25 Best Golden Age Musicals

The 20th century was rich in the arts, especially during the period from 1943 to about 1959. This particular period is what is considered the “golden age” of Broadway musicals.

So many of the elements we consider to be commonplace in musicals today originated during this specific time period. Plus, the era produced some of the most iconic musicals of all time. 

The following are just a fraction of the many golden age musicals that are held in high regard today. 

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady came out in 1956, debuting on Broadway before embarking on a US tour in 1957. The following year, My Fair Lady made it to the UK with performances at London’s West End.

From the very first performance, My Fair Lady made a favorable impression despite a few initial hangups. For instance, Rex Harrison actually hid out in his dressing room and refused to go out on stage before coming to his senses.

My Fair Lady has had a number of successful runs and even made its way to the big screen in 1964. Starring Audrey Hepburn, the popular film would win that year’s Academy Award distinction for best film. 

My Fair Lady

Paint Your Wagon

Are you familiar with the song, They Call The Wind Maria? If so, you’re probably familiar with the musical, Paint Your Wagon, which debuted in 1951.

Paint Your Wagon’s story is set in late 1800s California during the period commonly known as the Gold Rush. The musical is the result of the collaboration between Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

Even if you’re not familiar with the musical itself, there’s a chance that you might be familiar with the 1969 film. This film version features Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, which is a little funny to see such big action stars in a musical. 

Paint Your Wagon

Li’l Abner

Li’l Abner is probably a title that you can recall, even if you aren’t into musicals. The inspiration for this musical actually comes from a historic comic strip created by Al Capp. 

There were some mixed reviews initially when it comes to the opinion of whether it was a good translation of the comic strip. What was enormously praised, however, was the choreography involved throughout.

In fact, Li’l Abner would receive the 1957 Tony Award for choreography along with Edith Adams receiving best actress. While it only had 1 Broadway production, Li’l Abner is still popular in schools. 

Li’l Abner

Can-Can

There’s a good chance that you only need to read the title for Can-Can to be able to hear the song in your head. The music and lyrics for this iconic musical are the product of one of the biggest names of this era, Cole Porter.

This musical takes place in Paris during the 1890s with a storyline centered around dancing showgirls. A certain dance in a club (called the Can-Can) sparked an outrage, causing a judge to venture out and check it out for himself. 

Upon its opening in 1953, Can-Can ran for 2 entire years on Broadway along with a production in London’s West End the following year. Eventually, Can-Can would find its way to the big screen in 1960.

Can-Can

Guys And Dolls

Even if you aren’t well-versed in musicals, you probably recognize the title, Guys And Dolls. This extremely popular musical debuted on Broadway in 1950 and was considered 1951’s best musical. 

The initial production of Guys And Dolls set a massively impressive precedent, running 1200 shows in 2 years. Throughout its history, Guys And Dolls has had numerous revivals, all of which have been successful. 

Of course, like so many other musicals, Guys And Dolls received the Hollywood treatment. The film’s cast is stacked with big names, including Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, and Jean Simmons.

Guys And Dolls

Candide

Candide is a bit more steeped in the tradition of opera than most of the other musicals featured on this list. If you’re wondering why Candide’s title seems so familiar, it’s because it’s also a novella by Voltaire.

It is considered an operetta, which debuted in 1956 and features music by the legendary Leonard Bernstein. During its initial run, general consensus seemed to agree that it was a bit too serious.

However, Candide has enjoyed numerous revivals, all of which have the benefit of a revised book.

Candide

Damn Yankees

If you’re like me, you probably have a burning passion for hating on the New York Yankees. Should you feel the same, there’s a chance you might relate to the musical, Damn Yankees.

As you’d expect, Damn Yankees is centered around baseball and one person’s chance at playing in the big leagues. Since its 1955 debut, Damn Yankees has been incredibly successful, enjoying many revivals along with a popular film adaptation. 

Damn Yankees

The Sound Of Music

The Sound Of Music is one of the most popular musicals to have come out of the golden age. This musical is the work of the legendary duo, Rodgers and Hammerstein and centers around the von Trapp family. 

After its debut in 1959, The Sound Of Music would net the cast and crew 9 Tony Award nominations, with 5 wins. The 1965 film starring Julie Andrews is still incredibly influential today. 

You’ll find The Sound Of Music to be a popular choice amongst school and community theater departments. 

The Sound Of Music

Flower Drum Song

By the late 1950s, Rodgers and Hammerstein had definitely left their mark on Broadway. However, the dynamic duo did suffer a drought of success until they debuted Flower Drum song in 1958.

Flower Drum Song is a musical that hasn’t received the revival treatment that many of the others on this list have gotten. However, the 1961 film adaptation is generally considered one of its best versions. 

This musical is especially notable because it was Gene Kelly’s directorial debut and his only instance of holding this role. 

Flower Drum Song

King Kong

Since the 1930s, King Kong has been an enigma in pop culture, largely due to the franchise’s many films. In 1959, King Kong would eventually find its way to the stage.

As a musical, King Kong has never actually made its way to Broadway. However, it is considered one of the most important works that South Africa had ever produced.

The production of King Kong challenged the very premise of apartheid that was commonplace in South Africa at the time. 

King Kong

Brigadoon

Brigadoon made its Broadway debut in 1947 and is the product of the collaboration between Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner. This musical expanded many of the groundbreaking characteristics of other popular works of its day.

Today, Brigadoon is still recognized as one of the best works to have come from the golden age of musicals. It even spawned an incredibly popular and successful film in 1954 along with a TV series in 1966.

Brigadoon

Peter Pan

Peter Pan was no stranger to the stage, considering that the original play made its debut in 1904. However, aside from the 1953 Disney film, the 1954 musical is one of the most famous instances of Peter Pan.

People of all ages continue to hold a special place in their hearts for Peter Pan. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, Peter Pan saw a few revivals, all of which were critically acclaimed.

Peter Pan continues to remind us to keep the wondrous child alive inside, even when the doldrums of adulthood are strong. 

Peter Pan

The King And I

Before The King And I, the world was entirely unfamiliar with Yul Brynner. Considering the fact that he went on to have a massively successful career as a film actor, it’s safe to say The King And I was a huge hit.

This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is still a very popular choice for theater departments. It’s also had some of the most Broadway revivals out of any of the golden age musicals featured in this article. 

The King And I

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