There seem to be quite a few shows that are always done in high schools. Have you ever thought about why? Let's explore. The first 3 are considered "The Most Popular High School Musicals" from Dramatics magazine for high school teachers. The last one is my pick---you've probably also been in that.
1. The Addams Family
Ah, the beloved TV show from the 1960s made into a musical! Can you believe I actually haven't seen this show? With songs like "Pulled" and "When You're an Addams" there's something for everyone. Since its Broadway debut in 2010, we've been toe-tapping to this wonderful score by Andrew Lippa. Since the song styles match each character's personality there's a wide range of style in the show: jazz to flamenco! There are, of course, many main characters as this is about a whole family....but there are also plenty of ensemble opportunities as well. Quite a bit of the music involves a chorus of ancestors! There are more leads than in most shows and there's plenty of ensemble singing--that's a win for high school productions!
2. Mamma Mia!
Ok...who doesn't love this show? You love it. Your parents love it. Your grandparents even love it. This is a real crowd pleaser for both performers and the audience. Since this is an ABBA jukebox musical, most people will know at least a couple of songs. This is another great ensemble show: 5 main female leads, 4 main male leads. Can't go wrong there! This is also a great show to highlight dancing ability, and the costumes are incredibly fun!
3. The Little Mermaid
As we know, everything Disney touches becomes gold! If you're in high school, you probably watched the movie version as a child. Who doesn't remember Sebastian chasing after Ariel and Flounder trying to be brave. There are so many characters in this show, and audiences LOVE the music. This is a super kid-friendly show, opening the door to families of all ages. Also, this show can be done with very elaborate sets and lighting effects, or barely any at all. It doesn't require a fancy set, but the visual is amazing if a school is equipped with a nice lighting/sound system and a tech crew.
4. My pick: Guys & Dolls
We did this show at my high school, I've music-directed it, and have since had students star in it. It's an old gem that's been around a while. It debuted on Broadway in 1950 and practically everyone has seen the 1955 movie version with Marlon Brando & Frank Sinatra. Why this show, you ask? Well, the style of music is easily accessible for most people. It's a little jazzy, but also has sweeping ballads which showcase both belters and legit voices. The pit musicians also have a wonderful score to play. This show can carry a large ensemble and features many dancing moments. It's a great show if you have strong dancers...think Hot Box Girls, the Crap Game, the Havana scene, etc. It's a classic feel-good show where everyone goes home happy.
Ultimately, schools pick shows based on the talent they are aware of, amount of money a show requires: set, costumes, score rentals, etc., and ensemble opportunities. At the high school level, shows tend to be more inclusive as you have to cast experienced actors and first timers together.
What I'd like to see on a high school stage: A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder! It's a hilarious ensemble show with a fantastic musical score. Check out why it won 4 Tony's!
Maria Palombo is a Voice Instructor and Singer living in Central NJ. She is the founder of Finely Tuned Voice Lessons, a private voice studio in Mercer County, NJ.