With April 15th , 2017 being World Circus Day the team at Theatre People have compiled a list of 10 musicals about circus or with circus themes.

Happy World Circus Day.


1. Barnum

Written By: Mark Bramble

Music: Cy Coleman

Lyrics: Michael Stewart

Premiered: April 30th, 1980 at St. James Theatre, New York

Based of the life of showman P.T. Barnum, Barnum covers the period from 1835 to 1880 in America and major cities where Barnum took his performing companies. The production combines elements of traditional musical theatre with the spectacle of circus. A professional production of Barnum ran in Australia in 1982 staring Reg Livermore as Barnum.

Reg Livermore

Reg Livermore on the tight wire


2. Side Show 

Written By: Bill Russell

Music: Henry Krieger

Lyrics: Bill Russell

Premiered: October 16th , 1997 on Broadway

Side Show is the story of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, their tragic and often abusive upbringing at the hands of “The Boss” and his wife. After meeting Buddy and Terry, the twins begin dreaming of a better life. Eventually they became world famous vaudeville and stage performers in the 1930s. The Australian Premiere of Side Show took place in 2016 at the Hayes Theatre in Sydney with Laura Bunting as Daisy and Kerrie Anne Greenland as Violet.


Laura Bunting and Kerrie Anne Greenland


3. Jumbo 

Written By: Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur

Music: Richard Rodgers

Lyrics: Lorenz Hart

Premiered: November 16th, 1935 on Broadway

Jumbo tells the story of a financially strapped circus. At the end of each performance Jimmy Durante would lay down on the stage and permitted a live elephant to place its foot upon his head.

Jumbo with Doris Day

Doris Day in the MGM movie version of the musical Jumbo


4. The Circus in Winter  

Written By: Hunter Foster and Beth Turncotte

Music: Ben Clark

Lyrics: Ben Clark

Premiered: 2010 at the American College Theater Festival

The Circus in Winter is based on the book of the same name by Cathy Day. The musical follows the rise and fall of an American circus through the lives of the performers.

Circus in the Winter

Circus in the Winter


5. Carnival

Written By: Michael Stewart

Music: Bob Merrill

Lyrics: Bob Merrill

Premiered: March 9th , 1961 at the National Theatre in Washington DC

Carnival! is the story of orphan girl Lili who appears at a small European carnival seeking a friend of her dead father and hopefully a home. She is looked after by the carnival folk.

Carnival! Goodspeed Musicals East Haddam, CT   06423 860-873-8664

Goodspeed’s production of Carnival!


6. Sideshow Alley 

Written By: Gary Young

Music: Paul Keelan

Lyrics: Gary Young

Premiered: February 3rd, 2007 at QPAC, Brisbane

Sideshow Alley is an Australian musical about Rita, an Italian fortune teller, Billy, a rugged tent boxer and Alec, a charismatic drifter. Set in the 1950s it tells the story of unbided love and the discovery of identity in a world of prejudice. The production included Silvie Paladino as Rita, Alex Rathgeber as Billy and Christopher Parker as Alec.

Sideshow Alley musical

Chris Parker, Silvie Paladino and Alex Rathgeber in Sideshow Alley


7. Big Fish 

Written By: John August

Music: Andrew Lippa

Lyrics: Andrew Lippa

Premiered: September 5th , 2013 on Broadway

Big Fish tells the story Edward Bloom, a travelling salesman. Shifting between the present day real world with 60 year old Edward who faces his morality while his son Will prepares to become a father himself. In the storybook past, Edward ages as a teenager encountering a witch, a giant, a mermaid and the love of his life Sandra. The stories meet as Will discovers the secret his father never revealed.

The Australian Premiere of Big Fish begins in previews on Tuesday, April 18th at the Hayes Theatre, Sydney.

Big Fish Australia

Australian premiere of Big Fish


8. Pippin Broadway Revival 

Written By: Roger O. Hirson

Music: Stephen Schwartz

Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz

Premiered: March 23rd , 2013

Pippin tells the story Pippin, a young prince on his search for meaning and significance. The circus inspired 2013 Broadway Revival has Pippin guided on his journey by a mysterious group of performers. Pippin is currently touring the USA until mid June with Naysh Fox as Pippin.

Pippin Broadway revival

The 2017 USA National Tour of Pippin


9. Godspell 

Written By: John- Michael Tebelak

Music: Stephen Schwartz

Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz

Premiered: May 17th, 1971 Off- Broadway

Godspell is a show based on the gospel of St. Matthew and gospel of St. Luke and tells a series of parables through song and dance. In modern performances the show has been set in a care- worn circus and is made up of performers as they try to find their way in the world.


The 2016 Australian cast of Godspell at Melbourne’s Arts Centre


10. Sunny 

Written By: Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach

Music: Jerome Kern

Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach

Premiered: September 22nd , 1925 on Broadway, 1926 in London

Sunny tells the story of Sunny, the star of a circus act who falls in love with a rich playboy but comes in contact with his snooty family.

Sunny musical poster

Original Show Poster