Broadway Musicals Set in the South
The Broadway musicals we know and love take place across the globe, some in far-flung locales, others right in our own backyard. Quite a few take place in Southern states or in ever-so-slightly fictionalized Southern settings. For your listening pleasure and to aid in your future ticket-buying plans, here we have a by-no-means-exhaustive list of musicals that have brought a bit of the South to Broadway. We have tall tales and pop smashes, literary adaptations and musicals based on movies. More than a few have music inspired by folk songs and country music. There are some you’ve heard of, and there are a few you probably haven’t become acquainted with yet. There’s something for everyone, and they’re all set in the South. Each is accompanied by popular songs and links to recordings so that you can brush up on this slice of Broadway history, one that’s rooted in the place we call home.
This 2013 musical, which has music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book by John August, is based on the 1998 novel Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace. Much of it is set in Alabama, where Wallace was born and raised.
Start with: “Be the Hero,” “Time Stops”
BUY IT: $15.79, amazon.com
Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is based on the Mark Twain novel of the same name. It has bluegrass-inspired music and lyrics by Roger Miller and takes place on the Mississippi River.
Start with: “Muddy Water,” “River in the Rain”
BUY IT: $10.94, amazon.com
Bonnie and Clyde
This musical got its start in 2009 with a premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse and made its way to Broadway in 2011. It follows notorious outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Darrow as they run into trouble in Depression-era Texas and Louisiana.
Start with: “This World Will Remember Me,” “Dyin' Ain't So Bad”
BUY IT: $16.26, target.com
Bright Star, a show with music, lyrics, and a book by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, premiered on Broadway in 2016. It’s set in the 1940s in rural North Carolina.
Start with: “If You Knew My Story,” “Sun Is Gonna Shine”
BUY IT: $18.98, barnesandnoble.com
Caroline, or Change
This production, with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics and book by Tony Kushner, opened Off-Broadway in 2003 and transferred to Broadway’s Eugene O’Neill Theater in 2004. It’s set in 1963 in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Start with: “Moon Change,” “Lot’s Wife”
BUY IT: $7.10, amazon.com
The Color Purple
The original Broadway production of this musical, which is based on the 1982 Alice Walker novel and 1985 film of the same name, opened in 2005. The recent Broadway revival ran from 2015 to 2017 to great acclaim. The musical is set in rural Georgia and Memphis, Tennessee.
Start with: “The Color Purple,” “I’m Here”
BUY IT: $15.29, barnesandnoble.com
This musical is set in the American South in a fictionalized state called Missitucky (a portmanteau that combines “Mississippi” and “Kentucky”). It premiered on Broadway and the West End in 1947 and has had numerous revivals on Broadway and in concert during the ensuing decades.
Start with: “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?,” “If This Isn’t Love”
BUY IT: $8.45, amazon.com
The opening number of this 2002 musical, which is based on the 1988 John Waters film of the same name, is “Good Morning, Baltimore,” a nod to the city where the film takes place.
Start with: “I Can Hear the Bells,” “You Can’t Stop the Beat”
BUY IT: $11.98, target.com
Hands on a Hardbody
Based on the documentary of the same name by S.R. Bindler, this film takes place in Longview, Texas, and has music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green with lyrics by Green. It premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in 2012 and opened on Broadway the next year.
Start with: “Human Drama Kind of Thing,” “If I Had This Truck”
BUY IT: $19.12, amazon.com
Meet Me in St. Louis
This 1989 musical is based on the 1944 film of the same name which starred Judy Garland. It’s set in 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri, just before the World’s Fair begins.
Start with: “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Trolley Song”
BUY IT: $17.79, amazon.com
Set in 1950s Memphis, Tennessee, this rock-and-roll-inspired musical opened on Broadway in 2009 and won four Tony Awards the following year, including Best Musical.
Start with: “Memphis Lives in Me,” “Steal Your Rock ‘N’ Roll”
BUY IT: $7.99, amazon.com
Million Dollar Quartet
This jukebox musical is set at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, where the legendary Million Dollar Quartet recording session took place in December 1956. Its soundtrack is filled with songs by that group, which included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Start with: “I Walk the Line,” “Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On”
BUY IT: $12.99, barnesandnoble.com
The first musical produced from the partnership of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Oklahoma! is based on Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow the Lilacs and is set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906. It opened on Broadway in 1943 and has had countless revivals in the U.S. and abroad.
Start with: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “People Will Say We’re in Love”
BUY IT: $13.99, barnesandnoble.com
The musical Parade, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Alfred Uhry, is set in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1913. When it premiered on Broadway in 1998, it won Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Book.
Start with: “All the Wasted Time,” “This Is Not Over Yet”
BUY IT: $9.99, amazon.com
Porgy and Bess
This opera by George Gershwin premiered on Broadway in 1935 and in the decades since has been performed by musical theatre troupes as well as opera companies around the world. It’s set in Charleston, South Carolina.
Start with: “Summertime,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now”
BUY IT: $15.28, amazon.com
This musical takes place on a Greyhound bus journey that moves through North Carolina, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. It premiered Off-Broadway in 1997 and opened on Broadway in 2014 in a production that starred Sutton Foster.
Start with: “On My Way,” “Bring Me to Light”
BUY IT: $20.99, barnesandnoble.com
This new musical with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles is based on the 2007 film Waitress by Adrienne Shelly. It opened in Cambridge in 2015, on Broadway in 2016, and on the West End in 2019.
Start with: “What’s Inside,” “She Used To Be Mine”
BUY IT: $18.99, barnesandnoble.com