Ten Out-of-the-Box Musicals
By Ray Rogers
Show Boat (1927)
Marking the advent of what the world now thinks of as the Broadway musical, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's genre-defining production integrated songs into the theatrical narrative, rather than letting them function as mere witty asides. Its other big breakthrough was a racially integrated cast, a first for its time.
Building on the dramatic advances Show Boat made for the genre, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's smash hit revolutionized musical theater by furthering the life of the songs and incorporating musical motifs that echoed the play's thematic material. It earned the duo a Pulitzer Prize for drama.
West Side Story (1957)
With music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (in his Broadway debut) this theatrical pop opera changed the landscape of American musicals. The dazzling wildfire ballet in the gang turf wars and battles for hearts turned the form on its head.
Broadway's first full-on rock musical shocked and awed audiences with its antiwar politics, on-stage nudity, and raw depictions of sex and drugs, paving the way for the likes of Rent and Passing Strange. The gathering of the counterculture tribe also broke ground with a racially diverse cast that was one-third African-American.
A Chorus Line (1975)
Employing heart and soul instead of bells and whistles, this bare-bones musical reinvented the form. Its reliance on stripped-down emotional storytelling rather than the over-the-top productions of standard Broadway musicals made for one singular sensation, netting the show nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.