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January 25, 2022

Shows About Show Biz


As Irving Berlin said, “There’s No Business Like Show Business!” These plays and musicals, which include splashy spectaculars, door-slamming farces and heartbreaking dramas, explore the fascinating world of theatre, music, movies and television.


10 out of 12 by Anne Washburn (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6f, 8m)
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to tech. Around you, a company of 14 is engaged in the very peculiar—and peculiarly impossible—task of making a new play. Anne Washburn, the author of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play (US/UK), built this hilarious play from years of tech rehearsal notes.

42nd Street by Harry Warren, Al Dubin, Michael Stewart, Mark Bramble & Bradford Ropes (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 7f, 6m +Ensemble)
The ultimate show-biz musical! 42nd Street celebrates Broadway, Times Square and the people who make the magic of musical theatre.

45 Seconds from Broadway by Neil Simon (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6f, 6m)
America’s master of contemporary Broadway comedy brings this revealing comedy set in the legendary “Polish Tea Room” on New York’s 47th Street. In this touching valentine to New York, Broadway theatre personalities gather to schmooze even as they lose.

A Chorus Line by Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, Marvin Hamlisch & Edward Kleban (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 9f, 10m)
A stunning concept musical capturing the spirit and tension of a Broadway chorus audition, this Pulitzer Prize-winning musical explores the inner lives and bittersweet ambitions of professional musical performers at a high-stakes audition.

A Life in the Theatre by David Mamet (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3m)
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author explores the lives of two actors: John, young and rising into the first flush of his success; and Robert, older, anxious, and beginning to wane. A series of short, spar and increasingly raw exchanges reveal the inevitable and endless cycle of life, in and out of the theatre.

Annie Get Your Gun by Irving Berlin, Herbert Fields, Dorothy Fields & Peter Stone (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 3f, 6m, 2 girls, 1 boy +Ensemble)
”There’s No Business Like Show Business!” This classic Irving Berlin musical captures the spirit and energy of a Wild West performance as Annie Oakley, the best sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s show, falls in love with her leading man.

Babes in Arms by Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart & John Guare (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2f, 1m, 3 girls, 8 boys +Ensemble)
This crowd-pleasing Rodgers & Hart classic is the quintessential “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” musical, boasting one of the greatest scores ever written for the stage.

Bernhardt/Hamlet by Theresa Rebeck (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3f, 8m)
In 1899, the international stage celebrity Sarah Bernhardt set out to tackle her most ambitious role yet: Hamlet. Theresa Rebeck’s play rollicks with high comedy and human drama, set against the lavish Shakespearean production that could make or break Bernhardt’s career.

City of Angels by Larry Gelbart, Cy Coleman & David Zippel (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 8f, 8m +Ensemble)
In the late 1940s, a bookish writer of detective stories, struggles to adapt his crime novel into a workable screenplay. With wit, humor, and a fantastic Cy Coleman score, City of Angels captures the snappy dialogue of a Raymond Chandler novel and the glitzy showmanship of classic Hollywood in a unique, jazzy and stylish crowdpleaser.

Curtain Up! by Peter Quilter (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 5f)
Curtain Up! is the hilarious story of five women who inherit equal shares in a dilapidated theatre and plan to bring it back to life again. A fast-paced and very funny comedy with five great roles for women.

Crazy For You by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin & Ken Ludwig (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 3f, 4m +Ensemble)
In this zany show-biz romantic comedy, a young New York banker travels to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a rundown theatre. He falls for the theatre owner’s daughter and vows – through cunning, razzmatazz, and a hilarious case of mistaken identity – to win her heart and save the theatre.

Dreamgirls by Tom Eyen, Henry Krieger & Michael Bennett (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 4f, 4m +Ensemble)
A sweeping and inspirational journey through 20th-century American pop music, this dynamic, Tony Award-winning musical chronicles one Motown group’s rise from obscurity to superstardom.

Dying for Theatre by Joe Simonelli (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3f, 4m)
In this fast-paced mystery/comedy, actors are inexplicably dying in a small community theater outside of Nyack, New York. Who is systematically murdering the Lakeview Players? It’s up to the theatre’s overworked resident playwright, Sal Fatone, to find out!

End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter (US)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 1f, 3m)
This play with music about the final years in the life of Judy Garland triumphed in London’s West End and on Broadway, inspiring the 2019 Oscar-winning film Judy.

Face the Music by Irving Berlin & Moss Hart (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 4f, 6m +Ensemble)
At the height of the Great Depression, Hal Reisman desperately seeks backers for his Broadway show. When he turns to crooked cops, hilarious hijinks ensue in this Irving Berlin treasure.

Funny Girl by by Jule Styne, Bob Merrill & Isobel Lennart (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 3f, 3m +Ensemble)
In the Ziegfeld Follies, in Hollywood films and on the radio, Fanny Brice was one of the most celebrated entertainers of her time. With humor, talent and chutzpah, young Fanny, an awkward Jewish girl who “isn’t pretty,” defies the odds and becomes one of the greatest stars of her generation.

Gutenberg! The Musical! by Scott Brown & Anthony King (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2m)
In this two-man musical spoof, a pair of aspiring playwrights perform a backers’ audition for their new, hilariously ill-advised project – a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann Gutenberg.

Gypsy by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim & Gypsy Rose Lee (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 6f, 2m +Ensemble)
The Mother of All Musicals! This jewel of Broadway’s Golden Age reveals the world of vaudeville and burlesque with an incomparable score, a brilliantly conceived book, and one of the greatest leading roles ever to grace the Broadway stage.

Holiday Inn by Irving Berlin, Gordon Greenberg & Chad Hodge (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 3f, 3m, 1 boy +Ensemble)
The beloved classic about a Connecticut inn and nightclub features one glorious Irving Berlin number after another, each celebrating a different festivity. Holiday Inn’s hit song, “White Christmas,” inspired another Irving Berlin musical, White Christmas (US/UK), which also explores the ins and outs of show biz, this time at a Vermont inn and nightclub.

Into the Breeches! by George Brant (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6f, 2m)
This surprisingly modern and moving comedy, set during World War II, explores the power of art and community, even in the darkest times. While Oberon Play House’s director and leading men are off at war, the director’s wife sets out to produce an all-female version of Shakespeare’s Henriad.

Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4f, 4m)
A sensation on Broadway and in London’s West End, this madcap, screwball comedy – set behind the scenes at the Cleveland Grand Opera Company in 1934 – is guaranteed to leave audiences teary-eyed with laughter. For more delirious opera fun, check out Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors (US/UK)

Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4f, 4m)
This hilarious backstage farce centers on George and Charlotte Hay, fading stars of the 1950s. As they attempt to play Private Lives and Cyrano De Bergerac in rep in Buffalo, New York, everything that can go wrong does. The increasingly dire stakes continue to rise in this sidesplitting, kinetic show-biz romp.

Kiss Me, Kate by Cole Porter, Sam Spewack & Bella Spewack (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 3f, 7m +Ensemble)
The battle of the sexes takes center stage as former spouses Fred & Lilli feud onstage and off during a musical presentation of The Taming of the Shrew. Sophisticated, romantic and hilarious, Kiss Me, Kate provides theatrical fireworks as the Golden Age of Broadway clashes with the Bard of Avon.

Mack & Mabel by Michael Stewart & Jerry Herman (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 5f, 10m)
Featuring one of Jerry Herman’s most tuneful scores, Mack & Mabel is a saga of the silent film era, “when movies were movies.” With wit and pizzazz, the musical explores the relationship of legendary silent film director Mack Sennett and his star, the endearing Mabel Normand.

Noises Off by Michael Frayn (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4f, 5m)
Called “the funniest farce ever written,” Noises Off presents a manic menagerie of itinerant actors rehearsing a flop called Nothing’s On. Doors slamming, on and offstage intrigue, and an errant herring all figure in the plot of this hilarious and classically comic play.

Play On! by Rick Abbot (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 7f, 3m)
Perfect for any performing group, this dynamic farce is the hilarious story of a theatre group trying desperately to put on a play in spite of maddening interference from a haughty author who keeps revising the script.

Popcorn Falls by James Hindman (US)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2 any gender)
The sleepy town of Popcorn Falls is forced into bankruptcy when a neighboring town threatens to turn them into a sewage treatment plant. Their only hope – open a theater! Two actors play over 20 roles in a world of farce, love and desperation, proving once and for all that art can save the world.

Present Laughter by Noël Coward (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6w, 5m)
At the center of his own universe sits matinee idol Garry Essendine: suave, hedonistic and too old – according to his wife – to be having numerous affairs. Just before Garry escapes on tour to Africa, his many misdemeanors are discovered, and all hell breaks loose.

Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3f, 5m)
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 1833. Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, has collapsed on stage whilst playing Othello. A young black American actor has been asked to take over the role. But as the public riot in the streets over the abolition of slavery, how will the cast, critics and audience react to the revolution taking place in the theatre?

Ruthless! The Musical! by Joel Paley & Marvin Laird (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 7f, with flexible gender casting)
This hilarious homage to campy backstage films was billed as “The Stage Mother of All Musicals!” Eight-year-old Tina Denmark – part darling Baby June from Gypsy, part homicidal Rhoda from The Bad Seed – will do anything to win the leading role in her school musical, including murdering the competition.

Shakespeare in Love by Lee Hall, Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 6f, 18m)
Based on the Academy Award-winning film, this enchanting, hilarious, romantic stage play reimagines William Shakespeare’s creative process – and explores his inspiration – as he writes Romeo and Juliet.

Stage Kiss by Sarah Ruhl (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3f, 4m)
Art imitates Life. Life imitates Art. When two actors with a history are thrown together as romantic leads in a forgotten 1930s melodrama, they quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage follows them offstage.

Summer Stock Murder by Kingsley Day, Philip LaZebnik and Paul Hough (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 5f, 6m)
Summer stock is a hotbed for affairs, huge egos and—apparently—murder! This riotous musical, set at the Sagautasac Playhouse, revels in high drama. Several bizarre murders befall the theatre as the players rehearse three consecutive shows: a Friml-esque operetta, a Cole Porter-ish potpourri, and a musical drama a la Sondheim.

The Dresser by Ronald Harwood (US)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3f, 10m)
Based on the author’s own experiences as dresser to Sir Donald Wolfit, this heartbreaking drama is an elegy to a bygone era. Backstage at an English theatre during WWII, an aging actor/manager’s dresser tries valiantly to prepare him to go on stage as King Lear.

The English Channel by Robert Brustein (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 1f, 3m)
This first play in Brustein’s fascinating and compelling trilogy on the life of William Shakespeare explores the writer’s relationship with the Earl of Southampton, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets and Christopher Marlowe during the unstable period before Marlowe’s death. Mortal Terror (US/UK), set against the turbulence of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, depicts the writing of Hamlet, and The Last Will (US/UK) examines the turmoil and confusion preceding Shakespeare’s death.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Rupert Holmes (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 4f, 7m)
In this hilarious whodunit, Charles Dickens’ final unfinished novel is presented as a show-within-a-show, as the Music Hall Royale – a delightfully loony Victorian theatre company – presents Dickens’ brooding mystery.

The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart, Richard Stilgoe & Gaston Leroux (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 4f, 6m +Ensemble)
This timeless masterwork tells the story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, exercising a reign of terror over all who inhabit it. In the sequel, Love Never Dies (US), the Phantom has escaped to a new life in New York, where he lives amongst the screaming joy rides and freak shows of Coney Island.

The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2f, 2m)
Good intentions collide with absurd assumptions in Larissa FastHorse’s wickedly funny satire, as a troupe of terminally “woke” teaching artists scrambles to create a pageant that somehow manages to celebrate both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month.

[title of show] by Jeff Bowen & Hunter Bell (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2f, 2m, 1 any gender)
A love letter to musical theatre and the joy of collaboration, [title of show] is the story of two struggling writers who, with the help of their friends, write and perform an original show at a new musical theatre festival, learning about themselves as people, friends and artists.

Need more ideas? In the US, check out these collections of Plays About Show Business and Musicals About Show Business. In the UK, check out this collection of Plays About Plays.

Header Image: 2018 New York City Center production of A Chorus Line (Joan Marcus)