For the 4th of July: 25 Plays and Musicals about American History

Some of the best-known plays or musicals about American history actually depict the Fourth of July; one of them, “1776,” is entirely about the events leading up to it. But most of the theater in the list below focuses on other specific chapters of American history*.

 

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Music by: Leonard Bernstein; Book and lyrics by: Alan Jay Lerner
The story of the White House occupants from 1800–1900,

1776
Music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards. Book by Peter Stone
The deliberations that led the Founding Fathers to sign the Declaration of Independence. A revival of the musical is aiming for Broadway in 2022.

All The Way
Robert Schenkkan’s play about President Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Allegiance
Music and lyrics by Jay Kuo
Book by Mark Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione
The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, told through a fictional family inspired by George Takei’s.

Annie Get Your Gun
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Dorothy Fields, Herbert Fields, and Peter Stone
Based on the story of American sharpshooter Annie Oakley and her romance with competitor Frank Butler of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveling show.

Assassins
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
The men and women who tried to assassinate U.S. Presidents, some successfully.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman
Book by Alex Timbers
A campy unflattering dramatization of the life of President Andrew Jackson

Call Me Madam
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay
A satire inspired by socialite and ambassador Perle Mesta

The Civil War
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics by Jack Murphy
Book by Gregory Boyd and Frank Wildhorn
The conflict from differing perspectives –Union, soldiers, Confederate soldiers, and slaves.

The Crucible
Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials.

Fiorello
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott
The life of New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia

Floyd Collins
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
book by Tina Landau
A musical about the cave explorer who in 1925 became trapped in a narrow crawlway 55 feet  below ground, and the hoopla surrounding the attempt to rescue him, which was one of the first major news stories reported on the then-new technology of radio. 

Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical
 Music and lyrics by Richard Allen and Taran Gray, book by Richard Allen
A musical based on the true story of Diane Nash, future Congressman John Lewis and others who rode interstate buses in mixed racial groups through the South in the 1960s, challenging local laws and customs that enforced segregation. 

Frost/Nixon
Written by Peter Morgan
British journalist David Frost’s interviews with disgraced former President Richard Nixon, trying to get him to apologize for Watergate.

The Great Society
Robert Schenkkan’s sequel to All The Way, following LBJ to the end of his presidency

Hamilton
Music, book and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
The life and times of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father whose face is on the ten dollar bill

Indecent
Paula Vogel’s play dramatizes the history of Sholem Asch’s play “God of Vengeance,” from its success throughout Europe to its abrupt and explosive demise on Broadway in 1923, including the arrest of the entire production’s cast and crew.

The Lehman Brothers
Stefano Massini’s play, scheduled to open on Broadway in October,  explores the ups and downs of American capitalism by chronicling the 164-year-history of Lehman Brothers.

Little Rock
Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj’s play, based on extensive interviews, tells the story of the Little Rock Nine, who in 1957 became national news as the first black students to attend Little Rock, Arkansas’ formerly segregated central high school.

Newsies
music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman
 book by Harvey Fierstein
Loosely based on the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. 

Parade
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Book by Alfred Uhry
The 1913 trial and subsequent lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintended accused of raping and murdering an employee in Atlanta, Georgia.

Rags
book by Joseph Stein (with revisions by David Thompson), lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and music by Charles Strouse.
Jewish immigrants in 1910 discover that America does not deliver what they thought it promised even as they find romance, fight for labor equality

Ragtime
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Book by Terrence McNally
Through fictional portraits and real-life events from the turn of the 20th century, the musical explores such issues as racial tension, the fight for labor rights, and the struggle of immigrants.

The Scottsboro Boys
Music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb
Book by David Thompson
Structured as a minstrel show, the musical tells the true story of nine black teens in 1931 jailed for a rape they did not commit, which became a cause célèbre.

Stuff Happens
David Hare chronicles the events that led George W. Bush et al to invade Iraq in 2003.

The Woman’s Party
The National Women’s Party was instrumental in the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, giving women suffrage, and began pushing for an Equal Rights Amendment shortly afterwards. This new play by Rinne B. Groff, presented by Clubbed Thumb in a clever, stylishly designed three-part digital production, dramatizes an odd, little-known moment in 1947, when some members of the party rebelled in an attempt to replace the leadership.

*There are many other musicals that are inspired by an era in American history, but not dramatizing specific true events — “Oklahoma!”, “Shenandoah” and “Bandstand” come to mind .

Author: New York Theaterh

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

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