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  • Finian Hackett

Little Known 'Best Musical' Tony Nominees - The 1950's

The Tony Awards were founded in 1947 and have since become the most prestigious theatre award in the world - equal to the Oscars for film and the Grammys for music. Hundreds of shows have been nominated since the Best Musical category was created in 1949, won by Kiss Me Kate. Each year usually 4 shows are nominated, though this may vary, and there is one winner! It's inevitable that some shows fly under the radar so let's take a look at some of the lesser-known Tony nominees from the first decade - The 1950s!

Pipe Dream by Rodgers and Hammerstein (1956 Tony nominee, winner Damn Yankees)

Probably the least well known and least successful of all the Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborations, Pipe Dream opened on Broadway in 1955 with the biggest advanced sales in theatrical history at the time. A lot was riding on this show but it flopped massively - why was that? Based on John Steinbeck's book Sweet Thursday, the story is of marine biologist Doc and prostitute Suzy in post-WW2 California. There wasn't a lot going for the plot and many problems arose with casting throughout the show after the lead Henry Fonda didn't live up to the vocal abilities needed and the star name above the show went to the secondary role of Fauna played by opera star Helen Traubel. Rodgers was diagnosed with cancer during rehearsals and had to take a back step. The show ran for a disappointing 8 months but still managed 8 Tony nominations (winning one for costumes). It has not had any major productions since, apart from a recent production at New York City Center with Will Chase, Laura Osnes and Leslie Uggams.

New Girl In Town by Bob Merill (1958 Tony nominee, winner The Music Man)

New Girl In Town, based on the 1921 play 'Anna Christie', tells the story of prostitute Anna as she returns home to her father Chris after many years away. Her sordid past is unknown to him but soon comes out and Anna, who has fallen for sailor Mat, is left heartbroken when her sailor leaves - but he eventually returns and all is well! The show was written as a star vehicle for Gwen Verdon, who had just won her second Tony for Damn Yankees, whilst Bob Fosse served as choreographer and Hal Prince as one of the producers. It was composed by Bob Merill in his first stage musical (he later lent his hand to shows such as Carnival and Funny Girl) who at the time was best know for his song 'How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?'. The show ran for respectable 431 performances, received 5 Tony nominations and won 2, although these were for the same category, as Gwen Verdon and co-star Thelma Ritter both won the Best Actress award! It hasn't been seen since and I think a major part of this is that it was written for Verdon and is now somewhat dated.

Oh, Captain! by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (1958 Tony nominee, winner The Music Man)

The 1953 film 'The Captain's Paradise' served as the inspiration for this musical adaptation. Famed film composers Jay Livingston and Ray Evans composed the music for the story of Captain Henry St James and his relationships with his wife Maud in London and his lover Bobo in Paris. Neither women know about the other but after Maud travels to Paris she meets a Spanish man and they flirt away only to bump into the Captain and Bobo. The women befriend each other and both leave the Captain. However, the Captain and his wife Maud reconcile at the end. The show opened at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon, soon to be home to the new Michael Jackson musical, MJ) and received fairly good reviews, running for 192 performances. It received 6 Tony nominations but failed to win any. There has been the odd production here and there but Oh, Captain! won't be returning any time soon.

Jamaica by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg (1958 Tony nominee, winner The Music Man)

The third lesser-known nominee from the 1958 Tony's, Jamaica was written around the talented performer Lena Horne. It follows the story of a small Jamaican island and the fight they are having against American consumerism. Savannah dreams of going to New York, so when an American, Joe Nashua, comes to the island, she becomes very close to him. All of this changes when local fisherman Koli saves Savannah's brother in a hurricane and makes her realise that her true suitor is right here on the island. Arlen and Harburg were well known Hollywood composers, most famous for The Wizard of Oz, but Arlen was blacklisted in Hollywood at the time so they turned back to Broadway. 7 Tony nominations and 558 performances later, the show closed in 1959. Due to its calypso musical style not being prominent in current American culture, the show has dated fast, but still contains important issues.

La Plume de Ma Tante by Robert Dhéry, Gérard Calvi and Ross Parker (1959 Tony nominee, winner Redhead)

La Plume de Ma Tante (translates to My Aunt's Pen) was a French revue that first opened in London in 1955 where it ran for 2 and a half years! The show then transferred to Broadway in 1958 and ran for an impressive 2 years. The show featured mime, sketches, pantomime and everything in between; it gained 3 Tony nominations and even won a Special Tony Award for contributions to theatre! The show then toured to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Fransico but has not had a professional production in decades (there is very little information about the show anywhere!)

Please leave a comment below if you've got anything to say about these shows. Who knows, one of these might be your favourite! The next part focusing on the Tony Awards from the '60s is coming very soon.

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