In the 1940s the principal focus of new musical theatre remained in the US. The period kicked off with Rogers and Hart’s Pal Joey and Kurt Weill’s Lady in the Dark, but the big shakeup came in 1943 with the opening of Oklahoma from the new team of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Although typical in many ways, Oklahoma offered a production that gave equal focus to plot, character, song, and dance. It was also a hopeful, happy piece at a time when people were looking for a little escapism from war.
It proved a winning formula for Rogers and Hammerstein, who went on to write South Pacific, Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music.
Cole Porter also made something of a comeback in the 40s with Kiss Me Kate, while other hits from the time still revived today include Annie Get Your Gun and Brigadoon, followed by Guys and Dolls and My Fair Lady in the 1950s.
By the end of the 50s shows were beginning to experiment with something a little edgier, and along came Bernstein’s West Side Story. It is also worth noting his Candide, which flopped in the 50s only to find itself in a 70s revival. A final 1950s mention goes to Sandy Wilson’s The Boyfriend, which offered a successful nod back to the musicals of the 1920s.
The beginning of the 60s produced many a mainstream show of the kind audiences had come to expect and love, but these years also offered something a little different, such as Sondheim’s early work A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Meanwhile, across the pond, the British presented us with Half A Sixpence and Oliver!
A period of change was afoot. Cy Coleman arrived on the scene with Sweet Charity, and then there was the tribal love-rock musical, Hair, which played on many of the taboo subjects of the time. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the 60s, though, was the birth of the concept musical with Kander and Ebb’s provocative Cabaret.
Join me again in July when we examine the final decades of the 20th century and see the rise of the mega musical.