32 Musicals From The 1950s [Movies & Theater]
While the Golden Age of musicals began in the 1940s, it continued into the 50s decade in full force.
It's characterized by a wonderful mix of both theater and movie musicals, providing an exciting range of entertainment filled with powerful singing and huge dance numbers.
Here are the best musicals from the 1950s.
Musical Movies of the 1950s
Musical films were quite popular in the 50s due to the increasing production quality. Here are the best of them.
Singin' in the Rain
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain is a lighthearted musical comedy released in 1952.
The film follows the story of two silent film stars whose careers are threatened by the introduction of talking pictures. It features mesmerizing song and dance numbers, including the classic “Singin' in the Rain” routine by Gene Kelly, who is also a director of the film.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
This 1954 musical comedy tells the story of seven rough-edged brothers living in Oregon who decide to kidnap brides so they can get married.
The lively musical numbers, choreographed by Michael Kidd, stand out in this delightful classic full of comedy, romance, and adventure.
High Society is a 1956 romantic musical comedy based on the play The Philadelphia Story.
It stars Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra – all long-time stars of the time – and follows the story of a woman trying to choose between her wealthy fiancé and an ex-husband.
The film features an array of amazing songs, including the classic “True Love” sung by Crosby and Kelly.
Gigi is a 1958 musical romantic comedy set in Paris, France, at the turn of the 20th century.
It follows the story of an orphaned girl groomed by her grandmother to become a courtesan.
The film is full of spectacular musical numbers, including the classic “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” sung by Maurice Chevalier.
Oklahoma! was originally a stage play written by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1943 but was adapted into a movie in 1955.
The film follows the story of two young lovers in the Oklahoma Territory who are threatened by the arrival of a local villain, as well as various cowboys and farmers competing for romance. The film features many memorable songs, including the title song, “Oklahoma!”
The King and I
The King and I, released in 1956, is an adaptation of the 1951 stage musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein about a British schoolteacher who is hired to teach the young children of the King of Siam. It stars Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno, and Martin Benson.
The film has some spectacular musical numbers, including “Shall We Dance?” and “Getting To Know You.”
An American in Paris
The 1951 film, An American in Paris, stars Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron.
The movie tells the story of three friends looking to find work, which is already a struggle, then navigating even more complications when two of them fall in love with the same woman.
An American in Paris is a beautiful and romantic film with an array of spectacular musical numbers. The most iconic is the 17-minute-long ballet sequence featuring Kelly and Caron. “I Got Rhythm” is arguably the most well-known song.
Jailhouse Rock is an iconic 1957 musical film starring Elvis Presley in one of his most popular roles.
It follows the story of a wrongly accused young man who, while in prison, discovers a passion for music.
The movie includes some impressive musical numbers featuring Presley's amazing singing and dancing, including the title song “Jailhouse Rock” and “Treat Me Nice.”
White Christmas is a 1954 musical-comedy set during World War II, starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. The story follows a successful dance team that becomes romantically involved with a sister act.
The movie features an array of classic holiday songs, including “Snow” and the title song “White Christmas,” which was a new version of the 1942 Holiday Inn musical's version by Irving Berlin.
A Star Is Born
Before Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, there was Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in the 1976 remake of A Star Is Born. And before that, there was the original musical version from 1954, starring Judy Garland and James Mason.
But the premise has been the same from the start – a known star helping a young singer find fame while dealing with his alcoholism and mental health issues.
The 1954 version won numerous Academy Awards, and the soundtrack included songs such as “I'll Get By” and “You Took Advantage of Me.”
Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland is a 1951 animated musical film from Walt Disney Pictures, based on the Lewis Carroll novel of the same name.
It follows young Alice as she falls down a rabbit hole, then finds herself in a strange world populated by various characters.
The film is full of delightful musical numbers, including “The Unbirthday Song” and “I'm Late.”
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
The original musical version of Gentlemen Prefers Blondes came out in 1949 for theater.
But the 1953 version, starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, has a more lasting legacy, effortlessly and comically representing the push and pull of materialism and love.
The movie follows two showgirls who go on a luxurious European cruise and try to find rich husbands. Along the way, there are plenty of memorable musical numbers, including “Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend” and “Bye Bye Baby.”
Carmen Jones from 1954 is an adaptation of George Bizet's opera from the 1800s and holds a significant place in musical film history. It follows the story of a beautiful young woman who seduces a soldier and is, in turn, betrayed by him.
Otto Preminger directed an African American cast, who were critically underrepresented at that time. And Dorothy Dandridge was the first African American to get nominated for an Academy Award for best actress due to her riveting performance in this film.
Plus, the iconic “Dat's Love” was filmed in a single take and is seen as one of Dandridge's best performances.
Stanley Donen directed the 1957 musical Funny Face. It starred Audrey Hepburn, who had relatively recently risen to fame, as opposed to co-star Fred Astaire, who was pushing 60 and had already cemented his position as one of the greatest dancers in film history.
The two stars play a photographer and a model, respectively, who go to Paris for a fashion shoot and fall in love in the process. The movie also features classic song-and-dance numbers, like “Bonjour Paris” and “Let's Kiss and Make Up.”
Silk Stockings is a 1957 musical-comedy film starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse and directed by Rouben Mamoulian. It's an adaptation of the 1939 Greta Garbo film Ninotchka.
The movie follows a Soviet agent who goes to Paris to sell state-owned jewels and falls in love with a brash American movie producer.
The performances of “All of You” and the title song, along with other memorable numbers, have made Silk Stockings one of the best musicals of its time.
The Band Wagon
The Band Wagon is a 1953 musical comedy-drama directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, and Jack Buchanan.
It follows the story of a successful artistic director (Astaire) who is tasked with directing a Broadway show and changes it completely. This 1953 musical hit includes numbers like “That's Entertainment” and “Dancing in the Dark.”
Guys and Dolls
The classic 1955 musical Guys and Dolls stars Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, and Vivian Blaine.
It follows a group of gamblers who plan to take over Time Square and centers around two couples—a mismatched upper-crust couple (Simmons and Blaine) and a “Doll” (Blaine) with a street-smart gambler (Brando).
The memorable musical numbers include “Luck be a Lady” and “Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat,” and this movie was nominated for four Academy Awards. This film was based on the Broadway musical from five years prior by composer and lyricist Frank Loesser.
The Man With the Golden Arm
Another musical film from 1955 is The Man With the Golden Arm, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Frank Sinatra as an ex-convict trying to stay clean from his heroin addiction with the help of his neighbor Zosh played by Kim Novak.
The movie is considered a milestone in film history, as it was the first Hollywood movie to discuss drug addiction in depth. With musical tracks like “Desperation” and “The Fix,” it didn't follow the same happy-go-lucky tone as many other musicals of the Golden Age.
Moulin Rouge is a British musical film from 1952 directed by John Huston. It's based on a 1950 book by French author Pierre La Mure, which depicts the life of Parisian courtesan Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, set around the burlesque palace Moulin Rouge.
The movie stars José Ferrer as the eponymous artist and Zsa Zsa Gabor as a can-can dancer. It includes music by Georges Auric and William Engvick, and the film won two Academy Awards for art direction and costume design.
Musicals in Theater During the 1950s
In addition to the famous film musicals of the 1950s, there were also several popular musical theater productions, some of which were later turned into films either that decade or in the future.
The Can-Can is about showgirls from Montmartre, set in the 1890s time period. It premiered in 1953 and had a successful run of over 800 performances over two years.
With a book by Abe Burrows and music/lyrics by Cole Porter, it's no surprise that this theater show won two Tony awards.
It also went onto the West End in London in 1954, then had a film adaptation in 1960 and a Broadway revival in 1981.
The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music is a well-known Broadway musical that was adapted from the memoirs of Maria von Trapp. It debuted on Broadway in 1959 and was adapted into a film in 1965.
The musical follows the von Trapp family as they escape from Nazi-occupied Austria. It features memorable tracks like “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” and, of course, the title song, “The Sound of Music.”
It won three Tony awards, including best musical, and was revived on Broadway in 1998.
West Side Story
West Side Story is a 1957 adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet set in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City in the late 1950s.
Written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, with the concept from Jerome Robbins and the book by Arthur Laurents, it's one of the most iconic musicals of all time.
The musical follows a group of rival street gangs—the Sharks and the Jets—and their leader Tony, as he falls in love with Maria, the sister of a rival gang leader. It features songs like “America,” “Maria,” and “Tonight.”
The musical has two of the six Tony awards it's been nominated for and has been on Broadway six times.
The Music Man
Another 1957 successful Broadway show was The Music Man, written (book, music, and lyrics) by Meredith Willson.
It follows conman Harold Hill as he attempts to sell band instruments and uniforms to the people of a Midwestern town (inspired by Meredith's hometown River City, Iowa) without actually providing lessons before skipping town.
He then risks being caught pursuing a woman he's falling in love with.
The musical includes songs like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Rock Island,” “Goodnight My Someone,” and “Pickalittle (Talk-a-Little).”
Premiering in May 1955, Damn Yankees is a musical comedy from a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, with music and lyrics by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler.
This 46th Street Theatre show (which is now the Richard Rodgers Theatre) is an updated telling of the story of Faust.
It was very successful, with a run of over 1,000 performances and an incredible seven Tony awards, including best musical in 1956. Popular musical numbers include “Whatever Lola Wants” and “Good Old Days.”
My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady, a 1956 musical by Alan Jay Lerner, was the longest-running Broadway production of the 1950s. It's based on the 1913 play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and has music from Frederick Loewe.
It ran close to 3,000 shows throughout the decade, has been on Broadway five times, and has also been on tour numerous times ever since.
With musical numbers like “Wouldn't It Be Lovely,” “Get Me to the Church On Time,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” it's no surprise it won the Tony for best musical in 1957 along with five other Tony awards and a Theatre World Award.
The Pajama Game
The Pajama Game is a 1954 Broadway musical about a labor dispute in a pajama-making factory.
This George Abbott and Richard Bissell book, with music and lyrics by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, ran over 1,000 performances on Broadway and won several Tony awards, including for best musical.
“I'm Not At All In Love,” “Steam Heat,” and “Hey There” are some of the most memorable musical numbers. It's also been on Broadway three times since its opening, in 1954, 1973, and 2006.
Bells Are Ringing
Bells Are Ringing is a 1956 musical by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (book and lyrics) and Jule Styne (music).
It's about a woman with a phone answering job who falls in love with one of her clients.
It ran for 924 performances, and Judy Holliday won the Tony Award for best performance by a leading actress in a musical. Judy Holliday was in both the theater musical and the 1960 film.
Goldilocks is a British fairytale from the 19th century about a young girl who meets three bears while looking for porridge.
In 1958, Goldilocks was adapted into an extravagant Broadway musical with a book by Jean and Walter Kerr, music by Leroy Anderson, and lyrics by Joan Foard (and Jean and Walter Kerr).
It was nominated for five Tony awards but has not yet seen a Broadway revival.
Peter Pan is another Broadway adaptation, this time from a 1904 play by J. M. Barrie.
Peter Pan is about the eponymous character who can fly and never grows up, as well as his adventures with the Lost Boys and other characters in Neverland.
Like Goldilocks, Peter Pan wasn't as successful as a Broadway show, but there are still tons of theaters that happily put on this show and tell this famous story with their own adaptations.
Redhead is a musical from 1959 by Dorothy Fields (book and lyrics), Albert Hague (music), and other collaborators.
The story is about an average woman Essie Whimple who ends up lying about knowing who murdered someone in the museum she works to get the attention and respect of a man she fancies named Tom Baxter.
Popular tracks include “The Right Finger on My Left Hand” and “Erbie Fitch's Twitch.”
Juno is a 1959 musical about a hardworking mother who's determined to hold her family together amidst war and her husband's alcoholism.
It's based on the 1924 play Juno and the Paycock, and the book is by Joseph Stein, while the music and lyrics are by Marc Blitzstein.
“We Can Be Proud,” “You Poor Thing,” and “For Love” track with titles that speak closely to the themes of this musical.
The Nervous Set 1959
Last but not least is The Nervous Set, another 1959 musical. It's by Jay Landesman and Theodore J. Flicker, and it tells the story of a rich husband and wife from Connecticut who are exploring NYC and navigating a somewhat troubled marriage.
This musical was very relatable, as it addressed the issues of middle-class married life, such as not having enough money for luxuries or being unhappy in one's marriage.
Popular songs include “Man, We're Beat,” “Fun Life, and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.”
Best Musicals From The 1950s, Final Thoughts
The 1950s were notable for having many successful musical numbers like “The Sound of Music,” “America,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and more.
And these are some of the best musicals from the 1950s that are still heavily enjoyed and appreciated to this day in various forms and adaptations.
What's your favorite music from the 50s? Let us know in the comments below.
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