What is most striking about the nudie musicals that ran in New York in the 1970s—aside from the many naked, jiggling bodies, of course—was just how conventional they were.
Even the raunchiest of the bunch espoused the same basic messages: Human bodies are beautiful! Sex, regardless of with whom, is natural and fun! The seismic cultural shift that is taking place right outside this theater is not threatening or confusing or scary at all!
In marked contrast with XXX theaters, peepshows, and sex clubs like Plato’s Retreat, the sex that nudie musicals featured was simulated—never real—and was almost always packaged in a familiar, age-old format: the musical revue.
This according to “Nudie musicals in 1970s New York City” by Elizabeth L. Wollman (Sound matters 16 June 2014; RILM Abstracts 2014-15971). Wollman’s monograph on this topic is Hard times: The adult musical in 1970s New York City (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
Above, one Kenn Duncan’s photographs of the members of the original Broadway cast of Hair, now part of the New York Public Library’s Kenn Duncan Photograph Archive. Below, the finale of Oh! Calcutta!
In 1944 Betty Comden and Adolph Green were performing in a Greenwich Village nightclub when their friend Leonard Bernstein stopped in to ask if they wanted to help him make a musical out of a ballet he had written for Jerome Robbins.
They had never attempted anything so ambitious, but since they weren’t exactly deluged with offers they decided it would be foolish to turn him down.
They developed a stage book based on Robbins’s ballet Fancy free, about three young sailors on a 24-hour leave in New York. The result was called On the town, and when it opened at the Adelphi Theater during the 1944 Christmas season they were also in the cast.
The show was hailed by critics, marking the beginning of a professional collaboration between the two that became, as The Chicago Tribune noted in 1990, “unchallenged as the longest-running act on Broadway.”
This according to “Adolph Green, playwright and lyricist, dies at 87” by Richard Severo (The New York times CLII/52,282 [25 October 2002] p. A32).
Today is Green’s 100th birthday! Above, the original On the town cast, with Comden and Green on the left. Below, one of their signature songs from the show.