Was 1964 Broadway's Greatest Year for Musicals? Dolly, Fiddler, Funny Girl and Other Groundbreakers

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15 May 2014

Summer: No musicals opened for the rest of June, July and August but a lot was happening in the culture. In pop music it was the first year of The Beatles, which would usher in a whole new generation of popular music that would eventually, sadly, sweep showtunes out of Top 40. But theatre music wasn’t quite ready to go. Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music were the second and third top-grossing films of the calendar year, bested only by the James Bond adventure "Goldfinger."

In Flushing Meadows, Queens, the World’s Fair brought wonders (and tourists) from around the globe to get a preview of what the future might look like. In the budding U.S. space program, the Mercury Program of Earth Orbits had given way to the Gemini Program of manned moon probes in NASA’s run-up to a planned moon landing at the end of the decade.

In politics, President Lyndon Johnson, who had succeeded the assassinated John F. Kennedy only the previous November, was bashing heads to bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (chronicled in 2014’s Tony-nominated drama All The Way) as he prepared for his own campaign to retain the presidency in the 1964 election. In the afterglow of the Kennedy presidency, which had used Camelot as its touchstone, Johnson’s advisors made “Hello, Dolly!” his campaign anthem.

On Broadway itself, new non-musical plays included Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, Rolf Hochhuth’s The Deputy, James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie and Frank D. Gilroy’s The Subject Was Roses. In the fall would come Lorraine Hansberry’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, Murray Schisgal’s Luv and Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice.


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