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For many people, their apprehension in both senses of the word about midth-century musical theater comes from a jangled jamboree of brassy Cinemascope film adaptations, relentlessly cheery high-school productions, and the occasional strident cast album blaring from the hi-fi of a theatrically inclined college roommate. Yet, to judge the American musical by those criteria is to ignore the purity of intention and range of imagination yielded by a great generation of American composers and writers, working in a collaborative medium in a forum that, once upon a time, commanded the attention of the nation, and, occasionally, the world.
The mythical universe of Broadway—which still exists, geographically, within only 14 square blocks of midtown Manhattan—was created around , a confluence of the opening of the Times Square subway stop and the glorification of the burgeoning Theater District in George M. But, for roughly four decades—from the mids to the mids—Broadway maintained a pre-eminence for interesting experiments, provocative productions, and topical inquiries into the American psyche.
The cultural weather was particularly clement for musical theater writers during this period. The national press constantly celebrated musical theater writers with lengthy features that splashed their faces across the covers of newsweeklies; the great Broadway songbook was broadcast nightly, in some form on another, on a multitude of radio shows and several songwriters even hosted their own radio programs.
There was no competition from any other genre of music, at least until the late s: The music of Broadway was the popular music of America and vice versa. Broadway was only censored by the boundaries of good taste; it had none of the proscriptions self-imposed upon Hollywood after This was part of an ongoing annoyance perpetrated upon those who toiled in the Theatre District: Only on Broadway could they write what they wanted and adventurously as they wished.
Louise Beavers - IMDb
Not surprisingly, the two main areas where Broadway craftsmen could be most adventurous were race and sex—the two most verboten topics in Hollywood and on the radio. Ill-informed cynics tend to think of Oscar Hammerstein II as a sentimental softie, but in the arena of racial progressiveness and tolerance, he was a fierce tiger.
His book for Show Boat not only put black and white characters on stage with equal integrity, it dealt directly with miscegenation and its tragic after-effects in the 19th-century South. Hammerstein continued his subtle quest for racial equanimity in Oklahoma!
Bill Francoeur - Wikipedia
Cable reminds us, has to be carefully taught: Through a bit of Celtic magic, the senator is turned into a black man so that he can experience firsthand the real prejudice in his district. Within the first 15 lines of the show, during which an aspiring nightclub singer is quizzed by a prospective manager, there are references to cocaine, alcohol, pederasty, and one-night stands. As the s progressed, and as My Fair Lady ushered in an age of adaptations and musicals set in such far-flung locales as Edwardian England or Tsarist Russia or Weimar Germany, it became more difficult to comment directly on American politics and America culture.
The more popular shows of the late s evolved into metaphors for cultural issues: Germane and relevant in their way, but wielding a different methodology. Of course, the most taboo subject in a musical is death.
Hammerstein was always keen to kill off a character before the final curtain in Oklahoma! The three sailors on hour leave in New York City avail themselves of as much female company and pulchritude as was permissible on-stage back in the lyrics by Comden and Green refer explicitly to waking up and getting to see your girlfriend without her makeup on , but more importantly, they avail themselves of life.
When those three charming boys went back to their ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as the curtain came down, everyone in the audience knew where they were going: They were sailing off to an uncertain future. Laughing and singing and dancing under the shadow of an uncertain fate: You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.