15 Must-See Musicals and Plays to Honor and Celebrate Memorial Day

As Memorial Day approaches, it’s a perfect time to reflect and celebrate through the arts. We’ve curated a list of fifteen powerful musicals and plays that capture the spirit of remembrance and honor those who have served. From stirring war-time stories to heartfelt tributes, these performances offer a poignant and entertaining way to commemorate the holiday. Join us as we explore these must-see titles that are sure to inspire and move you this Memorial Day.


All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, Written by Peter Rothstein, Vocal Arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach

Photo by Dan Norman, PBS Streaming

The Western Front: Christmas 1914. Out of the violence of World War I, a silence, then a song. A German soldier steps into No Man’s Land singing “Stille Nacht.” Thus begins an extraordinary night of camaraderie, music, and peace. An a cappella chorale, All Is Calm is a remarkable true story in the words and songs of the men who lived it.

The Andrews Brothers, Written by Roger Bean

A USO performance from the Andrews Sisters is in jeopardy of cancellation when they fail to appear shortly before curtain. Thankfully, three earnest stagehands are determined to go on with the show! The Andrews Brothers is filled to the brim with 30 songs made famous by The Andrews Sisters and other top artists of the era, including the showstoppers “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Three Little Sisters,” and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.” Mistaken identities and madcap adventures—imagine Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in a road movie of Some Like It Hot—along with the music of an entire generation highlight this wonderful valentine to the heroes of World War II.


Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Photo by Karli Cadel, 2013 Off-Broadway Production

Somewhere in Philadelphia, Elliot has returned from Iraq and is struggling to find his place in the world. Somewhere in a chat room, recovering addicts keep each other alive, hour by hour, day by day. The boundaries of family and community are stretched across continents and cyberspace as birth families splinter and online families collide. Water by the Spoonful is a heartfelt meditation on lives on the brink of redemption.

Beyond Glory, a play by Stephen Lang, from the book by Larry Smith

In Stephen Lang’s theatrical adaptation of Larry Smith’s book Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words, Lang presents the stories of eight veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, rendering firsthand accounts of the actions which resulted in each of them receiving the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor. Beyond Glory gathers these men together in the present to look back on the defining moments of their lives and to examine the meaning of courage, duty, and, ultimately, humility.

Deep are the Roots by Arnaud D’Usseau and James Gow

A Black war hero returns to his hometown in the South and is welcomed by the white family in which he was employed. All would have gone well if it were not that one of the women of the family has fallen deeply in love with him. On this fundamental basis, the authors show how the hero is overwhelmed by the prejudice that keeps him from being treated not only as a hero but as a man. Though the play is, of course, a plea for decency and justice, it is an exciting, suspenseful, and holding story.

Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Photo by Genaro Molina, 2018 Kirk Douglas Theatre Production

Tracing the legacy of war through three generations of a Puerto Rican family, the play focuses on nineteen-year-old Elliot, a recently anointed hometown hero who returns from Iraq with a leg injury and a difficult question: Will he go back to war a second time? While on leave, Elliot learns the stories of his father and grandfather who served in Korea and Vietnam before him.

Fifth of July by Lanford Wilson

Photos by Nick Vedros, 2006 Kansas City Actors Theatre Production

The scene is a sprawling farmhouse in rural Missouri, which is home to Ken, a legless Vietnam veteran, and his lover, Jed, a horticulturist. They are visited by Ken’s sister, June, and her teenage daughter, and by Gwen and John—the former a hard-drinking, pill-popping heiress who aspires to be a rock star, the latter her wary-eyed husband and manager. All are old friends from college days, and former activists who agitated for what they hoped would be a better world. The action centers on Gwen’s offer to buy the farm, which she plans to convert into a recording center, and on Ken’s Aunt Sally, who has come to the family homestead to scatter the ashes of her late husband. Their talk, as the play progresses, is sharp and funny and, in the final essence, deeply revealing of lost hopes and dreams and of the bitterness that must be fought back if one is to perceive the good that life can offer.

The Happiest Song Plays Last by Quiara Alegría Hudes

In a barrio living room in North Philly, an activist-turned-music-professor moonlights as the local soup kitchen queen, cooking free rice and beans for any hungry neighbor. Halfway around the world, her cousin relives his military trauma on the set of a docudrama that’s filming in Jordan. With the Egyptian revolution booming in the distance, these two young adults try to sing a defiant song of legacy and love in the face of local and global unrest.

Lone Star by James McLure

The play takes place in the cluttered backyard of a small-town Texas bar. Roy, a brawny, macho type who had once been a local high-school hero, is back in town after a hitch in Vietnam and trying to reestablish his position in the community. Joined by his younger brother, Ray (who worships him), Roy sets about consuming a case of beer while regaling Ray with tales of his military and amorous exploits. Apparently Roy cherishes three things above all; his country, his sexy young wife, and his 1959 pink Thunderbird. With the arrival of Cletis, the fatuous, newlywed son of the local hardware store owner, the underpinnings of Roy’s world begin to collapse as it gradually comes out that Ray had slept with his brother’s wife during his absence and, horror of horrors, has just demolished his cherished Thunderbird. But, despite all, the high good humor of the play never lapses, and all ends as breezily and happily as it began.

The Nerd by Larry Shue

Photo by T. Charles Erickson, 2018 George Street Playhouse Production

Now an aspiring young architect in Terre Haute, Indiana, Willum Cubbert has often told his friends about the debt he owes to Rick Steadman, a fellow ex-GI whom he has never met but who saved his life after he was seriously wounded in Vietnam. He has written to Rick to say that, as long as he is alive, “you will have somebody on Earth who will do anything for you” —so Willum is delighted when Rick shows up unexpectedly at his apartment on the night of his thirty-fourth birthday party. But his delight soon fades as it becomes apparent that Rick is a hopeless “nerd” —a bumbling oaf with no social sense, little intelligence and less tact. And Rick stays on and on, his continued presence among Willum and his friends leading to one uproarious incident after another, until the normally placid Willum finds himself contemplating violence—a dire development which, happily, is staved off by the surprising “twist” ending of the play.

Booby Trap, by Ed Monk

Photo by Dahlia Katz, 2017 Studio 180 Theatre/Harold Green Jewish Theatre Production

In the near future, an American soldier sits in a combat zone, trapped by a land mine. As he waits to see what will happen to him, scenes from his past, present, and future unfold around him.

The Boys of Winter by John Pielmeier

Shortly after a hellish experience on a hilltop in the Quang Tri Province of Vietnam, Lieutenant William Bonney shot seven Vietnamese villagers in cold blood. Called to answer for the brutal atrocities against these civilians, Bonney and his men give their testimonies of the incidents leading up to the lieutenant’s court-martial. Juxtaposing the brutal conditions in Vietnam with the trial, this gripping play examines the primal brotherhood of war and the punishing emptiness of those who return from it.

If All the Sky Were Paper by Andrew Carroll

After bestselling author Andrew Carroll found a riveting, heartfelt letter written by a distant cousin deployed as a pilot in World War II, he embarked on a trip to all fifty states and to more than thirty countries across the globe, including two active war zones, in search of more wartime correspondences. The letters and emails he found—by combat troops, medics, nurses, and chaplains, as well as family members on the home front and civilians caught in the crossfire of battle—came to represent to Carroll the “world’s great undiscovered literature.” They weren’t just about warfare, he realized, they were about the human condition itself—love and longing, courage and resilience, grief and hope, compassion and mercy, and, ultimately, reconciliation. Carroll’s journey, which is at times harrowing but also humorous, creates the narrative arc of the show. Already performed in high schools and colleges, community theatres, and major venues, including the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., across the country, If All the Sky Were Paper is a play that is both timely and timeless.

World War II Radio Christmas Play by Pat Kruis Tellinghusen

This moving holiday show recreates the experience of attending a recording of a 1940s radio show broadcast on Christmas Eve during World War II. Using period songs and stories inspired by actual veterans, World War II Radio Christmas transports the audience to another time, brought to you by such generous sponsors as Vaseline Hair Tonic and Ipana Toothpaste. An inspiring look at strength in the face of hardship, this play is a reminder of the importance of coming together for the holidays.

Ajax in Iraq by Ellen McLaughlin

Past and present collide in Ellen McLaughlin’s mash-up of Sophocles’ classic tragedy Ajax with the modern-day Iraq war. The play follows the parallel narratives of Ajax, an ancient Greek military hero, and A.J., a female American soldier serving in Iraq. Both are models of valor in combat, and both pay a price for their valor as they struggle within themselves. Inspired by material collected from interviews with Iraq war veterans and their families, AJAX IN IRAQ explores the timeless struggle soldiers face in trying to make sense of war.

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