The Saturday List: 6 Sweet Musicals of the 1960s

Ready to take five, dude? This is a list of 6 of my favourite musicals of the 1960s, with slang courtesy of Fifties Web. Click on the title of each musical to scope out other blogs on Musical Cyberspace about each show.

6. Oliver!

I have a bit of a soft spot for Lionel Bart’s Oliver! and my love for the material grows every time I see the film. Some say the show whitewashes its Dickensian source material, but that doesn’t bother me too much in this case. There’s no firm requirement for the intentions of an adaptation to align with the intentions of the source material anyway. My first exposure to the show was through playbills, looking at pictures of different productions, but other than that Oliver! wasn’t a big part of my childhood in the way that The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady or South Pacific were. That’s because my grandmother never had an LP of the cast recording or soundtrack and it was when I was set down for naps that I was first played albums of show tunes. Although things are a bit hazy, I think I learned some of the songs from sheet music before hearing them for the first time, first on what I remember as a rather square recording from JAY/TER (perhaps it deserves another listen), and then on the Original London Cast Recording, with Ron Moody and the fabulous Georgia Brown, which won me over completely. But it is the film that impresses me the most when it comes to Oliver!; its excellence almost catches me off guard each time I watch it. The key moment that shifts the film into a higher gear is when “Oom-Pah-Pah”, which in the show is a simple diegetic song that opens the second act in a jovial fashion for no other reason than to provide and emotional contrast to the upcoming “My Name”. In the film, the song underscores a vital piece of plotting and is used to thrown Sikes and Fagin off Oliver’s trail. Moments like that, along with the fantastic cinematography, some wonderful musical staging and a fantastic cast, are what make Oliver! a killer adaptation of a gas of a show.

5. Hair

Hair is a show that has be done properly, otherwise one is just left wondering why the show had any sort of impact in its original run. Either that, or you’re left thinking that the 1960s really was all show and no go. Wondering how the show plays to contemporary audiences has been an idea with which I’ve flirted ever sing I saw a revival of Hair in Cape Town in 2007, directed by Paul Warwick Griffin. I felt that his production didn’t quite work, due to an attempt to mould the show into a more conventional narrative storytelling mode with a very overt link to the then-current wars being fought by America in the Middle East. I don’t think its a viable choice to try and shift the form of the show as its written – although that was certainly a major adaptation technique used when the film was made, but that was an adapatation of the material not simply a new production of it – and I think that adding stage business that links the show current wars simply comes off as a contrived was of justifying a production of the show in the 21st century. It is a choice that dilutes the power of metaphor in the theatre. The best way to do the show, in my opinion, is to play it straight and let it all hang out – pretty much like we see in the clip below, which was a performance at the Tony Awards of the 2009 Broadway revival of the show. The energy is spot on. I’m also convinced that this isn’t a show that fits within the bounds of a traditional proscenium arch stage. Moving into the audience like we see in the clip is great, but ideally I think the respective stage and audience spaces need to be physically merged into one where audience and cast are all celebrating the Age of Aquarius together, as one, as part of the great big hippie spirit in the sky.

4. Camelot

While it is Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s most deeply emotional show, Camelot is doomed to be something of a flawed masterpiece. Due to its complicated production history,the show has never really found a definitive form. At first, audience struggled to pinpoint the emotional throughline of the show. They can’t be blamed. How does one reconcile “How to Handle a Woman?” with the silly Morgan Le Fey subplot anyway? A prologue, added later, helped audiences to reconcile the tone of the start of the show with its ending. If only, somewhere on the troubled road to its initial production, someone had pruned away the excesses that haunt Camelot even today, especially given that the delightful “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” managed to be cut during the run of the original production instead, then the show might been a truly ace show. Instead – and I suppose it isn’t the worst compromise – Camelot is an incredibly moving musical that has come to define an era in American politics, one that we all know is riddled with imperfections, but which we love anyway.

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