Musicals and Plays

37 Best Musicals for High School: The Ultimate List

students performing a musical in high school

Picking musicals for high school is a huge responsibility — in addition to finding a show that’s appropriate for your students, you need to consider parents, school leadership, the school board, and the community at large. It can be challenging, but it’s worth it to see shy kids transform into confident, capable actors and singers.

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For theater kids, musicals are the best part of high school. Think back — do you remember when you first felt your castmates turning into family? The first time you stepped on stage and found your voice? The first time you heard the audience applaud or laugh and thought, “Oh, I’m home“? 

At Theater Love, we believe that musical theater is magic. It’s essential. It’s a place where everyone belongs — a lifesaver for kids who feel like they don’t fit in anywhere else in high school.

Whether you work at a school with a big arts budget or you’re building a high-school drama program from the ground up, these musicals are a great place to start planning your next theater season. (Top image courtesy of Steven Pisano under CC BY 2.0)

Looking for a specific type of high school musical? Jump to:

Actors in Beauty and the Beast, one of the most popular musicals for high school
Image courtesy of HarshLight under CC BY 2.0

Sometimes, you just need a surefire hit for your theater program — and that’s when it’s time to choose from the most popular high school musicals. Each of these shows is virtually guaranteed to draw a huge audience, so you can pack the house with excited friends, family members, and people from the community. When you want to build interest in your school’s drama club, start here!

1. Beauty and the Beast

2. Mamma Mia!

3. The Addams Family

4. Into the Woods

5. The Wizard of Oz

6. The Sound of Music

Easy Musicals for High School

A high school production of the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Image courtesy of otterbeintheatre under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’ve ever directed a musical, you know how much work goes into it. To streamline the process, look for easy shows. These musicals all have one thing in common — at least one element makes your life easier. Some, such as Cinderella, are easy for students to learn (thank you for the catchy melodies, Rodgers and Hammerstein!). Others, including Working, are easy to direct. Still others are small cast high school musicals, so you don’t need to worry about staging and directing an enormous, wayward ensemble.

7. Cinderella

8. Once Upon a Mattress

9. Working 

10. Grease

11. You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown 

This musical hits all of the bases for high school: it’s easy to produce, and you can do it on an exceptionally small budget. It’s also one of the best small cast musicals for high school — and since everyone recognizes the name, selling tickets is a breeze!

12. Little Shop of Horrors

Low-Budget Musicals for High Schools

People performing The Fantasticks: one of the best high school musicals
Image courtesy of otterbeintheatre under CC BY-SA 2.0

Many schools offer a tiny (or nonexistent) budget for the drama department. If that sounds familiar a low-budget high school musical is a great solution. By saving money on licensing, costumes, and/or sets, you can give your kids a memorable musical theater experience — without dealing with endless fundraisers!

13. The Pirates of Penzance

The Pirates of Penzance is one of the best low-budget musicals you can do with a high school group for one big reason: it’s in the public domain, so you don’t need to pay licensing fees! Costumes are easy to put together with thrift-store finds or volunteers who can sew, and you can get away with very minimal sets.

  • Cast: 11 roles, optional ensemble
  • Licensing: Public domain

14. A Bronx Tale (High School Edition)

15. The Fantasticks

16. The Apple Tree

17. The Robber Bridegroom

18. Disaster! The Musical

Contemporary Musicals for High School

High-school age performers onstage in Matilda the musical
Image courtesy of Roderick Eime under CC BY-ND 2.0

If you have a bunch of theater kids who keep up with the latest Broadway shows, the Golden Age classics will only get you so far. At some point, it’s time to look into the best contemporary musicals for high schoolers. This is harder than it sounds, since many modern musicals deal with dark, adult themes. These shows have all been on Broadway or the West End in recent years — which means that they’re some of the coolest high school musicals you can find — and they’re all available for licensing.

19. Matilda

20. Legally Blonde the Musical

21. Disenchanted! (High School Edition)

Fun and irreverent, this is an excellent musical for high schools with largely female performers. There’s an option to add an all-genders ensemble.

22. Emma: A Pop Musical

This jukebox musical is fun and unexpected, featuring music from Katy Perry, The Supremes, and more. The script is based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

23. Catch Me If You Can

24. High School Musical

25. Shrek the Musical

Large Cast Musicals for High School

Actors performing Seussical the musical with a large cast
Image courtesy of USAG Stuttgart

Does your school have a large turnout for auditions? Large musicals for high schools are a great way to ensure that everyone who wants to participate, gets to participate. If you have a few star performers and a large collection of beginners, look for ensemble heavy high school shows. Musicals with big ensembles — especially those with a variety of featured roles, like Bye Bye Birdie — help you foster the talent of all your singers and actors.

26. Bye Bye Birdie

27. Oklahoma!

28. The Music Man

29. Fiddler on the Roof

30. Seussical

31. Guys and Dolls

Lesser-Known Musicals for High School

Image courtesy of MC Quinn under CC BY 2.0

When you’re looking for obscure or lesser-known musicals for your high school drama program, these shows are a good place to start. Quirky and eccentric, each one adds depth and dimension to your theater program. Some shows, including Lucky Stiff and Weird Romance, are small cast musicals that provide a fun challenge for your most dedicated and passionate students between big productions.

32. Urinetown

33. Lucky Stiff

34. Something’s Afoot

35. Zombie Prom

36. Weird Romance

37. High Fidelity (High School Edition)

What musicals can high schools perform?

High school students performing the Oklahoma! musical
image courtesy of otterbeintheatre under CC BY-SA 2.0

Legally, high schools can perform any musical that’s available for licensing. Of course, if you’re a drama teacher or director, you know it’s never that simple! There are many different stakeholders at play — parents, teachers, kids, principals, and school-board officials, to name a few.

As you’re choosing a high school musical, some factors to consider include:

  • Guidance from the school administration and school board: Ask about what’s acceptable; some schools request that you replace all swears with milder language, for example, while others might ask you to stay away from “adult” content.
  • Parent opinions: The best time to seek parent opinions is before you license a show. Instead, run your final musical selections by the PTA or a music/theater booster organization for approval. If possible, make the script available for parents to read. Most licensing companies allow you to request a perusal copy (read more at MTI), which allows people to look at the script and the vocal score before you commit to a licensing agreement.
  • Type of community: If you live in a conservative area, local parents may kick up a fuss at even the slightest mention of cursing/drugs/sex/etc. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t choose a musical that will ruffle feathers — just make sure you (and your students) are prepared and willing to deal with any potential controversy!
  • Budget: Musicals can be very expensive to produce, even at the high school level. Before you finalize the show selection, estimate costs for licensing, stage rental (if necessary), costuming, sets, props, and marketing. Chances are, it’ll be more expensive than you anticipate — ensure that your budget can handle the costs. When your funds are low, look for low-budget musicals or shows that can be done with minimal staging. You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown is one great option; The Robber Bridegroom is another.
  • Casting: The musical you choose depends on your high school. If you’re just getting a musical theater program off the ground, consider choosing an easy musical that will make your students look and feel great. Think anything by Rodgers and Hammerstein — easy to sing for beginners, fun to perform, and crowd-pleasing. (This builds enthusiasm among students, audiences, and the administration, making it easier to put on more shows in the future.) If you have a developed theater program and plenty of talent, you can push the boundaries with unexpected shows or contemporary musicals. 

We’d love to hear about the shows you’re doing! Let us know about your favorite musicals for high school — we’ll add them to the list to help other educators find the best shows for their students.