Some of our most beloved songs come from the most popular Broadway musicals. From "Aquarius (Let The Sun Shine In)" from "Hair" (1968), to "One" from "A Chorus Line" (1975), from "Tomorrow" from "Annie" (1977), to "Memory" from "Cats" (1982), lilting Broadway melodies with poignant, memorable lyrics are an integral part of American pop culture.
Broadway shows often reflect upon the times in which they are staged. For instance, "West Side Story" (1957), which is widely regarded as the greatest Broadway musical ever written, is about racial tensions. The show is largely inspired by Romeo and Juliet: an innocent Puerto Rican girl, Maria, meets a white boy, Tony, at a community dance. They fall in love immediately, and the audience is treated to some of the most sumptuous music ever written, most notably Tony's solo, "Maria." Another example of Broadway reflecting the times is "Rent" (1996). A rough translation of "La Boheme", "Rent" is about young people struggling to make it in 1990s Manhattan. The battle with HIV/AIDS figures prominently into the storyline of "Rent," as it was a prevalent concern then, and remains today. "Bye Bye Birdie" (1960) is a satirical look at 1950s youth culture and the fascination with Elvis Presley, and "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" (1961) lampoons the business traditions and interoffice interworking on Park Avenue, providing a hilarious snapshot of the 1960s in the process.
Some Broadway shows are notable for their technological innovations. From the simulated Army rescue helicopter in "Miss Saigon" (1991) to the puppetry of "The Lion King" (1997), audiences are treated to the very best of show set designer innovations. However, an older musical, "Peter Pan," (1954) delights audience members still today with its flying special effects. The first time Peter flies out above the stage, the gasps of wonder are audible.
Not all Broadway shows feature the stereotypical songs belted out by the star of the show. "Dreamgirls" (1982) is filled with R&B numbers, culminating in "One Night Only," first sung by character Effie, then sung by characters Deena and the Dreams. "Hair" (1968) is regarded as the first rock n' roll musical, a paean to hippie culture and staged by hippies themselves. The music is funky and quirky, and "Let The Sun Shine In (The Flesh Failures)" ends the show in truly rocking fashion.
Some shows are memorable because of the children in their casts. The most notable example of this is "Annie" (1977). Annie and her orphaned friends carry much of the show, singing and dancing songs like "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile." "Oliver!" (1963) also features a cast filled with children with notable characters like The Artful Dodger. "Les Miserables" (1985) uses children to dramatic effect with tunes like "Castle on a Cloud." This lament is sung by young Cosette, who is dreaming of her mother.
Broadway remains a popular medium, with shows like "Hamilton," "The Book of Mormon," "Mamma Mia!," and "Hairspray" delighting audiences on the Great White Way. The curtain goes up, and audiences are whisked away into another world entirely, dreams of music and dance.