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Best Broadway and Musical Theatre Cast Recordings, Ranked

Do you also adore the passion of listening a full musical theatre cast recording? Are you seeking an in-depth ranking of the best Broadway shows to play on repeat and sing (or even dance performatively) along with to lift your mood? You’ve come to the right place!

What are my credentials to rank musical theatre recordings like this? Well, I listen to a LOT of cast recordings — playing a different full Broadway album at least twice a week, whilst chopping vegetables to batch-cook for my family’s meals.

It looks a little something like: Chop two carrots, then twirl around the kitchen and do jazz hands. Slice three onions, then shimmy and do a Fosse kick.. and repeat. Standard Sunday activities, right? Anyway, I’ve gone DEEP into the world of musicals.

Broadway neon signs in Times Square, NYC.
Neon signs in Times Square, NYC.

I’ve created this list because it’s what I wish I had when I was starting my journey into exploring musicals. My hope is that this ranking will help others expand their repertoire of go-to albums to play to feel good — and get the hips swiveling. Though my taste spans the decades (I love old as well as new shows), I have very specific criteria for musical theatre cast recordings that I put on again and again. What are they?

My Criteria for Great Musical Theatre Cast Recordings:

Your requirements for what makes a good Broadway or musical theatre cast recording may very, but I’m quite strict in mine. Here they are.

A. They’re singable, danceable, melodic, and beautiful.

While some shows make great spectacles to watch in the theater, not every musical yields a fantastic cast recording to listen to again and again. Albums with too much talking, dissonance, or “breaking up the dancing and singing” don’t make my list.

B. They have an adult feel (not be targeted to children) and be deep and inspiring.

Being the mother of two young children, I already listen to an abundance of kiddo-related music — much of which I do still find deep and beautiful. (“Moana” and “Encanto!”) That said, when it’s time for me to pick the album I want to play for my adult self, I gravitate towards more grown-up themes. This means that “Annie,” “Shrek,” and “Sound of Music” — though GREAT recordings that I highly recommend — are not on this list.

C. They’re overall uplifting, and not upsetting.

I have a very low tolerance for overly gross or tragic themes. For this reason, “West Side Story” doesn’t rank high for me, and I haven’t been able to get into “Sweeney Todd,” “Parade,” or “Urinetown.”

D. They have fewer than 1-2 songs that are jarring and need to be skipped.

What I look for in a musical recording is as close to an actual music album as I can get — with an emphasis on the music. For example, though I was excited about the concept of “Kimberly, Akimbo,” I couldn’t get into the cast recording because it was less “song and dance” and more “talking play.” Belting out songs along with the singers is key for me here.

Now that we know what gets an album onto my list, what are my actual rankings of best? Buckle up, and get ready to see if you agree…

Inside the Water Kerr theatre in NYC.
Inside the Water Kerr theatre in NYC.

Best Broadway and Musical Theatre Cast Recordings

Given this criteria, here is my ranking for best Broadway and musical theatre cast recordings that I recommend to listen to! Every album on this list is one I’ve listened to over 100 times (no exaggeration) and know every word to, so I’m coming from a place of extreme geekery here.

1. “Bridges of Madison County”

To me, the cast recording of Broadway’s 2014 “Bridges of Madison County” is hands-down the best musical theatre album I’ve ever heard — and yet it’s missing from nearly every other list. Yet, this recording has it all: Gorgeous songs that are both fast and slow, melodic and memorable riffs, and profound reflections on life. Highly recommend!

Favorite song: “Another Life.”

Favorite line: “But what a choice, and what a gift, and what a blessing! …Love is always better” (from the song, “Always Better”).

2. “Hadestown”

Being an English teacher, I find the lyrics of “Hadestown” absolutely brilliant, weaving motifs, foreshadowing, and other literary elements in with stunning songs. I was over the moon to score tickets to see the original Broadway cast in NYC in 2018, and saw the play again with the traveling company that came through Boston.

I find this album to be such an emotional, cathartic journey to listen to from start to finish, and the treatment of Persephone’s drinking was actually instrumental in my decision to stop drinking alcohol.

Favorite song: “Flowers.”

Favorite line: “All I know’s you’re someone I have always known… And I don’t even know you” (from “All I’ve Ever Known”).

Seeing the original cast of Hadestown in NYC!
Seeing the original cast of Hadestown in NYC!

3. “Dear Evan Hansen”

As a parent, teacher, and human, I find “Dear Evan Hansen” extremely moving, though I’ve never seen the play or movie. Ben Platt’s vibrato can’t be beat!

Favorite song: “Anybody Have a Map.”

Favorite line: “Does anybody have a map? Anybody maybe happen to know how the h**l to do this? I don’t know if you can tell, but this is me just pretending to know” (about parenting)!

4. “Cabaret”

I saw a local theatre production of “Cabaret” several years ago in a small neighborhood of Boston, as well as a different one at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, and was utterly blown away by how powerful the story is. Its combination of pain and joy are expertly — and in a strange way, very realistically — woven together. The energy of this play has gotten me though many a difficult time… and it’s so fun to dance to, too!

Favorite song: “I Don’t Care Much.” (I didn’t appreciate this song until I saw it staged. It gets at the heart of the play’s inquiry of apathy versus action.)

Favorite line: “When I go, I’m going like Elsie!” (from “Cabaret”).

5. “Hamilton”

I’m not sure what I can add to the already ample discussion of “Hamilton” beyond saying that it absolutely belongs on a ranked list of best Broadway cast recordings of all time! Though I didn’t get to see the original cast in NYC, I did adore the productions in Cleveland and Boston, as well as the televised version. I recommend seeing at least the filmed version to fully appreciate how the staging adds to the lyrics.

Favorite song: “Burn” (I’ll never forget the first time I heard it — WOW).

Favorite line: “You’ve married an Icarus; he has flown too close to the sun.”

Me seeing a production of Evita in Boston.
Me seeing a production of Evita in Boston.

6. “Evita”

I love, love, LOVE the cast recording of Evita, and recently got to see the revival at Boston’s ART American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA. Though everyone always remembers the song “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” there are so many other (I dare say, even better) numbers in the recording — many of which are highly danceable. This album is very intense, emotionally and melodically, and I do usually skip the song “Art of the Possible” because I find it a little creepy.

Favorite song: “Buenos Aires” (it gets me so pumped up)!

Favorite line: “If ever I go too far, it’s because of the things you are… Beautiful town, I love you!”

7. “In the Heights”

The original Broadway cast recording of “In the Heights” is worth many, many listens. It’s a long album with a wide range of songs and a clear story arc. It’s hard to choose just one favorite song, but I’ll pick the one that makes me smile every time.

Favorite song: “Benny’s Dispatch.”

Favorite line in the recording: “Look at the fireworks, fireworks!” (from “Blackout” — the chord progressions here make me gasp in awe every time).

8. “SMASH” (from the TV show)

Ok, I’m including the songs from the TV show, “SMASH” because they are SO VERY GOOD, even though they’re not technically from a show. Word is that they’re working on a real Broadway musical based on the play-within-a-show, “Bombshell,” which I eagerly await. That said, the second season of the show (with Jeremy Jordan!) had an excellent fake musical in it too, “Hit List,” which I also hope will turn into a play. Fun fact: My son is named partially after one of the characters in this show!

Favorite song: “Don’t Forget Me” (This musical number in the finale of the first season is the single most amazing 10 minutes I have ever seen on television.)

Favorite line: “But forget every man who I ever loved, ’cause they only lived to control.” (I will always remember Karen Cartwright’s facial expression when she uttered those words, and the final arc of her outstretched arms!)

A quick note about the new Broadway musical, “Some Like It Hot:” while I enjoy the cast recording of that new play immensely, it’s by the same composers as “SMASH,” and many of the songs are actually repurposed SMASH tunes. (Juxtapose them together and you’ll see.) For that reason, I’m not including “Some Like it Hot” in this ranking, though I do recommend it.

9. “Rent”

How can I leave out the musical that started it all for me, and many others? I smile, recalling the many evenings I spent in middle school with friends, chanting every word of every song.

Favorite song: “Take Me or Leave Me” (How many of us have either quoted or alluded to this tune during real-life breakups?)

Favorite line: “Take me for what I am — Who I was meant to be!”

10. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”

Speaking of formative musicals, “Hedwig” has been one of the central soundtracks of my life, and its themes of unity versus division resonate eternally. I loooove John Cameron Mitchell, and the movie scene in which Tommy Gnosis stopped lip synching during the line, “And if you’ve got no other choice, you know you can follow my… voice” shook me to the core. Every song and line in this album is gold.

Favorite song: “Wicked Little Town” (Both versions. Swoon.)

Favorite line: “On nights like this… When the world’s a bit amiss…” (from “Wig in a Box).

11. “Merrily We Roll Along”

I was completely oblivious to “Merrily” until I was invited to a phenomenal production of the show at the Huntington Theatre in Boston. It was so good, I went back and saw it a second time the next week. The backwards story and songs — and the resulting dramatic irony — in this Stephen Sondheim gem make a person totally reevaluate their life. What a play!

Favorite song: “Good Thing Going.”

Favorite line: “Did someone say money? Well I like money a lot — I mean, it’s better than not!” (from “Franklin Shephard, Inc.”)

12. “The Band’s Visit”

The movie of “The Band’s Visit” is one of the most profound depictions of human connection versus loneliness that I’ve ever seen, so I was perplexed about how it would be turned into a musical… until I heard the score. Zowie!

Katrina Lenk knocks it out of the park (watch a video of her singing if you can), and “Answer Me” is one of my all-time favorite musical theatre songs of all time. That said, the cast recording doesn’t have many songs, and some are repetitive or slightly awkward, so this play is ranked this high because of the strength of its standout tunes, passion, and message.

Favorite song: “Answer Me.”

Favorite line: “My ears are thirsty for your voice.”

13. “Xanadu”

If you want to feel really, really good (and wiggle up a storm on a makeshift dance floor), pop on the movie soundtrack or cast recording of “Xanadu.” The vibes are as warm and colorful as the ABC Islands.

This Olivia Newton John roller disco confection also has surprisingly deep messages about art inspiration and creative success. I reveled in the local theatre production of this in my neighborhood in Boston last year, as did my young children, who attended as well. There aren’t many adult musicals that are kid-friendly, but this one usually is.

Favorite song: “Magic” (I channel it whenever I need an artistic muse).

Favorite line in the recording: “You have to believe we are magic… Nothin’ can stand in our way!”

14. “Phantom of the Opera”

After “RENT,” “Phantom of the Opera” was the cast recording that got me into musical theatre. It’s juicy, dark, and sensual — but I have to admit that I don’t listen to it much anymore because, first, I have played it already so many times, and second, because it’s such a wallop of an emotional journey.

Favorite song: “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Favorite line: “In all your fantasies, you always knew… That man and mystery
were both in you!”

15. “Jesus Christ, Superstar”

The album for “Jesus Christ, Superstar” is uneven in that there are some highly strange, jarring, and dissonant tracks, but I have to include the recording on this list because the beauty of so many of its songs merits it. If you have a moment to watch the opening number from the 70s movie version of it, your breath will be taken away.

Favorite song: “Heaven on Their Minds” (the opening number mentioned).

Favorite line: “Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine, and we want you to sleep well tonight… Let the world turn without you tonight” (from “Everything’s Alright”).

16. “Little Shop of Horrors”

Musically, this play has fabulous numbers, though some verge on a bit silly. Now, as a student of racial and economic power structures, I find the casting choices and dynamics in “Little Shop of Horrors” endlessly fascinating, and am particularly delighted by the path modern directors are taking with it.

For example, casting Audrey with a Black or trans actress adds a wonderful new nuance to the lyrics and thrust of the play. Also check out the NPR “Tiny Desk” video from 2023 of the man who plays the plant, Audrey II. Epic baritone voice and smile!

Favorite song: “Skid Row (Downtown)”

17. “Spring Awakening”

If you’re seeking a cast recording that’s similar to a regular music album, I find “Spring Awakening” quite melodic and nice to listen to — and its music is by my fellow Brown University alum, Duncan Sheik!

Favorite song: “The Guilty Ones” (such a great song).

Favorite line: “And now our bodies are the guilty ones, who touch and color the hours… Night won’t breathe — oh, how we fall in silence from the sky… And whisper some silver reply: Whoa.”

18. “The Secret Garden”

Though this musical is verging on the “children’s” category, I’m including it in this list because “The Secret Garden” was so formative growing up, and deals with major adult themes. I find Mary’s courage inspiring, and the battle between the two brothers electrifying. Fun fact: Dicken was John Cameron Mitchell’s mainstream breakout role!

Favorite song: “Lily’s Eyes” (watch a recording of this sung live, if you can).

Favorite line: “She has her eyes, she has my Lily’s hazel eyes — those eyes that loved my brother, never me!” (This is such an epic moment in the play, when you realize the root of the sibling rivalry.)

The stage and set for Hadestown in NYC.
The stage and set for Hadestown in NYC.

19. “Chicago”

Though the topic of “Chicago” is technically upsetting, it’s done in such a cartoonish, Times Square way that the play is ultimately just fun and light to me. I love the jazzy recording, and adore blasting it to dance to.

Favorite song: “Funny Honey” (my karaoke go-to!)

Favorite line: “Oh, I’m no one’s wife — but oh, I LOVE MY LIFE! And all… that… jazz!” (from “All That Jazz”).

20. “Camelot”

I spend a lot of time thinking about the dynamics of the “Camelot” story. It’s such a complex concept, and the character of Guinevere is fascinating. The play has a funny mix of humor and sadness. I would recommend the older recording, because the new 2023 Broadway album leaves out one of the best songs.

Favorite song: “The Lusty Month of May.”

Favorite line: “It’s time to do a shocking thing or two!”

21. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Though “Seven Brides” has been pushed away due to its problematic storyline, I assert that there’s a very strong feminist interpretation of the play and movie that’s being overlooked, and also unequivocally love the soundtrack.

Favorite song: “The Barn Dance” (I challenge you not to dance to it!)

Favorite line in the recording: “Can’t make no vows to a herd of cows” (from “Lonesome Polecat”).

22. “Kiss Me Kate”

Though this classic old musical can get a little silly for my taste, it’s got some absolute show-stoppers that I sing to pump me up for specific things. For example, I find “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” the perfect framework for us veteran teachers reopening our classrooms! It’s really exciting to think about education as a sort of repeated performance, where every year you bring new life to the story.

Favorite song: “Why Can’t You Behave?”

Favorite line in the recording: “Even without you… My arms fold about you…” (from “So in Love”).

23. “Les Miserables”

Of course, “Les Mis” needs to be on this list. It’s an incredible story and recording, but I don’t listen to it super often because, first, it has several overly jarring songs, and second, it’s such an emotional punch.

Favorite song: “Stars” (so passionate and full of character complexity!)

22. “Guys and Dolls”

This is one of my favorite shows, probably because I grew up listening to it. The songs on the 1992 cast recording of “Guys and Dolls” are tight, fun, and glorious to dance to — even if there are some problematic messages. (Note: If you like dance workouts, check out “Let’s Get Up” with Shaun T.)

Favorite song: “A Bushel and a Peck” (a hoot to gyrate to)

Favorite line in the recording: “It beats me all to heck, how I’ll ever tend the farm — Ever tend the farm when I wanna keep my arm about you, about you!”

23. “The Music Man”

Continuing on classic old musicals I grew up on — I played my cassette tape of “The Music Man” soundtrack until the ribbons inside got all stretched out! There are no words for how good Robert Preston is.

Favorite song: “The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl.”

Favorite line: “I snarl, I hiss, how can ignorance be compared to bliss? I spark, I fizz for the lady who knows what time it is!”

24. “Hello, Dolly”

Barbara Streisand for the win! There are several versions of this recording, but Babs is my favorite because of her melodic voice. (In some versions by other actresses, Dolly just yells her lines.)

Favorite song: “Before The Parade Passes By” (so moving!)

25. Honorable Mention Musicals:

There are several musicals that you might expect to make this list that I’m leaning off. For example, “A Chorus Line” has one of my favorite songs ever (“What I Did For Love”) but I find the album as a whole uneven. That said, if you haven’t listened to “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” do it — it’s awesome.

My Fair Lady” is lovely (“On the Street Where You Live” gets ten stars), but it has problematic themes and too many jarring moments to get lots of repeated listens from me.

The musical “Wicked” has some awesome tunes (“Defying Gravity,” of course), but again, I find the album uneven, and stressful in parts. I don’t fully connect with it on a heart level.

I love the movie of “Funny Girl,” (such a profound portrayal of male fragility in the face of female success!) and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” is THE BEST, but the album as a whole doesn’t tend to get my repeat plays — I think because the songs are so famous, I’ve heard them already too many times. (Do check out the Lea Michelle video from the 2022 Macy’s Day Parade for pure exhilaration.)

Though “Oklahoma” has some EXCELLENT songs (“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin” cheers me up every time), I find the storyline of this play and movie so creepy that I can’t give it full focus.

Cats” has the indelible favorite, “Memories,” but apart from that, is thin and… odd.

Into the Woods” has some beauties (like “Children Will Listen” — I do love Bernadette Peters, and even got to see her in person) but is overall not adequately adult-themed or consistent enough for my taste.

Finally, an honorable mention goes to the old movie musicals like “White Christmas” (Rosemary Clooney!) and the Marilyn Monroe film of “Some Like it Hot” (“Through With Love” is an amazing song) which have glorious soundtracks, but aren’t exactly musical theatre.

Best Broadway Shows and Musical Theatre Recordings, in Sum

So what do you think — do you agree with my rankings? Am I missing important shows on this list that you think I might like? I’m open to trying new cast recordings, so send your recommendations my way. I could geek out about musical theatre and Broadway shows all day long, so let’s get this discussion going!


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Saturday 24th of June 2023

I would definitely add Miss Saigon in the list. An American in Paris — it’s sweet but not sure it belongs to best best.

Lillie Marshall

Thursday 6th of July 2023

Ah, thanks for the additions! I do love one song from "Miss Saigon" but I think I've avoided the play because of its problematic topics. I'll give it another listen, though. "An American in Paris" hasn't really been on my radar -- time to remedy that.

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