The Most Popular High School Plays And Musicals 2020 : NPR Ed Mary Poppins is out and Matilda is in, according to the new high school theater rankings from the Educational Theatre Association. The organization has been publishing its list since 1938.


There is nothing quite like a high school musical. It's my kind of entertainment, frankly, but little did I know there are people out in the world who actually keep track of the most popular high school plays and musicals. Here's a couple of the headlines out of this list - joining the top 10 - "Annie;" falling off the list - "Grease," which is crazy to me. It first showed up on these rankings in 1981. This is all according to Dramatics magazine. They've been collecting the top plays and musicals since 1938. Elissa Nadworny from the NPR Ed team reports.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: There's just something about the high school stage. For me, it was "Fiddler On The Roof."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) For such a match, I prayed. Mazel tov, mazel tov.

NADWORNY: I was stage crew, dressed in black, and I rushed the bed onstage for Tevye's dream sequence. In the early 2000s, "Fiddler" was a big hit with high schools. So what's popular now? On the musical side, "Beauty And The Beast" took the top spot.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Bon jour, bon jour, bon jour, bon jour, bon jour.

NADWORNY: Those are students from Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. This spring, they joined schools all across the country, from Puyallup, Wash., to Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Billings, Mont., performing the show. Coul Hill is the theater teacher behind Skyview High School's production in Billings.

COUL HILL: I like special effects, and I like having people fly and swing and fall and all of that.

NADWORNY: But, he says, theater in Montana can be a hard sell, so he picked a show he knew kids would love.

HILL: If they haven't already watched the Disney version of it a hundred times, they don't care, right? So it's got to be stuff that they're already familiar with.

NADWORNY: "Beauty And The Beast" fit that bill, and it was a huge success. They're not alone with that reasoning. Belle and her friends have been hanging around the top-10 list for the last two decades. Shifting from musicals to plays, "Almost, Maine," a collection of two-person scenes by John Cariani, was No. 1, and it has been for seven of the last nine years.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Marvalyn) What is it like...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Marvalyn) To not feel pain?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Steve) I don't know. I don't really know what it's like to hurt.

NADWORNY: Those are students from Carl Junction High School in Missouri. Many of the plays and musicals are classics. And there's "Our Town." The play ranked No. 5 this past school year. It's been one of the top plays every decade since the 1940s. One factor here - it's pretty cheap to put on.

GREGORY BOSSLER: You can do it with at least a ladder, and I think that's the minimum you need.

NADWORNY: That's Gregory Bossler, editor in chief of Dramatics magazine. He oversees the theater rankings and was a high school actor back in the day.

BOSSLER: And my senior year, I was even the lead in the spring musical. I was Captain von Trapp in "The Sound Of Music."

NADWORNY: Bossler says shows with a lot of roles and big ensembles like "Our Town" work well. "Beauty And The Beast" has lots of villagers, plus Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, Gaston and Little Chip.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Be our guest, be our guest.

NADWORNY: About 4,000 schools filled out this annual survey from Dramatics magazine. The survey asked how many people came to see the shows, and with some math, they estimate about 46 million people are seeing theater at high schools every year. That's about four times the number of folks that see a show on Broadway. One of the appeals of student theater, Bossler says, is seeing teens grapple with emotions and relevant issues. Take "The Little Mermaid."

BOSSLER: She wants to be part of your world. It's someone dealing with feeling like an outsider, and I don't know what high schooler has never felt that emotion.

NADWORNY: As the curtain falls, let's let Cody Putz at Half Moon Bay High School in California close us out.


CODY PUTZ: (As Ariel, singing) I want to be where the people are.

NADWORNY: Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.


PUTZ: (As Ariel, singing) ...Want to see them dancing.

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