Oklahoma! was the first musical written by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Set in the Oklahoma territory in the early 1900s, it tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams. A secondary romance concerns cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie.
The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943 and ran for a then-unprecedented 2,212 performances. In 1955 a film adaptation was released and the show has enjoyed revivals, national tours, and many, many school and community productions.
In this clip (which is actually from the 1998 London production), Australian Hugh Jackman stars as Curly and Londoner Josefina Gabrielle as Laurey.
The musical Newsies, a Disney production, is based on a 1992 musical film of the same name, which in turn was inspired by the real-life newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City. It opened on Broadway officially on March 29, 2012. The production cost about $5 million to stage, and Newsies recouped its initial investment within seven months, becoming the fastest of any Disney musical on Broadway to turn a profit. It won Tony Awards for Best Choreography and Best Original Score.
Here is a Newsies medley from the 2012 Tony Awards
Man of La Mancha, the 1964 musical adapted from a non-musical teleplay (1959) Don Quixote, which was inspired by the 17th-century work Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, tells the story of knight Don Quixote, and is a play within a play, performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. Joe Darion (lyrics), Mitch Leigh (music), and Dale Wasserman (book) conceived the 1964 musical.
The show debuted on Broadway in 1965 and ran for 2,328 performances. It won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The musical has played in many other countries around the world, with productions in Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Irish, Japanese, Korean, Icelandic, Gujarati, Uzbek, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Serbian, Slovenian, Swahili, Finnish, Ukrainian and nine distinctly different dialects of the Spanish language.
Rex Harrison (of My Fair Lady fame) was to be the original star of Man of La Mancha, but the music was too demanding for him. Richard Kiley won a Tony Award for his performance as Cervantes/Quixote, and it is Kiley who sings “The Impossible Dream” here.
Bonus! In another musical by Stephen Sondheim, Merrily We Roll Along is based on a 1934 play by the same name. The show ran for only 16 performances but it was the starting point for a 20-year-old named Liz Callaway. Here’s Liz with her sister Ann Hampton Callaway, singing “Our Time.”
Les Misérables, also known as Les Mis, or Les Miz, is a musical based on the same-titled book by Victor Hugo (1862). It premiered in Paris in 1980, has run continuously in London since 1985, and first opened as a pre-Broadway tryout in December 1986, eventually premiering on Broadway in March 1987. After 6,680 performances, Les Misérables closed in May 2003.
The show is set in early 19th-century France, and tells the story of Jean Valjean, a peasant, who is sentenced to prison for stealing a loaf of bread in order to help feed his sister’s starving child. Valjean escapes and is relentlessly hunted by a police inspector, Javert. Valjean and others are swept up into the revolution, where a group of young idealists make their last stand.
Here is a clip from the 1987 Tony Awards program.
At the end of the day you’re another day older
And that’s all you can say for the life of the poor
It’s a struggle, it’s a war
And there’s nothing that anyone’s giving
One more day standing about, what is it for?
One day less to be living.
Kismet, set in Baghdad in the times of The Arabian Nights, is a musical with music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest and based on a 1911 play of the same name by Edward Knoblock. The story concerns a poet who talks his way out of trouble several times; meanwhile, his beautiful daughter meets and falls in love.
The musical was first produced on Broadway in 1953 and won the Tony Award for best musical in 1954. It ran for 583 performances. MGM released a film version in 1955.
Some of the more popular songs from Kismet included “Stranger in Paradise” and “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads.” Here, from a 1964 television program, Vic Damone and Judy Garland sing a medley of musical numbers from Kismet.
Jersey Boys is a “jukebox musical” (defined as a musical that uses previously released popular songs as its score) that ran on Broadway from 2005 to 2017. Since its debut, it’s had two North American tours, productions in London, Las Vegas, Chicago, Toronto, Melbourne, Singapore, and South Africa. It won the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical.
The musical dramatized the formation, success, and break-up of The Four Seasons (also known as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons) in the 1960s and 1970s. The show features such memorable hits as “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” and “My Eyes Adored You.”
Here is the official trailer for Jersey Boys
BONUS! This montage is dedicated to Peter, Jane, Kate, Joe, Danny, Wally, Peter, Judy, Lisa, Martina, John, Mary, Kassie, Carl. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s first musical to be performed publicly.
Joseph was first presented as a 15-minute pop cantata in London in 1968, and received stage productions after the success of Jesus Christ Superstar, but it didn’t open on Broadway until 1982 (two years after the famous Providence College production). 😉
With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods that intertwines the plots of several fairy tales, including “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Rapunzel,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Cinderella.”
The musical premiered on Broadway in 1987, where it won several Tony Awards, including Best Actress in a Musical for Joanna Gleason. A Disney film adaptation was released in 2014, starring Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman, and Christine Baranski, among others.
Here is “It Takes Two” with Joanna Gleason and Chip Zien:
It really couldn’t be anything other than Hamilton. Eleven Tony Awards, come on! (The Producers holds the record with twelve). Hamilton won for Best Musical (and ten other awards), plus the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Its actual title is Hamilton: An American Musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda composed the music, lyrics, and book about the life of Alexander Hamilton, and his work was inspired by the 2004 book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
Here’s a clip from the 2016 Tony Awards presentation:
(History has its eyes on you)
The Stephen Schwartz-composed musical Godspell opened off-Broadway in 1971 and has been playing in touring companies and revivals ever since, including a 2011 revival that played on Broadway for nearly a year. (This was such a big part of my teenage Catholic upbringing that I had to choose it for “G.”)
The musical is a series of parables, primarily based on the Gospel of Matthew. These parables, or allegories, are set to modern music. Godspell originally started as a college project performed by students at Carnegie Mellon University and eventually moved to a club in Greenwich Village.
Here is a montage of some of the performances, from the 2011 revival.
The Fantasticks is a 1960 musical that tells a story about two fathers who trick their children into falling in love by pretending to feud.
The show’s original off-Broadway production ran for a total of 42 years and 17,162 performances, making it the world’s longest-running musical. Many productions followed, as well as television and film versions. The Fantasticks has become a staple of regional, community, and high school productions, with approximately 250 new productions each year. The show re-opened off-Broadway in 2006.
This clip from 1982 features Jerry Orbach (1935-2004), who may be best known to younger viewers as Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order, but Orbach was a true leading man of Broadway, appearing in The Fantasticks, Chicago, and 42nd Street. He was nominated for multiple Tony Awards, and won for his performance in Promises, Promises.
Here he is on television, introduced by Tony Award winner Tom Bosley (Fiorello!):
BONUS! You simply must watch this matchless performance of Elaine Stritch singing “I’m Still Here” from the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies. This performance was at the 2010 Birthday Celebration for Sondheim. There was only one Elaine Stritch.