19 Musicals From The 1960s [Movies & Theater]
The 1960's “post-Golden-Age musicals” consisted of both many original works as well as many remakes of plays that premiered in the 1950s.
While we’ll discuss these remakes, below we’ll focus on musicals that were originally created in the 60s.
So here are the best musicals from the 1960s. We’ll look at musical movies first, then musicals in theater after.
Musical Movies Of The 1960s
Musical movies saw some pivotal changes from the movies in prior decades, especially regarding video and audio quality.
There were also more intriguing plotlines that went beyond “a man and a woman meet and fall in love,” although, of course, there were still musicals based on this classic plot as well.
Mary Poppins is a 1964 musical directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
The story is about a magical English nanny who comes to take care of the Banks children and teach them valuable lessons about life. Even with its family-friendly plot, the movie was incredibly popular and grossed over $100 million.
The soundtrack of this movie is considered one of the best of all time, containing songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Julie Andrews won an Academy Award for best actress, and the film won many other awards as well.
Gypsy is a 1962 musical directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood. The movie was based on the 1997 Broadway production of the same name, based on Gypsy Rose Lee's 1957 memoirs.
The story follows a determined and ambitious mother who tries to make her daughter, a burlesque dancer named Gypsy, into a star.
It was nominated for three Academy Awards, and Russell won a Golden Globes award for best actress in a motion picture.
Oliver! is a British musical about an orphan boy who gets sold to a mortician and then runs away to join a group of young pickpocketing boys.
Directed by Carol Reed and starring Mark Lester, Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, and Oliver Reed, this 1968 movie was based on the 1960 musical by Lionel Bart, based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist from 1838.
The soundtrack of this movie is filled with classic songs like “Food, Glorious Food,” “You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two,” and “Consider Yourself.”
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a British musical from 1968 directed by Ken Hughes and starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, and Lionel Jeffries.
This movie follows the adventures of an eccentric inventor, Caractacus Potts, who creates a magical car that can fly and float on water, then heads off with his children to go save their grandfather.
The film contains memorable songs like “Toot Sweets,” “Hushabye Mountain,” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” which was nominated for an Academy Award for best song – original for the picture.
Blue Hawaii is a 1961 musical directed by Norman Taurog and starring Elvis Presley. The movie follows the story of an ex-G.I. who returns home to his family's pineapple plantation in Hawaii and must adjust to civilian life.
This movie was extremely popular, earning over $4 million in the United States alone. It also featured some of Elvis' best-known songs, such as “Can't Help Falling In Love,” “Rock-A-Hula Baby,” and “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”
Inspired by The Beatles' song of the same name and their music in general, Yellow Submarine is a 1968 British animated musical directed by George Dunning.
The movie follows the adventures of The Beatles as they embark on a surreal journey to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies and restore music and emotions.
The movie features many of The Beatles' most beloved songs, such as “All You Need Is Love,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “When I'm Sixty-Four,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and, of course, “Yellow Submarine.”
The Beatles' music was experimental and ahead of its time, so the sounds of this musical stand out from all the other songs on this list.
Doctor Dolittle is a 1967 musical directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Rex Harrison as the titular character. Based on Hugh Lofting's books, this movie follows the adventures of a doctor who can talk to animals.
Doctor Dolittle was nominated for four Academy Awards and contained classic songs like “Talk to the Animals,” which won an Academy Award for best original song.
It also features a variety of other memorable musical numbers, including “My Friend the Doctor,” “Beautiful Things,” and “The Vegetarian.”
Interestingly enough, this musical became a comedy starring Eddie Murphy in 1998 and then an adventure film in 2002, so it's only a wonder what the story will be adapted into next!
The Singin Nun
The Singin Nun is a 1966 musical directed by Henry Koster and starring Debbie Reynolds as a real-life nun who becomes an international singing sensation.
The Singin Nun is based on the true story of Sister Sourire, and it follows her journey from a nun in a Flemish convent to a singing star.
The movie contains some of Sister Sourire's most beloved songs, like “Dominique,” “The Lord's Prayer,” and “Love Is a Miracle,” as well as some other catchy tunes, like “Smile Out of Heaven” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” This movie is perfect for those who are looking for something wholesome and uplifting.
The Sound Of Music
The Sound Of Music is a 1965 musical directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and Eleanor Parker. It's based on the original Broadway musical from 1959.
The story is about a young woman who becomes the governess of a large family living in Austria on the eve of World War II. The movie was incredibly popular and grossed over $280 million, making it one of the most successful movies of all time.
The movie's soundtrack is also incredible, containing songs like “Do-Re-Mi” and “The Sound of Music.”
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Thoroughly Modern Millie is a musical directed by George Roy Hill and starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing. The 1967 movie follows the story of a young woman who moves to New York City and gets caught up in various comic hijinks.
The movie contains several memorable songs, including “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Jimmy,” and the show-stopping number “Not For the Life of Me.”
This musical is a great example of how the genre can be both comedic and entertaining while also highlighting important topics like women's rights.
Flower Drum Song
Flower Drum Song is a 1961 film adaptation of the 1958 Broadway musical of the same name. The film was directed by Henry Foster and stars Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta.
The story is about a woman who plans on marrying a nightclub owner in San Francisco after flying in from Hong Kong but doesn't realize that he's already romantically involved with someone who sings in his club.
It was nominated for five Academy Awards and surprised $5 million at the box office, with memorable songs like “I Enjoy Being A Girl” and “Don't Marry Me.”
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a 1964 musical directed by Charles Walters and starring Debbie Reynolds. It's loosely based on the real-life story of American socialite Margaret Brown and follows her journey from poverty on the Colorado frontier to becoming a millionaire.
The musical includes numerous memorable songs, such as “I Ain't Down Yet,” “Belly Up to the Bar Boys,” and “Leadville Johnny Brown.”
Debbie Reynolds' performance in the title role was very well-received, and she was nominated for an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Sweet Charity is a 1969 musical film directed by Bob Fosse and starring Shirley MacLaine as the title character. It's based on the 1966 Broadway show with lyrics by Dorothy Fields, the book by Neil Simon, and music by Cy Coleman.
The movie follows the story of a dancer-for-hire trying to make it in the world of show business, but many obstacles stand in her way. However, she maintains faith that she'll make it out of her world, perhaps by finding a man.
Songs in the movie include “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “I'm a Brass Band,” and “Big Spender,” which Theophilus London and A$AP Rocky sampled in their song of the same name. Additionally, this film was nominated for three Oscars.
Musicals In Theater During The 1960s
The 1960s were a time of imperative change in the world, and this was reflected in the theater.
Musicals like “Hair” addressed controversial and timely topics, while others like “Fiddler on the Roof” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” were more traditional in their approach. Let's explore.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical that premiered on Broadway in 1962, on West End in 1963, and through film in 1966.
Given the back-to-back premieres in such a short time – as well as two more Broadway revivals and international tours – it's clear that this musical was considered a great success.
It's about a Roman slave who is granted freedom by romantically matching his master up with a courtesan, but things go awry.
It won six Tonys, most notably for best musical and the other for best Author to Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, the musical's book writers. Popular songs include “Comedy, Tonight” and “Bring Me My Bride.”
Fiddler on the Roof
Fiddler on the Roof is a fantastic musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and the book by Joseph Stein.
It's based on tales from Sholem Aleichem and was first released on New York City's Broadway in 1964, with a show run of over 3,000 performances – the first-ever show to do this.
The musical is about Jewish life in the village of Anatevka during Tsarist Russia, with songs that include “Matchmaker” and “Sunrise, Sunset.”
It won nine Tonys in 1965, including Best Musical and Best Director for Jerome Robbins. It also was adapted into a movie in 1971. Plus, Gwen Stefani based her song “Rich Girl” on the song “If I Were a Rich Man” from this musical.
Bye Bye Birdie
Bye Bye Birdie was a 1960 Broadway musical by Michael Stewart, with music from Charles Strouse and lyrics from Lee Adams.
It's about a rock and roll star (Conrad Birdie) who gets drafted into the army, causing chaos in the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, as he tries to kiss his fan before leaving.
Popular tracks include “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Put on a Happy Face,” “Telephone Hour,” “Kids,” and “One Last Kiss.”
It was an incredibly popular show, winning the Tony for best musical in 1961 and getting adapted into a film just three years after its Broadway premiere (starring Janet Leigh and Dick Van Dyke).
Hello, Dolly! is a 1964 Broadway musical with music and lyrics from Jerry Herman. The show's plot revolves around the matchmaking efforts of Dolly Levi, a strong-willed matchmaker who is determined to find the perfect pairings for her clients.
Popular tracks include “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”
The show was widely successful, running for over 2,844 performances on Broadway and winning an outstanding 10 Tony Awards. It was made into a movie in 1969 starring Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau, as well as featuring Louis Armstrong.
Hair, otherwise called by its full name “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” is an exciting rock musical by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot.
It first premiered off-Broadway in 1967 and then immediately went on Broadway the following year due to its success.
The musical – notable at the time for its racially integrated cast – is about a “tribe” of hippies in New York City who are trying to cope with the Vietnam War and deal with their issues of identity.
Popular tracks include “Aquarius,” “Hair,” “Let the Sunshine In,” and “Good Morning, Starshine.”
Hair was very successful, getting nominated for the Tony for best musical in 1968. It was also adapted into a film in 1979 and continues to be produced on stage today.
Camelot is based on the famous King Arthur legend and is specifically about the marriage between King Arthur and Guinevere and her increasing connection with Sir Lancelot.
It had music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics and the book by Alan Jay Lerner, and a revised book by Aaron Sorkin (revised book). The stage musical, originally starring Julie Andrews and Richard Burton, was such a success that it had four Broadway revivals, the latest one in 2023.
Seven years after this 1960 musical by Alan Jay Lerner, the 1967 film came out, directed by Joshua Logan. It starred Richard Harris as Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot.
Funny Girl is a musical from 1964 with music by Jule Styne, the book by Isobel Lennart, and lyrics by Bob Merrill. This musical has had success in the states, the U.K., Australia, and beyond.
It's about Fanny Brice, a singer and comedian who rises to fame in vaudeville shows. Popular tracks include “People,” “I'm The Greatest Star,” “Don't Rain on My Parade,” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance.”
Barbra Streisand starred in the original 1964 Broadway show as well as the 1968 movie adaptation, which was incredibly popular and won 8 Academy Awards (one in which Barbara Streisand won for best actress).
Streisand's performance in this film alone made her a household name.
Best Musicals From The 1960s, Final Thoughts
Musicals have been an incredibly popular form of entertainment for centuries, from ancient Greek tragedies to the contemporary musicals we know and love today.
And many of the lasting, memorable, timeless musicals came from the 1960s – a simultaneously emotional, turbulent, and uplifting time.
Let us know what your favorite musicals from the 1960s are in the comments below!
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