A history of country musicals on Broadway, from 'Oklahoma!' to 'Shucked'
Country, bluegrass, and folk, sounds have made it to Broadway on many occasions, with acclaimed country artists from Charlie Daniels to Dolly Parton behind them.
Giddy up, Broadway! Country music and showtunes are wildly different genres at first glance, but they come together more often than you might think. Country artists from Roger Miller to Dolly Parton have ventured into the world of Broadway musicals, and likewise, many celebrated theatre composers have created country, folk, and bluegrass-infused scores.
The latest country musical to hit Broadway is the (literally) corny new comedy Shucked. This homegrown original show has a book by Tony winner Robert Horn and songs by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, the songwriters behind the hits of numerous country artists from Reba McEntire to Kacey Musgraves.
Take a journey through the history of country and Western-inspired musicals on Broadway with these highlights, and get tickets to see why Shucked is joining them as the cream of the crop.
Get Shucked tickets now.
Oklahoma! didn't just pioneer the country musical — Rodgers and Hammerstein's show pioneered the musical, period. Oklahoma! gets credit as one of the first "book musicals" as we know it, with songs that advance the plot and are seamlessly integrated into the script.
The story is decidedly folksy, centering on a girl choosing between a suave cowboy and a lonely farmhand as her date for a town social. Set in the title territory just before it became a state, Oklahoma! fittingly fuses musical theatre and country/folk sounds in its songs. The latest revival, in 2019, featured a seven-piece orchestra playing instruments like the banjo and accordion on stage.
1945: State Fair
Nothing says classic rural fun like a fair. Rodgers and Hammerstein followed up Oklahoma! with State Fair, about a farming family's adventures at the title event in Iowa. The parents want to win blue ribbons, and their children want to find romance.
The music has more of a traditional Broadway sound than Oklahoma!, but songs like "When I Go Out Walking With My Baby" and "All I Owe Ioway" get an extra country flair by way of the original actors' twangy voices, as heard on the cast album.
Fittingly, State Fair's first national tour finished in Des Moines, and the show was performed at the actual Iowa State Fair there.
1946: Annie Get Your Gun
Annie Get Your Gun has another famous Broadway composer behind it: Irving Berlin. As such, multiple numbers, like "There's No Business Like Show Business," have a distinct musical-theatre flair. But as the show fictionalizes the life of Old West sharpshooter Annie Oakley, its score and story have a distinct country/Western influence.
Annie Get Your Gun has attracted a long line of Broadway greats, from Ethel Merman to Mary Martin to Bernadette Peters. One of the more country-adjacent stars was John Raitt, the father of country star Bonnie Raitt. He played Annie's love interest, Frank Butler, in 1957.
1963: 110 in the Shade
This show is hot, hot, hot! Like Oklahoma!, 110 in the Shade features a love triangle in a country setting. This time, we're in the Southwest, where ranch-dwelling spinster Lizzy gets involved with the town sheriff and a slick con man.
110 in the Shade is best known nowadays as one of the many Tony-nominated credits of Audra McDonald, who starred in a 2007 revival.
1978: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
With song titles like "A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place" and "The Bus From Amarillo," The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is recognizable as a country musical for miles. Carol Hall composed the score for this show about something not as recognizable: a hidden brothel in the title state. Soon enough, though, a pushy journalist exposes the business, attracting national attention.
This musical was so successful, running for more than 1,500 performances, that it got a film adaptation starring Burt Reynolds and country superstar Dolly Parton. It's also one of the few Broadway musicals to spawn a sequel, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, though that show didn't run nearly as long.
1985: Big River
Big River is based on Mark Twain's classic novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is set in Missouri and follows a boy's cross-country adventures throughout the Midwest and beyond. In keeping with the spirit of the book, the musical's songs are of the country and bluegrass genres.
Unlike its predecessors, the Big River composer/lyricist is an actual country and folk star, Roger Miller. The late Nashville-based artist is best known for honky-tonk hits like "King of the Road" and "Dang Me." He had just as much success with Big River: The show won seven Tonys including Best Musical, and Miller won Best Original Score.
This Off-Broadway sleeper hit centers on a woman with a facial disfiguration who travels from North Carolina to Oklahoma, where she hopes to be healed. Her journey across the American South is punctuated by Jeanine Tesori's country, honky-tonk rock, and blues score.
Just under 20 years after the show won the Drama Critics' Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Awards for Best Musical, the musical finally made its Broadway debut in 2014 with Sutton Foster in the title role.
2003: Urban Cowboy
Country jukebox musicals are fairly rare on Broadway, but Urban Cowboy is, partially, one of the few. Most of the score comprises existing country hits like the Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away," Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," Johnny Lee's "Lookin' for Love," and Brooks & Dunn's "Boot Scootin' Boogie."
The musical is based on the 1980 John Travolta film of the same name about nightlife in Texas. A couple songs on the movie's soundtrack, like "Lookin' for Love," also made it to the stage, but most of the film's songs were cut to make way for newer country hits and original songs by Jeff Blumenkrantz and Jason Robert Brown.
2008: 9 to 5
Yes, this musical does take its title from the Dolly Parton hit. Parton wrote the song for the same-named 1980 movie (which she also starred in), and she later wrote all the songs for the stage adaptation. The show, about three women plotting revenge on their oppressive boss, blends country and traditional Broadway sounds in its score.
Besides the title track, one of the most famous country songs Parton wrote for 9 to 5 is "Backwoods Barbie," which later became the name of Parton's 42nd album.
2014: Bright Star
Comedian Steve Martin might not be the first person that comes to mind when one thinks of country music. But did you know he and singer Edie Brickell co-wrote a Grammy Award-winning bluegrass album, Love Has Come for You, in 2013? That album inspired the pair to create Bright Star, a bluegrass musical based on the true folk story of the Iron Mountain Baby.
The show received five Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score.
Oklahoma! was the last of the above country musicals to take the Broadway stage. So if you've anxiously awaited a new one, perk up your ears, because Shucked is here to deliver. The original musical takes place in a rural town whose livelihood is threatened when their main crop, corn, starts to die.
Composer/lyricists Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark make their Broadway debuts with Shucked. But they've got more than a kernel of songwriting experience. The Grammy-honored duo are fixtures of the country music scene, having written hits for Kacey Musgraves, Reba McEntire, Sheryl Crow, Luke Bryan, The Band Perry, Sam Hunt, Lee Ann Womack, and many more. Their country tunes for Shucked will be music to audience's ears.
Get Shucked tickets now.
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