Recently, a colleague suggested I write a blog post about Broadway musicals from the year 2000-present that I think voice teachers and singers should be aware of.  This wasn’t an easy task because there have been so many wonderful, diverse musicals on and off Broadway over the past decade and a half.  However, I have narrowed my list down to 15 shows below.  These musicals are sorted into three categories: ‘Legit’, ‘Contemporary Musical Theatre’, and ‘Pop/Rock’ (see the descriptions for each of these).  Free recordings of many of these shows can be found on Spotify.  Note: this particular blog post does not include Off-Broadway shows.

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These shows feature a type of singing that is heavily rooted in traditional, classical voice training and styles.  This means you will probably hear things like consistant vibrato, tall and round vowels, smooth register transitions, vowel modification around the passaggio/break, crico-thyroid dominant phonation for women (aka ‘head voice’ and ‘head/mix’), crisp diction, etc.  The scores in these shows are influenced by both classical music and traditional musical theatre music.  However, you may hear the influence of pop and rock styles at times as well.  As with opera, vocalism sometimes take precedence over the text/lyrics.

1. The Light in the Piazza (2005)
2. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2013)
3. The Bridges of Madison County (2014)*
4. Grey Gardens (2006)
5. Jane Eyre (2000)

Further Studies: Doctor Zhivago, It Shoulda Been You, A Tale of Two Cities, The Woman in White, Mary Poppins*, Little Women*, Dracula, Amour, The Visit, A Class Act, White Christmas, Nice Work if You Can Get It, Chaplin*, An American in Paris, LoveMusik, The People in the Picture, The Scottsboro Boys*, The Story of My Life, A Catered Affair*, A Year with Frog and Toad, By Jeeves, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, James Joyce’s The Dead, Allegiance*, Amazing Grace, The Green Bird, Lestat*, Anastasia*, Amelie*, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory*, Holiday Inn, Matilda*

You may recall my semi-rant about the term ‘contemporary musical theatre’, but I am using the term here for simplicity’s sake.  The type of vocalism in these shows combines traditional musical theatre singing with contemporary pop/rock influences.  This means you will hear bright, speech-based, mostly straight-tone singing.  All registers of the voice will be used (primarily ‘chest voice’ and ‘chest/mix’).  Pop and rock-esque vocal ornaments and orchestrations will be utilized at times, but the songs will still have a decidedly ‘musical theatre’ sound (aka they won’t sound like songs you would hear on the radio).  The text/lyrics will usually be the driving force.

1. The Producers (2001)
2. The Book of Mormon (2011)
3. Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002)
4. Avenue Q (2004)
5. Hairspray (2002)*

Further Studies: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The Drowsy Chaperone, The Color Purple*, Curtains*, Shrek, Catch Me If You Can, The Full Monty, Caroline or Change*, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Legally Blonde*, Wicked, Matilda*, Young Frankenstein, Dogfight*, Newsies, Big Fish, The Addams Family, Fun Home*, Seussical, Ghost, Something Rotten, Spamalot, Sweet Smell of Success, The Wild Party, Sister Act, A Christmas Story, Billy Elliot, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Pirate Queen*, Violet, Xanadu, Bullets Over Broadway*, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Rocky*, Elf, First Date, Urban Cowboy, [title of show], Urinetown, 13, Finding Neverland*, School of Rock*, Honeymoon in Vegas, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory*

These shows feature full-out pop/rock vocalism and orchestrations.  Expect to hear singing that is heavily influenced by the commercial music industry (pop, rock, country, hip-hop, etc.).  All registers of the voice will be used, and there may be abrupt registration breaks at times.  Men and women may sing in similar ranges, and there will most likely be high belting.  You may also hear vocal distortions like growls, vocal fry, breathy tone, screams, glottal stops, and more.  There will almost certainly be a heavy reliance on electronic instruments and amplification.  Unlike ‘contemporary musical theatre’, maintaining stylistic authenticity may take precedence over the text/lyrics.

1. Spring Awakening (2006)
2. In the Heights (2008)*
3. Jersey Boys (2005)
4. Next to Normal (2009)
5. Once (2012)

Further Studies (Original Score): Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Brooklyn, Aida*, Bring it On*, Kinky BootsHedwig and the Angry Inch, Hamilton*, Wonderland, Cry-Baby*, The Last Ship, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, Lysistrata Jones, Thou Shalt Not, Leap of Faith*, The Wedding Singer*, Tarzan, 9 to 5*, If/Then*, High Fidelity*, Bonnie and Clyde, Passing Strange*, Hands on a Hardbody, Taboo, Glory Days*, Waitress, American Psycho, Bombay Dreams*, Dear Evan Hansen*, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812*

Further Studies (Jukebox Score): All Shook Up, American Idiot, Beautiful: The Carol King Musical, Mamma Mia!, Million Dollar Quartet, Motown, Rock of Ages, Holler If Ya Hear Me, Priscilla – Queen of the Desert, Good Vibrations, A Night with Janis Joplin, Baby It’s You!, Ring of Fire, The Boy from Oz, Soul Doctor, Lennon, Rain, Hot Feet, Movin’ Out, On Your Feet!, The Look of Love, The Times They Are a-Changin’, Everyday Rapture, Disaster!

* This show features multiple music/vocal styles and could be sorted elsewhere (depending on the song in question).

Kevin Michael Jones

5 thoughts

  1. I see your feelings below (and very good points) about the term “contemporary music theatre.” Interestingly enough, Mary Poppins, for example, in the creative team’s casting notice, asked for contemporary music theatre, not legit.

    1. Very true, I would say Mary Poppins is a show that could go either way. It combines legit and ‘contemporary musical theatre’ musical and vocal styles. Some songs are more towards the legit singing spectrum and others not as much. The same can be said about Little Women (“Astonishing” is definitely not legit, for example). Many contemporary musicals today feature multiple musical and vocal styles. Most of what I’ve compiled here are general guidelines.

  2. Thank you so much for this resource!! Very helpful for me and my students.

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