Musical Lists

21+ Avant-Garde Musicals That Will Bend Your Brain

Avant-garde musicals are ones that have typically pushed the boundaries in terms of what’s expected of a show. These musicals are cutting edge, experimental, and a bit out of the ordinary. You’ll find a full list of avant-garde musicals below, sorted alphabetically.

This list is broken down into two categories – “Avant-Garde Musicals” and “Musicals That Mention Avant-Garde Art”. Keep in mind that a few of the following musicals were abstract or avant-garde at the time of their premiere, even though they may be considered more “normal” or conventional today.


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Avant-Garde Musicals

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant

Music/Lyrics/Book: Kyle Jarrow

Musical Type: Contemporary (2003)


Adding Machine

Music/Lyrics/Book: Joshua Schmidt  Lyrics/Book: Jason Loewith

Musical Type: Contemporary (2007)


Cats

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber  Lyrics: T.S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn, Richard Stilgoe

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1981)


Celebration

Music: Harvey Schmidt  Lyrics/Book: Tom Jones

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1969)


Ernest Shackleton Loves Me

Music: Brendan Milburn  Lyrics: Valerie Vigoda  Book: Joe DiPietro

Musical Type: Contemporary (2017)


Ghost Quartet

Music/Lyrics/Book: Dave Malloy

Musical Type: Contemporary (2014)


Goblin Market

Music: Polly Pen  Lyrics: Peggy Harman

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1985)


In the Green

Music/Lyrics/Book: Grace McLean

Musical Type: Contemporary (2019)


Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Music/Lyrics: Jacques Brel  Book: Eric Blau, Mort Shuman

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1968)


Lazarus

Music/Lyrics: David Bowie  Book: Enda Walsh

Musical Type: Contemporary (2015)


Octet

Music/Lyrics/Book: Dave Malloy

Musical Type: Contemporary (2019)


Philemon

Music: Harvey Schmidt  Lyrics/Book: Tom Jones

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1975)


Pippin

Music/Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz  Book: Roger O. Hirson

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1972)


Preludes

Music/Lyrics/Book: Dave Malloy

Musical Type: Contemporary (2015)


Promenade

Music: Al Carmines  Lyrics/Book: María Irene Fornés

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1965)


Runaways

Music/Lyrics/Book: Elizabeth Swados

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1978)


See What I Wanna See

Music/Lyrics/Book: Michael John LaChiusa

Musical Type: Contemporary (2004)


Space Dogs

Music/Lyrics/Book: Nick Blaemire, Van Hughes

Musical Type: Contemporary (2022)


Starlight Express

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alistair Lloyd Webber  Lyrics: Richard Stilgoe, David Yazbek, Nick Coler

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1984)


Stop the World – I Want to Get Off

Music/Lyrics/Book: Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1961)


The Fantasticks

Music: Harvey Schmidt  Lyrics/Book: Tom Jones

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1960)


The Last Sweet Days of Isaac

Music: Nancy Ford  Lyrics/Book: Gretchen Cryer

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1970)


The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd

Music/Lyrics/Book: Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1964)


The Who’s Tommy

Music/Lyrics/Book: Pete Townshend  Book: Des McAnuff

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1992)


Musicals that Mention Avant-Garde Art

Anastasia

Music: Stephen Flaherty  Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens  Book: Terrence McNally

Musical Type: Contemporary (2016)

Where It’s Mentioned: In the song “Paris Holds the Key”


Closer Than Ever

Music: David Shire  Lyrics: Richard Maltby, Jr.

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1989)

Where It’s Mentioned: In the song “Like a Baby”


Henry, Sweet Henry

Music/Lyrics/Book: Pete Townshend  Book: Des McAnuff

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1992)

Where It’s Mentioned: The plot, which follows an avant-garde artist


Merrily We Roll Along

Music/Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim  Book: George Furth

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1981)

Where It’s Mentioned: In the song “Opening Doors”


Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Music/Lyrics/Book: Dave Malloy

Musical Type: Contemporary (2012)

Where It’s Referenced: In the song “The Opera”


Rent

Music/Lyrics/Book: Jonathan Larson

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1996)

Where It’s Mentioned: In the song “Today 4 U”


Other blog posts you might like:

Dark Musicals

Fantasy Musicals

Obscure Musicals

Underrated Musicals


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Which of these avant-garde musicals is your favorite?

Or have you ever played a role in any of the above avant-garde musicals? Feel free to share in the comments below! And if you like these types of lists, check out the musical database. That’s where you’ll find musicals sorted by composer, theme, setting, and more!


Stacy Karyn, Author of Avant-Garde Musicals.
Author: Stacy Karyn

Stacy Karyn is the founder of Theatre Trip, author of The Thespian’s Bucket List, and creator of The Cast Album List. She holds a BA in theatre, a TESOL drama certificate, and has worked and interned with Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters.


 

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