From Stage To Screen To The Top Of The Pops.
By Lori Acken, ReMIND Magazine
In 1950, a bustling Broadway was on the cusp of its golden age — one that debuted iconic productions that are still staged and revered today.
Happily, for New Yorkers and Big Apple tourists alike, a night on the Great White Way was a glamorous but accessible affair. Folks gussied up, swung onto jam-packed, neon-splashed sidewalks and headed to the Mark Hellinger Theatre, the Winter Garden, the Imperial, the St. James, the Shubert, the Broadhurst, the Barrymore, the Broadway, where — for about $7 for the fancy seats or two bucks for a spot in the balcony — they were transported to other countries, other cultures, other ways of life, right there in their seats. And then sent back home with a memorable tune, or many, in their heads.
And in the figurative wings, movie moguls and the music industry waited eagerly, ready to parlay Broadway’s biggest successes into equally loved movies, radio hits and chart-topping record albums.
On 1950s Broadway stages, the lyrics were the thing. Put to paper by powerhouse pairs such as Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, and belted out by an impressive stable of talent, these songs created engrossing stories of gutsy ladies in other lands matching wits with their men (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I and The Sound of Music, Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady). Stories of love conquering all for the good of a company, a ball club (Adler and Ross’ The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, respectively), or a tiny town (Meredith Willson’s The Music Man). Stories of showgirls and gangsters (Guys and Dolls) and gang members (West Side Story) and burlesque queens (Gypsy).
And they left theatergoers with a spectacle for their eyes and souls, and memorable music in their ears.
With songs like “Getting to Know You,” “Shall We Dance?” and “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” 1951 Tony Award winner The King and I would have its original cast album inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000. An even more beloved film starring the production’s Yul Brynner and a more tuneful Deborah Kerr replacing Gertrude Lawrence as Anna debuted in 1956.
Arguably the era’s hottest ticket, 1956’s My Fair Lady enjoyed a 2,700-performance run. The Broadway cast recording, featuring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison, appeared on the Billboard Top 200 for a whopping 480 weeks with charmers such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “The Rain in Spain.” Harrison also appeared in the celebrated 1964 film, with Audrey Hepburn in Andrews’ role.
And while its songs perhaps aren’t as ubiquitous as its counterparts, 1957’s The Music Man cast album won the first Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and spent 245 weeks on the Billboard charts with “Goodnight, My Someone,” “Marian the Librarian” and “Till There Was You.” The production was turned into an Oscar-winning 1962 film adaptation starring Shirley Jones and Robert Preston, reprising his stage role.
But no Broadway production has produced more sing-along favorites than The Sound of Music (1959), which put “Edelweiss,” “The Sound of Music,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and others on the lips of generations. Though a cast album featuring Mary Martin as the problematic Maria and Theodore Bikel as Captain Georg von Trapp was released and well received, the soundtrack from the ensuing Oscar-winning 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer remained in the Billboard 200’s top 10 for 109 weeks and stayed on the chart for 238 weeks.
So the next time you catch yourself whistling a happy tune, basking in a drop of golden sun or dodging the rain on whatever plain you’re in, remember the bright lights and big stars of Broadway’s biggest decade.
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