I love the 1950s. Whenever I think about the 50s, I see picturesque homes and my favorite classic films. Everything may not have been all sunshine and roses, but there seems to be a kind of quaint charm to this decade that I enjoy. That charm certainly crossed its way into the world of theater. Here is my ranking of eight of the shows the 1950s gave us, each of them a classic loved by many. Because the musicals of this decade are so well-written, I have ranked them as least favorite to favorite.
8. West Side Story (1957)
It's been a few years since I watched the film version of West Side Story that came out a few years after the musical. I wasn't a tragic love story fan at the time, never really going for the Romeo and Juliet deal, but I liked this one okay. It is essentially the story of two gangs, one full of white teens, the other Puerto Rican immigrants. Tony, one of the white youths, falls head over heals for Maria, the sister of the opposing gang leader. This romance becomes very complex and pretty tragic for several of the characters involved. The story is an important social narrative to America today as well as it was in the 1950s.
7. The Music Man (1957)
The Music Man is one of the first musicals I remember seeing back in the day when I didn't understand what a musical was. It isn't my favorite show, but it does have some pretty catchy songs, and it was made into a film twice (the above video is from the 60s incarnation). Music Man is the story of a salesman who cons towns into purchasing musical instruments and uniforms under the impression that he will start a boy's band, teaching the youths who join how to play their instruments. After the instruments have been purchased, he skips town to fool another group of people that he will teach their children to play instruments. When he stops in a town called River City, Iowa, he has no idea how his plans will change.
6. Cinderella (1957)
This one is a bit tough to pinpoint. Originally, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella was written for television. In fact, it was one of the earliest live productions of a musical, and it starred the young Julie Andrews. I include it here because it was an original production and it did eventually make its way to the stage in 2013. Looking back, I realize that some of the book was changed, but the timeless music remains. It is the classic tale of one of the most famous princesses in literature.
5. Once Upon a Mattress (1959)
I only discovered Once Upon a Mattress in the last few years, but I immediately fell in love. This show is a rollicking, hilarious retelling of "The Princess and the Pea." Prince Dauntless wants to get married, but his mother doesn't want him to, so she assigns impossible tests for every suitor until there is only one eligible princess left: Princess Fred, the irreverent princess of a swamp kingdom, the worst of them all. This one is a lot of fun.
4. My Fair Lady (1956)
My Fair Lady is another classic, a true piece of musical theater. The original cast starred Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, a sort of crass, cockney girl that Professor Henry Higgins decides to use for an experiment, hoping to turn her into a lovely and cultured young woman. Things go awry as they often do, but along the way to Eliza becoming a lady, we are introduced to such brilliant numbers as "Just You Wait," "I Could Have Danced All Night," and "Show Me." This is a very memorable show. The above clip is from the film made starring Audrey Hepburn (unfortunately her singing was dubbed over).
3. The King and I (1950)
It's been a few years since I watched the film made based on this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. When I was younger, I watched and enjoyed this. The King and I is a unique story telling the tale of a British school teacher who is called to be the tutor of the king of Siam's children... well, those who are in his favor, at least. This show presents another culture with a bit of history, and I love it. It certainly isn't the happiest show ever created, but it is charming and beautiful in its own way.
2. Peter Pan (1954)
I was tempted to place this vibrant musical in the first slot but finally decided to place it here. I discovered Peter Pan (the musical) in 2010 when I saw a youth theater perform it. Since then, it has become one of my favorites, and I've seen more than one adaption of it, including another performance this past weekend with the same theater company who did it five years ago. The show is filled with high-flying (literally) fun, hilarious pirates, and some difficult dances. I recommend the 1995 Cathy Rigby filming which the clip above is featured from. Great show.
The Sound of Music (1959)
One of the most classic musicals anyone can remember, some might think The Sound of Music is overrated, but I love this story of an Austrian postulant, who goes from trying to become a nun to being governess of seven children. The fact that the children are ruled by a strict father and the story takes place during some of the darkest years for Europe with World War Two looming only adds extra conflict. When I think of classic musicals, this one immediately pops to mind, and that's for a reason. I have always loved The Sound of Music, and I always will. Clip is from the film version starring Julie Andrews.
Recognize any of these classics? What's your favorite musical from the 1950s?