Best musicals to see for a first Broadway show
There's nothing like filing into a historic theatre from the hustle and bustle of Times Square and sharing an afternoon or evening — and some laughs — with an audience.
Seeing a Broadway show for the first time is an unforgettable experience — no matter your age. The magic of live performance is a spell cast with costumes, sets, lighting, and, of course, the unmatchable talent of singers and dancers on stage. There’s nothing like filing into a historic theatre from the hustle and bustle of Times Square and sharing an afternoon or evening — and some laughs — with an audience.
The best introduction to theatre is perhaps through the familiarity of a beloved book or film, and Broadway brings Disney characters and cherished movies to life. Some musicals have also become theatre classics, and must-see Broadway shows for tourists, after running to acclaim for decades. From The Lion King to Wicked and Chicago, there are lots of shows that appeal to new Broadway fans. Once you see one of these musicals with familiar characters and/or irresistibly catchy songs, you'll want to come back for more.
Get tickets to a Broadway musical on New York Theatre Guide.
The Lion King
The stage magic that transforms the Minskoff Theatre into the African setting of The Lion King showcases the best of live theatre. The stage adaptation of the 1997 Disney animated classic is about a lion cub stepping into himself as a leader after the untimely death of his father, and features Tim Rice and Elton John’s iconic songs “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and “Circle of Life.” The animal characters are portrayed with creative masks, headdresses, and puppetry designed by director Julie Taymor, so you'll be seeing familiar movie characters come alive in a new, unique way.
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Another Disney option is Aladdin, a musical adaptation of the animated classic that follows a street urchin who finds a magical lamp and awakens the genie inside. He’s granted three wishes, and hopes to win the heart of Princess Jasmine. The musical features all the beloved tunes from the film, including “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World.” The show boasts hundreds of colorful costume pieces and stage effects, including a flying magic carpet!
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The musical Wicked is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, set long before Dorothy and Toto’s adventure to Oz. Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, the much-lauded musical tells the story of how the Wicked Witch of the West became, well, wicked. The musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman, follows the unlikely friendship between Elphaba and Galinda — the witches later are known as the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the South. There are flying monkeys, emerald set pieces, and lots of wizardry, making the show an especially whimsical, eye-catching introduction to the theatre for kids.
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If you want to set the bar high, start with Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical puts a spin on U.S. history and tells the incredible story of Alexander Hamilton, a Caribbean immigrant who served the hard-won role of Secretary of State under President George Washington and was one of our nation’s Founding Fathers. And the face of the ten-dollar bill! Hamilton is a hot ticket — the critically-acclaimed show broke records with its number of Tony Award nominations and took home the Best Musical award in 2016.
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If you love the Oscar-winning 2002 Chicago film, see the musical that inspired it, which is now one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. The musical follows the murder trials of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart — a vaudeville headliner and a chorus girl, respectively — as they vie for the front page and the spotlight. The women are the talk of the Cook County Jail and the city at large, and their story comes alive with Bob Fosse’s iconic choreography and John Kander and Fred Ebb’s jazz tunes. So come on, babe, why don't you paint the town at the Ambassador Theatre? This show is recommended for audience members 13 and up.
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The Book of Mormon
If you like the irreverent humor of Comedy Central, The Book of Mormon is your kind of show. The team behind the musical comedy is Trey Parker and Matt Stone, best known for the animated comedy South Park, and composer Robert Lopez, who wrote the musical Avenue Q. The show is about two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who travel to Uganda to preach the faith of the Mormon church. Come prepared to laugh like hell at this heavenly musical.
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Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Moulin Rouge! The Musical offers Broadway spectacle and wonder with impressive sets and costumes. Based on Baz Luhrman’s 2001 film, the stage adaptation brings the story about an English poet who falls in love with a performer and courtesan at a Parisian cabaret into the current moment. Like the film, which features existing pop music, this Moulin Rouge! is also a jukebox musical. The tracklist has been updated with lots of familiar hits from the years since the movie's release, though, including “Toxic” by Britney Spears, “Firework” by Katy Perry, and “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé.
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MJ The Musical
MJ The Musical is a great musical for first-timers because it marries familiar tunes with plenty of Broadway-caliber spectacle, making for a thriller of an experience. MJ centers on Michael Jackson as he's preparing for his 1992 Dangerous World Tour, and with every song he rehearses, he and the audience are transported back through Jackson's childhood memories and pivotal career moments that made him the King of Pop. The electrifying choreography won a Tony Award, so while you rock with all Jackson's songs, you'll be watching all his signature moves and then some, too.
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This "one of a kind, no category" musical has earned a massive fanbase among young women, but all kind of audiences have been getting down with the Queens at Six. This musical is about the six wives of Henry VIII, who tell the stories of how they were "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived" with pop flair. The sextet is reimagined as a Spice Girls-esque group who sing about how badly the king treated them, as well as about their lives independent of Henry. And at just 80 minutes, Six is perfect for a new theatregoer who isn't sure about sitting through a long show.
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The Phantom of the Opera
What better first musical to see than the longest running musical in Broadway history? There's a reason that audiences have flocked to The Phantom of the Opera for more than 30 years and counting, and many people who call it their "gateway musical" have gone back to see it again and again. This dark romance centers on an opera ingenue, Christine, who gets caught in a love triangle between her childhood sweetheart, Raoul, and her mysterious, masked music teacher, the title Phantom. If you think you don’t like musicals, listen to “The Music of the Night” and think again.
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Looking for a strange and unusual Broadway experience? See Beetlejuice, and this might be the day-o you fall in love with musicals. The show captures the spirit (pun intended) of the cult classic Tim Burton film about a poltergeist with a plan to come back to life. That plan involves haunting a quaint townhouse and teaming up with its deceased residents and a standoffish teenager to scare off its new tenants. Amid the catchy songs and spooky special effects, there's also a heartfelt story about family and making the most out of life.
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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
If you don't want to see a musical, and if the Harry Potter books are in rotation on your reading list, then your first Broadway show needs to be Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The epic play with music, a continuation of J.K. Rowling’s bestselling stories, takes place 19 years after the final novel in the Harry Potter series and follows Harry and his friends' children on their own time-traveling adventure. The Lyric Theatre is transformed into the Harry Potter universe, with a golden snitch sitting atop the theatre. The play is filled with, of course, the best stage magic Broadway can offer.
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Stomp is an Off-Broadway musical, but it's more than that — it's a New York institution. Stomp has been entertaining audiences at the Orpheum Theatre since 1994, celebrating the power and joy of percussion. But if you're expecting a cacophony of drum sounds, you'll be mistaken. Stomp features an array of non-traditional musical instruments: brooms, garbage cans, sticks, and more. Stomp is perfect for Broadway theatregoers who want to explore what's happening in the city while ticking off a tourist staple.
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