MUSICALS | In five years of significant social and cultural shifts that saw the emergence of the AIDS crisis and the launch of MTV: Music Television, the overall Broadway outlook remained bleak – even as the storied street actively cultivated a younger audience. (Broadway reportedly began the 1970s with more than half of its theatregoers over the age of 35 and ended the decade with more than half under the same age.) On the musical stage, in particular, Cats, Evita, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat helped to ignite a new wave of blockbuster British imports which collectively offset the era’s lackluster list of homegrown products. Among the most successful of domestic diversions were Dreamgirls, Sophisticated Ladies, and They’re Playing Our Song, which played more than one thousand performances with a principal cast of two. Lauren Bacall headlined Woman of the Year. Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney headlined Sugar Babies. Gene Barry and George Hearn headlined La Cage aux Folles. Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim collaborated on their final two Main Stem musicals. Tommy Tune emerged as a major new creative force with four back-to-back hits. And, in a tragic turn of events, 42nd Street opened on the same day that its legendary director and choreographer Gower Champion died.
PLAYS | Though the late 1970s and early 1980s brought forth a handful of popular new plays from both emerging and established playwrights, including Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart, Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold”...and the Boys, and Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, the biggest dramatic event of this precarious five-year period was perhaps The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, an eight-and-a-half-hour epic based on the novel by Charles Dickens and helmed by John Caird and Trevor Nunn. It was initially unveiled in London under the auspices of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Elsewhere, in addition to the legendary production of Arthur Bicknell’s Moose Murders, Broadway welcomed a spate of star-studded revivals such as Othello, with James Earl Jones, Christopher Plummer, and Dianne Wiest, and Private Lives, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.