Show Boat (1927)
Marking the advent of what the world now thinks of as the Broadway musical, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammersteins 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 IIs smash hit revolutionized musical theater by furthering the life of the songs and incorporating musical motifs that echoed the plays 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.
Broadways 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.
Sweeney Todd (1979)
Sondheims reworking of the classic gothic tale turns it into a dark opera with the vast bulk of the text told in song. The barbarous material opened Broadways doors to future horror shows like The Phantom of the Opera.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1998)
Sporting a blond winged hairdo, Hedwigs John Cameron Mitchell tackles the great divides: east and west, male and female, gay and straight, Broadway queens and rock n roll fags. With songs by Stephen Trask, this glam-bam-thank-you-maam tranny rock opera cracked the genre wide open.
Avenue Q (2003)
A wild romp with potty-mouthed Sesame Streetesque puppets manned by actors, this production took the Broadway musical down an entirely new block. Inside the witty production, the singing puppets dealt candidly with gay life and adult themes. Roll over, Big Bird, and tell Bert and Ernie the news.
Spring Awakening (2006)
Sex, drugs, rock n roll, and 19th-century German schoolboys? Creativity bloomed anew on Broadway in this reawakening of an 1891 German play, reborn as an alt-rock musical. The most inspired work of singer-songwriter Duncan Sheiks career brought to life the storys themes of sexual pain and pleasure and took home eight Tonys.
Passing Strange (2008)
Grappling with issues of race, class, and sexuality, musician Stews African-American protagonist took passage from 70s middle-class America for the artistic and political hubs of Europe. Everything from angry rock to rousing gospel and blues to spoken-word punk is thrown into this heady quest for something real. A boldly moving journey.
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