Broadway is littered with shows that either have been and currently are extraordinary. However, there are some shows that have truly altered the fabric of Broadway in major ways. We each have our own ideas about what shows should make the list, but here is a list of a handful of shows that virtually all people can agree on.
A Chorus Line
July 25, 1975 is when A Chorus Line first opened at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway. This production makes the list because of its class and working themes. The storyline of a group of hardworking hopefuls looking to make it big easily resonated with audiences when it opened and continued to impact audiences until it closed fifteen years later on April 28, 1990. It also started the workshop process for musicals and incorporated innovative lighting techniques that were normally reserved for movies.
Cats first opened at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre on October 7, 1982. The selection of this show may come as a surprise to some, but it was selected because it is seen by many as the production that triggered the British Invasion. The British Invasion was a mid-1960s phenomenon that occurred when rock and pop music acts from the United Kingdom, as well as other aspects of British culture, became popular in the United States. This time it was shows from the West End storming the Big Apple.
Company, which first opened at the Alvin Theatre in April 26, 1970, differs from many Broadway productions in that it is a concept musical. The series of short vignettes, presented in no particular chronological order centers around Bobby, his engaged/married friends, and his multiple girlfriends. In addition to the style in which it was presented, this production proved to be classic because it was among the first musicals to tackle adult topics and relationships.
Hair opened at the Biltmore Theatre on April 29, 1968 after a short stint Off-Broadway. This show saw the creation of a new sub-genre known as the rock musical that used comedic vignettes to tell a story. Birthed by the 60’s and the anti-war movement, this show opened the door for a subset of musicals that is still being explored today.
Of Thee I Sing!
December 26, 1931 was when the George and Ira Gershwin scored Of Thee I Sing! first opened. As the first musical to win a Pulitzer, this show blurred the lines between musical theatre and operetta in addition to gracefully handling political topics on stage in a musical.
Oklahoma! originally opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway in March 31, 1943. As the first collaboration between the dynamic duo Rodgers and Hammerstein, the show creatively blended music, dance, and dialogue unlike any show before it. Many believe that Oklahoma! took what started with Show Boat and built upon it to create a production that altered the course of American musicals from that moment on.
The show, which opened December 25, 1940 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, is another production on the list spearheaded by its risky and perhaps uncomfortable themes. Pal Joey unearthed the darker side of human nature in a way that had not been explored before, and perhaps well ahead of its time. This play embodies the concept of the anti-hero in the character Joey who is not phased by the way he emotionally toys with the women who fall in love with him. Plus, the show also contained overt sexuality and anti-romanticism themes that again strayed away from the norm of the day, making it a one of a kind production.
Rent opened at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996 and made huge waves in the Broadway world. It covered the controversial topics of HIV/AIDS and drug addiction through a series of well-intertwined individual stories. It also brought in a whole new generation of younger theater viewers as a result of the storyline and the music. Long after it closed on Broadway, the message it conveyed still impacts those who viewed it.
Show Boat, which opened December 27, 1927, makes the list because of the artistic and thematic strides taken by Oscar Hammerstein. The play boldly addressed the issues of racism and classism as portrayed by the characters’ reactions to an illegal interracial marriage and the second-class status of African Americans during that time period. The music and lyrics created for the production intensify the plot and move it along in a well-connected manner.
The Lion King
The Lion King opened at the New Amsterdam Theater on November 13, 1997 and it continues to amaze children and adults alike. It was Disney’s second stab at Broadway after serving up the innovative Beauty and the Beast in 1994. The Lion King not only makes the list because of the beautiful and elaborate artistic nature of the animal costumes and the scenery which have been featured in the Smithsonian, but it also makes the list because it helped to create a new family-friendly subset on Broadway. This film-to-stage translation took a story that kids loved and stunningly recreated it in a way that could be enjoyed by all members of the family, opening the door for other family-friendly productions to follow and succeed.
Opening April 19, 2001, The Producers was a huge blockbuster musical that revamped Broadway theatre in that it “created (or re-created) a new era of “wink wink,” self-referential, fourth-wall-destroying musical theater”, as put by About.com’s Paul Cozby. This musical also excited the Tony Awards in a way that many shows before it failed to do.
West Side Story
West Side Story first opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957. It makes the list of Broadway changing greats because it built upon the foundation of Oklahoma! by adding a modern-day urban setting. Director and choreographer of the show, Jerome Robbins, gracefully combined “realism and fantasy, athleticism and ballet, and grit in grace” in order to bring the story to life, as put by About.com writer Paul Cozby. He adds that “West Side Story is a bridge between the so-called “Golden Age” musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the Sondheim era about to begin. Interestingly, it lost the Best Musical Tony to The Music Man.”
Whether or not your favorite show made the list, you cannot deny the value of the shows mentioned above, and the ripples they made upon future productions. Each show has made an incalculable impact that will be felt by generations of theatre lovers to come.
Author: Diamond Grant