As school heads back to session, young theatre nerds across the country have burning questions. Never mind whether the teacher prefers wide-ruled or college-ruled loose-leaf: What play are we doing? Is it too early to start preparing my audition cut for the musical?
We picked nine of the most-produced plays and musicals at high schools around the country and paired them with nine counterparts that are perhaps off the beaten path but equally worth consideration as students eagerly await their chance in the spotlight.
TOP PICK: Mamma Mia!
ALSO CONSIDER: Head Over Heels
The international ABBA songsation quickly became a popular pick for high schools the year it was made available to license, and another recent addition to catalogs will also ensure audiences will dance along and leave humming familiar tunes (provided they’ve got The Beat). Using the hits of The Go-Go’s, Head Over Heels offers a fantastical and free-spirited tale of love, friendship, and acceptance, with a non-binary serpentine oracle and drag comedy thrown in for good measure. A treat for progressive-leaning theatre programs.
Head Over Heels, featuring a book by James MacGruder, is available to license through Broadway Licensing.
TOP PICK: Little Shop of Horrors
ALSO CONSIDER: Carrie
Admittedly, the musical adaptation of Stephen King’s haunt doesn’t quite have the pedigree of the cult-favorite, plant-based musical. In fact, its 1988 original production is regarded as one of the most notorious productions in Broadway history. However, the show has since found a new, young following, in part to a revamped 2012 Off-Broadway revival and special plot line on the CW teen drama Riverdale. Those with pipes who dare to brave an eerie tale but have already gone down Skid Row have this option, which also allows for some light special effects.
Carrie, by Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford, and Lawrence D. Cohen, is available to license through Concord Theatricals.
TOP PICK: The Addams Family
ALSO CONSIDER: A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
If audiences enjoyed students’ takes on the creepy and kooky bunch, they’re likely to get a kick out of this similarly gothic and playfully macabre tale. The Tony-winning musical follows a young man who sets out to kill his way to a distant family inheritance (picking off members of the noble D’Ysquith family, all played by one actor). As it features a limited cast size, the title is an especially solid pick for small schools in search of a star vehicle for two male performers with a comedic flair. Plus, dialect work!
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, is available to license through Music Theatre International.
TOP PICK: Clue
ALSO CONSIDER: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Yes, this one requires more vocal chops than the beloved board game-turned-movie-turned-play. But Drood, based on an unfinished Charles Dickens novel, boasts an equally colorful and eclectic mix of characters, each potentially responsible for the death of the title lad (played by a powerhouse female belter). With the help of audience voting, the outcome of the musical changes nightly, providing performers with equal (and equally spontaneous) opportunities for their moment in the spotlight.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Rupert Holmes, is available to license through Concord Theatricals.
TOP PICK: The Little Mermaid
ALSO CONSIDER: The Prom
While The Little Mermaid offers a sense of nostalgia for student performers and audiences alike, The Prom offers a more contemporary story of navigating identity and self-acceptance—and perhaps one that hits a little closer to home. The show, about a high schooler barred from bringing her girlfriend to the prom and the group of eccentric Broadway divas who champion her cause, is hot off a Broadway bow and features roles for an array of types—from the wide-eyed and earnest to the sassy and brassy.
The Prom, by Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, and Matthew Sklar, is handled by Theatrical Rights Worldwide.
TOP PICK: Almost, Maine
ALSO CONSIDER: Middletown
Similar to Almost, Maine or even Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Will Eno’s play explores the charm and beauty of an American community and the cycle of life. Inhabiting the title town, a microcosm of the universe with a Main Street, are a spectrum of characters—from a librarian to the town drunk—and locales—including outer space. Like with the vignette-constructed Almost, Maine, the cast size for Middletown is flexible, with roles created with the potential to be double cast.
Middletown is available to license through Concord Theatricals.
TOP PICK: A Midsummer Night's Dream
ALSO CONSIDER: Shakespeare in Love
Don’t let those period costumes go to waste! If students enjoyed navigating the Bard’s poetry before, this stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning romance, which fittingly premiered across the pond, will provide the chance to revisit that world through a modern lens. With familiar characters (from Shakespeare himself to Queen Elizabeth I and rival playwright Christopher Marlowe) and myriad literary allusions, staging the play is yet another opportunity to immerse young thespians in the world of drama while exploring theatre history.
Shakespeare in Love (High School Edition), by Tom Stopard, Lee Hall, and Marc Norman, is available to license through Concord Theatricals.
TOP PICK: The Crucible
ALSO CONSIDER: Indecent
The Salem-set drama is a classic pick for high schools, largely due to Arthur Miller’s literary prose and its American History tie-ins (both witchy and McCarthian). Paula Vogel’s Indecent similarly offers a window into a pivotal moment against the backdrop of an oppressive regime. The play, exploring the development, scandal, and legacy of Sholem Asch’s 1906 play God of Vengeance, is a testament to the power of performance and the written word in a time of crisis, resonating with theatre, English, and history students alike.
Indecent is available to license through Dramatists Play Service.
TOP PICK: Shrek
ALSO CONSIDER: School of Rock
A cartoonishly lewd yet lovable antihero inspires a rebellion against established authority? Both of these shows based on beloved flicks have you covered. While Shrek, set in a fairy tale-inspired land, is replete with technical and special effect feats, School of Rock comes with its own sort of ambitious spectacle: an assembly of kids rocking out and playing live. The pick, equal parts head banging and heartwarming, could even inspire a perennial band geek to step out of the orchestra pit and take center stage.
School of Rock, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Julian Fellowes, and Glenn Slater, is available to license through Concord Theatricals.