It doesn't always take a big show to pack a big punch! While the large-scale musical tends to receive the most attention from audiences, oftentimes it's the small musicals that speak to us in the most impactful ways. For fans of emotional one act musicals and cult-classic Off-Broadway shows, we're rounding up what we think are some of the best small cast musicals out there!
tick...tick... BOOM! should be at the top of every theatre-lover's list when it comes to Off-Broadway shows that make an impact. Written by Jonathan Larson-and serving as a predecessor to the more well-known of Larson's works, Rent- tick... tick... BOOM! was initially performed by Larson as a solo work in 1990. Following his death in 1996, the show was revised and premiered as an Off-Broadway show in 2001.
A small cast musical featuring three actors playing the roles of Jon, Michael, and Susan, tick...tick... BOOM! is a semiautobiographical work. The musical follows the character of Jon, a musical theatre composer, as he approaches his 30th birthday and is forced to confront the choices he has made, and continues to make, in life both personally and professionally. The show speaks to struggles both universal and personal, addresses the power of dreams and persistence, and delves into dealing with the pressures of life as an artist and the consequences of our actions in the pursuit of happiness and satisfaction.
tick...tick...BOOM! has had an Off West End production, a West End production, an American national tour, two Off-Broadway revivals in 2014 and 2016, and will soon premiere on the big screen as a film adaptation, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Check out a trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of tick...tick...BOOM!.
Falsettos is a small cast musical that was introduced to the musical theatre world in varying forms before premiering in its final iteration. What we now know as Falsettos began as the Off-Broadway show In Trousers (1979), the first in a trilogy of musicals, which was then followed by March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland. March of the Falsettos (1981), and Falsettoland (1990), both one-act musicals, later formed the first and second act respectively of the 1992 Broadway musical Falsettos.
Falsettos is a sung-through musical with a book by William Finn and James Lapine, and music and lyrics by Finn. The plot of Falsettos centers on Marvin, who has left his wife Trina for his male lover Whizzer, and follows the family's struggles and interconnected relationships. The musical explores gay life in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its impact on the gay community of that time, and delves into the topic of gender roles, Jewish culture and identity, and more. Falsettos is one of the best small musicals in the canon, exploring themes both large and small and packing an emotional punch.
Falsettos was revived on Broadway in 2016, and received an Off-West End production in 2019.
Watch the cast of the 2016 Broadway revival of Falsettos perform at the Tony Awards.
Next to Normal
Next to Normal is the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical featuring book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. Initially opening as an Off-Broadway musical, the show went on to a Broadway run in 2009. Featuring a cast of six, Next to Normal centers on the character of Diana, a mother struggling with bipolar disorder, and the effects that coping with bipolar disorder has on her family.
Next to Normal was one of the first musicals to explore the topic of mental health in such a raw, open, and honest way. It changed the game for storytelling and songwriting in terms of both style and content, and it continues to be a show whose themes are more relevant than ever. Delving into the topics of mental health, grief, depression, suicide, drug abuse, psychiatry and more, Next to Normal is relatable on both a micro and macro level.
Next to Normal was presented at the Kennedy Center in a production in early 2020.
Watch the cast of Next to Normal perform at the 2009 Tony Awards.
[title of show]
[title of show] ranks high on the list of small shows you must see! A one-act musical featuring music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and a book by Hunter Bell, this musical is a creative, meta show within a show. It details its own creation as it follows the author and composer of the show, Hunter and Jeff, and their two actress friends, Heidi and Susan in their road to bringing it to the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
[title of show] initially premiered as one of the Off-Broadway shows of the 2006 season, before playing on Broadway in 2008. One of the most notable small musicals out there, [title of show] is filled with humor and heart. It showcases its incredible ingenuity through clever writing and composition, and featured lightning in a bottle cast chemistry.
[title of show] is also notable for its fan impact at the beginning of the social media era. The cast of released a video blog chronicling the show's journey to Broadway, entitled The [title of show] Show. Before the mania of the Hamilton stage door became commonplace, the [title of show] stage door was a little-engine-that-could story of fan success, connecting with theatre lovers on YouTube in a way that had never been done before.
Watch a reunion of the [title of show] cast members on Stars in the House.
The Last Five Years
The Last Five Years, written by Jason Robert Brown, is a beautiful, moving, small cast musical that explores the complexities of a relationship from the perspectives of its two characters, Jamie and Cathy. Jamie's perspective of the musical moves forward in time, his storyline told in chronological order, while Cathy's story moves in reverse chronological order. The audience views their relationship from both sides, getting the full scope of emotions as Jamie and Cathy go from their first date to the breakdown of their relationship, physically crossing paths only once during the course of the show.
The Last Five Years was first produced in 2002 as an Off-Broadway show, and has since had an Off-Broadway revival, a production an Ireland, an Off West End production, a production in São Paulo, and a film adaptation.
The popularity of The Last Five Years speaks to the show's universality, and it's portrayal of love, hope, and heartbreak continues to touch audiences around the world.
Check out a trailer for the 2014 film adaptation of The Last Five Years.
Songs for a New World
Songs for a New World, also written by Jason Robert Brown, is one of the best small cast musicals for many reasons. The sung-through show toes the line between musical and song cycle and features four performers who take on the roles of different characters throughout the show. All of the show's characters are faced with a moment in their lives in which they have to make a decision and choose whether, and how, to move forward or turn back. The music of the show features a range of styles, and the overarching theme of the show is relatable to everybody.
Songs for a New World originally opened Off-Broadway in 1995, and has had many productions around the world since.
Watch Jason Robert Brown sings "She Cries" from Songs for a New World.
The Mad Ones
The Mad Ones by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk's is a small musical with themes that feel larger than life. The show centers on the character of high school valedictorian Samantha Brown, whose best friend Kelly was hit by a speeding car and died just before graduation. Samantha is torn between choosing the life that her mother always wanted for her or charting a new path for herself.
The Mad Ones originated as an Off-Broadway show, which premiered in 2017, and has since built a massive fanbase. The show has a bestselling cast album, inspired viral fan-art videos, and continues to touch theatre-lovers through its beautiful music and emotional themes.
Watch an animatic for "Go Tonight" from The Mad Ones.
Nunsense is one of the best-known small cast musicals out there! Originally opening as an Off-Broadway show in 1985, Nunsense went on to run for 3,672 performances, becoming the second-longest-running Off-Broadway show in history!
Nunsense is a comedic musical that follows a talent show staged by the five nuns at the Little Sisters of Hoboken nunnery - the rest of the sisterhood succumbed to botulism after eating vichyssoise prepared by Sister Julia, Child of God.
The show's incredible success spawned six sequels: Nunsense 2: The Second Coming, Sister Amnesia's Country Western Nunsense Jamboree, Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical, Meshuggah-Nuns!, Nunsensations: The Nunsense Vegas Revue, and Nunset Boulevard. Nunsense and Nunsense 2 were also adapted for television, starring Rue McClanahan as the mother superior.
Watch Terri White and Rue McClanahan performing "Just a Couple of Sisters".
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown is one of the most well-known small cast musicals! The show features the characters from the Peanuts comics: Charlie Brown, Lucy van Pelt, Linus van Pelt, Patty, Sally Brown, Schroeder, and Snoopy!
The show originally premiered Off-Broadway in 1967. A West End production opened in 1968, and a production opened on Broadway in 1971. The show had a US tour in 1998, a Broadway revival in 1999, and an Off-Broadway revival in 2016. The show has garnered Drama Desk Awards, Tony Awards, and a Grammy Award.
Filled with characters that we know and love, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown has maintained its staying power throughout the years and remains high on the list of small musicals you should know about!
Watch Kristin Chenoweth perform "My New Philosophy" From You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown at the 1999 Tony Awards.
Forever Plaid is a popular, four-person musical written by Stuart Ross. The show debuted as an Off-Broadway musical revue in 1989 an has had international success. The show follows the Plaids, a 1950s style quartet who died in a collision with a bus filled Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles' on The Ed Sullivan Show, who returns from the afterlife to chase their dreams of musical glory.
Songs in the musical include: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, Chain Gang, Heart and Soul, and more. The show is a popular choice for theatres all over the country, and spawned a film adaptation in 2009!
Check out a promo for the Forever Plaid film adaptation.
Ordinary Days is a small cast musical that everyone should know, filled with meaningful themes and beautiful musical. Ordinary Days is a sung-through musical featuring music and lyrics by Adam Gwon. The show follows the lives of four characters in New York City, Claire, Jason, Warren, and Deb, exploring how their "ordinary" lives intersect in incredible ways.
Ordinary Days ranks high on the list of best small cast musicals, and has had an incredible production history! The show boasts an Off-West End production and an Off-West End revival, as well as an Off-Broadway production and an Off-Broadway revival, and has been produced in Australia, Paris, Barcelona, Israel, Rio de Janeiro, Scotland and most recently Madrid.
Ordinary Days is a small musical that is guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings and have you appreciating the "ordinary" moments in your own life.
Watch original Off-Broadway show cast members Hunter Foster & Lisa Brescia perform "Fine" from Ordinary Days.
Altar Boyz featuring music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker and book by Kevin Del Aguila, opened as an Off-Broadway show in 2005. The show closed in 2010 after 2032 performances, making it the 9th longest-running Off-Broadway musical of all time!
Altar Boyz is a small cast musical that centers on a Christian boy band from Ohio made up of Matthew, the frontman; Mark, the sensitive one; Luke, the bad boy; Juan, the Latin lover, and Abraham, the "gefilte-fish-out-of water" Jewish boy in the band. The musical satirizes the boy band phenomenon in pop culture, and uses catchy tunes, high energy, and comedy draw in audiences!
Altar Boyz has had a US tour, as well as productions in Korea, Hungary, Finland, Australia, the Philippines, Japan and more.