In Case You Missed It: Dramatics Magazine’s 2009-2010 play survey

October 26, 2011

I know this is old, but it’s still interesting:

The top ten musicals are, I think, a little more current than the top ten plays. The oldest show (Wizard of Oz) is from 1939, the second oldest from 1957 (Music Man), and the third oldest from 1959 (Once Upon A Mattress) You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown is from 1967, Grease from 1971. The rest of the shows were all written after 1980, with two shows from the ’90s, and two from the ’00s. By contrast, only one of the plays dates from later than 1990, two are from the ’80s, and the rest were either written before 1955 or are adaptations of books written before 1900. I suspect the reason for this conservatism in the plays and a slightly more adventurous outlook in the musicals probably stems from the people making the decisions; many school plays are directed by faculty who learned the plays in college and are interested in teaching them as literature, where musicals are often directed by faculty who caught the theater bug at some point. Having written that hypothesis down, though, it looks suspect, so I hope some of you readers will put me straight. Why are the plays so much older than the musicals?

Another article on the ETA website (which is awesome, by the way) provides more background info, including the fact that the survey is usually based on 800 or so responding schools, and that there are thousands of titles, which means that it doesn’t take many productions for a show to hit the top ten.

Grease will probably always be on the musical top ten list, but we can see that Bye Bye Birdie and High School Musical didn’t make the cut. Only one Shakespeare play made the top ten. Does anybody else see any patterns here?

Top 10 Musicals:

1. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, by Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and Linda Woolverton (MTI)

2. Seussical, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (MTI)

3. (tie) Grease, by Jim Jacobs and Warrren Casey (Samuel French)

3. (tie) Into the Woods,1 by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine (MTI)

5. Footloose, by Dean Pitchford, Walter Bobbie, and Tom Snow (Rodgers and Hammerstein)

6. (tie) The Wizard of Oz (multiple adaptations), by L. Frank Baum, Harold Arlen, and E.Y. Harburg (Tams-Witmark)

6. (tie) You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, by Clark Gesner (Tams-Witmark)

8. The Music Man,1 by Meredith Willson (MTI)

9. Once Upon a Mattress, by Mary Rodgers, Marshall Barer, Jay Thompson, and Dean Fuller (Rodgers and Hammerstein)

10. Thoroughly Modern Millie, by Jeanine Tesori, Dick Scanlon, and Richard Morris (MTI)

1. Includes productions of the publisher’s “junior” versions.

Top 10 Full Length Plays

1. Almost, Maine, by John Cariani (Dramatists Play Service)

2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare (public domain)

3. You Can’t Take It With You, by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (Dramatists Play Service)

4. Noises Off, by Michael Frayn (Samuel French)

5. Twelve Angry Men2 by Reginald Rose (Dramatic Publishing Co.)

6. (tie) Alice in Wonderland (various adaptations of the book by Lewis Carroll)

6. (tie) The Crucible, by Arthur Miller (Dramatists Play Service)

6. (tie) Our Town, by Thornton Wilder (Samuel French)

9. (tie) Fools, by Neil Simon (Samuel French)

9. (tie) A Christmas Carol (various adaptations of the book by Charles Dickens)

2. Includes productions under the title Twelve Angry Jurors and Twelve Angry Women




  1. hey Peter! I think there are a couple of reasons for the more dated play choices: 1. Contemporary playwrights aren’t writing for large casts. Most theatres can’t afford to payroll a play with a cast of 8 or more, so playwrights are thinking small, or finding clever ways that allow 4 actors to play 30+ characters (see ALMOST, MAINE). 2. Contemporary playwrights address grittier subject matter, with its corresponding language, than their peers from the kinder, gentler days of OUR TOWN and YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Even THE CRUCIBLE gets a little dicey with adultery, but it’s saved by the language/social constraints of 17th century Puritan New England.

    I think there are way more choices out there than most high school theatre directors are aware of–I often look to the seasons of big, ensemble-based rep companies for ideas (the Guthrie, Steppenwolf, People’s Light…). But the publishers could be helping us (and themselves) out by pointing us in different directions on their websites. Plays that list “flexible casting” can be gold mines, but if you don’t know to look for them you miss the boat.

  2. I think Grease and Beauty and the Beast have a lot of momentum because of their enormously successful movie versions. Lots of the older musicals also have the kind of school/family-friendly content that won’t raise eyebrows among parents (see Megan’s comment above).

    I still remember our high school version of Cabaret in which Sally had a miscarriage instead of an abortion. It makes me angry now to think about it. I’d rather see kids do an unchanged older play or musical with little objectionable content, than a watered-down version of a newer show with language, sex, and other “controversial” content removed.

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