The Broadway musical is at an all time high – opera singers can’t stop recording them. What exactly is the fascination and which shows stand up to the best operas? In the first of a two-part special, Jonathan Webster looks at music since 1945.
The Broadway and Hollywood musical holds a huge attraction for both pop and opera singers. In the 1960s opera diva Joan Sutherland stunned music critics at the height of her career by making one of the first crossover discs, a collection of Noel Coward songs. Since then, and often to huge controversy, Kiri Te Kanawa, the Three Tenors, Dawn Upshaw and now Bryn Terfel have followed in the footsteps of Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra and Howard Keel. But it is not just about thumping good tunes. Music theatre acts as a superb mirror of popular culture. From the Shavian wit of Coward and Porter lyrics to the streetwise rawness and orchestral sophistication of West Side Story this is a genre which cannot be overlooked by anyone who appreciates good music, be it pop or classical. We start our two-part history of the musical at the end of the Second World War.
America’s post-war feel-good factor
By 1945 America and its allies had as good as won the war. Militarily and economically, the United States was now undisputably the most powerful nation on earth; and in a neat bit of synchronicity, Broadway, the hub of New York’s theatre district, became the heart and soul of the post-war musical – a position it was to retain right up until the early 1970s. Amid the worldwide rejoicing that victory brought, one musical seemed to sum up this new-found optimism better than any other: Oklahoma.