A great musical will pull the audience into the story and touch their hearts through its songs. Check out these tips on how to write a great musical:
Watch musicals to find inspiration for what you want your musical to be like. Study a wide variety to see which style you gravitate towards. It is often easier to find a film adaptation rather than the live version, but try to catch it on stage if you can. Here is a short list of musicals to check out: Porgy and Bess, Chicago, A Chorus Line, Rent, My Fair Lady, Wicked, The Music Man, Hairspray, Westside Story, The Sound Of Music, Hair, Carousel, Guys And Dolls, and the list goes on!
Write an outline for your story. Begin to write the dialogue (book) following the same principles you would for writing any story. Focus on the characters motivations and conflicts. You can follow the classic three-act (Aristotelian) structure: introduction of characters/conflict, conflict escalation, the resolution.
When you decide to write the music and lyrics into the story depends on what works best for you. It also depends on if you are collaborating with another person to develop the music or lyrics. In collaborations of Larry Hart and Richard Rogers, they usually worked on the songs before the plot was developed (“The Lady Is A Tramp”). In Oscar Hammerstein’s work with Rogers, the book and lyrics were produced before the music (The Sound Of Music, Oklahoma!, The King And I).
Write songs that express the themes of the play and the character conflicts. The songs need to drive the story in the same way that the dialogue does. Cut out songs or dance numbers don’t serve the immediate purpose of the story.
Many of the classic musicals include an overture in the beginning of the story that introduces the characters and the world of the story. Consider adding this classic element to your musical. You can also have the overture repeat itself throughout the play, reminding the audience of a current theme or emotional element in the story. This can repeat in a different key or be sung by different characters in the story.
After you have completed your first draft, get feedback from your friends and other writers. If you are connected to a community theatre, have some theatre artists workshop your play to see what works and what needs to be cut out. This is a great way to edit your musical based on what you know will play well on stage. All Broadway musicals follow a similar workshop process and are constantly in the state of revision for weeks.