MUSICALS | In the early 1970s, as Broadway settled into a prolonged period of discord and disarray, the new musicals that emerged were largely characterized by what many contemporary critics and creatives referred to as “amateurism,” exhibiting a general deficiency in craft, construction, and theatrical composition. Pop and rock music permeated the likes of Dude, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin, and Via Galactica. The Black experience was given new voice in Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death and Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. Social and political winds blew through the center of Inner City, The Lieutenant, and The Me Nobody Knows. And “camp” (i.e. artificial, affected, and exaggerated performance) streaked across the Main Stem in cult favorites like Rachael Lily Rosenbloom and The Rocky Horror Show. Hugh Wheeler, Stephen Sondheim, and Harold Prince, meanwhile, brought to Broadway a refreshingly sophisticated musical comedy in A Little Night Music. And, as nostalgia began to infiltrate every facet of American life, revivals surged, becoming an integral and permanent part of the theatrical landscape. The 1925 musical comedy No, No, Nanette was perhaps the production most instrumental in igniting the new trend, opening on January 19, 1971 and running a total of 861 performances. It was immediately followed by the likes of Candide, Good News, Gypsy, and Irene, a modern Cinderella story that proved both popular and pioneering when it premiered in 1919. The revamped version was headlined by Debbie Reynolds.
PLAYS | While major European works like Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth and Peter Shaffer’s Equus continued to stream across the Atlantic, Joseph Papp’s Public Theater became one of the leading dramatic forces on the Broadway stage. In addition to its successful transfers of David Rabe’s Sticks and Bones and Jason Miller’s That Championship Season, the celebrated downtown institution briefly assumed control of Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, presenting such works as Hugh Leonard’s The Au Pair Man, Bill Gunn’s Black Picture Show, and Ron Milner’s What the Wine-Sellers Buy. Elsewhere, Neil Simon continued his comic reign with The Prisoner of Second Avenue and The Sunshine Boys and Edward Albee turned out his latest masterwork in Seascape.
In 1973, the Negro Ensemble Company journeyed to Broadway for the first time with Joseph A. Walker’s The River Niger. It would return two years later with Leslie Lee’s The First Breeze of Summer. Dedicated to the development of African-American talent, the Off-Broadway outfit was founded in 1967 by Douglas Turner Ward, Robert Hooks, and Gerald S. Krone, with substantial financial support from the Ford Foundation. Among its most prominent works were Paul Carter Harrison and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s The Great MacDaddy (1974), Charles Fuller’s The Brownsville Raid (1976), Samm-Art Williams’ Home (1979), and Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play (1981).