50+ Fascinating Musicals Based on True Stories

Do you ever watch or listen to a musical and wonder whether it was based on something that really happened? Well you’re in luck! Here’s a full list of all of the musicals based on true stories from every decade.


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Jazz Age Musicals (1920-1939)

Dearest Enemy

Music: Richard Rodgers  Lyrics: Lorenz Hart  Book: Herbert Fields

Musical Type: Jazz Age/Operetta (1925)

What It’s Based On: American Revolutionary War/Mary Lindley Murray


The Desert Song

Music: Sigmund Romberg  Lyrics/Book: Otto Harbach  Book: Oscar Hammerstein II, Frank Mandel

Musical Type: Jazz Age/Operetta (1926)

What It’s Based On: The 1925 uprising in Morocco


Golden Age Musicals (1940-1959)

Fiorello!

Music: Jerry Bock  Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick  Book: Jerome Weidman, George Abbott

Musical Type: Golden Age (1959)

Who It’s Based On: Fiorello La Guardia


Up in Central Park

Music: Sigmund Romberg  Lyrics/Book: Dorothy Fields  Book: Herbert Fields

Musical Type: Golden Age (1945)

What It’s Based On: NYC’s Boss Tweed era


Post-Golden Age Musicals (1960s)

Coco

Music:  André Previn  Lyrics/Book: Alan Jay Lerner

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1969)

Who It’s Based On: Coco Chanel


Funny Girl

Music: Jule Styne  Lyrics: Bob Merrill  Book: Isobel Lennart

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1964)

Who It’s Based On: Fanny Brice


George M!

Music/Lyrics: George M. Cohan  Lyrics: Mary Cohan  Book: Michael Stewart, John Pascal, Francine Pascal

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1968)

Who It’s Based On: George M. Cohan


Jennie

Music: Arthur Schwartz  Lyrics: Howard Dietz  Book: Arnold Schulman

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1963)

Who It’s Based On: Jennie Malone and James O’Connor


Jimmy

Music: Bill Jacob  Lyrics: Patti Jacob  Book: Melville Shavelson

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1969)

Who It’s Based On: NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker


Maggie Flynn

Music/Lyrics: Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, George David Weiss  Book: Morton DaCosta

Musical Type: Post-Golden Age (1968)

What It’s Based On: The New York Draft Riots of 1863


1970s Musicals

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Music: Leonard Bernstein  Lyrics/Book: Alan Jay Lerner

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1976)

What It’s Based On: The White House between 1800-1900


Evita

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber  Lyrics: Tim Rice

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1976)

Who It’s Based On: Eva Perón


Goodtime Charley

Music: Larry Grossman  Lyrics: Hal Hackady  Book: Sidney Michaels

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1975)

Who It’s Based On: Joan of Arc/The Dauphin of France


Minnie’s Boys

Music: Larry Grossman  Lyrics: Hal Hackady  Book: Arthur Marx, Robert Fisher

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1970)

Who It’s Based On: Minnie Marx/Thee Marx Brothers


Rex

Music: Richard Rodgers  Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick  Book: Sherman Yellen

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1976)

Who It’s Based On: King Henry VIII


They’re Playing Our Song

Music: Marvin Hamlisch  Lyrics: Carole Bayer Sager  Book: Neil Simon

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1978)

Who It’s Based On: Carole Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamlisch


Thomas and the King

Music: John Williams  Lyrics: James Harbert  Book: Edward Anhalt

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1975)

Who It’s Based On: Thomas Becket and Henry II


1980s Musicals

Barnum

Music: Cy Coleman  Lyrics: Michael Stewart  Book: Mark Bramble

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1980)

Who It’s Based On: P. T. Barnum


Dreamgirls

Music: Henry Krieger  Lyrics/Book: Tom Eyen

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1981)

What It’s Based On: R&B success stories of the 1960s/70s


Mayor

Music/Lyrics: Charles Strouse  Book: Warren Leight

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary/Revue (1985)

Who It’s Based On: NYC Mayor Ed Koch


Sarafina!

Music/Lyrics/Book: Mbongeni Ngema  Music/Lyrics: Hugh Masakela

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1987)l

What It’s Loosely Based On: The Soweto Uprising in South Africa


The Biograph Girl

Music/Lyrics/Book: David Heneker, Warner Brown

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1980)

What It’s Based On: The Silent Film Era


Yours, Anne

Music: Michael Cohen  Lyrics/Book: Enid Futterman

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1985)

What It’s Based On: The Diary of Anne Frank


1990s Musicals

A New Brain

Music/Lyrics/Book: William Finn  Book: James Lapine

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1998)

What It’s Based On: William Finn’s experiences


Floyd Collins

Music/Lyrics: Adam Guettel  Book: Tina Landau

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1994)

What It’s Based On: The death of Floyd Collins


Jelly’s Last Jam

Music: Jelly Roll Morton, Luther Henderson  Lyrics: Susan Birkenhead  Book: George C. Wolfe

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1992)

Who It’s Based On: Jelly Roll Morton


Kat and the Kings

Music: Taliep Petersen  Lyrics/Book: David Kramer

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1996)

What It’s Based On: The memories of Salie Daniels


Parade

Music/Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown  Book: Alfred Uhry

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1998)

What It’s Based On: Leo Frank’s 1913 Trial


Side Show

Music: Henry Krieger  Lyrics/Book: Bill Russell

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1997)

Who It’s Based On: Daisy and Violet Hilton


Spend Spend Spend

Music/Lyrics/Book: Steve Brown, Justin Greene

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1998)

Who It’s Loosely Based On: Viv Nicholson


Titanic

Music/Lyrics: Maury Yeston  Book: Peter Stone

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1997)

What It’s Based On: The RMS Titanic


The Will Rogers Follies

Music: Cy Coleman  Lyrics: Betty Comden, Adolph Green  Book: Peter Stone

Musical Type: Pre-Contemporary (1991)

Who It’s Based On: Will Rogers


2000s Musicals

21 Chump Street

Music/Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Musical Type: Contemporary (2014)

What It’s Based On: “What I Did For Love” from This American Life


A Class Act

Music/Lyrics: Edward Kleban  Book: Linda Kline, Lonny Price

Musical Type: Contemporary (2000)

Who It’s Based On: Edward Kleban


Allegiance

Music/Lyrics/Book: Jay Kuo  Book: Marc Acito, Lorenzo Thione

Musical Type: Contemporary (2012)

What It’s Based On: George Takei’s experiences


Amazing Grace

Music/Lyrics/Book: Christopher Smith  Book: Arthur Giron

Musical Type: Contemporary (2012)

Who It’s Based On: John Newton


Chaplin

Music/Lyrics/Book: Christopher Curtis  Book: Thomas Meehan

Musical Type: Contemporary (2006)

Who It’s Based On: Charlie Chaplin


Clinton

Music/Lyrics/Book: Paul Hodge  Book: Michael Hodge

Musical Type: Contemporary (2012)

What It’s Based On: The presidency of Bill Clinton


Come From Away

Music/Lyrics/Book: Irene Sankoff, David Hein

Musical Type: Contemporary (2013)

What It’s Based On: The town of Gander, post 9/11


Diana

Music/Lyrics/Book: David Bryan, Joe DiPietro

Musical Type: Contemporary (2019)

Who It’s Based On: Diana, Princess of Wales


Grey Gardens

Music: Scott Frankel  Lyrics: Michael Korie  Book: Doug Wright

Musical Type: Contemporary (2006)

Who It’s Based On: Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and Edith Bouvier Beale


Gutenberg! The Musical!

Music/Lyrics/Book: Scott Brown, Anthony King

Musical Type: Contemporary (2005)

Who It’s (Loosely) Based On: Johannes Gutenberg


In the Green

Music/Lyrics/Book: Grace McLean

Musical Type: Contemporary (2019)

Who It’s Based On: Hildegard von Bingen


Miss Littlewood

Music/Lyrics/Book: Sam Kenyon

Musical Type: Contemporary (2018)

What It’s Based On: Joan Littlewood/Theatre Workshop


Nevermore

Music/Lyrics/Book: Jonathan Christenson

Musical Type: Contemporary (2010)

Who It’s Based On: Edgar Allan Poe


Queen of the Mist

Music/Lyrics/Book: Michael John LaChiusa

Musical Type: Contemporary (2011)

Who It’s Based On: Annie Edson Taylor


Road Show

Music/Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim  Book: John Weidman

Musical Type: Contemporary (2003)

Who It’s Based On: Addison and Wilson Mizner


Scandalous

Music: David Pomeranz, David Friedman  Lyrics/Book: Kathie Lee Gifford

Musical Type: Contemporary (2005)

Who It’s Based On: Aimee Semple McPherson


Six

Music/Lyrics/Book: Toby Marlow, Lucy Moss

Musical Type: Contemporary (2017)

Who It’s Based On: The six wives of Henry VIII


Starry

Music/Lyrics/Book: Matt Dahan, Kelly Lynne D’Angelo

Musical Type: Contemporary (2019)

Who It’s Based On: Theo and Vincent van Gogh


Stephen Ward

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber  Lyrics/Book: Don Black, Christopher Hampton

Musical Type: Contemporary (2013)

What It’s Based On: The 1963 Profumo affair


The Hello Girls

Music/Lyrics/Book: Peter C. Mills  Book: Cara Reichel

Musical Type: Contemporary (2019)

What It’s Based On: The telephone operators during WWI


The Immigrant

Music: Steven M. Alper  Lyrics: Sarah Knapp  Book: Mark Harelik

Musical Type: Contemporary (2000)

Who It’s Based On: Haskell Harelik


The Scottsboro Boys

Music: John Kander  Lyrics: Fred Ebb  Book: David Thompson

Musical Type: Contemporary (2010)

What It’s Based On: The Scottsboro Boys Trial


The View UpStairs

Music/Lyrics/Book: Max Vernon

Musical Type: Contemporary (2017)

What It’s Based On: The 1973 attack at the UpStairs Lounge


Witness Uganda

Music/Lyrics/Book: Matt Gould, Griffin Matthews

Musical Type: Contemporary (2014)

What It’s Based On: Matthews and Gould’s experiences


2020s Musicals

A Beautiful Noise

Music/Lyrics: Neil Diamond  Book: Anthony McCarten

Musical Type: Contemporary/Jukebox (2022)

Who It’s Based On: Neil Diamond


Get Up Stand Up!

Music/Lyrics: Bob Marley  Book: Lee Hall

Musical Type: Contemporary/Jukebox (2021)

Who It’s Based On: Bob Marley


Space Dogs

Music/Lyrics/Book: Nick Blaemire, Van Hughes

Musical Type: Contemporary (2022)

Who It’s Based On: Space Dog Laika


Tokyo Rose

Music/Lyrics/Book: Maryhee Yoon, Cara Baldwin

Musical Type: Contemporary (2021)

Who It’s Based On: Iva Toguri D’Aquino

We Won’t Sleep

Music/Lyrics: Ari Afsar  Book: Lauren M. Gunderson

Musical Type: Contemporary (2020)

Who It’s Based On: Jeannette Rankin


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Do you know of any other great musicals based on true stories?

Or have you seen/listened to any of the musicals based on true stories above? Let us know 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 Musicals Based on True Stories.
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 has a TESOL drama certificate, a BA in theatre, and has worked and interned with Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters.


 

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