Think “musicals” and you think “New York City.”
42nd Street, Broadway, bright lights, tap dancing chorines, quirky and neurotic 20-somethings who overthink (and soliloquize) every inch of their romantic relationships….
From classics like West Side Story and 42nd Street, to new kids on the block like I Love You Because and In Pieces (*cough* by 2023 MusicalWriters Festival Keynote Speaker Joey Contreras *cough*), there is no shortage of musicals set in the Big Apple.
But what about the rest of the United States?
Where are the contemporary musicals set in modern-day Oklahoma? Or Idaho? Or Texas?
Whether you are a director looking for a show to produce or a writer looking for inspiration, here are 10 contemporary, modern-day musicals set entirely in US locations outside of New York.
Note: As someone who grew up in Nebraska and currently lives in Oklahoma, it was important to me to find musicals for this list that did not pander to “country” stereotypes. Instead, I wanted to select shows that presented at least a somewhat authentic representation of their locations. I tried to find musicals that represented as much diversity as possible, but I don’t think it’s a secret that the world of musical theater is disproportionately palm-colored. Please, please, please, if you know of additional musicals – either available for licensing or in production – that should be added to this list, particularly those that represent BIPOC or LGBTQ+ voices– let me know in the comments below, and I will update!
Music and lyrics by Mark Allen, Book by Gaby Alter and Tommy Newman
Set in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Band Geeks tells the story of a tiny and struggling high school marching band that comes together to win the state championship. Available for licensing through Musical Theatre International. https://www.mtishows.com/band-geeks
BE MORE CHILL
Music and lyrics by Joe Iconis, Book by Joe Tracz
Set in Metuchen, New Jersey, Be More Chill is based on the 2004 Novel of the same name. It tells the story of average teenager Jeremy Heere, and the tiny supercomputer that promises to bring him everything he desires most. Be More Chill is licensed by Concord Theatricals. For more information, visit https://www.bemorechillmusical.com/
Music by Ted Shen, Book and lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh
Set in the town of Broadbend, Arkansas, this 2-person musical tells the story of a an African-American family as they grapple with decades of inequality, violence, and suppression in the South. Available for licensing through StageRights. For more information, visit https://www.stagerights.com/allshows/broadbend-arkansas/
HANDS ON A HARDBODY
Music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, Book by Doug Wright
Set in Longview, Texas, Hands on a Hardbody follows a group of people competing in a contest to win a truck by keeping their hands on it for as long as possible. Hands on a Hardbody is available for licensing through Concord Theatricals. http://www.handsonahardbody.com/
Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Set in Secaucus, New Jersey, Kimberly Akimbo tells the story of a teenager with a rare disease who must navigate high school and her dysfunctional family. Currently on Broadway, the musical is based on the play by the same name by Lindsay-Abaire, which is available for licensing through Dramatists Play Service. For more information, visit https://kimberlyakimbothemusical.com
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Music and lyrics by William Finn, Book by James Lapine
Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico (and along a road trip to Redondo Beach, California), Little Miss Sunshine is based on the 2006 movie of the same name. The musical follows a dysfunctional family as they take a road trip to a beauty pageant. Available for licensing through Music Theatre International. More information at https://www.mtishows.com/little-miss-sunshine
MAY WE ALL
Book by Troy Britton Johnson and Todd Johnson, Music by various artists
Set in Harmony, Tennessee, May We All tells the story of a singer/songwriter who returns to her hometown after attempting a music career in Nashville. The score is composed of 90s country hits like “Achy Breaky Heart” and “Wide Open Spaces.” It also features two original songs co-written by Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard. Available for licensing through Music Theatre International. For more information, visit https://www.mayweallthemusical.com/
Book by Robert Horn, Score by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally
As of this writing, Shucked is currently in previews on Broadway. Because of all the mystery surrounding the show, it is hard to tell what side of stereotype this self-proclaimed “corn-fed, corn-bred American musical” falls. But one thing we know for sure at this point: it is NOT set in New York. For more information, visit https://www.shuckedmusical.com/
SMALL TOWN STORY
Book and Lyrics by Sammy Buck, Music and Lyrics by Brandon James Gwinn
Set in a small town in north Texas, Small Town Story is about two families who struggle with a community battle ignited when the local high school decides to put on the musical RENT. To learn more about Small Town Story, visit https://sammybuck.com/pages/showpages/small-town-story/
Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson
The musical Waitress is set in Indiana and is based on the 2007 film of the same name. Waitress tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a baker and waitress who falls in love with the town doctor and vies for victory in a pie baking championship. Waitress is currently unavailable for licensing, but rights are held by Musical Theatre International. For more information, visit https://waitressthemusical.com/
Through my research of contemporary musicals set outside of New York, one fact became clear: contemporary musical theatre in America needs more modern-day, original stories set in locations across the country.
If you are a musical theatre writer—in New York City or Paoli, Oklahoma—MusicalWriters can help you get your musical perfected, polished, and produced. We need you to help add to this list of contemporary musicals set outside of New York. Consider joining MusicalWriters Academy to hone your craft and build connections wherever you are. Or join us for the Musical Writers Festival this July in Fort Worth, Texas!