Broadway is synonymous with the rich history of musical theatre in America. If you’re visiting NYC from abroad, what better way to learn about America than seeing a quintessentially “American” Broadway musical? And if you’re coming here from somewhere else in the United States, why not celebrate your own culture by seeing one of these five shows? Each has been selected by New York Online as an “All-American” musical, either because it portrays a key aspect of American culture or has a unique place in American theatre history.
Follow The Temptations on their rise from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This high energy, fast-paced jukebox musical garnered 12 Tony nominations—the second-highest total of any show this year.
Why it’s All-American: Motown holds a key place in American music history. It brought soul music to the masses, integrated black and white pop music, and was the soundtrack of the 60’s. No group embodied the Motown sound more than the Temptations, and their story is a true rags-to-riches story of the American Dream. This show and its talented cast delivers pure American entertainment, with a string of songs from the Temptations’ expansive catalog of Top Ten Hits, including “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” as well as other Motown hits of the era.
Rogers & Hammerstein’s beloved classic frontier musical finds new depth in this production, which Time Magazine called “the #1 theatrical event of 2018.”
Why it’s All-American: If “The Great Gatsby” is the Great American Novel, then surely “Oklahoma!” is the Great American Musical. But heads-up: this production is not your grandparents' or your parents' “Oklahoma!” — it’s a stripped-down, provocative exploration of the darker subtexts of the show and frontier life. Americans have never been very sentimental – our country is too young for that – and we tend to tear things down just so we can build them right back up again, only taller. That’s this production in a nutshell. Everything about this show screams America: from the 7-piece country band, to the Bud Lights being popped on stage, to the barn dance-style set with gun racks lining the walls, and then the clincher: the audience is fed free chili and cornbread onstage at intermission. Top to bottom, this show is America in all its big-hearted, worrisome glory.
Tickets: Oklahoma!, from $62
A musical crime-drama / comedy satire. Two vaudevillian murderesses awaiting trial in Jazz-age Chicago compete for the public’s attention as their lawyer corrupts the judicial process.
1) With one show-stopping Kander & Ebb song after another and super-stylish Bob Fosse choreography, “Chicago” is the epitome of American cool.
2) Vaudeville ruled American theatre from the 1880’s into the 1920’s and has been called “the heart of American show business.” “Chicago” plants its heroines Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (could there be two more American names?) firmly in the glamorous and seedy vaudeville tradition.
3) “Chicago” holds the title of “Longest-running American musical in Broadway History.” It’s a winner, and America loves a winner (or a loser pretending to be a winner).
Tickets: Chicago, from $62
Hollywood hooker wins the heart of emotionally buttoned-down businessman. You know the story because you and everyone else loves the classic Richard Gere / Julia Roberts movie that launched a thousand rom-coms. But have you seen the Broadway musical?
Why it’s All-American: Most of the world knows America from Hollywood movies—they have been this country’s dominant cultural export since the start of the 20th C. The symbiotic relationship between Tinseltown and the Great White Way seems to grow each year—at any moment you can count a dozen or more shows on Broadway that either became movies or are based on movies. “Pretty Woman” is Hollywood’s all-time best-selling romantic comedy and came to define the genre. It’s in our cultural DNA, and now, predictably, it’s on a Broadway stage. Terrific performances from the two main leads and power ballads aplenty from songwriting team Bryan Adams / Jim Vallance give the ol' heartstrings and the guitar strings a good workout.
Tickets:Pretty Woman, from $89
A funny foursome of Broadway has-beens or never-weres descend on a small Indiana town, hoping to gain publicity and boost their flagging careers by sticking their noses into a local hot-button political controversy. The object of their self-righteous rescue mission: a local high school girl denied entrance to her school dance because she is lesbian.
Why it’s All-American: High school proms are a curious American rite of passage, endowed with way too much importance by the teenagers who attend them (or don’t). Broadway’s “The Prom” gets that, and has fun with the whole enterprise without making light of the unconventional heroine’s desire to attend such a conventional event. The current culture wars dividing American society are center stage as the over-inflated egos and liberal biases of the show-biz celebrities hilariously clash with the conservative pieties and prejudices of the local PTA. This show is pure fun, but it also has something to say about America in 2019.
Tickets: The Prom, from $61
If our short list of “All-American” shows didn’t have you humming “The Star-Spangled Banner” then check out the more complete list of shows covered in our Broadway 2019: Season Overview.