4 Types of Musicals

by Steven J. Miller
Musicals often make use of an orchestra to support the singers.

Musicals often make use of an orchestra to support the singers.

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Musicals come in several forms. Four main types are revue, rock, operetta, and religious or political musicals. These four categories span a diverse range of content. Singers and actors involved in musical theater often will specialize in a particular type of musical. However, all musicals require the performers to have singing, dancing and acting abilities.


Operettas share common elements with operas, but they are usually shorter than operas. The singers in an opera sing throughout the entire performance, and when they do speak, they use a melodic speech called recitative. In contrast, operetta uses a combination of speech, singing and dancing to advance the plot. Operetta first provided a form of entertainment for those who could not afford to attend an opera. One example of an early operetta is "The Merry Widow" by Franz Lehar, which premiered in 1905. Operetta deals with lighter themes than opera, has English lyrics and always has a happy ending.


Revues provide a more diverse form of entertainment than a standard song-and-dance musical. Revues contain skits, dancers and singing, and exhibit the various talents of individual performers. Comedy has played a large part in revues since the 1920s. The famous composer, George Gershwin, found his start in the revue and was able to develop and hone his craft while writing music for these idiosyncratic musicals. As the revue grew in popularity and success, the format became less chaotic and more intently revolving around a particular subject or theme.

Political and Religious

Political and religious musicals deal with content that affects modern day life, either literally or through satire. The creators of "South Park" in 2011 released a musical called "The Book of Mormon," which deals with Mormon missionaries going to Africa. The musical attempts to portray the religion in a satirical light, exposing the irony of young men going out into the world with all of their energy and encountering the harsh realities faced by the poor and downtrodden. Political satires deal with political issues, using comedy to help expose inconsistencies and hypocrisy within the political system.


Rock musicals provide an outlet for rock musicians to put their ideas into a Broadway show. One famous modern rock musical is "Hair," in which a man deals with the issues of being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Rather than using a classical score, "Hair" used popular rock music as the basis for the collection of songs. Rock operas gradually gave way to "pop/rock" operas, due in part to the broader appeal of pop music.

About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.

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