The top five musicals of all time? That's a toughie, and it's doubtful anyone could come up with a shortlist that any two theatre fans would agree on. But the top five rock musicals — that's a little easier.
Certainly there have been rock musicals since the show that is arguably the first rock musical, Hair, debuted more than 40 years ago, but far fewer than musical musicals. So the standouts are easier to pluck out. What's more, some of the choices are so obvious, you can't err too much in compiling the list. If you're going to talk top rock musicals of all time, you pretty much have to include Hair, which started everything. Ditto, Rent, which revived the category a quarter century later.
Now, let's be clear what we mean by "top." This is not a list of the best rock musicals. That's an entirely subjective matter and up to personal taste and one's own critical standards. By "top" we mean important, historically significant, influential—or, in the corporate-speak, sport-oriented parlance of the day: game-changers. After each of these five shows came along, all that came after was either subtly or dramatically different.
The five shows were decided by the Playbill.com staff. However, to buttress the selections, we asked a variety of artists variously connected to the rock musical genre to kick in their two cents as to why these productions were so remarkable. Some of them—such as Stephen Trask and Michael Mayer—were actually part of the creation of a couple of the shows in question. Others—Marc Shaiman, Stew, Diane Paulus—are fellow artists and appreciators.
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