With a brutal winter just ahead, the traditional
Broadway musical had a bounteous autumn that stretched from 1964 through 1966. Six
musicals that opened in this three year period ran for over a thousand
performances an unprecedented crop of long-running hits. With solid
scripts and superb integrated productions, they were the ultimate
fulfillments of the post-Oklahoma tradition
1. Hello Dolly! (1964 - 2, 844 perfs) -
For details on this show, please see the section discussing
Gower Champion on the previous page.
2. Funny Girl (1964 -
1,348 perfs) - After torturous previews, multiple directors and extensive rewrites,
this fictionalized biography of comedienne Fanny Brice made a star of
Barbra Streisand, who wisely avoided
imitating Brice, building her own fresh characterization. Composer
Jule Styne and lyricist
Bob Merrill's brassy score included
the hit songs "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade."
The gifted Streisand went off to Hollywood for the screen version, winning an
Academy Award for Best Actress. She never appeared in another stage musical.
3. Fiddler on the Roof (1964 -
3,242 perfs) - Composer Jerry Bock and lyricist
Sheldon Harnick teamed with
librettist Joseph Stein for this adaptation of Sholom Aleichem's
stories about Tevya, a philosophical dairy farmer who tries to uphold Jewish
Orthodox traditions against overwhelming odds in Tsarist Russia.
Zero Mostel's powerful but self-indulgent
performance in the lead helped establish the show. It then went on to a record-setting
run under a long series of fine actors in the role of Tevya. Audiences
the world over identified with this unlikely but ultimately irresistible hit. The much
loved score includes "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man,"
and "Do You Love Me?," and "Sunrise, Sunset." The final and arguably
the most memorable Broadway staging by Jerome Robbins,
it included jubilant wedding celebrants balancing wine bottles on their hats, and a dancing
circle of townspeople that embodied the idea of a community coming together and coming apart.
4. Man of La Mancha
(1965 - 2,328 perfs) - Librettist Dale Wasserman, composer Mitch Leigh
and lyricist Joe Darion built a musical around the story of Spanish novelist
Cervantes. He is thrown into prison by the Inquisition and tries to save the
manuscript for his masterful Don Quixote from destruction by his fellow
prisoners -- by enacting it with their assistance.
Richard Kiley scored the greatest triumph of his
career in the title role, as did co-star Joan Diener
playing the tattered kitchen girl Aldonza. Despite mixed reviews, the show enjoyed long runs
everywhere from London to Tokyo, and "Impossible Dream (The Quest)" became an
international standard. Director Albert Marre's staging was so effective that it was
used by most major professional productions of La Mancha for more than thirty years.
(1966 - 1,508 perfs) - Jerry Herman followed up his smash
Hello Dolly by teaming with playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
for an adaptation of their long-running comedy Auntie Mame.
Angela Lansbury wowed audiences in the title
role, winning her first Tony for Best Actress playing the eccentric
heiress who liberates her orphaned nephew from a stodgy upbringing.
Beatrice Arthur's hilarious performance as the
bitchy actress Vera Charles brought her a Tony for Best
Featured Actress. The score included the catchy title tune,
the moving "If He Walked Into My Life," and the show-stopping Lansbury-Arthur
duet "Bosom Buddies." Mame proved a worldwide favorite,
enjoying successful productions into the next century.
6. Cabaret (1966 - 1,165 perfs)
- Composer John Kander and lyricist
Fred Ebb worked with librettist Joe Masteroff
on this searing adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's play I Am a
Camera. As a young American writer falls in love with a cabaret
singer, we meet seedy chorus girls, Nazi storm troopers, and other denizens
of the demi-monde in early 1930s Berlin. Joel Grey
gave an electrifying performance as the leering Master of Ceremonies, a role he repeated in
the acclaimed 1972 film version becoming one of the very few actors to win the Tony
and Academy Awards for the same role. The score included "Wilkommen" and the hit
title song. Three decades later, an innovative Broadway revival would rack up an even longer
run (1998 - 2,398 perfs).
With characters and stories that speak to the heart of human experience
offering different perspectives on the search for love and triumph of the human spirit in a
harsh world it is no wonder that these six shows remain among the most frequently
performed musicals. But the late 1960s marked a time of cultural upheaval. Young Americans
were rocking to a different beat, and the Broadway musical was about to be dragged
into a new, uncertain era. The changes would prove painful for many - including those behind
the scenes, as well as those in the audience.