What Are the Five Types of Musical Theater?

by Steven J. Miller
Broadway musical theater takes place in a large concert hall.

Broadway musical theater takes place in a large concert hall.

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Musical theater incorporates singing, dance, acting and programmatic story lines into a complete dramatic work. Classical music schools train singers to project their voices and act. The musical developed over time and stems from the classical music tradition of opera. Many musicals written for Broadway have made it into film, including popular modern musicals such as 2007's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

Book Musical

Book musicals have story lines that determine the progression of the music and characters throughout the show. Book musicals are traditional and tell a story throughout. To qualify as a book musical, the components of dance, lyrics and music must integrate into a complete story that gives each character a personality through songs and lyrics. Book musicals usually have two acts and a short intermission. The first act is typically longer than the second act.


Revue musicals incorporate music, dance and sketches. They do not necessarily have a plot and often contain several related sketches based on musical themes. Revues often appear in smaller venues such as comedy clubs and small community centers. These musicals contain a collection of songs that relate in appropriate ways to the dance and sketch. They generally are not plot-driven and based only on a central theme.

Concept Musical

Concept musicals contain important messages that overshadow the actual meaning of individual songs. "The Book of Mormon," a musical that premiered on Broadway in 2011, is an example of a concept musical. "Fiddler on the Roof" is another. These musicals seek to inform the listener and provide an overarching message that is more important than the actual story. These musicals are usually metaphors for larger social, spiritual and political issues.

Jukebox Musical

Jukebox musicals consist of songs based on the works of a particular artist or group. Not always performed by the original group, these often act as tributes to the original artists. Song arrangement generally tells a story from beginning to end. These musicals are less common and tend to have similarities with rock musicals. However, in a jukebox musical, the material is specific to a single artist or group without the creation of additional filler material.

Rock Musical

"The Buddy Holly Story" is among popular rock musicals that depict the life of an artist, popular music star or rock and roll phenomenon. These musicals abandon the typical style of musical singing for a more popular style of singing and replace the orchestra with traditional rock band instruments such as the drum set, guitar and keyboard. Sub classifications of rock musicals include rock opera in which there is no spoken dialogue.


  • "Broadway: The American Musical"; Michael Kantor; 2004

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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