Most tourists who come to New York City will have a Broadway show or play on their itinerary. It’s one of the main reasons to visit this vibrant and trendsetting city. Broadway captivates, entertains and resonates with many people from all over the world. The wit and wisdom, the talent and toil it takes to stage a Broadway musical or play is evident in every production. Now there are practically no tourists and no Broadway shows. The theatres are boarded up and the lights on Times Square seem to shine less brightly for less people.
Maybe now is the time to revisit the golden age of Broadway by remembering those you saw when you were younger and want to share with your children or grandchildren. The home theatre, television and computer screen can bring you so many classics that are uplifting during these times and will get you humming or reflecting throughout these long and lonely days. It’s a few hours when you can lose yourself in a dazzle of talent and in a story that can transport you from the noise of the city outside.
I was recently sent a fascinating documentary on the contribution of migrant Jews from Europe to the Broadway stage and its worldwide success. They brought an emotional heart to their stories with music and lyrics that brought them to life. They used comedy, song and dance to address tough issues that resonated with their own raw life experiences. They wrote with compassion and empathy on tradition, love and persecution (Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Wicked) and misery caused by racism and intolerance (West Side Story, South Pacific). Mel Brooks’ play, The Producers cleverly used comedy and poetry to ridicule and make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler. Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim, Israel Lerner, Harold Prince, Leonard Bernstein; so many recognizable names who brought the stage of life to the stage of Broadway.
Later musicals have drawn on this golden age of theater, using the themes and musical influences to continue to attract large audiences through the doors. Here is a selection of musicals and plays that have been recorded for posterity, or made into movies, and many of these are available either free or by renting, or by subscription to streaming channels.
• Oklahoma!: This musical, about a farm girl torn between two suitors, heralded the start of the Golden Age on Broadway and has been reproduced, revived and played continually in school productions since the mid 1940s. It features songs like “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” that can brighten any dull moment.
• Fiddler on the Roof: A poor farmer, Tevye struggles hard to hold onto tradition when faced with his daughters’ marital decisions. In an unusual mix of comedy, empathy and tragedy, the story deals with the Russian pograms and the expulsion of the Jews from their village. The songs are endearing and unforgettable, “If I were a Rich Man”, Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, “Tradition”. (Amazon Prime and Netflix)
• South Pacific: This lighthearted musical has serious underlying themes of intolerance and racism yet, at the same time, has some of the most romantic songs ever written. It will be “Some Enchanted Evening” when you revisit this on your TV. (Amazon Prime)
• Cabaret: Set in Berlin during the rise of Hitler’s Germany, the film stars Liza Minelli in her most memorable role as Sally Bowles. A true classic with a serious conscience. “Life is a Cabaret”, even during Covid. (Amazon Prime)
• West Side Story: A familiar and regrettable story about two feuding gangs in New York City who manage to destroy the lives and loves of a modern Romeo and Juliet. Superbly scored, written and choreographed by Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Ernest Lehman and Jerome Robbins. “America” is the song that will stay with you long after your tears dry. (Amazon Prime)
• My Fair Lady: This musical was revived recently at the Lincoln Center and the production was awesome, with revolving stages and a terrific cast. The film has the beautiful Audrey Hepburn playing a poor flower-girl in Victorian London who is turned into a fine society lady. “All I want is a Room Somewhere” she sang, but she manages to get lots more than that after her education and elocution lessons from the proud and pompous Professor Higgins. (Based on the book “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw which is also a very good read right now).
This list is interminable. There’s also Annie, The Producers and Oklahoma so your new year will now be filled with magical moments that sparkle from stage to screen.
Entrepreneur, Event Management & Public Relations Consultant