Rock Musicals: The 8 Best Shows of All Time

When thinking about rock musicals, you should forget everything you think you know about them. Rock musicals are edgy, with electric guitar riffs, powerful chords, and lyrics with flair. Audiences love rock musicals because they convey characters and story lines with a sense of rawness. With so many great productions in the past thirty years, there is no shortage of options for rock musicals that have captivated audiences. With that said, here are the eight best rock musicals of all time.


Hair is a 1960’s rock musical about the sexual revolution and hippie movement amidst the Vietnam War. The characters in this musical seek to redefine themselves and question authority. Audiences continue to love this classic rock musical for the elements of rebellion, great music, and fun-loving spirit. Some controversial components include drug use, nudity, and sexuality, yet Hair remains a rock musical favorite. Hair was so popular that screenplay writers adapted the musical into a movie, and producers remade the musical in 2009. Showcased internationally in a variety of reputable theaters, the 2010 Hair remake featured several American Idol finalists.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera based on the Biblical account of the last seven days of Jesus’ life. The story discusses the struggle between Jesus and Judas up to the point of crucifixion. Audiences enjoy the music, costumes, and controversy of Jesus Christ Superstar. Initially met with criticism from religious groups, critics continue to rave about the music and performances of this rock opera. Andrew Lloyd Weber composed the music and Tim Rice wrote the lyrics for Jesus Christ Superstar in the 1970s. Producers have since remade this classic several times, with productions all over the world.

Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark

With the most expensive Broadway budget to date, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark is a musical take on the Marvel comic. When a radioactive spider bites the high school aged lead character, he gains super powers that allow him to fight crime. Mix in a love interest and over-the-top villains, and this story literally sets the stage. U2’s Bono and The Edge wrote the music for Spiderman, and the show features aerial stunts and live action scenes. You can still opt to see this production live, as the musical is currently playing. Great seats at an affordable price are within reach through


Based loosely on Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme, Rent is a story about young artists trying to make it in New York in the 1980s and 1990s. The story coincides with emerging themes of the AIDS epidemic that impacts the lives of several of the characters. The characters face struggles with money, love, and their life direction. Using minimal costuming and set design, Rent is about character development and personal dynamics. Audiences love Rent for the passionate storyline and beautiful songwriting. Rent remakes feature many notable actors and actresses and production has expanded internationally, making it a favorite among fans of rock musicals.

Hedwig & the Angry Inch

Rock musicals are all about pushing the envelope when it comes to subject matter. Hedwig & the Angry Inch is a story about a boy who undergoes a botched sex-change operation to flee a communist East Germany. The main character deals with love lost and found and forms a band to deal with her heartbreak. Audiences love Hedwig & the Angry Inch for the character struggle and the themes of glam-rock. Screenwriters adapted this popular rock musical into a film in 2001 and a recent Broadway revival features “How I Met Your Mother” actor Neil Patrick Harris.

Spring Awakening

Adapted from an 1891 German book, Spring Awakening explores a group of teenagers dealing with their sexuality and transitioning into adulthood. This rock musical contrasts themes of love and sex with darker themes of violence. Rocker Duncan Sheik wrote new music for Spring Awakening. Critics and audiences love both the music in Spring Awakening and the departure from the standard rock musical formula. The production team wrote each song for a character to sing, not moving the plot forward. Spring Awakening remains a favorite rock musical because of the excellent score and character development.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Rocky Horror Picture Show remains a cult classic. This rock musical is a spoof on horror B movies that features cross dressing, singing and dancing, murders, jokes, and love. Producers released the Broadway version in the 1970s with the film adaptation following shortly after. Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon star in the movie that received rave reviews and accolades. Audiences enjoy the film version live, as theaters across the country play the movie regularly at midnight. In a tradition starting back in 1976, the costumed crowd sings along and interacts with the movie to create a unique experience for the movie-goer.

American Idiot

Based on the album by rock-punk band Green Day, American Idiot is the story of three friends struggling with their lives in suburban America. The friends take different paths to find freedom and happiness, each learning about love and growing up. American Idiot made its small start at the Berkeley Repertory Theater before moving to Broadway in the late 2000s. Critics praise American Idiot for its high energy and music. The great rock-driven music against the depressing realities of everyday life make this rock musical a fan favorite. Discussions of a movie adaptation are underway but there is no scheduled date for filming as of yet.

Rock musicals are a unique addition to the genre of musicals. Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, Rent, Hedwig & the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and American Idiot all showcase excellent musical styling with rich character and plot development. You can see why these musicals have become a favorite among show-goers in the recent years.

What are some of your favorite rock musicals?

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Posted by on January 18, 2014. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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12 Responses to Rock Musicals: The 8 Best Shows of All Time

  1. jess

    January 18, 2014 at 11:40 am

    RHPS is my one of my favorite ones to go dressed up and participating in, at the midnight showing they do at our local cinema 1st Saturday of every month. Does High Fidelity with John Cusack count, if so, I like that and I did like Rock of Ages with Alex Baldwin and Russell Brand with Tom Cruise doing a pretty good impression of a singer. I like Little Shop of Horrors too.

  2. James Smith

    January 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    I have the RHPS on my computer. I would go frequently when I lived in Tucson. I never dressed for any of the parts, though. If I’d had some horn rimmed glasses, I could have done a credible Brad though. I had no trouble getting people call me “asshole” so I was half-way there without the glasses.

    • Michael John Scott

      January 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      LOL! I never had that problem either James 🙂

      • James Smith

        January 18, 2014 at 1:49 pm

        I knew there was a reason I liked you!

        • Michael John Scott

          January 18, 2014 at 2:25 pm

          🙂 🙂 I think “asshole” is implied but in a nice way. Julie is just one of those nice people 🙂

  3. E.A. Blair

    January 18, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I like S.F. Sorrow by the Pretty Things, which is considered the first rock opera (preceding The Who’s Tommy by a year). The Pretty Things came out of a community of musicians that also gave rise to the Rolling Stones. They never achieved any great degree of commercial success, but were a tremendous influence on musicians and other bands.

  4. jess

    January 18, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    I just thought of one more that is a guilty pleasure, well actually 3 more and I don’t know if they can really be called rock musicals but here we go. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert with all the ABBA songs, Muriel’s Wedding same thing and Mamma Mia same thing, all ABBA all great.

  5. Mrloser82

    January 19, 2014 at 9:20 am

    I love U2 and Spider-man and saw the show on Broadway: flying scenes and Green Goblin great, story and music a complete mess. If you like rock musicals, you’re much better off watching Rock of Ages live. It’s fantastic.

  6. Mrloser82

    January 19, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Jersey Boys is also great

  7. Mark Fulton

    January 21, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Tommy is pretty cool

    And why has noone mentioned the wall?