Tom Vendafreddo

Blog: Thoughts & Insights

Happy Birthday, Moss Hart (1904-1961)

October 24, 2013

Today would have been Moss Hart’s 109th birthday. This man wrote and staged some of my most favorites works in Broadway history including You Can’t Take It With You (1936), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939), Lady in the Dark (1941), and My Fair Lady (1956). While it would be easy to gush about the classic 1936 farce, the most renowned of Kaufman and Hart’s playwriting collaborations, or the lush and beautiful Lerner/Loewe/Hart masterpiece, the work I’m most grateful for is Lady in the Dark.

In 1941, the likes of Moss Hart, Kurt Weill, Ira Gershwin, Sam Harris, and Albertina Rasch came together to create what I consider the “First Next to Normal on Broadway.” The show, starring a 43-year old Gertrude Lawrence as Liza Elliott, examined a taboo subject of the time: psychoanalysis. A show like Lady in the Dark is a predecessor to the ‘concept musical’ from the late 1960s and 1970s (Cabaret in 1966, Hair in 1968, Company in 1970, and the list goes on…) as the story takes place in the form of three extended dream sequences. Thus, the narrative formula that was developing in musical theatre in the 1940s was broken, and it opened the door for many other interesting and artistically conceptual ways to tell a story. 

Today, some say that movies are becoming the sole source material for “new” Broadway musicals or that the ‘Juke Box Musical’ is now the only commercial angle from which to sell tickets. I say, “Where are all the Moss Harts out there?!” My birthday wish for Master Hart is that more contemporary creators become willing to take a risk and change the course of the broadway musical!

Check out this great picture from the New York Public Library’s new (free!) online photo gallery. It’s Moss Hart with his wife Kitty Carlisle outside the theatre for Jerome Robbins’ Ballet in 1961!

moss hart and kitty carlisle

Category: broadway, concept musical, genres, musical theatre

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