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Musicals through the Ages for a 'Decades' costume event

Updated on May 9, 2014
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Hi, I am Adele, and I have run a large fancy dress shop in Essex, England since 1998. Happy to pass on my knowledge to help others.

The ‘Decades’ costume theme is a regular choice for costume event themes, as is ‘Musicals’. So, in a stunning fusion of these two ideas, Party Girl at Props & Frocks presents a list of musicals set in various time periods to offer an extra dimension to your next decades or historical event. As always, the list is not exhaustive and features some musicals better known in Britain, but nonetheless, they will hopefully prove useful and you might have a few suggested additions of your own.

There is an increasing trend to create musicals based on popular films, so a 'crossover' between the genres may offer other costuming opportunities in the future.

Biblical & Ancient Times


Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat: An early Lloyd-Webber/Rice collaboration bringing a much-loved early Bible tale to a wider audience.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The better known (and more controversial) Lloyd Webber/Rice musical of biblical times.

Godspell: The Jesus story done differently, as if by a hippy performing group.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Ancient 'Romans' as a musical sitcom

Medieval (Renaissance) and Tudor

Camelot: The tale of King Arthur, his Queen and the Knights of the Round Table.

Pippin: An interesting setting and characters – strolling players in the reign of King Charlemagne. Recently revived on Broadway.

Twang: The story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men from the pen of British composor Lionel Bart, but unlike Oliver (see Victorian), not a success.


Kiss Me Kate: There are several musicals based on Shakespeare plays (Catch My Soul – Othello; West Side Story- Romeo & Juliet; Boys from Syracuse- Comedy of Errors). Kiss Me Kate mixes a modern love story with the performing of ‘Taming of the Shrew’.

1700s

Lock Up Your Daughters ; A musical based Henry Fielding’s 18th century comedy

1800s & Victorians

Les Miserables: Trials, tribulations and struggles against the odds in 19th Century Revolutionary France.

Paint Your Wagon: Action set against the 1853 American Gold Rush.

The King & I: The relationship between a Siamese King and a governess in the 1860s.

Showboat: Set on a Mississippi paddle steamer in the 1880s.

Barnum: The tale of the early years of the showman and circus-founder Phineas T. Barnum (born 1810).

Oliver: Based on the Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, a successful musical about a workhouse boy’s adventures amongst Victorian street-people.

Phantom of the Opera: Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, the story of a disfigured musician who haunts the Paris Opera House and guides a young singer to stardom.

Sweeney Todd: The tale of the embittered Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Todd) and his partner-in-crime, Mrs Lovatt who finds a novel way to dispose of evidence,


Edwardian

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: A fanciful musical (based on an Ian Fleming story) about a flying car.

Hello Dolly: Social climbing in early 20th century America.

Oklahoma: Romance on the mid-West frontier.

Moulin Rouge: Boy meets girl to the backdrop of the best-known night-spot in Fin de Siècle early 20th century Paris.

Mary Poppins: A practically perfect nanny turns up to enchant a family in Edwardian London.

My Fair Lady: The Cinderella Story done as a social experiment in class and etiquette.



1914-18

Oh What A Lovely War: The First World War presented as an end-of-the pier Pierrot show

1920s

Anything Goes: Musical set aboard a cruise-liner en route from New York to London.

Bugsy Malone: A musical about 20’s-style Gangsters and Molls, performed by children

Chicago: 1920s flappers, speakeasy bars, crime and punishment – Bob Fosse style.

No No Nanette; A bible-publisher and his wife seek to ‘tame’ their wild ward, Nanette who is caught up in the spirit of the Age.

The Boyfriend: A celebration of the Bright Young Things in the South of France.

Thoroughly Modern Millie: Another ‘flapper-based’ musical, set in New York, with the addition of sinister Chinamen (and women)!

1930s

Cabaret: The decadence of pre-War Berlin portrayed in the setting of the KitKat nightclub.

Gypsy: The early days of burlesque dancer and entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee

Me and My Girl: Cockney-based musical set to songs of the London East End.

1940s

Guys & Dolls: Based on Damon Runyon stories and featuring, gangsters, molls and the Salvation Army.

Evita: The rise of the Argentinian inspirational force that was Eva Peron.

South Pacific: Musical set in a US Naval Base in the South Pacific (there’s a clue in the name).

From Here to Eternity: Following a recent trend to create stage musicals based on popular films, Tim Rice and others premiered this adaptation of the book (and film) in 2013 - unfortunately it was not a success and closed in Spring 2014. The action is set around a US base Hawaii in 1941.

The Sound of Music: A novice nun acts as nanny to a family of singers and helps them escape the Nazis in Austria.

1950s

Buddy: Biographic musical about 50s legend who died too young, Buddy Holly.

Grease: Highly popular ‘coming of age’ Romeo/Juliet musical set at Rydale High School, USA.

1960s

Steven Ward-the Musical: On the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Profumo Scandal, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote this musical which had its premiere in December 2013. Unfortunately the subject matter did not generate audience enthusiasm and the musical closed early in 2014.

Hair: Possibly the best known hippy musical, set in the shadow of the Vietnam War call-up.

Hairspray: Set around a TV talent contest with a sub-text of racial intolerance and stereotyping.

1970s

Xanadu: Film about a roller-disco featuring Olivia Newton John as an ethereal spirit and Gene Kelly in one of his last films.

Mamma Mia. Technically Mamma Mia is not 'of the 70s', but being based on Abba's music, which certainly is associated with the era, it could qualify.

1980s

Billy Elliot: A boy follows his dream to be a dancer against the background of the British Miners’ Strike.

Rock of Ages: The Golden age of Heavy Rock music remembered.

1990s

Viva Forever: A short-lived musical based around the girl-power ethos of the 90’s to the soundtrack of the Spice Girls.


Fantasy

There are some musical which cannot be tied to a specific decade-period but which are nonetheless extremely popular, making them essentially timeless.

Cats: A musical on the secret lives of cats set on a rubbish dump. Good for those of lithe figure wanting to make an impression with costume and make-up.

Rocky Horror: Whilst having its roots in 1950s B-movies, Rocky Horror transcends time and space in its potential

Starlight Express: Another off-beat musical enterprise, this time conflict between train-types done in glitzy cyber-costumes and on roller skates.

We Will Rock You: A jukebox musical of Queen's songs, wrapped in a story of a future dystopian society in which music is banned.

Wizard of Oz & Wicked: The much-loved tale is spawning offshoots of prequels, sequels and back-stories. Makes you green with envy.

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    • profile image

      Jez 

      4 years ago

      Wouldn't Bedknobs & Broomsticks count as 1940s too?

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