Do your students know the varying sub-genres of musical theatre? Could they categorize shows based on structure, content, etc.? At the studio, we spend a lot of time talking about shows, choreographers, and musical theatre history. After all, theatre plays an important role in the history and evolution of dance, and it is important to discuss.

As an in-class activity, discuss the following sub-genres and have students guess or match different shows to styles (many shows fall in multiple sub-categories). To further enhance the lesson, when teaching musical theatre combinations, reference the sub-genres and styles to make your dancers more knowledgeable.

After all, knowledge is power!

Styles of Musical Theatre

African American

  • Musicals that explore African American history & culture
  • Examples: Porgy & Bess (1935), Memphis (2009)

Ballad Operas

  • Satirical dialog; interspersed with songs or opera
  • Examples: The Beggar’s Opera (1728), The Threepenny Opera (1928)

Book Musicals

  • Musical adaptations of novels or stories (strives for realism & integration)
  • Examples: Showboat (1928), Les Miserables (1985)


  • Theatre involving parody, cabaret, and, often, striptease (popular from 1860s to 1940s)
  • Style is depicted in films Moulin Rouge and All That Jazz

Concept Musicals

  • Musical where the show’s metaphor or statement is more important than the actual narrative.
  • Examples: Hair (1968) and Cats (1981)


  • Free in style and structure; extravaganzas are usually spectacular productions
  • Example: The Ziegfeld Follies (1907-1931)

Film Musicals

  • Films that use song and dance to support the storyline.
  • Examples: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Jukebox Musicals

  • Shows based on musical performers, styles, or eras. 
  • Examples: Mamma Mia (1999), Rock of Ages (2009), American Idiot (2010)

Mega-Musicals/Pop Operas

  • Large productions with elaborate special effects
  • Examples: The Phantom of the Opera (1986), Wicked (2003)

Music Hall/Vaudeville

  • Variety shows involving dance, music, singing, and specialty acts
  • Example: The Entertainer (1957)

Musical Adaptations

  • Plays derived from operas, films, and other plays.
  • Examples: West Side Story (Romeo & Juliet)Rent (La Boheme), Miss Saigon (Madame Butterfly)

Musical Comedies

  • Comic plays developed to amuse audiences
  • Examples: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (1967)Spamalot (2005)


  • Dramatic plays, involving classical musicians and singers
  • Examples: Madame Butterfly (1904) and Carmen (1875)


  • Light hearted opera, often comic
  • The Pirates of Penzance (1879) and Candide (1956)


  • Reworkings of existing plays are seen as a safer investment for producers.
  • Examples: Pippin (2013 Broadway Revival), Anything Goes (2011 Broadway Revival)

Rock Musicals & Rock Operas

  • Musicals with a rock music score. Stories are told using rock music.
  • Examples: Jesus Christ Superstar (1971), Next to Normal (2008), The Who’s Tommy (1992)

Spoof Musicals

  • A musical that mocks an original piece of work.
  • Example: Silence! The Musical, Forbidden Broadway


musical theatre

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