Musicals and Plays

47 Best Modern Musicals (Written After 2000)

Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of the best modern musicals

We might be long past the days of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but the glory of the musical lives on — it continues to evolve with each new generation of genius composers. From Tom Kitt to Lin-Manuel Miranda, we’re living in a truly exciting era of the musical theater. Ready to expand your horizons? These are our picks for the best modern musicals.

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Note: as much as we love Mamma Mia! and Jagged Little Pill, you won’t find any jukebox musicals on this list. The same goes for remakes of older movie musicals. Newsies is wonderful, but it’s too similar to the 1992 movie to really count as a modern musical. That said, let’s go!

Top image courtesy of Walt Disney Television under CC BY-ND 2.0

The Best Modern Musicals, Oldest to Newest

There’s no way we could pick favorites among these contemporary musicals. Instead, they’re arranged by date, from earliest to latest. We’re only including musicals written in 2000 or later — new century and all that. Plus, the bench is deep; check out 2013, which was an amazing year for the theater. (If we had to pick, The Book of Mormon and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee would be in the top 3.)

1. Caroline, or Change (2003)

Can you imagine a better team than Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home) and Tony Kushner (Angels in America)? Their genius shines through in Caroline, or Change, which offers an intimate look at the life of an African-American maid (and her daughter and employer) in 1963. It’s heartbreaking and memorable — an important modern musical that will have a long life.

Music: Jeanine Tesori
Book and Lyrics: Tony Kushner
Licensing: MTI

2. The Light in the Piazza (2003)

Let’s be honest — The Light in the Piazza is lovely, but this musical is all about Kelli O’Hara. There isn’t a better voice on Broadway right now; let’s hear it for the legit sopranos! This sweet and poignant musical is based on the 1962 movie of the same name. For modern audiences, the central conflict might be a bit out of touch, but the music is lovely and the story ends happily.

Music and Lyrics: Adam Guettel 
Book: Craig Lucas
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

3. Avenue Q (2003)

Avenue Q premiered Off-Broadway in 2003 and made its Broadway debut the same year. Slightly scandalous and completely unexpected, this fearless and funny musical tackles hot-button topics without being maudlin or melodramatic — also, every actor carries a puppet. It’s an impressive achievement; one that earned the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score in 2004. Though it has a Sesame Street vibe, this musical is definitely not for kids. 

Music and Lyrics: Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx
Book: Jeff Whitty
Licensing: MTI

4. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2004)

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is the perfect modern musical — it’s funny, unexpected, and delightfully irreverent. More importantly, the music is exceptional. It’s clever and catchy, and tuneful in a way that many contemporary shows are not. Sure, the spelling-bee premise (and adults playing kids) is campy and fun, but William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin have also managed to weave in poignant moments that keep the show feeling grounded.

Music and lyrics: William Finn
Book: Rachel Sheinkin
Licensing: MTI

5. Monty Python’s Spamalot (2004)

Spamalot is the love child of a Monty Python sketch and a big, showy Broadway musical. In less capable hands, this could be a failed experiment, but Eric Idle and John Du Prez made it work. In fact, this musical won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005. It’s fun and frothy for the audience and the performers.

Book and lyrics: Eric Idle
Music: John Du Prez and Eric Idle
Licensing: Theatrical Rights Worldwide

6. The Woman in White (2004)

The Woman in White is one of the more infrequently produced works in the Andrew Lloyd Webber canon. The story is gripping and the music has that familiar Webber charm, though lacking some of the depth of his earlier work. Really, though, this show is worth listening to for the stunning “I Believe My Heart” duet. (Maybe we’ll add it to our favorite male/female duets)

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book: Charlotte Jones
Lyrics: David Zippel
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

7. [title of show] (2004)

[title of show] is a modern small-cast musical that’s a favorite among college theater groups; once you hear the snappy book and NSFW humor, you’ll understand why. This show is famous for its meta premise — it’s a musical about two friends who are writing a musical. Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell wrote the entire thing in three weeks to enter in the first New York Musical Theatre Festival. 
Music and Lyrics: Jeff Bowen
Book: Hunter Bell
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

8. In the Heights (2005)

Lin-Manuel Miranda is the driving force behind so many of the great modern musicals. In The Heights was his first musical — keep that in mind when you hear the complex layers of “96,000” and “Carnaval del Barrio”. Remarkable!

Music and Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book: Quiara Alegría Hudes
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

9. The Color Purple (2005)

First of all, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the magic of Cynthia Erivo — it’s no surprise that she won the “Best Actress in a Musical’ Tony Award for The Color Purple revival in 2015. First produced on Broadway in 2005, this deep, stirring musical returned in a more streamlined form in 2015. It’s equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting, with incredible music, to boot.

Music and Lyrics: Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray
Book: Marsha Norman
Licensing: Theatrical Rights Worldwide

10. Billy Elliot (2005)

You’ve seen dream ballets in musicals before — Billy Elliot blows this classic convention out of the water, delivering a ballet sequence that’s equal parts stunning and heartwarming. Inspired by the 2000 movie of the same name, the musical follows a small-town boy in the 1980s as he pursues his dream of being a dancer. The setting might be vintage, but the music (by none other than Elton John) manages to combine a period-appropriate sound with a modern flair. But let’s be honest — this musical is all about the dancing.

Music: Elton John
Lyrics and Book: Lee Hall
Licensing: MTI

11. The Pirate Queen (2006)

The Pirate Queen is a 2006 musical from the creators of Les Misérables. It tells the epic story of Grace O’Malley, a legendary Irish clan leader from the 1500s and a woman ahead of her time. As you’d expect from Boublil and Schönberg, the music is powerful — “Woman”, in particular, has that emotional build that leaves audiences breathless. This musical didn’t get the love it deserved, closing after only 85 performances on Broadway.

Book: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Richard Maltb Jr.
Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics: Alain Boublil, Richard Maltby Jr., John Dempsey
Licensing: MTI

12. Grey Gardens (2006)

A decade  after the assassination of JFK 1963, two relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis became the subject of public fascination. Grey Gardens follows the rise and fall of the eccentric Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and Edith Bouvier Beale, Onassis’ aunt and cousin. (Read more in this article or skim through the 1975 documentary.) Although the media often maligned Big Edie and Little Edie, the musical treats them lovingly. During the Broadway production in 2006, Christine Ebersole drew unanimous rave reviews from critics.

Music: Scott Frankel
Lyrics: Michael Korie
Book: Doug Wright
Licensing: Dramatists Play Service

13. Legally Blonde the Musical (2007)

Don’t let the pink-overload fool you — just like the movie, Legally Blonde the Musical is built on a rock-solid foundation. Underneath the bubbly surface, the composition is stellar and the production quality is through the roof. If you’re old enough to remember the MTV broadcast of the Broadway musical (you can watch the whole show above), you might also remember the TV show Legally Blonde: The Musical – The Search for Elle Woods (watch Episode 1). Now that is the kind of reality TV we’d like to see more of!

Book: Heather Hach
Music and Lyrics: Nell Benjamin, Laurence O’Keefe
Licensing: MTI

14. Young Frankenstein (2007)

Young Frankenstein is a weird little musical from Mel Brooks. If you’ve ever seen the 1974 “comedy horror” movie that inspired the show, you know exactly what to expect. As one reviewer commented, it’s full of “unabashed bad taste” paired with surprisingly delightful songs.

Book: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan 
Music and Lyrics: Mel Brooks 
Licensing: MTI

15. Next to Normal (2008)

There’s no doubt about it — Next to Normal is one of the best modern musicals. Top 10, for sure. That’s due largely to the depth of the material, which tackles mental health in a way that no musical had done before. Tom Kitt manages to transition seamlessly between pop and rock; his songs aren’t nuanced, but they capture the characters’ anguish.

Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey
Book: Brian Yorkey
Licensing: MTI

16. Shrek: The Musical (2008)

With music by the iconic Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change, Fun Home), Shrek the Musical is an unexpectedly exceptional modern musical. It perfectly captures the bizarre and slightly sarcastic humor of the 2001 animated film, also adding a splash of Broadway flair. Don’t write it off as a kids’ musical — there’s lots of subtle humor for people of all ages. And really, who doesn’t love Sutton Foster tap-dancing with rats?

Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics and Book: David Lindsay-Abaire
Licensing: MTI

17. The Addams Family (2009)

If you’ve ever seen The Addams Family TV show, you understand the premise for the musical of the same name. The ghoulish, death-obsessed Addams family is the perfect fodder for theater — they’re bizarre, fun, and lighthearted enough to elevate the macabre material. The musical has a hefty dose of that classic musical-theater pizzazz, thanks to the genius Andrew Lippa, with a few belty modern sections thrown in for balance. This one is sure to be a favorite community theater musical!

Music and lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Licensing: Theatrical Rights Worldwide

18. Matilda the Musical (2010)

Every kid in the 90s read Roald Dahl’s legendary book, Matilda — so when it was turned into a musical in the United Kingdom in 2010, there was a ready-made audience eagerly waiting, disposable income in hand. The story is the star of the show; from the plucky Matilda to the hilarious Miss Trunchbull (often played by a swarthy man in drag), every role brings the beloved book characters to life. The music is entertaining but largely forgettable. Honestly, though, you’ll be so mesmerized by the spectacular set and fantastic choreography that you won’t even notice!

Music and Lyrics: Tim Minchin
Book: Dennis Kelly
Licensing: MTI

19. Love Never Dies (2010)

You might not think of Andrew Lloyd Webber as a modern composer — compared to something like Dear Evan Hansen, Phantom seems downright vintage — but his Love Never Dies premiered in 2010 on the West End in London. You’ll recognize some of the characters from The Phantom of the Opera. This show wasn’t a critical favorite, but the music has that beguiling something that Andrew Lloyd Webber does so well; it’s satisfying to sing and a joy to hear.

Lyrics: Glenn Slater, Charles Hart
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton
Additional material: Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

20. The Book of Mormon (2011)

If we had to pick the best modern musical, The Book of Mormon might be it. The script has that elusive South Park magic — if you can get past the initial shock of the lyrics, you’ll find a surprisingly incisive and insightful social commentary. Colonialism. White Savior-ism. Gender discrimination. Not the most obvious fodder for musical theater, but in the capable hands of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez, it works beautifully. And then, there’s the music. This is Broadway at it’s best: big, showy, and packed with spectacular harmonies and some serious belting. 10/10, would recommend. (Just not for kids.)

Music, Lyrics, Book: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Robert Lopez
Licensing: Not available

21. Death Takes a Holiday (2011)

For singers with classical voices, modern musicals don’t always have much to offer. Death Takes a Holiday is a wonderful exception; it’s packed with soaring music for legit singers. (And how wonderful is it to see lovely Rebecca Luker?) Yes, it’s a little schmaltzy at times (see: 2:30 in the video above), but the melodies are solid and inherently singable. A great choice if you love the Golden Age of Broadway!

Music and lyrics: Maury Yeson
Book: Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

22. It Shoulda Been You (2011)

Modern musicals are ever-so-slowly integrating a broader worldview. Case in point: It Shoulda Been You, a musical that was written in 2011. The 2015 Broadway premiere starred powerhouses Tyne Daly, Sierra Boggess, and Lisa Howard. 

Book and lyrics: Brian Hargrove
Music: Barbara Anselmi
Licensing: MTI

23. Bring It On (2011)

If you were a teenager in the year 2000, you almost definitely saw the movie Bring It On. The musical falls short of the movie’s cleverness — it still holds up, more than 20 years later — but it’s a lively foray into a new genre of musical theater.

Book: Jeff Whitty
Lyrics: Amanda Green, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Music: Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Licensing: MTI

24. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (2012)

You might not think a musical based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace (a small part of it) would be compelling, but Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 begs to differ. The 2016 Broadway production was a Tony awards darling, with 12 nominations. If you’re looking for something different, this is it — the music is a curious mash-up of styles, moving from rock to Russian folk to EDM in the same number. It’s equal parts bizarre and beguiling, and there’s nothing else like it.

Book, music, and lyrics: Dave Malloy
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

25. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2012)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a breath of fresh air for the classical-voiced singers among us. This is a legit soprano’s dream; the music shows off a gorgeous vibrato while also creating opportunities for campy humor. (Sopranos get too few comedic songs!) The music is soaring and glorious, and the book is remarkably sharp; it’s no wonder it took home the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2014.

Music: Steven Lutvak
Lyrics: Robert L. Freedman, Steven Lutvak
Book: Robert L. Freedman
Licensing: MTI

26. Hands on a Hardbody (2012)

Hands on a Hardbody is a modern musical with a distinct country-western flair and a little bit of gospel thrown in for good measure. (Check out Keala Settle in the video above.) The musical is based on a fascinating late-90s documentary about a competition to win a new pickup truck. Amanda Green brings her signature snappy wit to the lyrics, which focus on the humanity of a small Texas town.

Music:  Trey Anastasio, Amanda Green
Lyrics: Amanda Green
Book: Doug Wright
Licensing: MTI

27. Finding Neverland (2012)

Book: Allan Knee, James Graham 
Lyrics: Michael Korie, Gary Barlow, Elliott Kennedy
Music: Scott Frankel, Gary Barlow, Eliot Kennedy
Licensing: Not available

28. Hamilton (2013)

Music, Lyrics, Book: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Licensing: Not available

29. Come From Away (2013)

Music, Book, Lyrics: Irene Sankoff, David Hein
Licensing: MTI

30. The Bridges of Madison County (2013)

Music: Jason Robert Brown
Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown
Book: Marsha Norman
Licensing: MTI

31. Fun Home (2013)

Fun Home is based on the eponymous graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, which tells the story of the author’s journey of self-discovery and family secrets. The unique staging blends the past and the present — the adult Bechdel narrates as scenes from her childhood come to life on the stage. Compelling and poignant, this musical is cathartic for anyone who’s ever had to come to terms with their past. We agree with the Tony Awards; Fun Home is definitely one of the best modern musicals.

Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics and Book: Lisa Kron
Licensing:  Concord Theatricals

32. If/Then (2013)

Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey
Book: Brian Yorkey
Licensing: MTI

33. Bright Star (2014)

Book: Steve Martin
Lyrics: Edie Brickell
Music: Steve Martin, Edie Brickell
Licensing: Theatrical Rights Worldwide

34. Waitress (2015)

Music and lyrics: Sara Bareilles
Book: Jessie Nelson 
Licensing: MTI

35. Dear Evan Hansen (2015)

Dear Evan Hansen is a modern musical in every sense — from the pop score to the projection-heavy set, every aspect is slick and updated. The story is heavy and fraught with emotion; it’s a musical that speaks to the issues of contemporary teenagers. (Depression, online bullying, social anxiety.) Ben Platt, who originated the title role, won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. Dear Evan Hansen is following the Broadway-to-big-screen trend; the musical will be made into a movie with a 2021 release date.

Music and Lyrics: Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Book: Steven Levenson
Licensing: Not available

36. Be More Chill (2015)

Music and lyrics: Joe Iconis 
Book: Joe Tracz
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

37. Amelie (2015)

Book: Craig Lucas
Lyrics: Daniel Messé, Nathan Tysen
Music: Daniel Messé
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

38. School of Rock (2015)

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book: Julian Fellowes
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

39. Bandstand (2015)

World War II is over, and the returned veterans are faced with the challenge of resuming their lives. Bandstand has pretty 1940s dresses, lively dance numbers, and emotion to spare. Part of the success was due to the strength of the stars — Corey Cott and Laura Osnes both have that Old-Hollywood beauty that works so well in a post-WWII musical.

Book, lyrics, and music: Richard Oberacker, Robert Taylor
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

40. Something Rotten! (2015)

Have you ever thought about what it was like to be a playwright in Shakespeare’s time? They’d have to get creative to stand out…maybe they’d write a musical? This is the premise for Something Rotten! a hilarious musical that’s pure, fluffy fun. The characters might be in Elizabethan costumes, but the songs are pretty darn modern. Shakespeare is a bit of a rock star, after all; creators Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, imagined him as a combination of “Mick Jagger, James Brown, Tom Jones, and a little bit of Austin Powers”. 

Book: Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell
Music and Lyrics: Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick
Licensing: MTI

41. A Bronx Tale (2016)

A Bronx Tale has been described as Jersey Boys meets West Side Story — it also has a bit of a Grease meets In the Heights vibe. Comparisons aside, this is a fun modern musical with a big dose of retro flair.

Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Chazz Palminteri
Licensing: Broadway Licensing

42. Anastasia (2016)

Book: Terrence McNally
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens 
Music: Stephen Flaherty
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

43. The Wind in the Willows (2016)

The Wind in the Willows is one of the best modern musicals for kids (adults will find plenty to love, too!). It’s based on the 1908 book by the same name, which concerns the adventures of chatty animals living by the river in old-world England. The musical is adorable; you can watch the full West End production above. If you love harmony, check out “One Swallow Does Not a Summer Make” and “Autumn”. (Or watch the whole thing here.)

Book: Julian Fellowes
Lyrics: Anthony Drewe
Music: George Stiles
Licensing: Theatrical Rights Worldwide

44. Hadestown (2006/2016)

Hadestown tells the age-old story of Orpheus as he travels to the underworld to rescue his love, Eurydice. The musical made a huge splash on Broadway, and for good reason; Anaïs Mitchell’s jazzy music is fantastic, and the original staging was downright remarkable. Hadestown has an interesting origin story — long before it was sweeping the 2019 Tony awards, it was a tiny musical in Vermont (2006), a concept album (2010), and eventually an off-Broadway hit (2016). Mitchell worked closely with director Rachel Chavkin to refine and expand the story.

Book, music, and lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

45. The Prom (2016)

Book: Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin
Lyrics: Chad Beguelin
Music: Matthew Sklar
Licensing: Theatrical Rights Worldwide

46. Mean Girls (2017)

What do you get when Tina Fey meets Broadway? Mean Girls, a ridiculously charming musical based on the 2004 movie of the same name. The music is solid, taking its influences from a wide array of genres — it stands on its own, even without Fey’s legendary comedy. From the alt rock “Apex Predator” to the classic Broadway “Where Do You Belong”, many of the songs are singable and memorable. (The exception is leading-lady Cady; composer Jeff Richmond did her dirty with a slew of bland, forgettable modern Broadway-belt songs.)

Book: Tina Fey
Nell Benjamin
Music: Jeff Richmond
Licensing: MTI

47. Frozen (2017)

Unpopular opinion (maybe?): the 2013 Frozen movie musical is far better than the 2017 theatrical adaptation. The stage version is so slick and over-produced that it loses some of its wonder and magic. We’ll take Kristen Bell and Idiia Menzel as animated characters, thankyouverymuch. No matter which you prefer, there’s no denying that the music was a sensation. (Plus, how much do we love a girl-power storyline from traditionally sexist Disney?)

Music and lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Book: Jennifer Lee
Licensing: Not available

There you have it: the best modern musicals! Do you agree? Disagree? Did we miss anything that you think should absolutely be on the list? Let us know!