Broadway Musicals vs Plays: Which One Should You Choose for Your NYC Trip in 2024?

Our family has seen many musicals and plays in New York on our annual visits and while living on the East Coast. If you’re in the city for a short visit and only have time for one or two shows, it can be hard to decide what to see. I hope this guide helps you decide which will be the best fit for you.

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When planning a trip to New York City, experiencing a Broadway show is a must. The lights, the stage, and the acting talent all come together to create a magical and unforgettable experience. However, with so many options available, choosing between a Broadway musical and a play can be a daunting task. Both art forms have their unique qualities and attractions, making the decision even more challenging.

In this article, we will explore the factors to consider when selecting the right show for your trip to Broadway and highlight the commonalities and differences between musicals and plays.

Music and Dance: The Heartbeat of Musicals

If you’re someone who enjoys music, singing, and dancing, then a Broadway musical is likely to be just up your street. Musicals are known for their elaborate song and dance numbers, catchy tunes, and vibrant choreography. From the moment the curtain rises, you will be immersed in a world where characters express their feelings through the power of music. The carefully choreographed dance sequences add an extra layer of excitement and energy to the performances. Whether it’s a tap-dancing extravaganza or a heartwarming ballad, the music and dance in musicals create a lively and electric atmosphere that is hard to resist.

Here Lies Love delivers an immersive theatrical experience that showcases the power of choreography and engaging dance elements. This innovative musical, conceived by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, tells the remarkable story of Imelda Marcos, the former First Lady of the Philippines.

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Set in a pulsating discotheque, the production seamlessly blends catchy pop tunes, dynamic choreography, and immersive staging to transport audiences into the heart of Imelda’s world. The choreography, expertly crafted by Annie-B Parson, is a vibrant fusion of disco, club, and traditional Filipino dance styles. The energetic movements and synchronised routines performed by the talented ensemble create a pulsating rhythm that propels the narrative forward, making Here Lies Love an exhilarating feast for the senses and a testament to the transformative power of dance on the Broadway stage.

SIX, the sensational pop musical, places a strong emphasis on the cast’s singing prowess and showcases the exceptional vocal performances of its cast. This electrifying production, created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, reimagines the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII through a contemporary lens. With its cleverly written songs and dynamic harmonies, SIX shines a spotlight on each queen’s unique personality. The vocal performances of the six actresses are a tour de force, combining powerful belts, impressive vocal range, and impeccable control. The show’s structure allows each queen to take centre stage and deliver poptastic, show-stopping solos and ensemble numbers, showcasing their individual talents and the strength of their collective voices. SIX will leave you in awe of the casts’ remarkable talent and the unforgettable musical experience they create.

Storytelling and Acting: The Power of Plays

If you appreciate immersive storytelling and powerful performances, a Broadway play might be more suitable. Plays primarily focus on dialogue, character development, and dramatic narratives. Through the art of acting, the actors convey complex emotions and bring the characters to life right before your eyes. The absence of musical numbers allows plays to delve deeper into the intricacies of storytelling and explore the depths of human experiences. The emphasis on dialogue and character development allows actors to showcase their acting prowess and captivate the audience with their raw and authentic performances.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a stunning theatrical experience that continues J.K. Rowling’s beloved wizarding saga on the Broadway stage. Presented in two parts, the play follows Harry Potter and his friends as adults, grappling with new challenges and rediscovering the enduring bonds of friendship and family. The power of storytelling is what drives this production, as the exceptional cast delivers captivating performances, immersing the audience in the magical world of Hogwarts. With breathtaking special effects and a gripping narrative, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child showcases the transformative power of theatre and brings the beloved characters and their adventures to life in a whole new way.

Genre and Theme: Exploring the Possibilities

When deciding between watching a musical and a play, it is essential to consider the genre or theme that appeals to you the most. Musicals cover a wide range of genres, from classic and contemporary to comedy, romance, and fantasy. Whether you are a fan of toe-tapping showstoppers, romantic love stories, or thrilling adventures, there is a musical out there for you. Plays, on the other hand, can explore a broader spectrum of themes, including drama, tragedy, comedy, historical events, social issues, and more. From thought-provoking dramas to hilarious comedies, plays offer a diverse array of stories and perspectives.

Kimberly Akimbo is a TonyⓇ Award-winning Best Musical that offers a unique blend of comedy and heart-wrenching honesty. Set in suburban New Jersey, the show follows Kimberly, a sixteen-year-old girl facing a rare genetic condition and various challenges as she navigates family dysfunction and her first crush. With a talented cast and a powerful story, Kimberly Akimbo celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of family. The show’s witty dialogue, stellar performances, and appreciation for life’s beauty make it a must-see Broadway experience. Don’t miss the chance to witness TonyⓇ Award nominee Victoria Clark shine in the title role of Kimberly Akimbo.

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Sweeney Todd brings a thrilling and chilling tale to Broadway. Directed by Thomas Kail and featuring the TonyⓇ and Grammy-nominated Josh Groban and TonyⓇ Award winner Annaleigh Ashford, this musical masterpiece by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler tells the story of a vengeful barber and a resourceful pie shop owner; as Sweeney Todd seeks revenge and uncovers his long-lost family, he forms a sinister partnership with Mrs Lovett, creating chaos on Fleet Street, and several servings of unforgettable pies. This revival production stays true to the original with Jonathan Tunick’s epic orchestration, allowing audiences to experience Sondheim’s TonyⓇ Award-winning score in its full glory. With its haunting musical numbers, beautifully written characters, and captivating plot, Sweeney Todd is a gripping Broadway experience that combines elements of dread, flirtation, and vengeance. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness this powerful narrative brought to life on stage.

Familiarity and Popularity: A Guiding Light

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the choices, considering any specific musical or play that you are already familiar with or have been recommended can be a helpful starting point. If a particular show has caught your attention or has received critical acclaim, it might make your decision easier and enhance your overall experience. Familiarity with the storyline, music, or the actors involved can create a sense of anticipation and excitement, making the show all the more enjoyable.

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The Lion King, the iconic Broadway production, has become a beloved and familiar spectacle for audiences worldwide. Based on the classic Disney animated film, this musical transports viewers to the African savannah, where they witness the epic journey of Simba, a lion cub destined to become king of his pride. With stunning visuals, awe-inspiring puppetry, and a captivating score by Elton John and Tim Rice, The Lion King delights audiences of all ages. This critically acclaimed show, featuring a talented cast and vibrant costumes, captures the magic and majesty of the original film, creating an unforgettable theatrical experience that continues to draw audiences year after year.

Wicked took the world by storm in 2001, captivating audiences with its imaginative reimagining of the untold story of the witches of Oz. This musical, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, reveals the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good. Set against the backdrop of the Land of Oz, the show explores the themes of friendship, identity, and the corrupting nature of power. With its unforgettable songs, dazzling costumes, and spectacular set design, Wicked has become a cultural phenomenon. This enchanting and empowering production has garnered a devoted fan base and continues to draw audiences with its universal themes and breathtaking theatricality.

Little Shop of Horrors is a cult classic that has garnered a dedicated following since its Off-Broadway premiere in the 1980s. This darkly comedic musical follows the story of Seymour, a down-on-his-luck florist who discovers a mysterious and carnivorous plant that feeds on human blood. As the plant grows and Seymour’s fame rises, he is faced with moral dilemmas and the consequences of his actions. With its catchy doo-wop-inspired score, memorable characters, and twisted humor, Little Shop of Horrors has become a beloved staple of the musical theatre canon. Its blend of horror, comedy, and memorable songs like ‘Suddenly Seymour’ has made it a perennial favourite among audiences.

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Moulin Rouge brings the glitz, glamour, and romance of Paris to the Broadway stage. Inspired by the Baz Luhrmann film, this electrifying musical takes audiences on a journey into the bohemian world of the legendary Moulin Rouge cabaret. With its stunning visuals, high-energy dance numbers, and an eclectic soundtrack featuring popular songs from various eras, Moulin Rouge offers a trully classy theatrical experience. The show captures the spirit of the original film while adding its own theatrical flair. Moulin Rouge has become a sensation, and has been drawing audiences for more than five years with its familiar songs and thrilling theatricality, creating a spectacle that is both nostalgic and contemporary.

Previous Experiences: Reflecting on Personal Preferences

Reflecting on your previous experiences with musicals and plays can also guide your decision. Consider whether you have had more enjoyable experiences watching musicals or plays in the past. Reflecting on your preferences and the impact those shows had on you can help you gauge which art form resonates with you more. While personal preferences may vary, acknowledging your past experiences can provide valuable insights into the types of shows that align with your taste.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to selecting a Broadway show. Broadway offers a diverse range of productions, ensuring that there is something for everyone to enjoy

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