MUSICALS | In a period of reckoning that produced such infamous flops as The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, Carrie, Legs Diamond, and Welcome to the Club, Broadway bid adieu to the majority of its last remaining voices from the middle of the 20th century – a group of towering individuals like Larry Gelbart, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, and Jule Styne, all four of whom wrote what would be their final new musical to reach the Main Stem. The new crop of Broadway creatives included Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and George C. Wolfe, a masterful writer and director who made his highly anticipated debut with a landmark musical about the life of jazz great Jelly Roll Morton. Elsewhere, though the rush of revivals continued at a breakneck pace, the flood of hot ticket British imports began to slow considerably, with Blood Brothers, Five Guys Named Moe, Miss Saigon, and Sunset Boulevard collectively heralding the unofficial end of an era. Meanwhile, Sarafina! arrived from South Africa; Metro arrived from Poland; and Cyrano arrived from the Netherlands. Beauty and the Beast marked Disney’s first official foray onto the Broadway stage. The Secret Garden became one of the few shows written entirely by women. And, in 1993, The Who’s Tommy emerged as an electrifying new rock musical, providing a visual and aural jolt to an erratic Rialto.
PLAYS | The late 1980s and early 1990s proved to be a particularly fruitful period for new plays on Broadway. Among the most prominent were those penned by emerging playwrights making their Main Stem debut, including Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Richard Greenberg’s Eastern Standard, Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, Robert Schenkkan’s The Kentucky Cycle, David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, and Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss. Established authors, too, made major contributions to the contemporary scene, with August Wilson alone delivering Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, and Two Trains Running, each of which represented a new installment in the famed playwright’s soaring ten-part survey of African-American life in the 20th century. The list of new solo shows included Spalding Gray’s Gray’s Anatomy, Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine, and Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Two of the era’s most unique offerings, however, belonged to Bill Irwin, who thrilled Broadway audiences with Largely New York and Fool Moon, a pair of vaudeville flavored entertainments infused with pantomime and clowning. The latter was created in collaboration with David Shiner.
In 1990, Those Were the Days brought “The Shtetl” and “The Music Hall” to Broadway in an intimate two-part revue performed in both English and Yiddish. “The show evokes a period,” director Eleanor Reissa explained. “When it begins, we’re dressed in contemporary evening wear, and we all go back in time together. But where we go has nothing to do with the Holocaust. It’s not dark and dank, about hiding and escaping Hitler. Life in the shtetl was colorful and beautiful, a rich civilization. The second act is more modern: ‘Life is a cabaret,’ torch songs, vaudeville, comedic songs about the czar.” Created by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld, the musical honored the legacy of a vibrant and influential Yiddish stage that flourished on New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One of the district’s most formidable figures was Boris Thomashefsky, who opened a Yiddish theatre on Broadway in 1923.