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A Basic Guide To Musical Theatre Titles

You’ve heard the saying, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Sometimes you can’t tell what something is about just by the title. Well, almost anything because clearly “The Breakfast Club” isn’t about people eating pancakes. In the theatre world, sometimes you can tell what a show is about by the title.

Here’s my guide for the different kinds of musicals that you can tell what it’s about just by the title.

#1 When it’s a characters name…

When a musical is named after one of the characters, it is the story of that character. Many times they are either royal or an outcast. The plot is about their rise/fall or in some cases both.

For example: (Annie, Matilda, Sweeney Todd, Cinderella, Hamilton, Aida, Anastasia, Pippin, Evita, Barnum.) 

#2 An identity of a character but not their name…

Usually, in these shows, the titular character is marginalized due to their identity.

 For example: (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Miss Saigon, Phantom of the Opera, Waitress, Pretty Woman, My Fair Lady, Boy from Oz)

#3 Name of a place…

Titles that are the name of a place are about a group of disadvantaged characters. 

For Example: (A Bronx Tale, Chicago, Memphis, West Side Story, Mowtown, Oklahoma, Avenue Q)

#4 Metaphorical/ Double Meaning…

This is often seen when there is a focus on the relationships between characters. The plot is created by the change of dynamics between characters and not by outside conflicts. Most of the time these stories end in tragedy. 

For Example: (Falsettos, Rent, Next to Normal, Crazy for You, A Long Way Off, The Color Purple, Beautiful, The Last 5 Years, The Pajama Game)

#5 Includes but is not limited to the main characters name…

This is seen when all the characters are brought together because of the actions of the main character. Supporting roles may be rather well developed, but their presence ultimately revolves around the main character.

 For Example: (Dear Evan Hansen, Sunday in the Park with George, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar)

#6 Refers to the main character and applies to multiple people

Shows like this have very well-developed and complex supporting characters, Often the hold as much weight as the leads. These stories usually have a multi-generational timescale. 

For Example: (The Lion King, Hamilton, Wicked, A Long Way Off, Waitress, Sunday in the Park with George, Crazy for You, Grease, Hairspray, The Pajama Game)

#7 Ridiculously long

Many of these shows are an adaptation of a story with a modern, often comedic twist. For Example: (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, How to succeed in business without really trying, Once Upon a Mattress)

#8 Numbers

These have a plot that features a large ensemble cast without a clear main character For Example: (13, 1776, 9 to 5, 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee)

#9 Collective

The show is making a broad statement about a certain profession, social class, or way of life. It's a show about a group of people. For example: (A Chorus Line, Les Miserables, The Producers)

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Written by Mac McDonald

Erin "Mac" McDonald is a member of the International Thespian Society and has a passion to learn everything about theatre. She has been in numerous productions from church Christmas pageants to performing in a original musical.  One day she would like to become a director and playwright.

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