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Play Survey Reveals 2023’s Most Popular High School Shows

Play Survey results: A female student stands before a large chalice and sings with her hands in the air in a production of The Addams Family

Teachers' Censorship Concerns Also Reflected in Educational Theatre Association's Annual Play Survey

Each year, EdTA’s Play Survey captures what’s hot on high school stages: It’s a snapshot of not just the most performed works, but also the educational climate. The 2023 results show that censorship — a trending topic in media and politics — is hot on educators’ minds, even if not directly influencing the works they choose to perform.

The most-performed works in 2022-23 all appeared at or near the top of last year’s list. Clue and Disney’s Frozen JR. held onto the top spots for full-length play and short musical, respectively. The Addams Family jumped back to number 1 in full-length musical, while 10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse and Check Please topped the short plays category.

Censorship Concerns

While the lists tend toward popular, non-controversial titles that drive ticket sales – most school theatre programs rely on box office revenue to support their activities – 85 percent of the 2,390 respondents reported being at least somewhat concerned about censorship, and 67 percent said censorship concerns are influencing their selections for the 2023-24 school year.

Thirty percent said they were aware of student, parent, or administrative concerns about their play or musical selections during the 2022-23 school year, but just 6 percent were asked to switch to a different title, and about 4 percent actually did. Cancellation of productions while in rehearsal or production was more rare, affecting only 1 percent of educators.

EdTA executive director Dr. Jennifer Katona believes these results reflect teachers’ fears about the current political and educational landscape. “We know educators are worried about the current wave of legislation mandating what they can and can’t teach,” she said. “What’s concerning about these results is the potential impact of self-censorship. School theatre should be a way for students to explore diverse perspectives, which helps them develop empathy and critical thinking.”

This issue is surfacing just as school theatre programs are rebounding from the pandemic: Schools presented an average of 11 performances throughout the academic year, up one from 2021-22. The average audience size across all performances in a school season increased 13 percent over last year to 1,967. In 2018-2019, the last academic year not affected by the pandemic, responding schools averaged 10 productions with an audience size that averaged 1,800.

2023 Rankings

Although perennial favorites continue to dominate top 10 lists, there are a few notable additions and subtractions in 2023. Chicago: Teen Edition and Mean Girls: High School Version made their debuts in the top 10 full-length musicals, and predictably, The Addams Family Young@Part joined the top 10 short musicals list. Meanwhile, Our Town, a mainstay of full-length plays since the survey began in 1938, fell just short of the top 10 this year. 

Top 10 Full-Length Musicals

1. The Addams Family – by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice, and Andrew Lippa (TRW)

2. Mamma Mia! – by Catherine Johnson, Benny Andersson, and Björn Ulvaeus (MTI)

3. Into the Woods – by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine (MTI)

4. Little Shop of Horrors – by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (MTI)

5. (tie) Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Linda Woolverton (MTI)

5. (tie) Disney’s The Little Mermaid – by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater, and Doug Wright (MTI)

7. The SpongeBob Musical – by Kyle Jarrow, Tina Landau, and various composers (Concord Theatricals)

8. Chicago: Teen Edition – by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse (Concord Theatricals)

9. Legally Blonde: The Musical – by Heather Hach, Laurence O’Keefe, and Nell Benjamin (MTI)

10. Mean Girls: High School Version – by Tina Fey, Jeff Richmond, and Nell Benjamin (MTI)

Top 10 Full-Length Plays

1. Clue – by Jonathan Lynn, Hunter Foster, Eric Price, and Sandy Rustin (Broadway Licensing)

2. Puffs – by Matt Cox (Concord Theatricals)

3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – by William Shakespeare (public domain)

4. (tie) The Play That Goes Wrong – by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields (Broadway Licensing)

4. (tie) Radium Girls – by D.W. Gregory (Dramatic Publishing)

6. Almost, Maine – by John Cariani (Broadway Licensing)

7. (tie) Peter and the Starcatcher – by Rick Elice and Wayne Barker (MTI)

7. (tie) She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition – by Qui Nguyen (Concord Theatricals)

9. Alice in Wonderland – by Lewis Carroll (various licencing agencies)

10. 12 Angry Jurors – by Reginald Rose, adapted by Sherman L. Sergel (Dramatic Publishing)

Top 10 Short Musicals

1. Disney’s Frozen JR. – by Kristin Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, and Jennifer Lee (MTI)

2. Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical JR. – by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin (MTI)

3. Disney’s Newsies JR. – by Harvey Fierstein, Alan Menken, and Jack Feldman (MTI)

4. Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka JR. – by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (MTI)

5. Annie JR. – by Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin, and Thomas Meehan (MTI)

6. Disney’s High School Musical JR. – by David Simpatico and various composers (MTI)

7. (tie) Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR. – by Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater, Alan Menken, and Doug Wright (MTI)

7. (tie) Shrek: The Musical JR.by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori (MTI)

9. The Addams Family Young@Part – by Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice, and Andrew Lippa (TRW)

10. (tie) Disney’s The Lion King JR. – by Elton John, Tim Rice, Will Van Dyke, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Roger Allers, and Irene Mecchi (MTI)

10. (tie) Seussical JR. – Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Eric Idle (MTI)

Top 10 Short Plays

1. (tie) 10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse – by Don Zolidis (Broadway Licensing)

1. (tie) Check Please – by Jonathan Rand (Broadway Licensing)

3. The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon (One-Act) – by Don Zolidis (Broadway Licensing)

4. Bad Auditions by Bad Actors – by Ian McWethy (Broadway Licensing)

5. The One-Act Play Disaster – by Don Zolidis (Broadway Licensing)

6. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind – by Greg Allen (Broadway Licensing)

7. 13 Ways to Screw Up Your College Interview – by Ian McWethy (Broadway Licensing)

8. (tie) Our Place – by Terry Wayne Gabbard (Dramatic Publishing)

8. (tie) Tracks – by Peter Tarsi (Dramatic Publishing)

10. (tie) 15 Reasons Not to Be in a Play – by Alan Haehnel (Broadway Licensing)

10. (tie) Game of Tiaras (One-Act) – by Don Zolidis (Broadway Licensing)

10. (tie) The Greek Mythology Olympiaganza (One-Act) – by Don Zolidis (Broadway Licensing)

10. (tie) The 9 Worst Breakups of All Time – by Ian McWethy (Broadway Licensing)

Note: Above rankings reflect survey respondents’ answers and have not been confirmed with actual licensing data.

Explore recent play survey results. For a deeper historical analysis of surveys back to 1938, visit National Public Radio’s interactive database. 

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