What High Schoolers Truly Want in a Musical


Dancers pose to conclude their take on the choreography. They practiced a few more times, making sure to perfect their performance for the upcoming show.

Willow Nelson, Staff Writer

In the world of musicals, there are many to choose from. Some are liked, and some are… well, not as preferred. Which ones are the best according to high school students and why do they like them? What is it that students truly want in a musical? Let’s see what some favorites are and bunk down why they might be popular, as well as what they have in common to find out what high schoolers really want a musical to have.

After asking eight Grand Ledge High School Students their favorite musical, there was only one that got chosen more than once. Hamilton was chosen twice while others answered with Mamma Mia!, West Side Story (2021 film), K-12 (starring Melanie Martinez), Beetlejuice, Teen Beach Movie, Newsies, and The Greatest Showman as their favorite musicals. Now, time for finding what people like in a musical. First off, let’s summarize each musical, starting with Hamilton


This Broadway musical is based on the life of Alexander Hamilton in the late 1700s. He grows up with a challenging childhood, but his passion takes him to success as the first secretary of the treasury, as well as one of America’s Founding Fathers. His life in the world of government causes him to lose perspective on what really matters, brewing up family drama, including the death of Hamilton’s son. This musical has more modern styles of music, including rap, which is not common for musicals. The original play stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays Alexander Hamilton. Not only does he play the main role, but he also wrote all the songs and created the play. Hamilton is full of comedy, love, drama, and suspense. The Broadway musical began in August 2015, as well as coming out on Disney+ in 2020. The movie was given 98% Rotten Tomatoes and an 89% audience score.

Why high schoolers like it: It’s about history and has great music. It is also, apparently, the only musical some high schoolers have seen. The rare use of modern music in musicals was a big hit among many audiences. 

Mamma Mia! (2008 film)

This movie is for the romantics, as well as adding a level of suspense. Sophie, the daughter of the single mother and hotel owner Donna, is determined to find out who her father is. Sophie invites the three men she suspects to be her father to her wedding on a Greek Island. While Sophie is trying to find her dad to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day, her mother Donna is re-meeting her past lovers. This musical has songs that make you want to dance and sing along, which are songs by the supergroup ABBA. Mamma Mia! the film stars Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, and the film has 55% Rotten Tomatoes and a 66% audience score.

Why high schoolers like it: It is this year’s high school play, but it is also just really exciting and fun. It makes the audience want to get up and dance with the fun songs! The film includes music from the 70s, Which is full of dancing and tunes. Apart from the great music, the plot is funny and dramatic at the same time.

Teen Beach Movie

Brady and McKenzie are two surfing lovers who go to the beach to surf one last wave together before moving away from each other, but one big wave transports them into a surfing movie “Wet Side Story”. Two gangs, Bikers, and Surfers, battle for control over the local hangout. Brady and McKenzie accidentally change the romantic storyline, but have to get the movie back on track before they are stuck there forever. This 2013 musical is full of love, comedy, and drama. It stars Ross Lynch and Maia Mitchell and has 86% Rotten Tomatoes and a 72% audience score.

Why high schoolers like it: It is fun because it kind of teases how cringy some musicals are. That makes it funny because it’s ironic! The cringiness they created on purpose makes the musical fun to agree with as it points out goofy things other musicals do that are kind of cheesy.

West Side Story (2021 film)

There are two gangs, The Sharks and The Jetts. Maria is a young woman of Columbian-American heritage that falls in love with Tony, one of the founders of The Jetts gang, which Maria’s family does not like. Tony learns kindness from Maria. Tony just wants to keep his head down and make a life for himself, but the members of The Jetts want Tony to return to his old ways, and have a rumble between The Jetts and The Sharks. This film is based off of Romeo and Juliet, as well. West Side Story is a 2021 American musical romantic drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Rachael Zegler as Maria and Ansel Elgort as Tony. This musical has 91% Rotten Tomatoes and a 93% audience score.

Why high schoolers like it: It really pulls on the heartstrings. It is also a very emotional musical that makes the viewers feel a rollercoaster of emotions.

K-12 (starring Melanie Martinez)

Cry baby is a strong and sensitive girl who is sent off to a disturbing sleepaway school. Thankfully, Cry Baby has a sweet friend who sticks up for her when she gets bullied by the other students whose brains are under control by the Principal and his wicked staff. With the help of magical friends they meet along the way, as well as an Angelic Spirit Guide, they are able to gain the strength they need to fight off the school’s belligerent patriarchal conditioning. It is comedic and fun, and it has a 90% audience score.

Why high schoolers like it: A high school student said, “I listened to her growing up and …she was really good with the words she puts in her songs.” They like the music and that the main lead is a singer that they are familiar with.


Adam and Barbara Maitland die in a car accident, but the ghost couple stay in their house and defend their home they have worked so hard on to make their own. Despite this, a living family moves in. The Maitlands try to scare them out, but only end up attracting the Beetlejuice spirit. This broadway musical is comedic, exciting, and fun. Beetlejuice is full of great music and lots of thrill. The Beetlejuice movie has 85% Rotten Tomatoes and a 82% audience score. 

Why high schoolers like it: Liz McFarland, a Grand Ledge student, said, “…it’s really fun. I also love the music, which I listen to a lot around Halloween.” They like its fun music!


This musical takes place in 1899, and there is a group of young newsies boys who buy and sell newspapers on the streets for money. It’s when Pulitzer and Randolph, newspaper sellers, raise the price to get more profit from the newsies that makes the newsies angry. They decide to hold a strike, only to be confronted with Pulitzer and Randolphs’ hard-ball tactics. This musical has 39% Rotten Tomatoes and an 88% audience score.

Why high schoolers like it: “It’s the first one I watched.” The first play you watch holds a special place in your heart. Who doesn’t like some nostalgia? 

The Greatest Showman

This artful movie is based on the true story of P.T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, the creator of the circus. He is a young boy who dreams of creating a place where anything can happen and anyone can be anything, but others think this dream is ridiculous and could never come true. As an adult Barnum marries his love, Charity, and they start a family together, but they struggle with making ends meet. Barnum tries creating the first circus, which turns out to be more successful than they expected. As Barnum gets more money and gets caught up in show business, he loses sight of what truly matters; his family. Members of the circus call the circus their home, two of them even falling in love. Throughout the show business, problems and drama take place. P.T. Barnum has to choose who to spend his time on. This 2017 musical film has exciting music, love, drama, and also suspense. The Greatest Showman has a 56% Rotten Tomatoes and a 86% audience score.

Why high schoolers like it: The songs are the best and give you so much energy, making you want to dance and sing along with their amazingness. It is inspiring, too! The movie is just a whole package, having drama, love, happiness, and all that good stuff. Also, fan-favorite actors like Zach Efron star, so that might contribute to its popularity.


Now that we know each of the musicals a little better, let’s find what they have in common to see what high schoolers really like in a musical. 

Obviously, every musical has music. Other than that similarity, notice how most of the musicals we reviewed above had a strong main character that strives to make a difference, despite all those who disagree with them. P.T. Barnum worked hard to achieve a dream that everyone else thought was impossible in The Greatest Showman, young newsies with no power team up with each other to make a change in Newsies, Cry Baby fights against the school’s evil ways in K-12, Tony and Maria stick together even though everything is trying to pry them apart in West Side Story, and Alexander Hamilton rises up in the ranks despite his poor childhood in Hamilton. Watching the main character take the lead of their life and prove everyone wrong gives inspiration to the audience that they can do the same. People love to feel like they can do anything!

Another aspect that is in a lot of the musicals is that they are fun and have energetic music. Similar to feeling inspired, the energy of these musicals are contagious. We like to feel empowered, excited, and happy. We like musicals that make us feel those emotions. Students also enjoyed the comedy in some of these musicals. Who doesn’t like to laugh?

The musicals that didn’t make us feel energetic still gave us a lot of emotion, whether it was sadness or shock. West Side Story was liked because of how intense and emotional it was. Some high schoolers like musicals that make you feel overwhelmed with feelings. 

In conclusion, it seems to be that high school students enjoy musicals that either inspire you and give you energy, make you laugh, or maybe even make you cry. They like musicals to give them strong emotions through the screen or stage. The emotions may come from the music or the plot, but either way, the audience wants to feel them.

If you plan on creating a musical anytime soon or are watching a musical with your friends and want it to appeal to high schoolers, then you should consider including strong emotions, as well as comedy and fun music. The studying throughout this article suggests that high schoolers like musicals that consist of those very things. Thanks for reading.