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So, did you know that February 27th is National Retro Day?

I remembered this while approaching the August Wilson Theatre. The great playwright for whom the theater was named had the brilliant notion, as well as the talent and fortitude, to write a play set in each of the ten decades of the 20th century.

That brought to mind an idea that a producer once told me. His theater would do ten musicals over two years. Season One would have a show representing each of the first five decades of the 20th century, meaning the 1900s to the 1940s.

Season Two would finish with musicals denoting the final five decades of that century, from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Each decade could have:

1. A musical that was set in that decade. For example, THE SECRET GARDEN, although a 1991 musical, would be apt for the 1900s, for it takes place in 1906. That could be our first show of Season One.

2. A musical that was not only set in that decade but was also produced in it. ON THE TOWN opened in 1944 and was set in that same year. That would our fifth and final show for Season One.

3. A jukebox musical that has songs most associated with that decade. So, Season Two, which starts with the 1950s, could offer ALL SHOOK UP, full of songs that Elvis Presley made famous during that decade.

See if you agree with one, some, many or none of my candidates and choices:

First, the 1900s:

Many musicals were set “at the turn of the century.” So that opens the door for:

NEW GIRL IN TOWN, a musicalization of Eugene O’Neill’s ANNA CHRISTIE, which has a rollicking Bob Merrill score.

The Maury Yeston-Arthur Kopit PHANTOM, a nice alternative to the more famous version of the same story.

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, which many still know from the novel or film, but should get to know Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields’ astonishing score.

I DO! I DO!, Jones and Schmidt’s musical which deals with a 50-year-marriage that goes from deep love to deeper resentment to an even deeper love.

But I DO! is a two-character musical, and I’d really want to start the series off with a bang. So, my choice is RAGTIME, the sweeping epic that starts in 1906. Most Tony voters of that season would agree, for they justifiably awarded the musical both the Best Book and Best Score prizes.

Onto the 1910s:

A certain Mr. Cohan had 10 shows in this decade that featured his music and lyrics, some of which can be heard in GEORGE M!

Similarly speaking, the 1910s saw Will Rogers appear in seven Broadway shows, including two ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, so THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES would be a natural. (And, oh, that “Hooray for Our Favorite Son” number!)

The RMS Titanic only saw a few days of life in 1912, but Maury Yeston’s score for TITANIC is one of many works of art that’s kept the story alive.

My choice: TAKE ME ALONG, Bob Merrill’s second musicalization of an O’Neill play: AH, WILDERNESS! It has his best score and Broadway’s best-ever reprise in “Staying Young.”

Now the Roaring ‘20s:

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE certainly fits, for its title song proudly proclaims, “Men say it’s criminal what women’ll do; what they’re forgetting is this is 1922!”

GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES takes place when Prohibition is still in effect, but once everyone’s out to sea, see what happens.

THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, set in 1927, is pretty mammoth. It has 20 songs in its first act and 17 in its second – and there’s still an act to go, which has seven more songs and two reprises. Lucky for us, they’re all by Frank Loesser. And if I needed to economize, there is that marvelous two-piano version that led to a revival cast album.

My choice: THE WILD PARTY. “Which one?” you’re asking, because the year 2000 actually begat two musicals that took us to 1928. Andrew Lippa’s is by far the superior one. “An Old-Fashioned Love Story” is the greatest showstopper of this new millennium.

(I reserve the right, though, to change my mind after I see LEMPICKA. Watch this space.)

Seguing to the 1930s:

PINS AND NEEDLES, which centered on 1930s labor issues, was one of the decade’s longest-running shows. The 1962 recording of Harold Rome’s score shows why.

Kander and Ebb’s STEEL PIER was nominated for nine Tonys and won none. But so did their original CHICAGO – and look what happened to that one through its revival. Might history repeat itself at my theater?

No, because I’d choose ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, in which a down-on-his-luck egomaniacal producer tries to get the equally egomaniacal woman he made into a star work with him again. Three musical theater giants – Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green did some of their best work here.

And, to close out our first season, the 1940’s:

OVER HERE! replicated the Big Band sound of the decade with two of its biggest stars: The Andrews Sisters. But two able contemporary legends would be fine successors.

My choice, though, is inspired by Wayne Bryan, who for decades steered Music Theatre Wichita to amazing box-office success. As he said, “My audiences will let me do one maverick show a year. If I dare to do two shows they’ve never heard of, I’m out of business.”

So, my one maverick unknown musical would be MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS, the British musicalization of the 2005 film about a theater that would not close during World War II.

Of course, by the time I got my theater off the ground, another British musical, OPERATION MINCEMEAT, which deals with a clever World War II ruse, might be available. But it shows no signs of closing any time soon in London.

Season Two and the 1950s could begin with:

MY FAVORITE YEAR, which Benjy Stone tells us in the opening number of a score with many fine Ahrens and Flaherty songs, was 1954.

LSD became a popular divertissement in the 1960s, but FLYING OVER SUNSET showed that Cary Grant, Aldous Huxley and Clare Booth Luce were ahead of the wavy psychedelic curve in the 1950s.

THE NERVOUS SET concerned itself with Beatniks, the counter-cultural group that anticipated the Hippies of the 1960s.

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS – about a powerful 1950s newspaper columnist – had the last new Marvin Hamlisch music heard on Broadway. It was his most ambitious score, with superb Craig Carnelia lyrics to match.

My choice: Cole Porter’s SILK STOCKINGS, the most representative musical of the 1950s. That decade saw the nation endure Blacklisting and The Red Scare, so a show that saw a Soviet political agent succumb to a United States theatrical agent was embraced by American audiences.

As on through the seasons we sail into the 1960s:

Should it be BYE BYE BIRDIE, one of the first musicals of the decade to introduce some rock ‘n’ roll to Broadway, or THE WHO’S TOMMY, based on one of the first rock concept albums?

My choice again invokes the one-maverick-show-a-season policy: NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN, a stirring anti-war, anti-establishment musical that captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s. It also was one of the first musicals to be written by an all-female team – Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford – which makes it all the more notable.

Into the 1970s:

ALMOST FAMOUS, about a teen who manages to get a writing assignment from Rolling Stone in 1973, closed much too soon. It’s worth bringing back.

A CLASS ACT is the bio-musical of Edward Kleban that explains why he was a one-hit wonder. But he had to be a wonder to give those great lyrics to A CHORUS LINE.

INNER CITY examined New York in the 1970s, hardly the town’s favorite decade. Yet you can’t keep good New Yorkers down, or the great rock score by Eve Merriam and Helen Miller.

That’s too unknown a show, though, and we’ve used up our maverick quotient for this series. So, let’s go with COMPANY, the musical that brought Stephen Sondheim back to Broadway after a 1,663-day absence. More importantly, it was the first building block in establishing his dominance that would span the rest of the century and beyond.

Moving to the 1980s:

BACK TO THE FUTURE starts in the 1980s, but perhaps it belongs to the 1950s, where most of its action takes place. Wherever decade we choose for it, it’ll still pack a wallop.

DREAMGIRLS, though steeped in the 1960s, was in 1981 the first musical to bring the Motown sound to Broadway.

Two notable musicals opened in the 1983-1984 season: Best Musical Tony-winner LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and Pulitzer Prize awardee SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. And yet, I’d go with Kander and Ebb’s WOMAN OF THE YEAR. With a Soviet ballet dancer defecting, it’s a true product of its time. The main event – a love-hate story between two successful professionals – will always be timeless. (And “The Grass Is Always Greener” is one of the great eleven o’clock numbers.)

And we close the series with the 1990s:

Let’s finish with two shows playing in repertory: Jonathan Larson’s RENT, the quintessential 1990s musical, alternating with his biographical musical tick, tick BOOM! Wouldn’t they both end the series with a distinctive boom?

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and The Drama Book Shop.