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The Best Broadway Musicals of the 80s

Updated October 13, 2018 4.3k votes 954 voters 56.6k views33 items

There's nothing quite like a live Broadway musical. But what are the best Broadway musicals from the 80s? From Cats to the Phantom of the Opera, the 1980s produced some the most iconic Broadway musicals known today. This list has been ranked by theater fans to determine the best Broadway musicals from the 1980s. 

The 1980s was an exciting time for musical theater with seasoned composers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim redefining Broadway history with hits such as Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Sunday in the Park with George, and Into the Woods. The 80s was about innovation and spectacle, as seen in shows such as Barnum, a raucous, circus-themed show that delighted audiences with hits such as "The Colors of My Life."

Today, we still owe credit to the 1980s for introducing audiences the longest running Broadway show, Cats, a dazzling and revolutionary musical that brought memorable ballads such as "Memory" and a story that won't soon be forgotten.

Still, the 80s also saw its fair share of disasters, such as the musical flop of Carrie. However, the mega-success of shows like Les Miserables, Dreamgirls, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat would win audiences over for decades to come. Some have described the 1980s as the last great era of Broadway that brought some of the best musical theater talent to stardom.

Cast your votes below for the best 1980s Broadway musicals.
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  • 1

    Les Misérables

    Claude-Michel Schönberg , Jean-Marc Natel
    358
    73

    CharactersJean Valjean, Javert, Fantine, Éponine, Monsieur Thénardier

    Les Misérables, colloquially known as Les Mis or Les Miz is a sung-through musical based on the novel Les Misérables by French poet and novelist Victor Hugo. It has music by Claude-Michel Schönberg,...  more
  • 2

    The Phantom of the Opera

    Charles Hart , Richard Stilgoe
    311
    98

    CharactersErik, Christine Daaé, Carlotta, Viscount Raoul de Chagny, Madame Giry

    The Phantom of the Opera is a musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Charles Hart. Richard Stilgoe and Lloyd Webber wrote the musical's book together. Stilgoe also provided...  more

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  • 3

    Into the Woods

    James Lapine , Stephen Sondheim
    236
    75

    CharactersRapunzel, Snow White, Princess Aurora, Cinderella, Big Bad Wolf

    Into the Woods is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales, exploring...  more

    #19 of 45 The Greatest Musicals That Started Off-Broadway#7 of 38 The Best Plays Based on Books#6 of 49 The Best Grammy-Nominated Musical Theater Albums of the 1980s

  • 4

    Dreamgirls

    Tom Eyen , Henry Krieger
    127
    64

    CharactersEffie White, Deena Jones, C. C. White, James Early, Curtis Taylor

    Dreamgirls is a Broadway musical, with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen. Based upon the show business aspirations and successes of R&B acts such as The Supremes, The Shirelles,...  more
  • 5

    Cats

    Richard Stilgoe , Andrew Lloyd Webber
    189
    121

    CharactersRum Tum Tugger, Jellylorum, Bombalurina, Old Deuteronomy, Bustopher Jones

    Cats is a musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, and produced by Cameron Mackintosh. The musical tells the story of a tribe of cats...  more

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  • 6

    Singin' in the Rain

    Betty Comden, Adolph Green
    130
    74
    Singin' in the Rain is a musical with a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyrics by Arthur Freed, and music by Nacio Herb Brown. Adapted from the 1952 movie of the same name, the plot closely...  more
  • 7

    Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

    Andrew Lloyd Webber , Tim Rice
    127
    74

    CharactersPotiphar, Potiphar's Wife, Joseph, Pharaoh, Reuben

    Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a musical or operetta with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The story is based on the "coat of many colors" story of Joseph from...  more

    #20 of 49 Stage Musicals That Would Make Great Movies#22 of 39 The Best Broadway Shows for Kids#4 of 17 The Best Musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber

  • 8

    Grand Hotel

    George Forrest , Maury Yeston
    86
    41

    CharactersElizaveta Grushinskaya, Baron Felix Von Gaigern, Flaemmchen, Erik, Hermann Preysing

    Grand Hotel is a musical with a book by Luther Davis and music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, with additional lyrics and music by Maury Yeston. Based on the 1929 Vicki Baum novel and...  more
  • 9

    Sunday in the Park with George

    James Lapine , Stephen Sondheim
    98
    52

    CharactersBilly Webster, Yvonne, Nurse, Bob Greenberg, Charles Redmond

    Sunday in the Park with George is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The musical was inspired by the painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande...  more
  • 10

    42nd Street

    Mark Bramble , Al Dubin
    87
    59

    CharactersPat Denning, Billy Lawlor, Julian Marsh, Abner Dillon, Mac

    42nd Street is an American musical with a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer, and music by Harry Warren. The 1980 Broadway production, produced by David...  more
  • 11

    Chess

    Björn Ulvaeus , Benny Andersson
    81
    61

    CharactersFlorence, Molokov, The American, Svetlana, The Russian

    Chess is a musical with music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of the pop group ABBA, lyrics by Ulvaeus and Tim Rice, and a book by Richard Nelson based on an idea by Rice. The story involves a...  more
  • 12

    Song and Dance

    Richard Maltby, Jr.
    54
    36
    Song and Dance is a musical comprising two acts, one told entirely in "Song" and one entirely in "Dance", tied together by a love story. The first part is Tell Me on a Sunday, with lyrics by Don...  more
  • 13

    Torch Song Trilogy

    Harvey Fierstein
    53
    37

    CharactersArnold Beckoff, Alan Simon, David, Mrs. Beckoff, Laurel

    Torch Song Trilogy is a collection of three plays by Harvey Fierstein rendered in three acts: International Stud, Fugue in a Nursery, and Widows and Children First! The story centers on Arnold...  more

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  • 14

    La Cage aux Folles

    Jerry Herman , Harvey Fierstein
    62
    50

    CharactersMadame Renaud, Albin, Jean-Michel, Jacob, Francis

    La Cage aux Folles (French pronunciation: ​[la kaʒ o fɔl]) is a musical with a book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Jerry Herman. Based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean...  more
  • 15

    Woman of the Year

    Fred Ebb , John Kander
    41
    30

    CharactersTess Harding, Sam Craig, Chip Salisbury, Abbott Canfield, Larry Donovan

    Woman of the Year is a musical with a book by Peter Stone and score by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Based on the Ring Lardner Jr.-Michael Kanin screenplay for the 1942 Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy...  more
  • 16

    The Rink

    Terrence McNally , Fred Ebb
    38
    29
    The Rink is a musical with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander, the tenth Kander and Ebb collaboration. The musical focuses on Anna, the owner of a dilapidated...  more
  • 17

    Amadeus

    Peter Shaffer
    40
    44

    CharactersWolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Salieri, Count Orsini-Rosenberg, Katerina Cavalieri, Constanze Mozart

    Amadeus is a play by Peter Shaffer, which gives a highly fictionalized account of the lives of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. First performed in 1979, Amadeus was inspired...  more
  • 18

    Starlight Express

    Don Black , Richard Stilgoe
    52
    60

    CharactersPearl the Observation Car, Ashley the Smoking Car, Flat-Top the Brick Truck, Dustin the Big Hopper, Buffy the Buffet Car

    Starlight Express is a rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe and Arlene Phillips, with revisions by Don Black, David Yazbek and Alistair Lloyd Webber & Nick Coler. The story follows a...  more
  • 19

    Carrie

    Dean Pitchford , Lawrence D. Cohen
    47
    56

    CharactersCarrie White, Margaret White, Chris Hargensen, Sue Snell, Tommy Ross

    Carrie: The Musical is a musical with a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and music by Michael Gore. Adapted from Stephen King's novel Carrie, it focuses on an awkward teenage girl...  more
  • 20
    Ellis2ca added

    A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

    Burt Shevelove , Larry Gelbart
    20
    20

    CharactersMiles Gloriosus, Senex, Hero, Marcus Lycus, Philia

    A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman...  more

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  • 21

    Nine

    Maury Yeston , Arthur Kopit
    34
    39

    CharactersGuido Contini, Carla, Claudia Jenssen, Saraghina, Luisa Contini

    Nine is a musical, initially created and written by Maury Yeston as a class-project in Lehman Engel's BMI Music Theatre Workshop in 1973. It was later developed with a book by Mario Fratti, and then...  more
  • 22

    City of Angels

    David Zippel , Larry Gelbart
    28
    32

    CharactersAlaura Kingsley, Mallory Kingsley, Stone, Avril, Bobbi

    City of Angels is a musical comedy with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, and book by Larry Gelbart. The musical weaves together two plots, the "real" world of a writer trying to turn his...  more
  • 23

    Sarafina!

    Mbongeni Ngema , Hugh Masekela
    24
    28

    CharactersMistress Itsapity, Colgate, Sarafina

    Sarafina! is a South African musical by Mbongeni Ngema depicting students involved in the Soweto Riots, in opposition to apartheid. It was also adapted into a 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg and...  more
  • 24

    Rags

    Stephen Schwartz , Joseph Stein
    26
    33

    CharactersSaul, Bella Cohen, Nathan Hershkowitz, Ben, David

    Rags is a musical with a book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and music by Charles Strouse....  more
  • 25

    My One and Only

    George Gershwin , Peter Stone
    25
    31

    CharactersCapt. Billy Buck Chandler, Edith Herbert, Mr. Magix, Prince Nicolai Erraclyovitch Tchatchavadze

    My One and Only may refer to:...  more