theaters: most of the main roles are for men. Other than Sarah and Adelaide, the women’s roles are limited to small ensemble parts (Hot Box Girls, mission band). Of course, there are ways around it — namely, to include women as gamblers and gangsters.

Pros for Community Theater

  • Audience favorite
  • Catchy music
  • Lots of high-energy scenes

Challenges

  • Lack of major female parts
  • Requires choreographed staging

7. Mamma Mia!

If you can cast it, Mamma Mia! has so many benefits for community theater — it’s fun and joyful, it’s easy to promote, and audiences are almost guaranteed to love it. This is a great musical if you’re trying to build a bigger audience for your community theater. Since it features the music of ABBA, it appeals to a wider crowd — you might even bring in people who’ve never been to a musical. The fact that there was a movie version with Meryl Streep doesn’t hurt, either. If you’re blessed with lots of local talent, Mamma Mia! is a great choice; in addition to Sky and Sophie, you have space for three older women and three older men.

Why Mamma Mia! is one of the best musicals for community theater

  • 8 principal roles to show off local talent
  • Name recognition
  • Easy ticket sales
  • Fun and uplifting
  • Cheap, easy costuming for most of the cast

Challenges

  • Requires dancing
  • Dynamos require 70s showstopper costumes

8. Beauty and the Beast

Does your community theater ever have trouble getting people to audition? Choose Beauty and the Beast as your next show, and we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised! This Disney classic is almost guaranteed to draw a crowd, both at auditions and on opening night. It’s family friendly, so you can do it practically anywhere in the country without raising a fuss. Your audience will leave smiling — and isn’t that why we do theater?

Pros for Community Theater

  • Easy to sell tickets
  • Beautiful music
  • Big cast

Challenges

  • Complicated costuming (you can rent if you have the budget)
  • Read licensing agreement carefully

9. Grease

Ever since the movie of Grease was released in 1978, the musical has been an American classic. A caveat: this musical is best for community theaters with a fairly young group of performers. The leading roles are all teenagers — you can easily use 20-somethings, but no one wants to see a 40-year-old Sandy or Danny! Casting aside, the music is fun and catchy, and there’s room for plenty of people in the many chorus scenes.

Why Grease is a Good Musical for Community Theater

  • Name recognition
  • Memorable music
  • Fun show with a tiny bit of an edge
  • Challenges
    Some costume challenges – especially for “Beauty School Dropout”
  • Lots of dancing

10. Annie

Do you have a community theater director who’s willing to do a show with children? (Not all of them are!) Annie is a natural fit. This show is all about the kids, but there are some fun roles for adults, as well. Miss Hannigan, Grace, Rooster, Lily, and Daddy Warbucks all have plenty of fun things to do. Our advice? Get a few people to serve as kid-wranglers, both in rehearsal and backstage.

Benefits for Community Theater

  • Lots of kid roles = big audiences of family and friends
  • Easy costuming
  • Popular with audiences

Challenges

  • Small adult ensemble
  • Limited principal roles

11. Chicago

Chicago is the best musical for community theaters with a surplus of female performers. There’s something for everyone — great dancing, fun songs, and killer costumes. We love that there’s a big featured role for an alto/mezzo (Matron Mama Morton). If you choose this musical, you must hire a choreographer; you’ll definitely need one to stage the dances and the choreographed scenes. Chicago is another one of those shows that everyone knows, thanks in part to the movie with Renee Zellwegger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Queen Latifah…and that means great ticket sales for your theater.

Why Choose Chicago for a Community Theater Musical?

  • Multiple female roles
  • Opportunity to show off your dancers
  • Fun costuming

Challenges

  • Requires competent dancers
  • Not much in the way of an ensemble

12. The Music Man

The Music Man is a mainstay in community theater programming, but we’re not complaining! It might be the perfect musical: gorgeous music, kids, dancing, marching, and beautiful turn-of-the-century costumes. It even has a barbershop quartet! What more could you want? We love that the music is so singable — your audiences will definitely walk out humming “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Marian the Librarian”. As long as you have a charismatic baritone and a strong soprano for Harold and Marian, you’re good to go.

Pros for Community Theater

  • An American classic
  • Music that’s fun for actors and audiences
  • Opportunity for a big orchestra

Challenges

  • Requires a big cast
  • Lots of complicated staging
  • Need four strong male singers for the barbershop quartet

13. Oklahoma!

We almost hate to recommend this one because it’s so boring — just when you think it’s done, it keeps on going. However, there’s no denying that it’s a crowd pleaser. One caveat: you must have a strong baritone to play the lead. Curly carries the show, taking most of the big solos and driving much of the action. Laurey is the soprano lead, but she has a surprisingly small amount of stage time. The benefits of Oklahoma! are clear for a community theater: it’s easy to bring in audiences, and it has a big cast with plenty of featured roles and ensemble parts. 

Why is Oklahoma! Good for Community Theater?

  • Popular with audiences
  • Numerous featured roles

Challenges

  • Requires a strong baritone lead singer and actor

14. Shrek

Do you want to step away from the usual community theater musicals? Shrek is a fun — and challenging — choice. If your usual audience tends to prefer older shows, this is an easy way to drag them into the present. Shrek is all about the costumes and the novelty of seeing a cartoon movie onstage. The music is fine, if a bit forgettable, and the show itself is lots of fun.

Pros for Community Theaters

  • Unexpected addition to your season
  • Fun for families; brings in big audiences
  • Many featured roles

Cons

  • Big undertaking
  • Complicated (and possibly expensive) costuming

15. The Wizard of Oz

No surprise here — The Wizard of Oz is one of those musicals that’s always popular. Everyone’s seen the movie, which means that your audience will arrive knowing what to expect and ready to have a good time. Make sure you have plenty of kids to cast as the Munchkins — and when you’re wrangling them at rehearsals, remember that their families are going to bring big ticket sales. On the adult side, The Wizard of Oz offers a variety of fun and recognizable roles for actors and singers alike.

Benefits for a Community Theater

  • Instantly recognizable
  • Fun and family-friendly
  • Easy to draw audiences and actors
  • Large principle/supporting cast
  • Large ensemble

Challenges

  • Intricate costuming

How to Choose the Best Musicals for Community Theater in Your Area

musical at a community theater with actors onstage

Select Musicals that Audiences Recognize

Most community theaters rely on ticket revenue. To make money off of ticket sales, you need to choose musicals that audiences recognize. The specific shows depend on where you live; in a city with a strong theater scene, you can get away with lesser-known musical theater productions without the hit to the budget.

Choose Musicals You Can Cast

This is so important — it is crucial to choose musicals that are right for your local talent pool. Don’t choose Rent if you don’t have singers who can belt their faces off. Likewise, don’t choose Carousel if you don’t have a baritone who can handle “Soliloquy.” Audiences are pretty forgiving of community theater, but it’s almost always better to give an excellent performance of an easy musical than a terrible performance of a challenging musical.

The right show selection also affects the future of your theater — after all, talented actors want to appear in great shows. Put on a killer performance, and you might see more talented singers at your next musical theater audition.

What are the best musicals for community theater that you’ve seen lately? Does your group stick to the classics, or have you branched out to more innovative and contemporary shows? Contact us and tell us all about it!