Choosing a Musical to do at School or for a Youth Group?

Musical Theatre is not all West End Blockbusters

We all love going to see a show. But for many, the love goes beyond that and we want to actually get involved! This love starts from an early age and for many (like myself) it started in a theatre youth group. Since then I know that musical theatre is not only about those big London theatre shows, but it is also half a year of Saturday afternoon rehearsals in a chilly hall, followed by a week of madness and then another six months of working our what on earth the group or school are going to do next.

It has always been the case. The choice of a mixture of old favourites and newly released shows for amateur rights made harder by the need to be a, suitable for children and b, a realistic mix of main parts and chorus work!

Honk!, Bugsy Malone, West Side Story, High School Musical all come and go with monotonous regularity. But What else is there? This year the St Albans Youth Music Theatre at the Abbey Theatre have plumped for the Madness musical Our House, but come the second week in April we will all be wondering what to do next.

Musicals performed By American High Schools

So pre-empting the conversations that are going to be taking place in St Albans common rooms, cafes and living rooms very soon indeed, here are some ideas from across the pond, with some of the most popular musicals, most regularly performed by American high schools over the past 50 years.

The Golden Oldies

Yes there are the obvious ones in the list. Grease has featured ever since the 1980s – just as it has done here (heck even I was in Grease!). Oklahoma! is also as popular with the youngsters as it has been with grown up operatic groups, but other shows that have fallen out of popularity may stand a second glance.

What about The Music Man – the music department can join in, even when they are not playing! It’s also got quite a few parts that can be either boys or girls and that can be split between several actors  – useful if you are having to keep a large group happy!

Or consider Brigadoon. Want to update it – why not rename it “Rangers” about a football team that disappears into the Scottish mist only to reappear in the Scottish FA cup?

Other shows, that are just as popular here as they are in the States, include Fiddler on the Roof.  But how powerful could that be this year? If any school or theatre group is willing to take that on there is one hell of back story considering the migrant crisis we are facing today.

GUYS AND DOLLS, , Music and lyrics - FRANK LOESSER., Book - JO SWERLING and ABE BURROWS, Director Gordan Greenberg, Choreographer - Carlos Acosta, Designer - Peter MaKintosh, Chichester Festival Theatre, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson/
GUYS AND DOLLS, , Music and lyrics – FRANK LOESSER., Book – JO SWERLING and ABE BURROWS, Director Gordan Greenberg, Choreographer – Carlos Acosta, Designer – Peter MaKintosh, Chichester Festival Theatre, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson/

You can tell that these great old shows are still worth doing. You only have to take a look at London’s West End, to see that Guys and Dolls is still capable of putting parent’s bums on seats and the OZ franchise is still going strong so, although you can’t do Wicked yet, The Wizard of Oz is just as popular here as it is in Kansas!

More Recent Musicals

Just as in the UK, more recently, modern shows have become popular – as rights allow. First it was You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and Little Shop of Horrors and then Beauty and the Beast and Seussical, Into the Woods and the aforementioned Our House.

But there are two rather tantelising shows left from the last 50 years of High School musicals that may be worth consideration: two shows that have been popular in American High schools throughout the last 50 years, but are hardly ever done here at all!

Forgotten Shows?

“Bye Bye Birdie” – is about a rock n roll singer who travels to a small town in Ohio to make his “farewell” television performance and kiss his biggest fan before being drafted. The music is more typical musical rather than the rockier rhythms of more recent shows but there is a lot to have fun with!

The other musical and one of my favourites for a comeback, is “Once Upon a Mattress”. It is an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Princess and the Pea. A fair sized cast with characters that can be played by either girls or boys. It has lots of laughs but it is set so far back in time that you can have great fun updating it too!

The Recent Top Shows in American High Schools

Of course the Americans don’t hold all the answers and they are generally singing from the same song sheet as we are. Just to prove that things are generally not much different over there, here is there top shows of the last five years (source npr.org) – recognise them?!

  1. Beauty and the Beast
  2. Into the Woods
  3. Grease
  4. The Wizard of Oz
  5. Seussical
  6. Little Shop of Horrors

So, to paraphrase Queen Aggravain from Once Upon A Mattress: Goodbye, good luck and get out there and choose a show!

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