29¢ Broadway Musicals
Issue Date: July 14, 1993
City: New York, NY
Printed By: American Banknote Corporation
Printing Method: Photogravure
Perforations: 11 horizontally
Based on Edna Ferber’s novel of the same name, Show Boat paved the way for a form of musical that was distinct from the traditional fast-moving comedies and flamboyant operettas. Not only was it unique in that it was the first musical based on a serious literary work, but it was also the first musical to tackle such serious themes as racism and poverty.
Composer Jerome Kern and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II adapted Ferber’s epic into a sweeping and dramatic musical that boasted such songs as “Make Believe”, “You Are Love”, and the stirring “Ol’ Man River.” The two went on to create musical history. Hailed as an “American masterpiece” by the critics, Show Boat was both an artistic and box office triumph.
Set during the 1880’s, Show Boat traces the story of Magnolia Hawks, a performer on the showboat Cotton Blossom, and Gaylord Ravenal, a riverboat gambler. They fall in love, marry, move to Chicago where Gaylord loses all their money, and finally separate. Magnolia goes on to become a star on Broadway. Years later she returns to the Cotton Blossom, where she is reunited with a changed Gaylord.
Porgy and Bess
When Porgy and Bess opened on Broadway in 1935, it was the realization of a longtime dream of George Gershwin’s. After reading Du Bose Heyward’s book “Porgy” in 1926, he had written Heyward hoping to use the book as the basis for an opera. Heyward was interested in the prospect, but both men had other commitments, forcing them to postpone the project. Finally in 1933, the two, along with Ira Gershwin and Dorothy Heyward, began work on what would become the most popular opera written by an American composer.
A black “folk opera”, Porgy and Bess is set in Catfish Row, a Negro tenement in Charleston, South Carolina. Forced into hiding after murdering a man, Crown flees, leaving behind his girlfriend Bess, who falls in love with the crippled Porgy. Crown later returns to take Bess away, but is killed by Porgy out of self-defense. When Porgy is taken to jail, Sportin’ Life, who is also in love with Bess, tempts her to run off with him. Believing she will never see Porgy again, she agrees. The play ends with Porgy, who, free from jail, leaves in search of Bess.
The 1935 run of 124 performances was modest by Broadway standards; for an opera, it was exceptional. Since then it has been performed throughout the world.
From the beginning Oklahoma! seemed destined to fail. Not only was it based on a play that had been a failure, but it had no stars, no traditional chorus girl numbers, and its dramatic ballets and extended musical sequences seemed too unconventional for most audiences. Yet Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II defied the odds and went on to create not only one of the most popular musicals of all time, but also to revolutionize the American musical theatre as well.
Set in Indian Territory at the turn of the century, Oklahoma! tells of a love triangle between Laurey, Curly, and Jud Fry. Although Curly and Laurey are in love, both are uncertain of the other’s true feelings. When Laurey seems to be making no apparent headway with Curly she accepts Jud’s invitation to a “box social”, where Curly expresses his true love for her. The two marry, but Jud shows up at their wedding and attacks Curly. In the ensuing brawl Jud falls on his own knife and is killed. Curly is tried for murder, but acquitted, and he and Laurey leave for their honeymoon. Hailed by the critics as “delightful, fresh, and imaginative,” Oklahoma! toured the U.S. for 10 1/2 years and has been seen in over 30,000 productions the world over.
My Fair Lady
The foremost showcase of commercial stage entertainment, Broadway has long been synonymous with American theatre. For it is here in New York City’s famous Theatre District that the most important American plays and musicals have had their debuts, including such favorites as Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, and A Chorus Line.
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the popular musical My Fair Lady has been called by critics “the best musical of the century.” Professor Henry Higgins, a distinguished linguist, meets Eliza Doolittle, an illiterate flower girl. In a bet with Colonel Pickering, he decides to transform Eliza into a fine lady and pass her off as a duchess. He completes the job successfully and at a glamorous social evening at the Embassy, Eliza plays the role of the duchess beautifully. The experiment over, Eliza is free to leave Higgins’ home. Although she has agreed to marry Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a rich man about town, she returns to Higgins in the end.
Although a few minor additions were made, the play remained unaltered except for the end. For nine years, this delightful musical held the record as Broadway’s longest running show.