Culture

The Greatest Musicals That Started Off-Broadway

List Rules
Vote up the best musicals that first debuted off-Broadway.

Although many people might not be aware - it’s true. Some of the greatest, most beloved Broadway musicals started out as off-Broadway productions. This includes fan favorites such as Rent, Godspell, and Hair, which have all seen multiple production runs and revivals. This list contains the greatest shows to make the jump from off-Broadway to Broadway.

What is the difference between Broadway and off-Broadway? At the most basic level, Broadway shows are staged in theaters with 500 or more seats, while off-Broadway shows are staged in theaters with between 100 and 499 seats. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but essentially, off-Broadway productions are smaller. It doesn’t mean, however, that off-Broadway productions aren’t as good, and as this list proves, many off-Broadway productions do make it to Broadway, due to their great success.

A fantastic example of a great musical that started off-Broadway is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. A favorite show among musical theater fans, the show first ran off-Broadway in 1981, then moved to Broadway the next year. It also received multiple Tony Award nominations, giving it a place on this list of the most celebrated musicals that got their beginnings off-Broadway.

This list comprises those musicals for which off-Broadway jut wasn't enough. From hugely successful shows such as A Chorus Line to lesser-known but still deserving productions such as Starmites, they’re all here. Cast your votes below to rank this list of the greatest musicals that started off-Broadway.

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list ordered by
  • Heathers the Musical
    1

    Heathers the Musical

  • Little Shop of Horrors is a comedy horror rock musical, by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman, about a hapless florist shop worker who raises a plant that feeds on human blood and flesh. ...more
  • A Chorus Line is a musical with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. Centred on seventeen Broadway dancers auditioning for spots on ...more
  • In the Heights is a musical with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes. The story is set over the course of three days, involving an ensemble cast of characters ...more
  • Rent is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème. It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive ...more
  • Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. It is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and ...more
  • Dear Evan Hansen is a musical with music and lyrics by Pasek and Paul, and a book by Steven Levenson. The title character, Evan Hansen, is a high school senior with a social anxiety disorder who ...more
  • Hamilton: An American Musical is a sung- and rapped-through musical about the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the ...more
  • Grease is a 1971 musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Named after the 1950s United States working-class youth subculture known as greasers, the musical is set in 1959 at fictional Rydell High ...more
  • 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
  • Spring Awakening is a rock musical with music by Duncan Sheik and a book and lyrics by Steven Sater. It is based on the German play Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind. Set in late-19th century ...more
  • Be More Chill is a musical with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz, based on the novel Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini.
  • Godspell is a musical by Stephen Schwartz and a book by John-Michael Tebelak. It opened off Broadway on May 17, 1971, and has played in various touring companies and revivals many times since, ...more
  • 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
  • Hair
    15
    Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a rock musical with a book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot. A product of the hippie counterculture and sexual ...more
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a 1975 musical horror comedy film by 20th Century Fox produced by Lou Adler and Michael White and directed by Jim Sharman. The screenplay was written by Sharman and ...more
  • 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
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a long one-act musical comedy conceived by Rebecca Feldman with music and lyrics by William Finn, a book by Rachel Sheinkin and additional material by ...more
  • Avenue Q
    19
    Avenue Q is an American musical in two acts, conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who wrote the music and lyrics. The book was written by Jeff Whitty and the show was directed by Jason Moore. ...more
  • Rock of Ages is a jukebox musical built around classic rock songs from the 1980s, especially from the famous glam metal bands of that decade. The musical features songs from Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, ...more
  • Falsettos is a musical with a book by James Lapine and William Finn and music and lyrics by Finn. The musical consists of March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, the last two in a trio of one-act ...more
  • Next to Normal is a rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. Its story concerns a mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness ...more
  • Once Upon a Mattress is a musical comedy with music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, and book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer. It opened off-Broadway in May 1959, and then ...more
  • Once on This Island is a one-act musical with a book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. Based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, it is set in ...more
  • Urinetown: The Musical is a satirical comedy musical from 2001, with music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis. It satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social ...more