The Greatest Musicals That Started Off-Broadway

Over 600 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Greatest Musicals That Started Off-Broadway
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Many people might not be aware 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 just wasn't enough. 


Ranked by
  • Hamilton
    273 votes
    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 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow. Notably incorporating hip-hop, rhythm and blues, pop music, soul music, traditional-style show tunes and color-conscious casting of non-white actors as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures, the musical achieved both critical acclaim and box office success.
  • 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 finds himself amid the turmoil that follows a classmate's death.
  • Heathers the Musical

    Heathers the Musical

    301 votes
  • Rent
    Jonathan Larson
    294 votes
    • Characters: Mimi Marquez, Angel Dumott Schunard, Joanne Jefferson, Maureen Johnson, Tom Collins
    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 and create a life in New York City's East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. The musical was first seen in a limited three-week workshop production at New York Theatre Workshop in 1994. This same Off-Broadway theatre was also the musical's initial home following its official January 25, 1996 opening. The show's creator, Jonathan Larson, died suddenly of an aortic dissection, believed to have been caused by undiagnosed Marfan syndrome, the night before the Off-Broadway premiere. The show won a Pulitzer Prize, and the production was a hit. The musical moved to Broadway's larger Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996. On Broadway, Rent gained critical acclaim and won a Tony Award for Best Musical among other awards. The Broadway production closed on September 7, 2008 after a 12-year run of 5,123 performances, the ninth longest-running Broadway show at the time. The production grossed over $280 million.
  • In the Heights
    Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes
    219 votes
    • Characters: Claudia, Graffiti Pete, Camila Rosario, Benny, Kevin Rosario
    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 in the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. After productions in Connecticut and Off-Broadway, the show opened in a Broadway theatre production in March 2008. This production was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards, winning four: Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations. It won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. It was also nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
  • A Chorus Line
    Edward Kleban, Nicholas Dante, Marvin Hamlisch
    235 votes
    • Characters: Zach, Sheila Bryant, Greg Gardner, Mike Costa, Don Kerr
    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 a chorus line, the musical is set on the bare stage of a Broadway theatre during an audition for a musical. A Chorus Line provides a glimpse into the personalities of the performers and the choreographer as they describe the events that have shaped their lives and their decisions to become dancers. Following several workshops and an Off-Broadway production, A Chorus Line opened at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway July 25, 1975, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. An unprecedented box office and critical hit, the musical received twelve Tony Award nominations and won nine, in addition to the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The original Broadway production ran for 6,137 performances, becoming the longest-running production in Broadway history until surpassed by Cats in 1997, and the longest-running Broadway musical originally produced in the US, until surpassed in 2011 by Chicago. It remains the sixth longest-running Broadway show ever.