By Karen Kennedy
Boy meets girl and falls in love. Boy loses girl at the end of the first act, and we all head to the lobby for intermission. Boy and girl resolve their differences at the end of the second act. Everyone lives happily ever after, and we all leave the theatre humming the title tune.
This formula applied to nearly every Broadway musical written before the 1960s. But as a social revolution bubbled to the surface across the country, those changing times reflected back on us from the footlights of the Broadway stage. Suddenly, musical theatre was dealing with themes of oppression, discrimination, abortion, women’s rights, the draft and socialism.
This paradigm shift is chronicled at the Michael Feinstein Initiative’s new exhibit, “A Change is Gonna Come; 1960s Broadway Musicals,” which opened Jan. 6, and will run through most of this year.
“As we celebrate the 50th anniversaries of many of the musicals from this period, it’s a great time to look back,” said Lisa Lobdell, archivist for the Feinstein Initiative. “The ’60s ushered in a period where we were less afraid to tackle difficult topics in the theatre. It opened the door for modern-day musicals like ‘The Book of Mormon,’ in which we not only address, but poke fun at, our deeply held beliefs. Before the ’60s, every musical was tied to the Great American Songbook, and the songs from the hit shows of the time dominated the radio as well. It was during this era that Broadway found its own way, and the shows really started to have a social impact. It was a very important time.”
The exhibit features floor to ceiling posters, original playbills, memorabilia and interactive touchscreens which showcase the seminal musicals of the ’60s. One of the major trends that define the period is the rise of shows written to star women – who may or may not have had or needed a man by the end of the show – such as “Mame,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” “Funny Girl” and “Cabaret.”
The centerpiece of the exhibit is the hand-painted and hand-beaded, black sequined Halston jacket that Liza Minelli wore in the original Broadway production of “Cabaret,” which touched on such taboo topics as abortion and Nazism.
Other shows explored emerging themes of the changing times, such as oppression (“Man of La Mancha,”) free love and revolution (“Hair” and “Oh, Calcutta!”) discrimination (“Fiddler on the Roof,”) the generation gap (“The Fantasticks,”) divorce (“110 in the Shade,”) and hopes, dreams and talents quashed by the draft (“Bye Bye Birdie”).
The Feinstein Initiative has partnered with four other area institutions which are all presenting ’60s-themed exhibits as well: IUPUI Archives, the Indiana Historical Society, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and the Carmel Clay Historical Society. Each institution is using its own collections.
The Feinstein Initiative’s exhibit is located on the third floor of the Palladium (accessible by entering through the box office entrance and taking the elevator to the gallery level) and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is also open before all Songbook and jazz performances and movie showings.
For more information, visit www.thecenterpresents.org and click the “Michael Feinstein Initiative” link or call 844-9446.