Putting on a large-scale musical with a huge cast, full orchestra and eye-popping choreography can be a daunting (and expensive) task for any organization. If you are working on a small stage, have a tiny budget or simply don’t have access to a lot of talent, producing a big musical might simply be impossible.
Luckily, there is no shortage of wonderful musicals that involve smaller casts and are even particularly effective in smaller venues. Here are five of our favorites:
1. Next to Normal
Next to Normal is the story of Diana Goodman and her family. Traumatized by the death of her infant son from an undiagnosed intestinal obstruction, Diana has lived with bipolar depressive disorder and delusional episodes for the past seventeen years. The illness has affected everyone in her life, and has nearly torn her family apart on several occasions. With subject matter rendered achingly recognizable by Brian Yorkey, and a dynamic, energetic pop-rock score by Tom Kitt, Next to Normal is a show that enables a small group of actors to showcase powerhouse vocals while exploring pressing contemporary issues of trauma, loss, mental health treatment, and the meaning of family. Read our full Next to Normal guide
2. The Last Five Years
Drama Desk award-winner The Last Five Years is Jason Robert Brown’s intimate window into a couple’s doomed marriage. Cathy, a struggling actress, and Jamie, a budding novelist on the brink of wild success, are 20-somethings in New York who meet, fall in love, marry, and divorce over the span of five years. Cathy tells the story from the end of their marriage; Jamie begins from when they first meet. As the musical unfolds, Cathy moves backward in time to the beginning of the relationship, as Jamie moves toward the end; they meet only once, in the middle, at their wedding. Since its Off-Broadway premiere in 2002, Brown’s funny, poignant, and devastatingly honest two-person production has enraptured audiences around the world with its spellbinding and emotional score and libretto. Read our full guide for The Last Five Years
3. [Title of Show]
Jeff and Hunter, two self-confessed nobodies in New York, make a pact: They will write an original musical and submit it to a festival. The only catch? The deadline is in three weeks! They gather two actress friends, Susan and Heidi, and an accompanist and music director, Larry, on the keys. With the full team assembled, Jeff and Hunter hit another roadblock: What should they write about? Jeff and Hunter decide to follow the old adage, “Write what you know,” and set off on a unique musical adventure: Writing a musical about writing a musical. As the deadline looms, insecurities creep in and jealousies flare. Will the team succeed with their musical? Could it even win a Tony?! In this intelligent, playful, lovable new musical, the audience is treated to an inside look at the tough work of being a creative artist. Frequently hilarious, occasionally heartbreaking, and thoroughly inspiring, [title of show] is a love story celebrating individuality and creativity. Read our full guide for [Title of Show]
4. You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown
Charles Schulz’s beloved comic comes to life in Clark Gesner’s classic musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The whole gang is here: bossy Lucy is hopelessly in love with piano prodigy Schroeder who doesn’t give her the time of day, perfectionist Sally is still mocking blanket-toting Linus, Snoopy is in the doghouse, and our beloved “blockhead,” himself, Charlie Brown, is in rare form. Brief vignettes span the months from Valentine’s Day to Beethoven Day, from wild optimism to utter despair. In this revised version, with additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and dialogue by Michael Mayer, the sweet, joyful innocence of the Peanuts gang is maintained, but a fresh insouciance and playfulness is revealed. An updated script features two new songs, particularly funny dialogue, and new, catchy orchestrations. Whether you’re keen to fly with the Red Baron, moon over the Moonlight Sonata, or just do your best to find “Happiness,” You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is a crowd-pleasing classic. Read our full guide for You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown
5. The Fantasticks
Whimsical, poignant, and romantic, The Fantasticks is an allegorical story that focuses on two young lovers, their meddling fathers, and the journey we all must take through adolescent thrills, the growing pains of hurt and betrayal, the highs of passion, the challenges of distance and the agonies of heartbreak to discover how to truly love. In a theatrical and inventive fashion, our gallant and enigmatic narrator — El Gallo — introduces us to a pair of young lovers — Matt and Luisa — who experience the magical, moonlit phase of falling in love. For a time, the romance is exciting, and heroics save the day. Then, however, El Gallo leads our young protagonists out of the romantic moonlight and into the harsh sun, where the weaknesses in their relationship are exposed and the reality of the struggles and heartache that love inevitably brings is revealed. With the understanding that “without a hurt the heart is hollow,” Matt and Luisa manage to find their own identities and, in turn, to discover their strengths as a couple in times of both darkness and light. With the record for the longest American theatrical run, The Fantasticks is a gem of the American musical theatre. Featuring timeless classics like “Try to Remember” and “Soon it’s Gonna Rain,” this simple and beautiful ensemble piece is as beloved and as timely as it was when it opened forty years ago. Read our full guide for The Fantasticks
Still haven’t found your ideal show? Browse our extensive library of guides for musicals with smalls casts.