The Number one play of the past 100 years is Arthur Miller’s 1949 play “Death of A Salesman,” according to Entertainment Weekly’s issue of July 5/12, 2013. Number 50 is Conor McPherson’s 1997 play “The Weir.” In-between are 48 other plays (the scripts, really, not any specific productions) that EW’s critics have chosen. (The print edition includes a brief description and explanation for each selection. I’ve linked each play below to its Amazon page, which provides a brief description of the play and a chance to purchase it.)
[Also check out: The Latest Theater Book Bestsellers (not necessarily scripts — also biographies, memoirs, histories, etc.)]
There are no musicals on this list. But beneath it is EW’s list of the 10 greatest musicals.
In order, they are:
1. Death of a Salesman (1949) by Arthur Miller
2. A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) by Tennessee Williams
3. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: (1962) by Edward Albee
4. Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956) by Eugene O’Neill
5.Fences(1985) by August Wilson
6. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1993-94) two plays by Tony Kushner
7. Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts (1953) by Samuel Beckett
8. Pygmalion (1913) by George Bernard Shaw
9. A Raisin in the Sun (1959) by Lorraine Hansberry
10.Our Town (1938) by Thornton Wilder
11. Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) by Luigi Pirandello
12. The Glass Menagerie (1944) by Tennessee Williams
13. Glengarry Glen Ross(1984) by David Mamet
14. August: Osage County (2007) by Tracy Letts
15. True West (1980) by Sam Shepard
16. The Iceman Cometh (1946) by Eugene O’Neill
17. Look Back in Anger (1956) by John Osborne
18. A View from the Bridge (1955) by Arthur Miller
19. The Little Foxes. (1939) by Lillian Hellman
20. The Real Thing (1982) by Tom Stoppard
21. Master Harold and the Boys (1982) by Athol Fugard
22. The Homecoming (1965) by Harold Pinter
23. Ruined (2008) by Lynn Nottage
24. Mother Courage and Her Children (1941) by Bertolt Brecht
25. Six Degrees of Separation (1990) by John Guare
26. Doubt (2004) by John Patrick Shanley
27. Top Girls (1982) by Caryl Churchill
28. Present Laughter (1942) by Noel Coward
29. Noises Off (1982) by Michael Frayn
30. Marat/Sade (1964) by Peter Weiss
31. The Lieutenant of Inishmore (2001) by Martin McDonagh
32. Machinal (1928) by Sophie Treadwell
33. The Norman Conquests(1973) trilogy by Alan Ayckbourn
34. The Bald Soprano (1950) by Eugene Ionesco
35. M. Butterfly (1988) by David Henry Hwang
36. The Dybbuk (1920) by S Ansky
37. Saved (1965) by Edward Bond
38.Topdog/Underdogby Suzan-Lori Parks
39. The Front Page (1928) by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
40. Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970) by Dario Fo.
41. Picnic (1953) by William Inge
42. Journey’s End (1928) by R.C. Sherriff
43 The Odd Couple (1965) by Neil Simon
44. The orphans’ home cycle (1962-2009) nine short plays by Horton Foote
45. The Women. (1936) by Clare Boothe Luce
46. What The Butler Saw (1969) by Joe Orton
47. Awake and Sing! (1935) by Clifford Odets
48. The Piano Lesson (1987) by August Wilson
49. Uncommon Women and Others (1977) by Wendy Wasserstein
50 The Weir (1997) by Conor McPherson
The 10 Greatest Musicals, according to EW
1. Guys and Dolls
3. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
5. West Side Story
10. The Book of Mormon
33 thoughts on “The 50 Best Plays of The Past 100 Years”
The list of musicals is such a slap-dash afterthought. Poo-poo.
It is truly a mess, that musicals list.
Seriously. It’s like whoever’s decided that list has visited their TV and their community theatre only. They’ve clearly never even stepped foot into a theatre in Chicago, Seattle, or New York.
Couldn’t agree more. Missing: The How to Succeed in Business without really trying, Hello Dolly, Mame, The Producers, A funny thing happened, etc, Promises, Promises, 1976, and I pulled those without really thinking about it. Oh, and Cats…I didn’t like Cats bu t apparently I was in the minority. My Fair Lady…please define “best” Mr. Mandell.
“The Book of Mormon” over “King and I”, “South Pacific” and “Sound of Music”. Come on now. Let’s discuss scores for one. I’m sure people will be singing those haunting melodies from “Mormon” for decades to come compared to those simple tunes Rodgers knocked off. Notice the hidden word in MUSICals.
It would be more accurate to call it “50 Best American/ British Plays of The Past 100 Years”.
Opps sorry. Missed out Beckett and Fugard. In that case, it should be “50 Best English Language Plays of the Past 100 Years”. Whatever it is, the original scope is too Eurocentric!
I think they get a pass on the English language thing seeing as how it is an English language publication. It seems fairly well-read for EW. Just wondering where Peter Shaffer is. And REAL THING is Stoppard’s entry, really?
Agreed with above – it’s an English language restricted list to be sure – and below – the absence of ‘Equus’ is felt.
Pirandello wrote _Six Characters_ in Italian; likewise Dario Fo and _The Accidental Death of an Anarchist_. Brecht wrote _Mother Courage_ in German. Ionesco wrote _The Bald Soprano_ in French. All that said, no, this list clearly wasn’t assembled by an international theater-going cohort.
Um, the list also includes Pirandello, Brecht, Weiss, Ionesco, Ansky, and Fo, none of whom wrote in English. Not that the list is worth defending–it’s pretty ludicrous.
I definitely agree with the euro-centric charge, but the apparent accusation that it’s all English Language? In addition to Beckett (often writing in French), what about Ansky, Brecht, Fo, Ionesco, and Pirandello? Yes, Kobo Abe, Lorca, Soyinka, and many more belong on this list, but for an EW article? I’m pretty impressed.
Interesting that ODD COUPLE, which is a very funny (if dated) play was chosen as the best representation of Neil Simon’s work and not one of the Brighton Beach trilogy or Lost in Yonkers which won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
How did CAROUSEL, an absolutely dark and maudlin musical which arguably glorifies family abuse (“Sometimes when you love someone a slap can feel like a kiss”) make it onto this list ahead of other Rodgers & Hammerstein vehicles like THE KING & I or THE SOUND OF MUSIC? An even better question, how can you leave off your list of musicals FIDDLER ON THE ROOF or PHANTOM OF THE OPERA — two of the longest running musicals in Broadway history — while including CAROUSEL? You might want to re-think that choice!
I agree that CAROUSEL shouldn’t be on the list because there are better musicals, not because it glorifies abuse. It clearly doesn’t glorify it. The play is about forgiveness and it an important comparison to OKLAHOMA with its general “gaiety”. Forgiveness is not easy and often comes at a serious cost. This is what the musical explores. Back when this was written, there where many musicals about po folk celebrating the simple life, but CAROUSEL examines a gritty, more troublesome consequence to poverty and sin. In this play, it is possible to hate the sin and not the sinner.
So where does To Kill A Mockingbird fit in?
Under “Best Novels,” one would assume.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” is number 13 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 100 “greatest novels ever”, which is in the same issue of the magazine.
soo few women…..why?
A play is a play, a crappy play written by a woman doesn’t get better just because a woman wrote it, likewise with plays written by men. If I had my way, all authors would leave their first names at an initial just so people wouldn’t get so hung up on it.
Seriously Matthew? All history aside I suppose. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/21/theater/theater-the-season-of-the-female-playwright.html
My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady is on the list. It’s called Pygmalion ..
There are excellent translations of Brecht, and Czechov and many others. An article like this is irrelevant when you fail to recognize important staples to the Theatre (English-speaking or otherwise). Where would LORT be without Czechov?
Chekhov died in 1904. This somewhat arbitrary list — created by Entertainment Weekly and NOT endorsed by me, by the way — focuses on “the last 100 years.”
But your basic point, and your example of Brecht, strike a chord.
Pretty poor list by my standards. Too much tragedy and angst. Not enough laughter and music. That’s what’s wrong with the world today anyway. Had to get down to #28 before I found something I would go see again and I have seen or read most of the others. And I agree with those who are looking for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. And BOOK OF MORMAN one of the top Musicals? I don’t think so. They needed to go back further on that list too. Porgy and Bess, Show Boat, etc.
I’d like to see data over opinions. These critics only seem to name musicals that have been made into movies. (or BoM because its the popular thing to say you’ve seen). Perhaps EW could have stated a brief recount of how they concluded these results instead of having an intern list the first ten titles found on IMDB. I would have accepted The Highest Grossing: Lion King, Longest Running: Phantom of the Opera, Most Accolades: The Producers. Most Revived Show: Porgy and Bess, ANYTHING would have been better than this list!
For a show that has energized Broadway, broken sales records, and rebuilt many a touring Broadway theatre for nine years, Wicked probably should be considered in any list of major musicals.
I love most of the list, and really, it is just a list. I am amazed that No One mentioned Les Miserables, which has been produced in more countries and more languages than any other musical, and happens to be the most attended musical of all time. Honestly, a list of best musicals that does not include Les Mis. is suspect.
I’ve never been a huge Death of a Salesman fan. I’ve always thought “The Crucible” and “All My Sons” we’re better. “Salesman” jumps around a lot and I’ve always thought can be hard to follow.
Love “Death of a Salesman,” but Streetcar Named Desire achieves more emotional complexity, character development, and to me, just feels more poetic and dynamic. To me, Death of a Salesman feels somewhat contrived and a bit one-dimensional in comparison. No American playwright, for my money, even comes close to Williams’ genius. He’s the closest thing we have to Shakespeare. Who else? To me Williams’ “Night of the Iguana” is better than most of the plays at the top of this list. Where is it? Its seems to me that both Pinter and Williams should both have WAY more plays on this list, several of them near the top.
Stoppard’s Arcadia is not on the list but Osborne’s Look Back in Anger is makes the list a load of nonsense.