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The Best Broadway Plays of the 80s

Updated October 13, 2018 1.3k votes 192 voters 16.3k views31 items

What are the best Broadway plays from the 1980s? This list has been ranked by theater lovers to determine the best plays performed on Broadway in the '80s, a decade of industrialization, war and the birth of Millenials. These themes and other current events would find themselves on Broadway in the 80s, in plays such in Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and many more. What are the top 80s Broadway plays?

Though the 1980s is often known for significant fashion trends such as ripped jeans and teased hair that often found their way to the stage, the Broadway play Amadeus was based on the lives of composers Salieri and Mozart and had nothing to do with popular 1980s imagery but was instead a period piece dating back to the 18th century. The show later won the1981  Tony Award for Best Play.

Still, other plays such as Children of a Lesser God focused on stories that resonated deeply with 80s audiences. Written by Mark Medoff, the 1980 play revolved around a relationship between a deaf student and her teacher and won the Tony Award for Best Play that year, running for 887 performances.

What are the best non-musical Broadway shows that opened in the 80s? Cast your votes below on this is a list of the top Broadway plays from the 1980s.
  • 1

    The Real Thing

    Tom Stoppard

    CharactersBilly, Debbie, Charlotte, Max, Annie

    The Real Thing is a play by Tom Stoppard that was first performed in 1982. The play focuses on the relationship between Henry and Annie, an actress and member of a group fighting to free Brodie, a...  more
  • 2

    Torch Song Trilogy

    Harvey Fierstein

    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

    More Torch Song Trilogy 

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  • 3

    The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

    Jane Wagner
  • 4

    Agnes of God

    John Pielmeier

    CharactersMother Miriam Ruth, Doctor Martha Livingston, Sister Agnes

    Agnes of God is a play by American playwright John Pielmeier which tells the story of a novice nun who gives birth and insists that the child was the result of a virgin conception. A psychiatrist and...  more
  • 5


    August Wilson, Branford Marsalis

    CharactersCory, Troy, Rose, Mr. Rand, Lyons

    Fences is a 1983 play by American playwright August Wilson. Set in the 1950s, it is the sixth in Wilson's ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle". Like all of the "Pittsburgh" plays, Fences explores the evolving...  more
  • 6


    Peter Shaffer

    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
  • 7

    Noises Off

    Michael Frayn

    CharactersDotty Otley, Frederick Dallas, Garry Lejeune, Brooke Ashton, Lloyd Fellowes

    Noises Off is a 1982 play by the English playwright Michael Frayn. The idea for it came in 1970, when Frayn was watching from the wings a performance of The Two of Us, a farce that he had written for...  more
  • 8

    CharactersIrvin, Slow Drag, Dussie Mae, Sylvester, Ma Rainey

    Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a 1982 play - one of the ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle by August Wilson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright - that chronicles the twentieth century African American...  more
  • 9

    Master Harold...and the Boys

    Athol Fugard

    CharactersHally, Sam, Willy

    "Master Harold"...and the Boys is a play by Athol Fugard. It was first produced at the Yale Repertory Theatre in early 1982 and made its premiere on Broadway on 4 May at the Lyceum Theatre, where it...  more
  • 10

    'night, Mother

    Marsha Norman
  • 11

    The Elephant Man

    Bernard Pomerance

    CharactersJohn Merrick, Mrs. Kendal, Frederick Treves, Carr Gomm

    David Bowie famously played John Merrick in 1980 during part of its original Broadway run.

    The Elephant Man is a play by Bernard Pomerance. It premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in London on 7 November 1977. It later played in repertory at the National Theatre in London. It ran...  more
  • 12

    CharactersEugene Morris Jerome, Blanche Morton, Nora Morton, Jack Jerome, Stanley Jerome

    Brighton Beach Memoirs is a semi-autobiographical play by Neil Simon, the first chapter in what is known as his Eugene trilogy. It precedes Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound....  more
  • 13

    Crimes of the Heart

    Beth Henley

    CharactersDoc Porter, Lenny Magrath, Chick Boyle, Barnette Lloyd, Babe Botrelle

    Crimes of the Heart is a play by American playwright Beth Henley. It is set in Hazlehurst, Mississippi in the mid-20th century. The play won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for...  more
  • 14

    I'm Not Rappaport

    Herb Gardner
    I'm Not Rappaport is a play by Herb Gardner, which originally ran on Broadway in 1985....  more
  • 15

    Biloxi Blues

    Neil Simon

    CharactersEugene Morris Jerome, Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey, Daisy Hannigan, Roy Selridge, Joseph Wykowski

    Biloxi Blues is a semi-autobiographical play by Neil Simon. It portrays the conflict of Sergeant Merwin J. Toomey and Arnold Epstein, one of many privates enlisted in the military stationed in...  more
  • 16

    Burn This

    Lanford Wilson

    CharactersLarry, Anna Mann, Burton, Pale

    Burn This is a play by Lanford Wilson. Like many of Wilson's plays, it deals with themes of gay identity and relationships....  more
  • 17

    Broadway Bound

    Neil Simon

    CharactersEugene Morris Jerome, Jack Jerome, Stanley Jerome, Kate Jerome

    Broadway Bound is a semi-autobiographical play by Neil Simon. It is the last chapter in his Eugene trilogy, following Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues....  more
  • 18

    Glengarry Glen Ross

    David Mamet

    CharactersRicky Roma, Dave Moss, James Lingk, John Williamson, George Aaronow

    Glengarry Glen Ross is a play by David Mamet that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. The play shows parts of two days in the lives of four desperate Chicago real estate agents who are prepared to engage...  more
  • 19


    David Mamet

    CharactersBobby Gould, Charlie Fox, Karen

    Speed-the-Plow is a play by David Mamet which is a satirical dissection of the American movie business, a theme Mamet would revisit in his later films Wag the Dog and State and Main. Jack Kroll of...  more
  • 20


    Harold Pinter

    CharactersEmma, Jerry, Robert, Waiter

    Betrayal is a play written by Harold Pinter in 1978. Critically regarded as one of the English playwright's major dramatic works, it features his characteristically economical dialogue, characters'...  more
  • 21

    The House of Blue Leaves

    John Guare

    CharactersRonnie Shaughnessy, Bunny Flingus, Artie Shaughnessy, Second Nun, Bananas Shaughnessy

    The House of Blue Leaves is a play by American playwright John Guare, first staged in 1966 by Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. Set in Sunnyside, Queens in 1965, on the day...  more
  • 22

    As Is

    William M. Hoffman
    As Is is a 1986 television film adapted by William M. Hoffman from his play of the same title. The play and the film depict the effect that AIDS, then a fairly new epidemic, has on a group of friends...  more
  • 23


    David Rabe

    CharactersDonna, Bonnie, Phil, Darlene, Artie

    Hurlyburly is a dark comedy play by David Rabe, first staged in 1984. The title refers to dialogue from Shakespeare's Macbeth....  more
  • 24

    Talley's Folly

    Lanford Wilson
  • 25

    CharactersHerbert Tucker, Steffy Blondell, Libby Tucker

    I Ought to Be in Pictures is a comedy-drama play written by Neil Simon, his 18th. The play opened on Broadway in 1980. It was subsequently made into a film, released in 1982. The play involves a film...  more
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