11 Broadway Musicals That Illuminate History

One unusual way to learn history is through music. Broadway musicals illuminate the past in ways that dry textbooks cannot. Examples:

  • Something’s Rotten” — a musical comedy about the English Renaissance, how Shakespeare stole with impunity from other writers and poets (no copyright laws).  Here are two numbers: “Welcome to the Renaissance” and “Black Death.”
  • Hamilton” — the life and times of Alexander Hamilton and other founding fathers;
  • 1776” — events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, including the efforts of John Adams to persuade his colleagues to vote for American independence and to sign the document.
  • Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” — Comedic rock musical about the founding of the Democratic Party.
  • The Civil War (A Musical) — Numbers portraying the American civil war through Union, Confederate, and slave viewpoints.
  • Pacific Overtures” — Stephen Sondheim musical set in Japan beginning in 1853 and follows the difficult westernization of Japan, told from the point of view of the Japanese.
  • Les Miserables” — The structural poverty and injustices of 19th century France combined with rebellion and revolutionary spirit;
  • Newsies” — The exploitation of newspaper workers in urban America in the late 19th century and the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City;
  • The Scottsboro Boys” — Racial discrimination and presumptions of guilt against young black boys in the American South in the 1930s.
  • Evita!” — The life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine President Juan Perón. The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death.
  • Fiorello! — New York City mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, a reform Republican, took on the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine and won.

2 thoughts on “11 Broadway Musicals That Illuminate History

  1. I may not be a big history fan, but I am defiantly a musical theatre fan. Les Misérables and Newsies are two of my favorite musicals.

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