20 Musicals From The 1920s [Movies & Theater]

Musicals From The 1920s

The 1920s were a time of significant change, with the introduction of new music, fashion, and culture. The decade also saw the emergence of “talkies” or motion pictures with sound. As this new medium became increasingly popular, filmmakers started incorporating music into their stories.

As we go through the article, we’ll look at some of the most iconic musicals from the 20s and see what they’re all about. We’ve split our list into movie musicals and theater musicals.

Musical Movies of the 1920s

Here are the best musical movies of the 1920s.

1. Applause (1929)

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, the film features Fuller Mellish Jr, Jack Cameron, Joan Peers, and Helen Morgan. It follows the story of a chorus girl, Kitty Darling (Helen Morgan), who works her way up to be a star and has difficulty finding a work-life balance.

She has to choose between her daughter and her ambitions. Kitty’s involvement with the daughter’s father, a rich playboy who offers her an opportunity at stardom, adds to the complication. The sound film became remarkable for its creative sound utilization, including a live orchestra and incorporation of sound effects.

2. Battle of Paris (1929)

Georgie, a street performer and musician in Paris, partners with Zizi, a pickpocket, and she bumps into Tony, a young artist from America, before a police raid ensues. When she returns his wallet the following day, Tony convinces Georgia to model for him, and they end up falling for each other.

Tony joins the military when war breaks out while she remains behind looking after his apartment. When working as a nurse in a major Paris hospital, Georgie befriends three underworld “musketeers.”

On his leave, Tony doesn’t show up to meet her, but she finds him Suzanne, a barmaid. With the musketeers’ backing, she monopolizes their attention using her musical prowess.

3. Broadway Babies (1929)

With Mervyn LeRoy as the director, the sound film features Charles Delaney and Alice White as stars. It follows the story of a chorus girl who is eyeing becoming her stage manager’s wife. However, she ends up marrying a bootlegger after being duped into thinking he has feelings for another lady.

The film features three famous numbers, “Jig, Jig, Jigaloo,”  “Wishing and Waiting for Love,” and “Broadway Baby Dolls.”

4. Close Harmony (1929)

Edward Sutherland and John Cromwell directed the American Pre-Code comedy-drama musical movie. Marjorie, a young female artist, performs on stage when she meets Al West, a warehouse employee who has assembled an unconventional jazz band.

She appreciates him and his work and uses her position to secure him a spot in one of her theater company’s production schedules.

5. Hallelujah (1929)

After meeting a seductress woman, a peasant farmer leaves farm work behind and devotes his life to preaching. King Vidor and stars Nina Mae McKinney and Daniel L. Haynes directed the classic musical.

Following the story of Haynes as the struggling farmer and his involvement with a beautiful woman (McKinney), it was among the first films from bigger studios to feature an all-black cast.

Since it was for general audience consumption, MGM saw it as a high-risk endeavor requiring King Vidor to produce it with his money. Vidor affirmed he wanted to “show the Southern Negro as he is” and tried to provide a less stereotypical portrayal of African-Americans in his work.

6. Happy Days (1929)

The musical movie, shot using the Fox Grandeur 70 mm technology, is famous for being the first full-length motion picture ever screened in widescreen everywhere around the globe.

Despite her feelings for the owner’s grandson, Margie, a showboat singer, leaves to search for greener pastures in New York. She finds success, but after learning that the showboat is in severe financial hardships, she organizes a reunion show with all the boat’s past stars to save it.

7. Innocents of Paris (1929)

Richard Wallace directed the film, and it was the first musical production by Paramount Pictures. It’s adapted from the play “Flea Market.” Maurice, a respectful trashman who sells some of his wares in the street market, rescues a drowning boy. Although the boy’s aunt Louise appreciates and wins Maurice’s heart, his grandfather doesn’t like him.

The jovial trash man has a golden opportunity to launch his singing and acting career in a major Broadway production, but Louise doesn’t support the idea. He’s left to decide on what to take and what to leave.

8. The Jazz Singer (1927)

Note: This show has scenes some viewers may find offensive, but it has been kept in for a complete look at musical movies of the decade. Music Industry How To does not condone the content of this musical.

This film is one of the earliest feature-length “talkies” or sound films featuring Al Jolson.

Al Jolson plays a Jewish Cantor’s son who wishes to launch a career as a jazz singer despite his father’s disapproval. It featured many popular musical numbers, including Jolson singing “Mammy” and “Blue Skies.” Its success led to the development of more sound films.

9. A Plantation Act (1926)

Note: This show has scenes some viewers may find offensive, but it has been kept in for a complete look at musical movies of the decade. Music Industry How To does not condone the content of this musical.

A plantation act was Al Jolson’s first sound film appearance. Directed in a plantation setting, Jolson performs three of his most popular songs; “When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along),” “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” and “April Showers.”

Moreover, there are even three curtain calls at the end, portraying him like he was performing on a live stage, giving the movie a more realistic musical perception.

10. The Singing Fool (1928)

Note: This show has scenes some viewers may find offensive, but it has been kept in for a complete look at musical movies of the decade. Music Industry How To does not condone the content of this musical.

Starring Al Jolson, the movie is about a man who leaves his family to pursue a career in the show business. Despite being away from home, he never forgets his wife and son. He continues to write them heartfelt letters, singing songs of love.

The movie features Jolson singing two famous songs of the 20s, “Sonny Boy” and “I’m Sitting on Top of the World.”

Musicals in Theater During the 1920s

Below are some of the best musicals in the theater during the 1920s.

11. The Drowsy Chaperone

The Drowsy Chaperone

The Drowsy Chaperone is a delightful and iconic musical set in the theater during the 1920s. It tells a story of an enthusiastic theater fan who, when feeling low, shares a long-playing record of his favorite music with his audience.

When playing the record, the guy makes witty observations about the music, script, and actors. The music is lively, with fabulous choreography and ribcracking comedy.

12. Nice Work If You Can Get It

This musical features popular George Gershwin songs, vibrant production numbers, romance, and humorous screenplay making fun of the prohibition era’s class snobbery. It follows two unlikely lovers trying to find true love in the prohibition era.

The musical won two Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards. George and Ira Gershwin wrote some of the most iconic jazz standards for this show, including “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Sweet and Low Down,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”

13. Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain is an iconic musical set in the 1920s, capturing the essence of Hollywood during the transition from silent films to “talkies.” The musical features some of the most memorable songs in musical theater history, such as “Good Mornin’,” “Make ‘Em Laugh,” and the title song, “Singin’ in the Rain.”

It follows a struggling Hollywood star Don Lockwood and his best friend, Cosmo Brown, who must navigate the changing times and their love lives.

14. Death Takes a Holiday

The theater musical follows a young nobleman, Prince Sirki, who takes a break from his job and takes a holiday in the human world.

When he meets a young woman named Grazia, who is about to be married off, he discovers the joys of life and love and ultimately learns to understand what life truly means.

The musical features a range of romantic ballads and musical numbers, including “Death is in the House,” “In the Middle of Your Life,” “Centuries,” “How Will I Know?” and “Nothing Happened.”

15. Bullets Over Broadway

The musical tells the story of a young playwright determined to make it big on Broadway and his producer, who’ll do anything to ensure the show opens successfully.

It’s full of witty dialogues and Broadway’s most memorable songs, such as “Runnin’ Wild” and “Finale (Yes, We Have no Bananas).” The production features stellar performances from a talented cast that brings the story to life. It’s sure to please theater enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

16. Bugsy Malone

Bugsy Malone is a gangster musical movie starring John Cassisi, Scott Baio, and Jodie Foster. Britain and America’s joint production features an all-child cast. It follows a gang of kids in Chicago and New York during the prohibition era led by Bugsy.

Bugsy dreams of becoming a big-time gangster, but his attempts don’t yield fruits. Along the way, he faces rival gangs and police corruption while trying to win the girl of his dreams.

The film features memorable songs such as “My Name Is Tallulah,” “So You Wanna Be a Boxer,” and “Ordinary Fool.” The soundtrack has been praised for its catchiness and has become a cult classic.

The musical was a commercial success and earned multiple award nominations. It has since gained a large following, and many consider it one of the most iconic musical films ever.

17. Mack & Mabel

As one of the best musicals from the 1920s, the musical is based on the real-life story of silent movie director Mack Sennett and his muse, actress Mabel Normand. The story focuses on their passionate, chaotic relationship that diminishes when their careers end with the transition from silent films to talkies.

Among the film’s best-known songs are the comedic “I Won’t Send Roses,” the wistful “Time Heals Everything,” and the sorrowful “Look What Happened to Mabel.”

Despite receiving Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations, Mack & Mabel didn’t attain sustainable success on Broadway. However, it has continued to enjoy popularity in concerts and staged performances since its premiere.

18. LoveMusik

The musical follows the lives and romantic entanglement of two renowned German composers, Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya. The story begins with their initial encounter as desperate young musicians to when they became famous in Britain and the United States.

It incorporates some of the best songs, such as “I Do Not Love You,” “Surabaya Johnny,” and “Speak Low.” The production features performances from leads Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy, who have won Tony Awards.

19. By Jeeves

The musical follows the story of Bertie Wooster, who’s a high-born halfwit, and his loyal servant, Jeeves. The two are always searching for adventure and getting themselves into compromising situations. Bertie is set to marry Madeline Bassett, a wealthy heiress with whom he shares no interests.

When his friend seeks help, he must find a way to make him attractive to Madeline Bassett. Jeeves is the right man for the job. The film features some of the best musical numbers, including:

  • What Have You Got To Say, Jeeves
  • Wooster Will Entertain You
  • When Love Arrives

20. Floyd Collins

Set in the 1920s, the musical tells the story of Kentucky’s native, Floyd Collins, and his attempt to find fame and fortune. The musical follows Floyd’s journey as he discovers a cave on his family’s land and decides to turn it into a tourist attraction.

However, when Floyd gets trapped in the cave, a media frenzy arises as the nation watches and waits for his rescue.

It blends folk music and shows tunes, creating an exciting and uplifting atmosphere. Some of the most remarkable songs include “The Call,” “It Moves,” “Ballad of Floyd Collins,” and “Tween a Rock An’ a Hard Place.”

Best Musicals From The 1920s, Final Thoughts

The theater world underwent a significant transformation in the 1920s with the rise of musicals. The genre gained widespread popularity and continues to appeal to audiences today.

Listening to these incredible pieces is a beautiful way to appreciate the craft and talent that went into creating them. Whether comedy, drama, or romance, each musical represents music’s powerful impact on the theater. We hope you enjoyed reading our list of the best musicals from the 1920s.

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