The 16 Greatest American Musicals of the Golden Age, According to the Library of America

The Library of America has just published “American Musicals: The Complete Books and Lyrics of 16 Broadway Classics, 1927-1969 ” in a boxed set of two volumes.

Here is what it includes:

51WwWJbHLjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Show Boat
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II · Music by Jerome Kern

As Thousands Cheer
Lyrics and music by Irving Berlin · Sketches by Moss Hart

Pal Joey
Book by John O’Hara · Music by Richard Rodgers ·  Lyrics by Lorenz Hart

Music by Richard Rodgers · Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

On the Town
Book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green · Music by Leonard Bernstein

Finian’s Rainbow
Music by Burton Lane  ·  Lyrics by E. Y. Harburg · Book by Fred Saidy and E. Y. Harburg

Kiss Me, Kate
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter · Book by Sam[uel] and Bella Spewack

South Pacific
Music by Richard Rodgers ·  Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

51LQFNEdxPL._SL500_AA300_1950Guys and Dolls
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser · Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows

The Pajama Game
Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell · Music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross

My Fair Lady
Adaptation and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner · Music by Frederick Loewe

Book by Arthur Laurents · Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Book by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove · Lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim

Fiddler on the Roof
Book by Joseph Stein · Music by Jerry Bock · Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick

Book by Joe Masteroff · Music by John Kander · Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards ·  Book by Peter Stone

The selection was made by Laurence Maslon, an arts professor in the Graduate Acting Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. In a recent article in Slate magazine, Maslon explains his selections — why, for example, he left out West Side Story:

“West Side Story (1957) is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting evenings one can have in the theater; repeat: in the theater. Leonard Bernstein’s music and Jerome Robbins’ original choreography were electrifying (and can still be enjoyed in the 1961 film version). Yet even Stephen Sondheim has disavowed some of his lyrics from this show and, as for Arthur Laurents’s book—well, has anyone sat down and read it lately? An admirable adaptation of Shakespeare, but its barrage of simulated “teen speak”—“Cut the frabbajabba,” “Womb to tomb!/ Sperm to worm!”—seemed artificial and contrived without Bernstein’s pulsating beat to drive it along. Devoid of its music, its dancing, and its performance components, West Side Story simply isn’t a good read.” (Later in the piece, he tells us the reason why he was going to exclude all of Laurents’ work:  “…lest readers think that I am peculiarly perverse in my tastes, I will own that one acclaimed musical theater writer refused to allow his show in the Library of America anthology if Pal Joey were also included. Discretion forbids me to name names, but he is no longer with us and he wrote the book for West Side Story.” That would be Arthur Laurents.)

For another viewpoint, read Entertainment Weekly’s list of top 10 musicals and 50 greatest plays over the past 100 years.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

2 thoughts on “The 16 Greatest American Musicals of the Golden Age, According to the Library of America

  1. You misread my comments and misunderstood what I told you on the phone: my reasons for excluding West Side Story had nothing to do with Pal Joey; I clearly respect Laurents and his work and included Gypsy. Please correct this.

  2. Dear Professor Maslon
    I wrote this post before I talked to you on the telephone, basing it on your essay in Slate. Our subsequent telephone conversation did make things clearer. So:
    1. You told me on the telephone that you were going to exclude West Side Story no matter what.
    2. You also told me that Laurents was going to forbid any of his work to be included in the anthology if Pal Joey was included as well.
    3. However, Laurents died before the book was published, you told me on the telephone, which is why his Gypsy could be included in the collection.

    I have slightly altered the wording of the post to reflect this clearer understanding.

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