“Oklahoma! Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. ” These iconic song lyrics are from the chart-topping musical Oklahoma!. This musical introduced, the now idolized, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein (Brockett pg. 462). Rogers and Hammerstein wrote the musical, in hopes of making it on Broadway. Instead, they wrote a musical that started the next great era to sweep through Broadway. The Golden Age of Broadway was the beginning of a transformation that would later lead to one of the most recognizable parts of New York City. It altered culture and how things were presented to the public eye.
The era began in 1943 with Oklahoma! having a lasting impact and impression which inspired Rogers and Hammerstein and other composers and playwrights to be a part of the most quintessential part of Broadway history. Oklahoma! debuted on Broadway in 1943. It ran on Broadway for an astounding 2,248 shows (Blum pg. 250). In 1945 Carousel, another Rogers and Hammerstein classic, was performed Broadway, but not as raved about as Oklahoma!. Rogers and Hammerstein followed the musical with South Pacific. This love story between two different couples on a pacific island (“Classic Musicals” Web) was an immediate audience attention grabber for sure.
South Pacific was the most popular show to come across Broadway at the time. Tickets were sold out for almost every show, every night. There would be so many attendees that the theatre turned into a standing room, for the auditorium did not have the seat capacity to accommodate all of the viewers. The show was also the winner of a Pulitzer Prize (1950) (Blum pg. 275), New York Drama Critics Circle Awards (1948), and won over nine Tony Awards in 1950 (“South Pacific” Web). Rogers and Hammerstein had hit another great home run out of the ball park with this true classic.
The Golden Age was not just about the musicals and composers that changed Broadway. It was also about the culture and lifestyles of many people during this time. The wealthier you were, the more you attended the shows. It was a time for the family to sit down and to enjoy live entertainment together. The wealthier families would sit closer to the stage, because they could pay for the more expensive tickets. The middle and lower class would have to sit in the back of the theatre or in the balcony. This didn’t bother any family though, because attending the theatre was such a fun time.
The beginning of the Golden Age occurred during World War II. This meant that families were going to theatres without their fathers and money was very tight. The theatre suffered during this time, because attendance was down a tremendous amount. This did not stop a single actor, actress, playwright, or composer. They made the Broadway world soar, which made families want to come no matter the limitations. It was a great escape from reality. Families not only attended the shows, but dressed for the occasion as well. The fashionable norm was to get “all dolled up” for the show that night.
The women would wear midi skirts with belts. Fur coats were a popular trend among the wealthier family community. Designers such as Christian Dior were very popular (“1940s Fashion: The Decade Captured In 40 Beautiful Pictures. ” Web). His designs filled magazines and the streets of Broadway and New York. Children’s fashion took a turn during this time as well. Girls had dresses that went from drab to fab with patterns and bright colors. Boys would wear knee length shorts and nice short sleeved shirts to the shows (“Clothing – Childrens. ” Web). The man of the family would wear flannel suits.
Suits were tighter and made the men look very elegant and sophisticated. (“1940s Men’s Fashion Clothing Styles” Web) Even though World War II was happening across the ocean fashion in the United States did not suffer. As the Golden Age of Broadway continued, it seemed to be creating a cultural change and even a cultural shock at times. Shows such as Hair graced the stage towards the end of the era. The controversial rock musical pinpointed issues such as drugs, sex, and rock and roll. All of these dynamically cultural components addressed issues in the real world.
This type of musical became popular especially after the Golden Age. Many people didn’t enjoy the new type of musical, for they felt as though it was not entertaining. The younger generation on the other hand, had a passion for the musicals. Cabaret was a musical that came into play right before Hair was on Broadway. The show was based around a fantasy relationship during World War II. While it had risque dancing and an erotic romance, the musical was also is based around abortion. The nefarious scandal made for a riveting musical.
During its time, the Golden Age produced a new ways of how musicals and social impurities were portrayed to a public eye. The Golden Age of Broadway was a great theatrical period, but it was time for the curtain call. As the era came to a close, it ended with a bang. Musicals such as West Side Story and The Sound of Music were written in the last years. Songs such as “Do Re Mi” and “I Feel Pretty” were sung by people all across the country. West Side Story was also a successful musical written by the lyricist Stephen Sondheim and composer Leonard Bernstein.
Stephen Sondheim began his career with mentors such as Rogers and Hammerstein (“Stephen Sondheim” Web). He teamed with them in the writings of Allegro (1947), which was a signature musical during the Golden Age. With The Sound of Music being one of the most iconic musicals ever, the Golden Age ended on a high note. The Golden Age left a mark on the stage, but it also set the stage for the new musicals to come. Rogers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Leonard Bernstein’s talents were born during this era, but unfortunately Rogers and Hammerstein had had their time.
Stephen Sondheim still writes musicals today, but unfortunately he is the only one still alive from this time. The Golden Age was a time for musicals, cultural change, and the birth of a type of entertainment that would last until future times. The Golden Age set the stage for musicals today. The plot and music composition structure of old is used as the basis in contemporary musicals today. Musicals such as South Pacific, West Side Story, and Oklahoma! have all had Broadway revivals in the past 15 years, where they were nominated for Tony and Academy Awards.
Musicals such as Rent, based of off the opera La Boheme, is an example of a “new musical. ” This musical is about the struggles of life in New York City. While the show is about AIDS and homosexuality, it sends a powerful message to the Broadway community. Rent highlights the negative or social injustices of the world, just as musicals like Hair and Cabaret did during the Golden Age. Rent caught the attention of many viewers. The musical did a twelve year run on Broadway with an astonishing 5,123 shows. (“PLAYBILL” Web). By the end, the musical had grossed close to $250,000,000.
The astounding amount of money and effort put into the musical certainly paid off. Writer, composer, lyricist, Jonathan Larson deserves a pat on the back, for the musical is now a traveling Broadway show and is performed around the globe in places such as the United Kingdom and Australia. One might say the Golden Age never ended because along came Wicked (2003). The record breaking musical is on it’s twelfth year on Broadway, where it has done 5,028 (as of November 29, 2015) performances on Broadway in the Gershwin theater (“PLAYBILL WICKED’ Web).
The musical about the backstory of The Wizard of Oz has captivated the audience of all ages. Kristen Chenowith and Idina Menzel are the leading ladies, and are two of Broadway’s biggest stars. The musical broke box office records, being the top grossing musical for nine consecutive years (as of 2013) beating Phantom of the Opera at eight consecutive years (“Wicked Beats Phantom with New Box Office Record. ” Web). The musical also broke box office records by being the top grossing musical in a week at over $3,000,000. Glinda and Elpheba took the Broadway world by storm.
In 2006, the show Spring Awakening elevated musicals to a new level. It was not as popular as Wicked and Rent, but the show had an excellent soundtrack and presented various scandalous elements. The popular folk-rock show was one of the only shows to introduce nudity as an added element to an already controversial musical. The show is based on teenage sexuality and the search of one’s true self. Stars such as Glee’s Lea Michelle and Broadway’s Jonathan Groff and Skylar Astin blew the audience away with their powerhouse voices and incredible acting skills. There was a definite audience mixed review about the new show.
The nude sex scene offended many viewers, but the true “drama geeks” saw past the surface, for they became engrossed in the storyline, while being enamored with the social ridiculing plot line. The show had a closing in 2009, but is currently experiencing worldwide tours and is being revived on Broadway. These three shows all have one thing in common, the Golden Age of Broadway. It helped to give these infamous musicals an avenue and platform for a new creative age and laid the foundation to fashion entertainment, that takes the audience into a new realm of belief. “The hills are alive with the sound of music.
These lyrics are something that are truly iconic to the Broadway world. The Golden Age of Broadway introduced a new level of entertainment to the world. The era gave audience members a chance to escape their real problems and to enter another world where everything ends with a happy ever after. From giving society a new type of family, to giving the world a new type of entertainment, the Golden Age of Broadway was a gift. This gift had a great run. Fortunately, the era left a mark on the stage helping to build a new world of entertainment. The Golden Age of Broadway is something not to be forgotten, even after the curtain call.