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Keep it real at these Broadway shows based on true stories

Historical events and notable figures of entertainment, politics, and more are the basis of Broadway's biggest shows that you can both enjoy and learn from.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

They’re the real deal. Some of the characters in current and upcoming Broadway plays and musicals are so complex, quirky, and colorful they seem larger than life. But they're not, really — they’re actually drawn from life.

Shows based on fact and actual figures offer intriguing slices of history for audiences and distinct challenges for actors bringing these people back to life. Like, say, capturing a pop music superstar’s signature growl or the various idiosyncrasies of a troubled world-class wit.

Whether it’s on a movie set in the 1970s, in a courtroom in 1913 Georgia, or in colonial times where history – and a nation – is made, Broadway shows bring us up close and personal with fascinating characters who’d be hard for writers to just dream up. The stories of real people in theatre are just as extraordinary as any fiction.

Get tickets to Broadway shows on New York Theatre Guide.

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The Shark Is Broken

If you think Steven Spielberg’s 1975 man-eating shark movie, Jaws, is scary, then get a load of what the film’s actors Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw endured while making it. Between a prop predator constantly not working, shooting delays, and actors’ egos, there was blood in the water between scenes. So it goes in this play starring Alex Brightman as Dreyfuss, Colin Donnell as Scheider, and Ian Shaw, who wrote it with Joseph Nixon, as his father.

Get The Shark Is Broken tickets now.

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A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical

Neil Diamond, a shy Brooklyn kid-turned-adored “Jewish Elvis,” has 39 albums and more than enough hit singles – “Sweet Caroline,” “Song “America,” and “Shiloh” among them – to fill this musical. Will Swenson and Mark Jacoby play Diamond at different ages as the story traces his career and personal highs and lows, which he explores therapy sessions that hush the not-so-beautiful clamor in his head.

Get A Beautiful Noise tickets now.

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Here Lies Love

Former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos’s love for disco sparked this immersive bio-musical by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim set in a dance club. Amid the infectious, giddy beats, an unsettling story emerges about the notorious Marcos dictatorship. Arielle Jacobs and Jose Llana are Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, and Conrad Ricamora is their outspoken and doomed political rival.

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MJ The Musical

Pop star Michael Jackson prepares for his Dangerous World Tour in 1992 while an MTV crew shoots footage for a documentary in this jukebox bio-musical. Audiences get a look into his early family life and his creative process — and watch transformative performances from the lead actor practically resurrecting Jackson on stage. The Tony-winning show is fueled by Jackson’s greatest hits, high-octane dance, and a book by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage.

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They were The Real Housewives of Henry VIII – Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. In this glitzy, compact musical, whoever makes a case for suffering the most while wed to Henry rules. The women engage in a six-way vocal throwdown with Tony-winning, pop-tastic songs by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.

Learn more about the real Tudor-era English history that inspired Six.

Get Six tickets now.

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Founding Father Alexander Hamilton comes to life in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical filled with rap, hip-hop, and pop that puts a diverse spin on an essential chapter of American history. The story charts Hamilton from his poor childhood in the Caribbean to power player in George Washington’s cabinet to errant husband to the losing end of a duel with his bitter rival.

Get Hamilton tickets now.

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By the early 1930s, the six-man German musical group the Comedian Harmonists had risen to prominence thanks to the beautiful music they made when their voices blended. As this musical by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman recounts, the group clashed with the Third Reich because it included Jewish members. It's a harrowing story, but also a heartfelt one of brotherhood, buoyed by plenty of musical comedy and original songs.

Check back for information on Harmony tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Top image credit: MJ The Musical. (Photo courtesy of production)

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