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The Greatest Musicals That Started Off-Broadway

Updated February 12, 2019 5.6k votes 505 voters 33.2k views45 items

List RulesVote 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.

  • 1

    Heathers the Musical

  • 2

    In the Heights

    Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes

    CharactersClaudia, 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...  more
  • 3


    Warren Casey, Jim Jacobs

    CharactersSandy Olsson, Betty Rizzo, Danny Zuko, Frenchy, Principal McGee

    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

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  • 4

    A Chorus Line

    Edward Kleban, Nicholas Dante

    CharactersZach, 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...  more

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  • 5

    Spring Awakening

    Steven Sater, Duncan Sheik

    CharactersOtto, Martha, Anna, Thea, Wendla Bergmann

    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
  • 6

    Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

    Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice

    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


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  • 7
    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
  • 8


    John-Michael Tebelak, Stephen Schwartz

    CharactersJesus, Judas Iscariot, Apostle Peter, John the Baptist

    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
  • 9

    Avenue Q

    Jeff Marx, Jeff Whitty

    CharactersTrekkie Monster, Princeton, Mrs.Thistletwat, Christmas Eve, Nicky

    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
  • 10


    Stephen Schwartz , Winnie Holzman

    CharactersWicked Witch of the West, The Wizard, Glinda the Good Witch, Boq, Doctor Dillamond

    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

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  • 11

    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

    William Finn, Rachel Sheinkin

    CharactersLogainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, Vice Principal Douglas Panch, Charlito "Chip" Tolentino, Marcy Park, Olive Ostrovsky

    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

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  • 12

    Little Shop of Horrors

    Alan Menken, Howard Ashman

    CharactersOrin Scrivello, DDS, Seymour Krelborn, Audrey II, Crystal

    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

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  • 13
    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
  • 14


    Jonathan Larson

    CharactersMimi 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...  more

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  • 15

    The Me Nobody Knows

    Gary William Friedman, Will Holt
  • 16

    Next to Normal

    Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey

    CharactersGabriel "Gabe" Goodman, Natalie Goodman, Henry, Diana Goodman, Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden

    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
  • 17

    Rock of Ages

    Chris D'Arienzo

    CharactersStacee Jaxx, Sherrie Christian, Justice, Drew Boley, Dennis Dupree

    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
  • 18

    Passing Strange

    Heidi Rodewald, Stew

    CharactersSudabey, Renata, Desi, Terry, Christophe

    Passing Strange is a comedy-drama rock musical about a young African American's artistic journey of self-discovery in Europe, with strong elements of philosophical existentialism, metafiction...  more
  • 19

    Into the Woods

    James Lapine , Stephen Sondheim

    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

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  • 20

    Once Upon a Mattress

    Mary Rodgers, Marshall Barer

    CharactersPrincess Winnifred, Sir Harry, Lady Larken, Minstrel, Nightingale of Samarkand

    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
  • 21

    Once on This Island

    Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens

    CharactersErzulie, Armand, Azaka Medeh, Asaka, Tonton Julian

    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
  • 22

    The Life

    Cy Coleman, Ira Gasman

    CharactersQueen, Fleetwood, Jojo, Sonja, Snickers

    The Life is a musical with a book by David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman, music by Coleman, and lyrics by Gasman. Based on an original idea by Gasman, the show explores the underbelly of Times...  more
  • 23
    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....  more
  • 24


    James Lapine, William Finn

    CharactersMarvin, Trina, Whizzer Brown, Mendel, Jason

    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
  • 25

    Sunday in the Park with George

    James Lapine, Stephen Sondheim

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