One of the most common misconceptions about musical theatre music is that it can all be grouped into a single musical genre. In reality, musical theatre is an art form that encompasses many, many genres of music. Let’s take a look at some of the 2014 Tony-nominated shows and the musical styles featured within each one:

  •  After Midnight (1920s-40s jazz standards)
  • Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (1960s-70s pop/rock radio tunes)
  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (‘legit’-style musical comedy)
  • Aladdin (1990s Disney tunes)
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1970s-style glam rock)

As we see, musical theatre actually encompasses many styles of music (which are sometimes tweaked for theatrical settings). I created this blog post to provide a simple breakdown of what I consider to be the ten major styles of musical theatre music today (there are others). I have also included representative songwriters for each style. In most cases, I did not create these categories. They already exist in the musical theatre industry– sometimes under slightly different names. 

When building an audition book, performers should consider including songs from each of the musical style categories listed below. Some songs should be uptempo, and some should be ballads. Some should serve a dramatic purpose and others should be comedic.  Women should also consider including pieces that show off their ‘belt’ and ‘legit’ voices.  Please remember that these categories are only meant to be simplistic guidelines- there are always exceptions, crossovers, and other perfectly reasonable methods of organizing musical theatre music.

P.S. If you need assistance choosing appropriate repertoire for yourself or for your students, please check out my new repertoire consulting business, The Repertoire Guru.

1. English Operetta (1870s-1920s)
o Gilbert & Sullivan, Franz Lehar, Sigmund Romberg, Victor Herbert, others
2. Jazz Age Standard (1920s-40s)
o Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, Kurt Weill, Noel Coward, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern
3. Golden Age Standard (1940s-60s)
o Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Loesser, Jule Styne, Bock & Harnick, Adler & Ross, Burton Lane, Meredith Wilson, Harold Rome, Jerry Ross, Cole Porter (later shows), Irving Berlin (later shows)
4. Post-Golden Age Standard (1960s-70s)
o Kander & Ebb, Cy Coleman, Jerry Herman, Harvey Schmidt, David Shire, Charles Strouse
5. Sondheim Song (1960s-present)
o Stephen Sondheim (certain songs by Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa, Jeanine Tesori, or Scott Frankel may work for this category in some situations).
6. Musical Theatre Pop Song (1960s-present)
o Older Style: Stephen Schwartz, Marvin Hamlisch, Henry Krieger, Alan Menken, Andersson & Ulvaeus, Andrew Lloyd Webber (some shows), Ahrens & Flaherty, William Finn, Frank Wildhorn
o Newer Style: Jason Robert Brown (some shows), Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Shaiman, Robert Lopez, Jeanine Tesori (some shows), David Yazbek, Pasek & Paul, Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, Adam Gwon
7. Musical Theatre Rock Song (1960s-present)
o Older Style: Gal MacDermot, Elton John, Richard O’Brien, David Bryan
o Newer Style: Jonathan Larson, Michael Friedman, Tom Kitt, Laurence O’Keefe, Paul Scott Goodman, Stephen Trask, Duncan Sheik, Joe Iconis, Ryan Scott Oliver
8. Pop-Opera Song (1980s-present)*
o Andrew Lloyd Webber (some shows), Boublil & Schönberg, Maury Yeston, Frank Wildhorn (some shows), Lucy Simon, Jill Santoriello
9. Jukebox/Radio Song (1950s-present)
o May be songs from jukebox musicals, radio, films, television shows, etc. Choose songs from multiple decades and commercial music styles (pop, rock, country, hip hip, r&b, etc.).
10. Walt Disney Song (1930s-present)
o Alan Menken, Sherman Brothers, Elton John, Robert & Kristen-Anderson Lopez, Phil Collins, David Nessim Lawrence, Randy Newman


* This category includes the grandiose, pop and classical-influenced scores of 1980s-90s ‘mega-musicals’ written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Boublil & Schönberg, Maury Yeston, and others.  In many cases, songs from these shows will NOT qualify as ‘musical theatre pop.’  Examples: Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, etc.  

Kevin Michael Jones

12 thoughts

  1. Hi Luke, see the footnote. Shows like Les Mis and Phantom fall into a sort of ‘pop opera’ category. The songs are usually written in a pop form/sensibility, but the shows themselves are sung through and typically feature more ‘legit’-type singing technique.

  2. What about auditioning with Once Upon a Time from Brooklyn the Musical and The Boy Next Door from Meet Me in St. Louis

    1. Thanks Dan. You bring up a good point about song function vs style. I completely agree that performers should also know how each of their songs function (‘Story Song’, ‘I Want’ song, ‘Charm song’, etc). Might do another blog post on song type/function.

  3. Good point, Dan. As I mentioned, these are extremely generalized categories. Several composers in that category could fit into other categories as well (or even have their own individual categories for that matter). I hope people will study each individual composer’s works to make the judgement calls for themselves- these are just suggestions.

  4. Hi there!
    I will be auditioning for Rocky Horror Picture Show next month and I am gunning for Magenta. What song would you recommend for my audition?

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