The golden age of musical theatre has provided us with some wonderful productions. I have fond memories growing up of sitting in an audience watching these shows and being thoroughly entertained. I refer to the talents of Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, and Lerner & Loewe as examples. Unfortunately, not all of them have stood the test of time. For a variety of reasons, particular musicals have fallen out of favour with the modern theatre goer. There are musicals that I fear will never be seen on stage again even though they are thoroughly enjoyable if assessed within the environment in which that had been intended. Here are my picks for the top 5 musical that are Fantastix but we’ll probably never see on stage again…
5. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is primarily a dance vehicle and delivers in spades containing “one of the most rousing dance numbers ever put on stage”. It is up-beat, colourful and engaging country and western style musical – some would say ‘thigh slapping’. This is not really a large chorus production with most of the production being set in a cabin in the hills. The chorus is only required when the brothers go to town for the barn raising and at the end after the snow melts – however, a large dance ensemble is needed when required. The main issue I see with this musical is the number of men (minimum of 23) required to perform it, particularly considering 14 of them need to be high level dancers. Within community theatre circles this would be near impossible. Commercially, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, would not be viable due to the ridiculous nature of the story which includes kidnapping for marriage purposes, the treatment of women and the lack of intelligence in men (both the brothers and the townsfolk). I particularly love the description at the beginning of the production; ‘Adam comes to town to shop and look for a bride’. We may have to give ‘this beautiful hide’ a fond farewell.
4. The Pajama Game
A musical about employee unrest in a pajama factory is always going to struggle with a newer audience. Released in 1954, The Pajama Game has a great score including ‘Once a Year Day’, ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ and the title song ‘Pajama Game’. This musical has a romantic and cheerful story and wonderful opportunities for an ensemble. Being set in a pajama factory is certainly a great basis for the scenery and costume departments to do something colourful and unique. All of this aside, the dated story is difficult to embrace emotionally. The Pajama Game is entertaining but no longer relevant. But that’s my ‘Seven-and-a-half-Cents’ worth.
3. Kiss Me Kate
This musical version of the Taming of the Shrew is a personal favourite of mine. Kiss Me Kate is a wonderful ensemble show with plenty of characters – giving many cast members a chance to have their time in the spotlight. Because of its ‘show within a show’ structure, there is a mix of Elizabethan theatre, 1940’s America and some underworld gangster activity to boot. It also has the music of Cole Porter including ‘Another Op’nin’ and ‘Too Darn Hot’. It won the 1949 Tony Award for Best Musical. Unfortunately, with the sexist nature of the script (the songs ‘I Am Ashamed that Women Are So Simple’ and ‘I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily in Padua’ for example) and the dated script it doesn’t resonate as well with modern audiences leaving the score only to be revived via musical reviews that include the stand alone ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ – which is comedy gold!
2. Finian’s Rainbow
A musical that contains ‘How Are Things in Glocca Morra?’, ‘Old Devil Moon’ and ‘That Great Come-and-Get-It-Day’ already has the basis of a great production. Incorporate a maniacal leprechaun trying to retrieve his pot o’ gold and the shenanigans that ensue and I believe you have an enjoyable night at the theatre all lined up. The music and dancing are great fun and the ensemble have plenty to do. Finian’s Rainbow is affected by the era in which it was written. This musical contains levels of politics, sexism, the treatment of race (albeit a vehicle to encourage reconciliation), promotes the use of tobacco and it’s very long. I don’t think anyone will be visiting Missitucky any time soon.
- Annie Get Your Gun
- Damn Yankees
- Paint Your Wagon
1. Lil’ Abner
This is one of my favourite musicals. It’s funny, well written, plenty of characters and based on a comic book. What’s not to love about Lil’ Abner? It could be argued that it’s satirical look at the incompetence of the United States Federal political system is more relevant today than ever before. Unfortunately, the Australian political environment is not too far behind – but that’s a discussion for another day. What I love about Lil’ Aber is the variety of characters. From the lead couple Abner and Daisy, to the perfectly villainous General Bullmoose and his sidekick Evil Eye Fleagle. Include Marryin’ Sam, Earthquake McGoon, Mammy & Pappy Yokum, Moonbeam McSwine, Stupefyin’ Jones and the rest of the population of Dogpatch, USA and you have one of the most enjoyable ensemble shows ever! Compared to other comic books, Lil’ Abner does not have the commercial profile necessary to make this show commercially viable – It was discontinued in 1977. However, I believe that with a very small amount of modernisation, it could be very successful for a community group or performing arts school.
What do you think of my top 5 musicals that are Fantastix but we’ll probably never see on stage again?
What else would you have included?
Until next time, be Fantastix!