Top 10 musical theater schools

Updated July 19, 2017

A general rule that is accepted among many professionals in show business is that musical theatre will bring in three times as much revenue as a straight play. With numbers like that, performers would be wise to increase their chances of future work by honing their musical theatre skills. While many universities offer courses in acting, dancing and singing, there truly is a difference when the combination of skills is taught.

When considering a musical theatre program, typically for an undergraduate, the best programs are those that offer a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Musical Theater. Most of these schools listed below have such an option, or offer a unique alternative that would still be considered by casting directors and agents as marketable.

These universities, not presented in a particular order, have been evaluated on several criteria such as course offerings, class sizes, faculty, success of graduates and opportunities provided by the school directly to the performing artist.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

U of M performing arts are combined under their School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, creating an environment that helps the musical theatre artist become a triple threat. Courses are offered not only in these three separate area but the disciplines are combined in Musical Theatre classes such as Musical Theatre Performance and History of the American Musical Theatre. The program offers a Bachelors of Fine Arts, the degree that many masters programs, conservatories and hiring theatres want a candidate to have. The school has several performance spaces, and there are opportunities to do classical work as well as contemporary and experimental works. Many alumni of this school have gone on to be working actors on Broadway and throughout the U.S.

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NYU, Tisch School of the Arts

NYU offers a unique program. Upon acceptance into the drama school, students are placed by the drama department into a particular studio. These top-notch studios include the Stella Adler school of acting, the Meisner studio and the New Studio on Broadway: Music Theatre and Acting. As the choice of studio lies within the faculty and not the student, those students who are not willing to risk placement in an alternative acting studio may not find this school suitable for them. However, your primary placement is into one studio, and after two years, you are able to choose to remain in your primary studio or to pursue training in another studio. The Tisch school offers over 200 performance opportunities, has produced countless professional actors and thoroughly prepares the student studying classical training as well as giving opportunities for experimental work. Besides these undergraduate degrees, the school also offers a graduate program in Musical Theatre Writing.

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Penn State School of Theatre

Offering a BFA in Musical Theatre as well as an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in Musical Theatre Directing, Penn State's School of the Arts trains undergrads in acting, dance, music, musical theatre and general education and allows undergraduate and graduates to work collaboratively with one another. Two full-length musicals are created each year, plus opportunities for musical revues, cabaret and new works readings and productions. Penn State offers generous talent-based scholarships for musical theatre students and the chance, in advanced years, to audition for professional theatres. The MFA program, a three-year study, combines the art of directing with the art of musical theatre in this unique opportunity. Students work on no less than five productions, including fully mounting their thesis production.

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University of Oklahoma's Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre

OU caps their musical theatre enrolment to only 50 students to ensure that the professional faculty can give students personal attention and help them to achieve their individual goals. Students will be trained in acting, music, dance and musical theatre. The curriculum offers an intense challenge to serious students, requiring at least 10 hours of degree focused study each semester. OU provides eight performance spaces to offer the experience of performing in different environments.

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Boston Conservatory

This conservatory program offers students the chance to earn a BFA, which requires 38 credit hours of music and musical theatre in addition to dance, acting and general education. After the second year of study, students are required to be evaluated by the faculty on artistic development and are either promoted to advance study or face dismissal from the program. This helps to ensure the best experience for the serious student as well as to demonstrate a focus on artistic preparedness. The Boston Conservatory also offers a Masters of Music in Musical Theatre, a two-year program focusing on musical theatre performance.

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Carnegie Mellon

Undergraduates are rigorously trained in the vital areas need for musical theatre performance. Opportunities exist to study cabaret, musical comedy and the classic musical. Individual singing lessons are offered to students, providing one-on-one attention that is crucial for vocal development. This school offers graduating seniors the opportunity to perform in front of New York and Los Angeles casting agents and directors.

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University of Texas at Austin

This school environment is perfect for the contemporary students who wish to pursue experimental works and embark on new creative and artistic discoveries. Situated in the city of Austin, well known for its artistic edge, UT's already well-rounded theatre program offers a Musical Theatre Initiative. Students who are pursuing a range of concentrations, including acting, playwriting, directing and stage managing, all collaborate on the development of musical theatre productions. Classes are tailored to each individual student's focus, giving them a unique perspective on the creation of a musical show that best suits his or her interests.

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Elon University

Numerous musical theatre classes are offered at this university in North Carolina, with 68 credit hours in musical theatre/theatre, in addition to general classes, required to graduate. The school boasts several successful graduates and a professional faculty.

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University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music

This university's musical theatre program has been in existence since the 1970s. Many successful alumni have graduated from this program and have had starring roles in major Broadway productions. The program is rigorous, preparing the theatre student for the life of a true professional. Four performance spaces are available to the students. Class sizes are small and individualised attention is a priority.

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University of Arizona

While many mainstage productions are reserved upper class students, the University of Arizona offers a musical review production specifically for incoming freshmen. Graduating seniors have an opportunity to perform for industry casting directors and other professionals. This university offers training through the Arizona Repertory Theatre and three touring ensembles, and reaches an audience of approximately 28,000 annually.

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About the Author

J. Lynn Patten has her bachelor's degree in psychology from Central Michigan University and is working on her master's in drama from Texas Woman's University. She has worked with the young for more than eight years, in educational, social and artistic venues.