25 Musicals From The 1940s [Movies & Theater]
The 40s is still known as the “Golden Age” of musicals because of the huge number of iconic releases from this era.
The decade saw a mix of theater and movie musicals that were critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Here are the most popular musicals from the 1940s.
Musical Movies of the 1940s
Let's start with the musicals filmed in the 1940s, listed below.
1. On the Town
On the Town is a musical film from 1949 by Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens. It starred big names like Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
On the Town is the story of three sailors on the search for love during a 24-hour leave in NYC, ultimately wreaking havoc. It was originally produced for Broadway in 1944, but the film saw even more success.
It's responsible for popularizing well-loved songs like “New York, New York” and “You Can Count On Me.”
2. The Harvey Girls
The Harvey Girls is a 1946 musical film starring Judy Garland and directed by George Sidney.
It tells the story of a woman who set up shop in a restaurant at a railway station in the West, with the original plan of being a mail-order bride.
It has iconic songs such as “On the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe,” “Wait and See,” and “The Wild Wild West.”
3. Springtime in the Rockies
Springtime in the Rockies is a 1942 musical comedy starring Betty Grable and John Payne.
It was one of those rare films where both lead characters were equally matched in star power.
The story follows Broadway partners as they work through relationship difficulties and jealousy, with the male character, “Dan,” following the female character, “Vicky,” to a resort in the Canadian Rockies.
4. Broadway Rhythm
Broadway Rhythm is a 1944 technicolor musical film starring George Murphy, Ginny Simms, and Gloria DeHaven.
It follows the story of a Broadway producer who puts on an original musical show and is looking for his next star.
It's filled with classic numbers like “All the Things You Are” and “All in Fun.”
5. Diamond Horseshoe
Diamond Horseshoe is a 1945 musical comedy by George Seaton, starring Betty Grable and Dick Haymes.
It tells the story of an intriguing relationship between a medical student and a showgirl who ultimately holds ulterior motives.
The music of this film was created primarily by Herbert W. Spencer, and it was filmed in a nightclub called Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe, hence the title.
6. Yankee Doodle Dandy
Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 film that depicts and honors the admirable life of George M. Cohan, who was a famous playwright, dancer, actor, singer, and musical composer.
This biographical musical, directed by Michael Curtiz and written by Robert Buckner, features stars like James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, and Richard Whorf.
It also has classic songs like “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “You're a Grand Old Flag.”
7. Meet Me in St. Louis
Meet Me in St. Louis is a Christmas musical from 1944 about a turn-of-the-century family's life over a year-long period. There are themes of childhood, love, fear, and more in this dynamic, timeless film.
Judy Garland, who was now famous due to her roles in the 1930s (e.g., Wizard of Oz and Babe in Arms), was the star of this film, along with Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, and Lucille Bremer.
“The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” are the lasting hits from this film.
8. Holiday Inn
Holiday Inn is an American musical film from Universal Pictures directed by Mark Sandrich.
This 1942 movie follows the story of a crooner (singer) and hoofer (dancer) who compete for the affection and attention of a beautiful up-and-coming star.
It's another Christmas-time movie, similar to “Meet Me in St. Louis” mentioned above, and the most popular song from it is “White Christmas,” sung by Bing Crosby.
9. You Were Never Lovelier
You Were Never Lovelier is a 1942 musical romantic comedy from Columbia Pictures directed by William A. Seiter and starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth.
It combines the powerful duo of Astaire and Hayworth with classic songs such as “I'm Old Fashioned” and the title track “You Were Never Lovelier.”
The story follows a situation in which a woman's father wishes for her to marry a dancer he hires for his club.
10. Road to Rio
Road to Rio is a 1947 musical film directed by Norman Z. McLeod and starring the ever-popular Bing Cosby.
This movie is about two vaudevillians away on a liner who attempt to prevent a hypnotist's plan of marrying off her niece to a fortune teller full of greed.
It has the classic elements of love, song, and dance but has a lot of unique twists.
11. For Me and My Gal
For Me and My Gal is a 1942 musical film directed by Busby Berkeley, which stars Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.
It's set during World War I and follows the story of two vaudevillians who attempt to make it on Broadway while they're in love.
This film contains many popular songs, such as “Till We Meet Again,” “After You've Gone,” and “For Me and My Gal.”
12. Footlight Serenade
Footlight Serenade is a musical from 1942 about a boxing champ who somehow finds his way being mixed in with the Broadway scene and meets a gorgeous chorus girl – who happens to be engaged with his main boxing competitor.
It's a cheeky film that's fun to watch, directed by Gregory Ratoff and starring John Payne and Betty Gramble. Popular songs include “I Heard the Birdies Sing” and “Are You Kiddin'?”
13. Hello Frisco, Hello
Hello Frisco, Hello, from 1943, is a musical about a determined performer who returns to San Francisco after a long time away and falls in love with a young singer.
The cast is filled with stars of the time, such as Alice Faye, Jack Oakie, John Payne, and Cesar Romero. Notable songs include “You'll Never Know” and “Ragtime Cowboy Joe.”
14. The Gang's All Here
The Gang's All Here – a 1943 movie directed by Busby Berkeley, is a very visually appealing musical set during World War II.
It follows the story of a soldier and an entertainer who meet up in New York City, with lots of twists and turns along the way.
Notable songs are “No Love, No Nothin',” sung by Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda, and “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat,” also sung by Carmen Miranda.
15. Week-End in Havana
Another Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda musical is Week-End in Havana, a 1941 film about confusing relationship dynamics that occur once a boat runs aground on the way to Havana.
Carmen Miranda is definitely the star of the show, leading the title number “Week-End in Havana.”
Walter Layne was the director, and John Payne was the leading male in this instant classic.
Musicals in Theater During the 1940s
Musicals in the theater during the 1940s were just as popular as those on the silver screen.
Many musicals made their debut then and have withstood the test of time, still getting selected for theater performances today.
1. Kiss Me Kate
Kiss Me Kate is a 1948 musical comedy written by Bella and Samuel Spewack with music and lyrics from Cole Porter.
It premiered at the New Century Theatre on Broadway and won 5 Tony awards over time, including best musical!
“So In Love,” “Why Can't You Behave,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” are top songs in this musical about a cast rehearsing Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.
Oklahoma! is the first successful collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.
It's about a love triangle set in Oklahoma Territory at the start of the 20th Century and is an American classic.
Notable songs are “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin',” “People Will Say We're in Love,” and “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” It was later adapted as a film in 1955, and many theaters are still happy to perform Oklahoma!
3. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a 1949 musical comedy starring Carol Channing and featuring many classic songs like “Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend” and “Bye Bye, Baby.”
It follows the story of two showgirls who travel to Paris in search of wealthy husbands.
The musical was later adapted into a film in 1953, which stars Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, but the score and dialogue were both modified for that version.
4. South Pacific
South Pacific is an iconic musical from 1949 with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It's based on James A. Michener's book Tales from the South Pacific.
It's the second-longest-running Broadway musical from the 1940s. Plus, it's won 10 Tony awards, as well as a Pulitzer Prize. Popular songs include “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Younger Than Springtime,” and “You've Got TO Be Carefully Taught.”
“You've Got To Be Carefully Taught” is about racial prejudice, and it was criticized as being too controversial and preachy, as it defends interracial marriage and shames racism. While this might be obvious today, that posed challenges back in an even more vigorously racist time.
5. Follow The Girls
Follow the Girls is a 1944 musical by Guy Bolton, Fred Thompson, and Eddie Davis, with music and lyrics by Dan Shapiro Milton Pascal Phil Charig.
It's a wartime musical about a burlesque dancer that had a run of over 800 performances.
It has songs like “Out For No Good” and “Twelve O'Clock and All Is Well.” It's not as popular today as some of the other musicals on this list, but it still has a place in musical theater history.
Carousel is another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, which debuted on Broadway in 1945 at the Majestic Theatre.
It's about Billy Bigelow, a carnival barker who falls in love with millworker Julie Jordan. Tragic ensues when Billy tries to commit robbery to provide for pregnant Julie.
It had a shorter run than South Pacific but still made its mark in musical theater history, especially with songs like “Blow High, Blow Low,” “If I Loved You,” and “You'll Never Walk Alone.”
7. Where's Charley?
Where's Charley? is a 1948 musical based on the 1892 farce Charley's Aunt. The musical was by Frank Loesser and included music from George Abbott.
It had a relatively long run, then reopened in 1951 for another shorter run at The Broadway Theatre. There was also a 1952 film and a Broadway revival in 1974.
Songs like “Once In Love With Amy,” “Make A Miracle,” and “My Darling, My Darling” are still fondly remembered to this day.
8. Annie Get Your Gun
From the book of Dorothy and Herbert Fields, and with music from well-loved Irving Berlin, Annie Get Your Gun was a fantastic musical that debuted in 1946 and had over 1,000 performances.
The musical follows Annie Oakley, a poor sharpshooter who gets the chance to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
It includes classic songs like “Doin' What Comes Natur'lly,” “There's No Business Like Show Business,” “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better),” and “They Say It's Wonderful.”
The show was later adapted into a film in 1950, but with some significant changes, like replacing the song “Colonel Buffalo Bill” with “The Girl That I Marry.”
9. Call Me Mister
Call Me Mister is a 1946 musical that ran for over 700 performances.
With music by Harold Home and sketches by Arnold Auerbach, this revue was about soldiers returning home from WWII and needing to get used to not being referred to by their military rank.
It was rewritten and turned into a popular musical film in 1951 with Betty Grabble, but songs from the original included “Going Home Train” and “Military Life.”
Best Musicals From The 1940s, Final Thoughts
Many of the popular musicals from the 1940s have themes of war, love, and dreams that are still relevant today.
Classic songs like “Some Enchanted Evening,” “You're a Grand Old Flag,” and “You've Got To Be Carefully Taught” are still fondly remembered and have aged well.
These Golden Age musicals will surely continue to provide entertainment to audiences worldwide for decades to come.
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