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What Was the Golden Age of Broadway?

And other questions about musical theatre's most pivotal years.

Just last week, The Music Man marched back to Broadway- the latest revival of a show from musical theatre's most glorious time- the Golden Age. What was the Golden Age of Broadway all about and what years did it cover? Study up below!

What Was the Golden Age of Broadway?
Scene from The Music Man. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

What was the Golden Age of Broadway?

Widely regarded as the greatest period of growth for musical theatre as an artform, the artists of the Golden Age are to thank for the creation and development of musicals as we know them today.

Musicals existed long before the Golden Age, with operettas and vaudeville-style shows being some of the most popular forms of entertainment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Show Boat broke the mold in 1927 when it introduced a more narrative style of storytelling, integrating its book with its musical elements. For the first time, song and dance were weaved into the plot, furthering the story or character development (instead of just stopping the action for a musical interlude).

It took another decade for this 'book musical' revolution to fully catch on, ushering in the start of Broadway's Golden Age. During this period, musical theatre took center stage in popular culture, rapidly gaining visibility worldwide and influence on television, film, and popular music.

What Was the Golden Age of Broadway?
Carousel (1945)

When was the Golden Age of Broadway?

Rodgers and Hammerstein officially launched the Golden Age with their trailblazing Oklahoma! in 1943. The musical, which is considered Broadway's first blockbuster, ran for an unprecedented (at the time) 2212 performances and triggered a change in musicals that would remain for decades to come.

Broadway boomed in post World War II America, as audiences were looking for escapism and could finally afford it on the other side of the Great Depression. This outlook shaped the style of musicals of the Golden Age, which have become known for their lush orchestrations, dreamy dance sequences, and generally, happy endings.

As attitudes changed in the 1960s, so did Broadway, ushering in the time of the 'concept musical' (or one in which a concept or theme take precedence) and the end of the Golden Age. Fiddler on the Roof, which opened on Broadway in 1964, is widely considered the final musical of Broadway's Golden Age.

What Was the Golden Age of Broadway?
West Side Story (1957)

Which composers wrote Golden Age musicals?

The Golden Age was defined by writing teams that would go on to influence generations of artists to come, the most popular being Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Their work not only triggered the movement, but dominated Broadway at the time.

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe were also major contributors, as well as luminaries like Leonard Bernstein, Frank Loesser, Meredith Willson, Jerry Herman, Jule Styne, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and even a young Stephen Sondheim. Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, whose work was already well known in the decades prior, also found success in this period.

Which musicals were a part of the Golden Age of Broadway?

Just some of the many include:

Oklahoma! (1943)
On the Town (1944)
Carousel (1945)
Annie Get Your Gun (1946)
Brigadoon (1947)
Finian's Rainbow (1947)
Kiss Me, Kate (1948)
South Pacific (1949)
Guys and Dolls (1950)
Paint Your Wagon (1951)
The King and I (1951)
Wonderful Town (1953)
Kismet (1953)
The Pajama Game (1954)
My Fair Lady (1956)
Damn Yankees (1955)
Bells Are Ringing (1956)
Candide (1956)
The Most Happy Fella (1956)
West Side Story (1957)
The Music Man (1957)
Flower Drum Song (1958)
Gypsy (1959)
The Sound of Music (1959)
Camelot (1960)
Bye Bye Birdie (1960)
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961)
Oliver! (1962)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962)
She Loves Me (1963)
Hello, Dolly! (1964)
Funny Girl (1964)
Fiddler on the Roof (1964)

What Was the Golden Age of Broadway?
Camelot (1960)

What songs are from the Golden Age of Broadway?

Study up on the music of the Golden Age with BroadwayWorld's playlists of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

Learn more about the Golden Age of Broadway with documentaries like 'Broadway: The American Musical' and 'Rick McKay's "Broadway: The Golden Age':

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From This Author - Team BWW