The 1940s marked the start of the Golden Age of American Musical theater. It was a time where Broadway featured hits from Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, and Americans were introduced to the influential and successful collaborations of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The style and unique sound of the Golden Age shows often captured a true sense of Americana. In a time of war, musical theater was an escape from the everyday issues that our country was facing. Here are some of the best Broadway Shows from the 1940’s.
Cue up the title song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration and you’re likely to have a room full of people singing along with its iconic lyrics: “Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain and the waving wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right before the rain.” Oklahoma! opened on March 31st, 1943 at the St. James Theater and it turned out to be a Broadway smash. Set in the West Indian Territory, Oklahoma! is the story of rivalry, love, cowboys, and farmers. The backdrop is the 1906 picturesque Oklahoma territory and the main characters include Curly McLain the handsome cowboy, Laurey the lovely farm girl, Will Parker the cowboy, and his fiancée Ado Annie. We are introduced to these characters as Curly the cowboy looks into the beautiful blue morning sky and encounters Laurey the farm girl where he sings “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.“ Rogers and Hammerstein were praised for their sophistication and creative collaboration. They were awarded a special Pulitzer Award for Oklahoma! in 1944 and the show was considered the first blockbuster Broadway show. If you are looking for a show that is a perfect slice of Americana, this is it.
Recently put on by NYFA’s Musical Theatre department, Carousel is a classic and iconic American Musical that opened in 1945 at the Majestic Theater. This show dives into true human emotions with a beautiful score featuring the songs “If I Loved You,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “Mister Snow.” This was Rogers and Hammerstein’s second collaboration, following on the success of Oklahoma! . Rogers wrote that Carousel was of his favorite musicals to write. The plot takes place along the New England coastline revolving around a carnival barker named Billy Bigelow and a mill worker named Julie Jordan who fall in love. Their romance cost them both their jobs and we see their lives begin to un-ravel with unfortunate choices and events. Carousel, through its snazzy choreography and catchy songs, touches upon the power of forgiveness and love. This Tony Award winning show captures your heart and leaves you humming the operatic tunes.
Kiss Me Kate
This Tony Award-winning musical featured the songs “So In Love,” “Too Darn Hot,” and “Tom, Dick, or Harry.” Written by Samuel and Bella Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, it opened at the New Century Theater on December 30th, 1948. Kiss Me Kate was a battle of the sexes that also dealt with romance, conflict, show business, and some gangsters. The show centers around director and leading man Fred Graham and his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi, who also happens to be his leading lady. Although divorced they begin to realize their love has not completely faded away. Being somewhat of a play within a play, Kiss Me Kate is an updated version of Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew. By far the best part of Kiss Me Kate is the fun and dazzling lyrics by the talented Cole Porter. Toss in some heavy dance numbers and you have yourselves a toe-tapping comedic musical.
Annie Get Your Gun
This show is a fictionalized version of the real life of sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Set in the 1800’s, Annie Get Your Gun first opened on Broadway on May 16th, 1946. It follows the story of Annie Oakley and sharpshooter Frank Butler as they compete for who has the best shot. This backwoods lady’s talent for being the best shot in town creates trouble and romance. The always amazing and talented Bernadette Peters starred as Annie in the Broadway revival. With its competitive spirit Annie Get Your Gun boasts an enchanting score with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. It features the songs “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “I Got The Sun in the Morning.” You”ll find yourself rooting for this naive, wild, and vibrant spirited country gal. Annie Get Your Gun is a darn tootin’ fun musical.