'Watch-Alikes': The Broadway Musicals of the Spring 2024 Season

By Douglas Reside, Curator, Theatre Collection
May 8, 2024
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

As Theatre Curator of the Billy Rose Theatre Divison of the Library for the Performing Arts, I’m frequently asked which musicals I recommend on Broadway. It’s a difficult question to answer since people’s tastes in theater differ as much as in any art form. When librarians are asked which books they recommend, they often suggest what we in the library business call “read-alikes”—works that are in some way similar to other titles the patron may have enjoyed. In that spirit, here are my “watch-alikes” for Broadway musicals in 2024. Each of the titles listed here are new to Broadway this season (that is, they opened between May of 2023 and today and are not revivals) and are still playing as of this writing. This list excludes three-late season shows, The Heart of Rock and Roll (opening April 22), Illinoise (April 24), and The Great Gatsby (opening April 25) which were not yet open when this piece was written.

If you enjoyed Aladdin...you should go to Back to the Future

A man in a white shirt and pants with wild white hair stands next to a young man in a puffy red vest. Both stand in front of a car with smoke coming out of the rear.

Roger Bart and Casey Likes in the 2023 Broadway production of 'Back to the Future.'

Photo: Matthew Murphy

If you enjoy seeing a classic film come to life on stage with an audience who largely knows the original script by heart, and want to be impressed with cutting-edge flying technologies that exceeds even the jaw-dropping illusion of Aladdin’s flying carpet, then Back to the Future is the musical for you. As with Aladdin, you’ll hear the songs you loved from the film (though I advise you wait until you’re alone with the cast album to sing along). 

If you enjoyed Side Show (or Cirque du Soleil)...you should go to Water for Elephants

A man holds himself perpendicular to a hanging rope above a circus scene on a stage set.

The cast of 'Water for Elephants' (2024).

Photo: Matthew Murphy

If you enjoyed a fictionalized story of life for the family of performers and animals who live and work together in a circus, Water for Elephants will scratch the same sort of itch targeted by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger’s Side Show (or the film musical The Greatest Showman)There are also notes of last season’s Life of Pi with its innovative puppet animals and Cirque du Soleil with gasp-inducing acrobatics that, in the case of Water for Elephants, casually happen in the background while the plot plays out on stage. 

If you enjoyed Next To Normal...you should go to The Notebook

A stage set on which several couples and several single individuals stand and look out at the audience in front of a cloudy blue backdrop.

The Notebook (2024).

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

The connections here are somewhat harder to articulate, and perhaps can be traced to director Michael Greif, who staged both musicals. The Notebook, like Next to Normal, depicts the way in which mental illness affects both the afflicted and those who love them. The actors play their parts with more representational realism that is common to many of Greif’s musicals, somewhat unusual on the Broadway musical stage, where a bigger, more presentational style is often used. The songs in The Notebook, written by singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson, also feel within the musical tradition of the pop/rock sound of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.  

If you enjoyed MJ...you should go to Hell’s Kitchen

A Playbill cover depicting a young woman standing on a piano in front of a city skyline

The Playbill for the Broadway production of Hells Kitchen

Hell’s Kitchen is the latest in a line of musicals that tells the story of a musician or band using their own music. Although these kinds of musicals have been more common in recent years with musicals like The Cher Show and last season’s A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical, the tradition dates back at least to films like Till the Clouds Roll By (Jerome Kern’s bio-musical) and George M. (the 1968 stage musical about George M. Cohan)Sometimes these musicals can be little more than a cover band concert of the catalog of the artist in question. In other cases though, as with MJ, prominent theater artists are employed to help tell the story in the style of a serious musical. MJ’s book was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and directed and choreographed by an alumnus of London’s Royal Ballet, Christopher Wheeldon. Hell’s Kitchen is choreographed by Camille A. Brown, who, along with numerous Broadway credits, founded her own award-winning dance company.

If you enjoyed Hamilton...you should go to Suffs

The Playbill cover for Suffs depicting the lower portion of the bodies of five women in early 20th century dresses.

Like Hamilton, Suffs is a historical drama of social and political revolution told with contemporary music. Both musicals started Off Broadway at the Public Theater before transferring to Broadway. Parts of the structure of the musical are very similar to Hamilton, and, as Alexander Hamilton was played by the show’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, Suffs’s protagonist, Alice Paul, is also played by the show’s writer, Shaina Taub.

If you enjoyed Harmony or If/Then...you should go to Lempicka

A woman wearing a long white shirt stands before a wooden easel and seems to consider her work (though there is nothing visible on the easel). A purple couch is to the left of the photo.

Eden Espinosa in Lempicka on Broadway (2024)

Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Although Lempicka’s celebration of creation through painting and the impact art has on personal relationships calls to mind Sunday in the Park with George (and lines about color, form, and light seem to intentionally draw comparisons), the similarities are mostly superficial. Like Cabaret and Harmony (both also produced on Broadway this season), Lempicka tells its story of love and art against the political backdrop of the rise of the Nazis in Europe, and the uneasy sense of impending doom feels similar in all three musicals. If you liked Harmony for the music, Lempicka may not be your ticket. Matt Gould’s music for Lempicka sounds more like Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s score for If/Then than Barry Manilow’s pastiche songs for the Comedian Harmonists. 

If you enjoyed West Side Story or Spring Awakening...you should go to The Outsiders

The Playbill cover for The Outsiders depicting a group of young men with their arms around each other in front of a metal wall.

The Playbill for The Outsiders (2024)

As Lempicka does to Sunday in the Park with GeorgeThe Outsiders pays homage to its clearest artistic progenitor, West Side Story, several times in the libretto and staging. The first act of The Outsiders, a story of romance between a boy and a girl from two rival gangs who are fighting over turf in the mid-20th century, is patterned almost beat for beat after Laurents, Sondheim, and Bernstein’s 1957 musical. However, the score is much more contemporary than Bernstein’s symphonic music for West Side Story. The sound is closer to Duncan Sheik’s pop-rock score for the 2008 musical Spring Awakening or even Jeanine Tesori’s folk/country-inflected score for Violet.