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A New Beginning (1940- 1950) “They Couldn’t Pick a Better Time” Kenrick, Chapter 11 (238-264)
1940 With the world at war and America still suffering effects from the Great Depression, most Broadway professionals sensed that audiences of the early 1940s wanted an escape from reality, the more lighthearted the better. For example, Irving Berlin had reigned as America's most popular composer since 1911, contributing hit songs to numerous stage reviews and films.Irving Berlin The 1940s brought his first book musical to Broadway -- Louisiana Purchase (444 perf) a comic send-up of Louisiana politics co-starring the popular team of William Gaxton and Victor Moore. It featured a story by Buddy DeSylva and a libretto by Morrie Ryskind. Choreographer George Balanchine choreographed a dream ballet.William Gaxton Victor Moore
Irving Berlin at rehearsal for Louisiana Purchase, 1940
Louisiana Purchase Louisiana Purchase The opening of the show caught theatregoers off guard. It began with a lone woman on stage in the middle of a busy morning. Moments later, a man came on to sing the opening number as a solo with no ensemble in sight. The heroine also danced a dream ballet when she had to choose between two suitors…all of these devices would be employed in Oklahoma!
Its director, Edward McGregor was also the director for this Ethel Merman vehicle, the first time she was billed as star.
Let’s Face It Let’s Face It Music by Cole Porter, Book by Herb and Dorothy Fields (1941) Let’s Face It The show featured Eve Arden and Danny Kaye in a tale of three wealthy wives who get revenge on their cheating husbands by taking on three soldiers as gigolos. The score included "You Irritate Me So." Wartime audiences were delighted, and Porter had another show top the 500 performance mark. Danny Kaye
SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS(1943) is an example of what musical comedy tried to be in the early 40s, placing a major star in an unlikely situation and adding a few comic twists. Ethel Merman played a wartime factory worker who inherits property adjacent to a military base in Texas. While there, she falls in love with a bandleader/soldier and finds that her dental fillings pick up radio signals. This gave Merman plenty of comic moments and Porter songs to belt. Not great art, but it packed the Imperial Theatre for over a year.
Another “business as usual” musical comedy from the early part of the decade.
Banjo Eyes From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Banjo Eyes is a musical based on the play Three Men on a Horse by John Cecil Holm and George Abbott. It has a book by Joseph Quinlan and Izzy Ellinson, music by Vernon Duke, and lyrics by John La Touche and Harold Adamson. Produced by Albert Lewis and staged by Hassard Short, the Broadway production opened on December 25, 1941 at the Hollywood Theatre, where it ran for 126 performances. The cast included Eddie Cantor, Lionel Stander, and William Johnson. Although Cantor was known as "Banjo Eyes," the title referred not to his character but to a talking race horse, played in costume by the vaudeville team of Mayo and Martin. In dream sequences, Banjo Eyes would give Cantor's character tips on which horses were going to win different races, but warned him his supposed talent for picking the winners would vanish if he ever placed a bet himself. The book was a very loose adaptation of its source, and the World War II anthem "We Did It Before (And We Can Do It Again)" by Charles Tobias and Cliff Friend was interpolated into the score for no apparent reason other than to stir up patriotism among audience members. Cantor closed the show by singing a medley of his hits in his customary blackface. The show closed when its star suffered a medical emergency. It was his last appearance on Broadway.We Did It Before
Vernon Duke (1903-1969) Composer of BANJO EYES, he was a Russian-born composer who came to the US to emulate his heroes George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. His first songs were written for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. His first book musical was CABIN IN THE SKY. The show opened for 156 performances in 1940. Click to view the trailer for the 1943 film. CABIN IN THE SKY1943 film
Cabin in the Sky by Vernon Duke, Lynn Root (book) and John LaTouche (lyrics) Directed and Choreographed by George Balanchine George BalanchineGeorge Balanchine
Lady in the Dark Lady in the Dark One of the most innovative shows of the decade. Written as a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence. Gertrude Lawrence Lady in the DarkGertrude Lawrence
Ira Gershwin withdrew from show business for several years after his brother George's death. He returned by teaming with Kurt Weill and playwright Moss Hart to write Lady in the Dark (1941 - 467), the story of a magazine editor using psychoanalysis to explore her emotional insecurities. The music was restricted to several dream sequences in which the main character saw herself at events representing her inner turmoil -- a party, a trial, and a circus. With the songs "My Ship" and "Jenny," Gertrude Lawrence kept audiences cheering for the longest run of her career. Kurt Weill Moss Hart My ShipGertrude Lawrence The result was a stunning blend of all components of the theatre. According to published reports, the production involved a company of 58 performers, 51 stagehands, and 4 revolving stages. It was mounted for the then staggering cost $130,000. - Stanley Richards, Great Musicals of the American Theatre, Vol. 2, (Radnor, PA: Chilton Books, 1976), p. 74.
Danny Kaye Danny Kaye played an effeminate fashion photographer and his lightning fast delivery of "Tschaikowsky” made him a star. "Tschaikowsky”
Higher and Higher premiered at the Shubert Theatre on April 4, 1940 and closed on June 15, 1940 after 84 performances. It played a return engagement at the Shubert Theatre from August 5, 1940 to August 24, 1940. Shubert Theatre It was directed by Joshua Logan, with choreography by Robert Alton, scenic design by Jo Mielziner and costume design by Lucinda Ballard. The cast featured Jack Haley. A film based on the stage musical was released in 1943, also starring Haley.Jack Haley The big hit for Rodgers and Hart that year was PAL JOEY…
Richard Rodgers Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart took some creative risks with Pal Joey (374 perf.), Broadway's first musical to center on an anti-hero. The title character is a sleazy nightclub hoofer who hustles his way to success by manipulating a wealthy mistress, only to lose everything when she dumps him. The score ranged from the innocent romance of "I Could Write A Book" to the sexual bite of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." Lorenz Hart "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."
Gene Kelly and Vivienne Segal Newcomer Gene Kelly played the title role, with Vivienne Segal as his mistress and vaudeville’s former "Baby June”--June Havoc--as one of the nightclub showgirls. Veteran director George Abbott was on hand to pull all these elements together. Though most critics objected to Pal Joey's seamy subject matter, it ran for a profitable year. Many of the same critics would praise Pal Joey when it was revived in 1952.Gene Kelly Vivienne Segal ”June HavocGeorge Abbott
By Jupiter Ray Bolger as Sapiens Rodgers and Hart took a lighter turn with By Jupiter (427 perf ) which told of a conflict between ancient Greeks and female Amazon warriors. Although it was a traditional musical comedy, hilarious role reversals between men and women ("You swear like a longshorewoman!") stretched the creative boundaries. By Jupiter 1942
Ray Bolger and Constance Moore in BY JUPITER A stellar performance by Ray Bolger and a score that included "Wait Till You See Her" made this Rodgers & Hart's longest running show. It was also the last new show they would collaborate on.Ray Bolger
The end of one partnership… Torn by personal demons, Hart had become a hopeless alcoholic. His talents were intact, but he would disappear for days and even weeks at a time. An anxious Rodgers asked his longtime partner to dry out and work with him on a musical adaptation of Lynn Rigg’s unsuccessful play Green Grow the Lilacs. The Theatre Guild needed this project to settle its mounting debts. When Hart refused, Rodgers warned that he was ready to work with Oscar Hammerstein II. Hart encouraged Rodgers to pursue the new partnership, then headed off to Mexico for a drinking spree.Oscar Hammerstein II
…and the beginning of another Rodgers joined up with Hammerstein, who had been interested in adapting Green Grow the Lilacs for several years--his longtime collaborator Jerome Kern had rejected the project. Thus began the most renowned creative partnership the American musical theatre has ever known. "They couldn't pick a better time to start in life...”
"Many a New Day" The day after Oklahoma! opened, no one realized that a new age had dawned on Broadway. But it soon became apparent that standards had changed, and that the slap-dash musical comedy was no longer acceptable. This new standard challenged everyone in the business, including Rodgers and Hammerstein themselves. Film producer Sam Goldwyn bumped into Richard Rodgers soon after the opening of Oklahoma! and said, "Know what you should do now? Shoot yourself!" However, R&H remained the most important team in musical theatre for years to come by writing shows that kept re- defining the genre.
Carmen Jones Carmen Jones (1943) Carmen Jones Immediately after Oklahoma, the two men worked apart for a short time. While Rodgers worked on the wartime revival of A Connecticut Yankee, Hammerstein concentrated on updating the libretto of Bizet's opera Carmen while leaving the music in its original form. The classic tale of a fiery factory girl who inspires a naive soldier to give up everything for the sake of their passion was reset in the American South with an African-American cast. Hammerstein's Carmen Jones (502 performances) became the longest running black production of the 1940s.
In one of Broadway's sadder footnotes, Larry Hart was in the audience on Oklahoma's opening night, sober and stunned by its triumph. He agreed to help Rodgers prepare a revival of A Connecticut Yankee (1943), revising the script and giving longtime friend Vivienne Segal the new comic showstopper "To Keep My Love Alive.” But Hart was soon drinking again, and he showed up for Yankee's opening night falling-down drunk.Larry Hart Vivienne Segal 1943 revival
During the second act, he started singing along from the rear of the theatre and was ejected. Weakened by years of alcohol addiction, Hart succumbed to pneumonia and died three days later. He was 48 years old. Hart's death signified the end of an era and ushered in an era of the integrated musical play.
“Allegro” finale Jo Stafford sings THE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPETHE GENTLEMAN IS A DOPE
Three 1944 Hits represent the status quo. All of these shows followed the old form mixing spectacle, with pretty girls with songs and a sketchy plot. Mexican Hayride Mexican Hayride (Cole Porter) 481 performances
Hats Off to Ice starring Sonja Henie – 889 performances
Follow the Girls Follow the Girls with Jackie Gleason 882 performances
These 1944 shows were integrated musicals using dance to advance the action BLOOMER GIRL BLOOMER GIRL was choreographed by Agnes DeMille with a score by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg (The Wizard of Oz) and ran for 654 performances.
These 1944 shows were integrated musicals using dance to advance the action THE SONG OF NORWAY THE SONG OF NORWAY was a musical bio of composer Edvard Grieg staged by George Balanchine. (860)
These 1944 shows were integrated musicals using dance to advance the action ON THE TOWN ON THE TOWN was based upon the ballet “Fancy Free” staged by Jerome Robbins with a score by Leonard Bernstein. Book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. (462)
On the Town, original production shows the sailors at Times Square
Sigmund Romberg’s UP IN CENTRAL PARK (1945) was a musical comedy with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The first hit for choreographer Helen Tamaris, a pioneer of modern dance, ran for 504 performances.
Pearl Bailey was featured in ST. LOUISST. LOUIS WOMANWOMAN and ran for 113 performances in 1946. It introduced the Arlen/Mercer standard “Come Rain of Come Shine.” It also featured Harold Nicholas in its cast as a jockey.
This is the Army, 1942 After America entered World War II, Berlin triumphed again with This is the Army (1942 - 113), a revue with an all-Army cast poking lighthearted fun at the trials of military life. Musical highlights included "I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen." Berlin himself performed "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," which he had introduced in the World War I fundraiser Yip, Yip, Yapank (1918 - 32). After an extended Broadway run, This is the Army toured the US, had a hit London run, and was made into a popular film, eventually earning over $9 million for the Army's Emergency Relief Fund. Revues were still popular…
Call Me MisterCall Me Mister, 1946 Call Me Mister A revue about the struggles of soldiers returning home from the war. (734 performances)
Lend An EarLend An Ear, 1948 Lend An Ear First show directed by Gower Champion (1920-1980). It featured Carol Channing in its cast.
Annie Get Your Gun, 1946 When Jerome Kern died in 1945, Herbert & Dorothy Fields needed a new composer for a musical about famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Rodgers and Hammerstein were already producing the project and swamped with other commitments, so they turned to friend and colleague Irving Berlin.Jerome Kern Herbert & Dorothy FieldsIrving Berlin Berlin was uncertain that he could adapt to the new style of fully integrated musical play. Handed the libretto on a Friday, he showed up the following Monday with "Doin’ What Comes Naturally," "You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun" and "There’s No Business Like Show Business" -- great songs that were firmly rooted in character & the plot. Annie Get Your Gun (1946 - 1,147) became Berlin’s and leading lady Ethel Merman’s longest running hit, and it remains a perennial favorite.Ethel Merman
Miss LibertyMiss Liberty, 1949 Miss Liberty Berlin rehearses with Eddie Albert and the original cast of MISS LIBERTY.
Kiss Me Kate, 1948 Kiss Me Kate, 1948 Kiss Me Kate's (1,077) opening night audience filled The Century Theater with cheers. Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison starred as the battling lovers with Lisa Kirk and Harold Lang as the misbehaving ingénues. The libretto and lyrics kept the original spirit of Shakespeare intact, but added a healthy dose of sophisticated contemporary hilarity. Porter's score included "Wunderbar," "So In Love," and the bawdy "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." It received the first Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for Best Musical. To everyone's delight (especially his own), Porter was once again "the top" in musical comedy.Brush Up Your Shakespeare
If Berlin was nervous about writing the R&H type of musical, Cole Porter was petrified at the prospect. By 1948, Porter had gone several seasons without a hit and was considered a has-been.Cole Porter When offered Bella and Sam Spewack's libretto about an estranged couple battling on and offstage while starring in a musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Porter turned out the finest score of his career. In fact, the show was so well written that it needed no major revisions during its tryout tour. The young producers were on such a limited budget that many of the costumes were made from inexpensive drapery fabric, but Lemuel Ayers's designs were so imaginative that no one noticed.
Kurt Weill continued to write for the theatre. With Ogden Nash in 1943 With Elmer Rice, 1947
Lost in the Stars, 1949 With Maxwell Anderson, an innovative work about South African apartheid.
Finian’s Rainbow, 1947 Finian’s Rainbow, 1947 Finian's Rainbow (725) was an integrated musical that tackled racism as social satire. It told the story of an Irishman who steals the leprechauns' legendary crock of gold and buries it near Fort Knox, thinking it will grow in such "rich" soil. While the Irishman's daughter falls in love with an American, an avenging leprechaun is distracted by human love -- and an innocent wish turns a bigoted Southern congressman into a black man.
Finian’s Rainbow, 1947 David Wayne David Wayne as Og the leprechaun, became the first performer in a musical to receive "The Tony. " The lyrics by Yip Harburg and the score by Burton Lane included "Look to the Rainbow," "That Old Devil Moon, " "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" and "When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love."Yip HarburgBurton Lane "When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love
Brigadoon, 1947 Brigadoon, 1947 In a more romantic vein, lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe found success with the story of two men who stumble into a town that magically reappears in the Scottish highlands for only one day every century. Brigadoon (581) was graced with a ravishing score that included "Almost Like Being In Love" and "There But For You Go I." Agnes DeMille contributed several ravishing ballets, helping to make Brigadoon became one of the most frequently revived musicals in the international repertoire. Alan Jay Lerner Frederick LoeweAlmost Like Being In Love
Where’s Charley?, 1948 Where’s Charley?, 1948 Tin Pan Alley songwriter Frank Loesser was best known for his wartime hit "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." His first Broadway score was for Where’s Charley (792), based on the old British comedy Charley’s Aunt. The sweet ballad "My Darling" made it onto the pop charts, but it was "Once In Love With Amy" that caused a sensation -- thanks to a happy accident. One night early in the run, Ray Bolger heard the audience chuckle partway through the song. It seems a a child had begun to sing along with him. The veteran showman encouraged the youngster, then got the whole audience to join in. The sing-along became a permanent part of the show, catapulting Where's Charley to hit status, and giving Bolger his most memorable stage moment.Frank Loesser "Once In Love With Amy"
High Button Shoes, 1947 High Button Shoes, 1947 Composer Jule Styne (1905-1994) worked with Sammy Cahn (book and lyrics) under the direction of George Abbott. It was choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Starring former burlesque star Phil Silvers, HIGH BUTTON SHOES played for 727 performances. Set in 1913, the plot follows a New Jersey family on vacation in Atlantic City…keystone cops, showgirls and a college football game figure prominently in the action.Jule Styne Sammy Cahn George Abbott Jerome RobbinsPhil Silvers
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend Diamonds are a girl’s best friend Carol Channing Marilyn Monroe Megan Hilty
The 1940s in London Few London productions of 1940s drew much attention outside of Britain, but the West End had its share of homegrown musicals. Broadway producers felt that most of these shows were "too British" to appeal to American theatergoers. Even the perennial transatlantic favorite Noel Coward was unable to turn out a hit musical in this decade. After World War II, his Pacific 1860 (1946 -129) faired poorly despite a lavish production and the presence of Mary Martin.
London's most popular star during the mid- twentieth century was Ivor Novello, an actor-songwriter who composed and starred in a series of hit operettas, despite the fact that he couldn't sing a note. With striking good looks, a winning stage presence, and a gift for writing lush melodies, Novello played leading roles and left the singing to everyone around him. To make this less awkward, he often played characters that accompanied others on piano. Novello's dominance of the London stage continued until his sudden death at age 58 during the run of King's Rhapsody. Thousands lined the streets on the day of his funeral, which was broadcast live over British radio to a mourning nation.Ivor NovelloKing's Rhapsody
SOUTH PACIFIC (1949) SOUTH PACIFIC (1949) As the 1940s ended, New York was the undisputed center of the theatrical world, and Broadway's last musical hit of the decade was one of the biggest ever. Working with co-librettist and director Josh Logan, Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote a musical based on two stories in James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific. Set on a South Pacific island occupied by American forces during World War II, it told of military nurse Nellie Forbush falling in love with French planter Emile de Becque, and Lieutenant Cable giving his heart to a Polynesian girl.
These two "decent" Americans are forced to confront the bigotry they were raised with. Set amid the life and death tensions of wartime, it was a world away from the musical comedy librettos that had reigned on Broadway less than ten years before.
With powerhouse stars Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin, a well crafted script, and a score that included "Some Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime," "Bali Hai," and "I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy," South Pacific (1,925) proved to be a sensation, creating an unprecedented demand for tickets. Some critics have suggested that aspects of the book seem dated today, but the show's score and genuine sentiment still work.Mary Martin
South Pacific was unusual in many ways. There was almost no dance, two equally important love stories, and the dramatic tension was not provided by any single antagonist or "silly misunderstanding." Both love stories were thwarted by "carefully taught" racial prejudices. These reflex hatreds drive key characters to push away from the people they love. In the case of a young Lieutenant and his native girl, the results are tragic, but Nellie and Emile are finally reunited.
South Pacific confirmed Rodgers and Hammerstein's command of the genre. Along with worshipful reviews, it won the Tony for Best Musical and became the second musical to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Tonys also went to the authors, as well as Pinza, Martin and other company members. Rodgers & Hammerstein's knack for creating innovative and entertaining hits came to be called "The RH Factor," and it would keep them on top through the next decade.
The Shuberts: A Matter of Trust South Pacific triggered a surprising, radical change in show business. Tickets were in such demand that theatre owners Lee and J.J. Shubert put outrageous premiums on the best seats, allowing ticket brokers to charge up to ten times the legal box office value of eight dollars. They even forced top politicians to pay these inflated prices.
Congress launched a long overdue investigation of Broadway business practices, accusing the Shuberts of being an illegal trust. After a long struggle the government's case succeeded. Forced to give up their lucrative control of theatre bookings and ticket sales, the Shuberts also had to sell off many of their theatres all across the USA. Although the brothers remained powerful, their stranglehold on the commercial theatre was broken.
The 1940s had seen vast changes in the musical theatre, both as an art form and as a business. World War II had re-energized the American economy, and many great musicals appeared in the 1940s, particularly after Oklahoma (1943) redefined the genre. But as theatre rents, union minimums and advertising costs kept climbing, it became harder for shows to turn a profit.
So even as the American musical enjoyed what many have called its "golden age," the number of Broadway productions continued a gradual decline. This decline was easy to overlook in the decade that followed. After all, in the 1950s, the Broadway musical was one of the most popular entities in all of show business.