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59 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 | In the Heights, directed by Sonya Baehr at Poly Prep Country Day School

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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

You probably already know the story of Beauty and the Beast — and that’s exactly why it’s one of the most popular musicals for high school. Audiences won’t think twice about buying tickets because they already know they’ll love the show! Plus, the cast has a large number of roles, so you can show off more of your talented performers. (The fun costumes don’t hurt, either.)

2. Mamma Mia!

One challenge that high school theater directors face is finding musicals with plenty of roles. If your drama department is packed with stars, Mamma Mia! makes it easy to feature them. There are six starring female roles and three leading men, plus a variety of smaller parts. Dancing, singing, and ABBA — what’s not to love? As a bonus, you won’t have to spend much on costumes; summer street clothes work just fine.

3. The Addams Family

Since it debuted in 2010, the Addams Family has been rising up the charts of the top high school musicals. It’s easy to see why — the characters are quirky, the music is fun, and the sets are delightfully dark. This is a great show to do while your students are in the Halloween spirit, but it works any time of year.

4. Into the Woods

Die-hard theater nerds have always been obsessed with Sondheim’s masterpiece, Into the Woods. The 2014 movie starring Meryl Streep brought everyone else into the fold — now this show is guaranteed to draw a crowd. You can perform it in a theater of any size, but it works particularly well in an intimate black-box setting.

5. The Wizard of Oz

Get ready — you’re about to hear “there’s no place like home” on repeat. Ever since The Wizard of Oz movie came out in 1939, this adorable musical has been an American classic. You can bet that local families will be buying tickets en masse — no parent is going to deny their kids the chance to see Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion in person? High schoolers love this show partly for the iconic characters, and partly because it’s just so much fun. Plus, if you live in a conservative area, no one will find fault with the squeaky-clean plot.

6. The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music is one of the best musicals to do in high school. It has everything: a big cast, cute kids, beloved music, and just enough darkness to keep things interesting. And let’s not forget — nuns! (There’s something about a nun costume that makes a chorus role more fun.) If your theater program needs to make money for future shows, this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is sure to spike ticket sales.

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, like 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

Cinderella is an easy musical to do with your high school students for one reason: the music is extremely singable. There are no complex harmonies, and most of the vocal lines are easy to pick up quickly. The dancing might be a stumbling block, but as long as your actors can master a basic box step, you’re golden. If you’re just starting a theater program, the undeniable magic of Cinderella is sure to draw your kids in and keep them spellbound.

8. Once Upon a Mattress

Once Upon a Mattress offers a comical, quirky take on the fairy tale musical. This show, which debuted on Broadway in 1959, is based on “The Princess and the Pea.” The princess in question is anything but a damsel in distress — Winnifred the Woebegone can take care of herself. With its laugh-out-loud dialogue and delightful music, this musical is a fun challenge for novice actors. Interestingly, the music was written by Mary Rodgers, the daughter of the famous Richard Rodgers.

9. Working 

You haven’t heard of the musical Working? You’re not alone — this small show is rarely produced. The story unravels in a series of vignettes, each showing the perspective of a different type of worker. It’s the perfect musical for high schoolers; there’s a solid moral to the story, and each actor gets to explore more than one character. You can do the show with as few as six performers or expand the cast to accommodate the number of kids who come out for auditions. Since there’s minimal interaction between characters, rehearsals are a breeze!

10. Grease

Grease is one of the top high school musicals of all time. The tale of Danny, Sandy, and friends is fun and frothy, with a surprisingly deep undercurrent. Students resonate with the show because it doesn’t make light of the very real problems they face and the potentially lifelong consequences of their decisions. For the director, the plot presents a teaching moment: is it ever wise to change yourself for a romantic partner?

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

Are you looking for an easy musical that doesn’t look easy? Little Shop of Horrors delivers, big time. The music is fun, but it doesn’t involve complicated harmonies or challenging rhythms. There are no big chorus numbers — in fact, there’s barely a chorus at all — so you can work in small groups with students. The biggest challenge is Audrey II, the bloodthirsty plant.

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 shows deal with dark, adult themes; you need to do a bit of extra research to find a school-appropriate musical.

The following 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)

Musicals Set in High School

Image courtesy of brapai (public domain)

There’s something special about doing a musical set in a high school with actors who are still in high school. The students are in the thick of it — they have a unique and visceral understanding of the characters’ problems and intense emotions. And from a practical perspective, you probably already have the set pieces lying around school. We’ve already mentioned two of the classics,  Grease and High School Musical, but there are so many more!  Make sure to request a perusal script before you choose; shows like Spring Awakening, Bare, and Dear Evan Hansen tackle some pretty serious subjects. 

38. Hairspray

39. Bring It On

40. 13

41. Bare: A Pop Opera

42. Be More Chill

43. Spring Awakening

44. 21 Chump Street

45. Dear Evan Hansen

  • Cast: 4 female, 4 male
  • Licensing: Not yet available

46. Calvin Berger

47. Vanities

48. Fame the Musical

49. West Side Story

50. Heathers the Musical

We know what you’re thinking — is Heathers the Musical appropriate for high school? That depends on your high school, of course; the original version is definitely going to cause a fuss. Recognizing that, the creators came out with a solid teen edition that’s appropriate for high-school actors. You won’t miss the R-rated elements; the revised version has excellent music, plenty of meaty characters to go around, and some high-school-appropriate life lessons about bullying and inclusivity.

51. Carrie: The Musical

52. Anne of Green Gables

If you’re searching for a family-friendly, G-rated musical for your high school, Anne of Green Gables fits the bill. Based on the beloved novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the story follows the young orphan, Anne Shirley, as she navigates her new life with her adoptive family and friends. This is a musical everyone can get behind — students will love the chance to bring the iconic literary characters to life, and parents will happily buy tickets for the whole family.

53. 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

This show is set in a middle school, but we hope you’ll forgive us — it’s a downright fantastic musical for high schoolers. Make sure you have a few talented singers in mind; the character of Olive Ostrovsky, in particular, has some demanding vocal lines. There are also two adult roles, which you can assign to students. Alternatively, it’s a fun way to bring in a choir and gym teacher. (The female performer should be prepared to sing!) Make sure to listen carefully to “Chip’s Lament” before you select this show; it’s the song that’s most likely to hold up the approval process.

Musicals with Female Leads

Image courtesy of Larry Ziffle under CC BY 2.0

It’s a problem shared by high school theater programs everywhere — lots of actors to play the female roles, but not enough to fill the male roles. The trouble is, many musicals (especially from the Golden Age) have multiple male leads and one lone female principal role. If you’re facing a casting challenge, these musicals all have female leads.

54. Bernarda Alba

Bernarda Alba’s husband has just died, and she announces that the entire household (including her mother and five daughters) will be locked in the house in mourning. Chafing at Alba’s strict rules, the girls rebel and find ways to interact with the world outside. The musical, which has an all-female cast, is based on the play The House of Bernarda Alba. The Spanish origins of the playwright come through in Michael John LaChiusa’s music, which is at times haunting, lively, and soaring. It’s a spectacular opportunity to show off your best singers and actors — each daughter gets her own song.

Cast: 10 female
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

55. Ruthless!

Here’s another all-female musical that’s fun for high school. Your drama students will appreciate the plot — child actor Tina Denmark will do almost anything to get the role she wants (even — gasp — murder). This ridiculous, laugh-out-loud funny farce deals with dark themes in a lighthearted way, always with great self-awareness. If you have an actress who looks too young for most leading roles, this is a great opportunity.

Cast: 7 female
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

56. High Spirits

If you’ve ever read Noël Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, you already know the plot of High Spirits — it’s the musical version of the play. It’s a tale as old as time: a widower marries again, only to be tormented by the ghost of his first wife. The new wife, Ruth, can’t see the ghost wife, and chaos ensues. With its small cast and comical script, this is a great musical for a smaller high school theater department…and you only need one male actor!

Cast: 3 female, 1 male
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

57. Little Women

Does it get more wholesome than Little Women? If you need a show that will sail through the approval process — even in the most conservative of communities — this is it. Based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name, the musical tells the story of the beloved March family. The principal roles are almost all female, but you’ll need a few actors to play the male love interests. With its period costumes and modern music (the orchestration will be a fun challenge for your high school pit ensemble), Little Women is a great opportunity for everyone involved.

Cast: 6 female, 3-4 male
Licensing: MTI

58. The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall

Do you have a huge high school drama club that’s mostly populated by women? The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall gives everyone a chance to get onstage — it has a whopping 18 roles for women. Set in a girls’ school in England, the plot is charming and more than a little absurd. Order a preview copy first, and let us know what you think; we couldn’t find a record of a single recent production.

Cast: 18 female, 4 male
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

59. No, No, Nanette

With its female leads, challenging music, and huge chorus, No No Nannette is the ideal musical for high schools with a large, well-established theater department. It’s a true spectacle: big ensemble numbers, a soaring score, and even a little bit of dap dancing. The exuberant score and the light-hearted plot will leave your audiences (and your actors) smiling from ear to ear.

Cast: 7 female, 3 male
Licensing: Concord Theatricals

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. 

What Broadway musicals can high schools do?

High schools can do any Broadway musicals that offer licensing rights. New Broadway musicals usually aren’t available for licensing while the show is running on Broadway or touring the country. These rules don’t always apply to Broadway revivals, though you might find that rights are restricted in your area when a touring company is nearby.

New to musical theater licensing? Check out the handy explanation at MTI.

If you want to do a Broadway musical in your high school, you’ll need to get a license. Four companies handle the majority of musical theater licensing:

Another licensing company, Tams-Witmark, was acquired by Concord Theatricals in 2018.

Can high schools do the musical Dear Evan Hansen?

High schools can’t do Dear Evan Hansen because the musical is not yet available for licensing. This is typical — Dear Evan Hansen is running on Broadway and in a national tour; it was also made into a movie in September of 2021. The rights probably won’t become available to high schools and community theaters for several years.

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.