Rediscovering Forgotten Broadway Musicals at The University of Sheffield

Musicals banner image

Since 2013, the Department of Music has led an ambitious university-wide project to revive Broadway musicals from the middle decades of the twentieth century. The project grows from the research of Lecturer in Musicology, Dr Dominic McHugh, who is a specialist in the musicals of this period and has worked with the London-based organisation ‘Lost Musicals’ to uncover hidden gems from the archive. These have included the first complete performances of Lerner and Loewe’s second musical, ‘The Day Before Spring’ (2010), since the original production closed in 1946, and a complete reconstruction of Lerner and Previn’s ‘Coco’ (2011).

At Sheffield, Dominic worked with his colleague Dr George Nicholson and the Leroy Anderson Foundation to present concert performances of Anderson’s only musical, ‘Goldilocks’ (1958). The show had not previously been heard in the UK before, and the production was a huge success (April 2013). This was followed in December 2013 with a rare opportunity to hear Jule Styne’s ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1949) with the complete original orchestrations. Styne’s estate generously supported the production, and it was covered widely in the local press.

In April 2014, the project took on a more ambitious scope with the first-ever revival of Styne, Comden and Green’s ‘Subways are for Sleeping’ (1961). This was a collaboration between Dominic and one of his Masters students, Matthew Malone, who used archival material from the Library of Congress, the University of Texas and Tams-Witmark to reconstruct the complete original score. Matthew pored over thousands of pages of music manuscript to return the show to a performable condition, and the project was covered by Reuters news agency; this article was reproduced in The Washington Post and the online edition of The New York Times.

Their most recent reconstruction project was Styne’s ‘Hazel Flagg’ (1953), one of his most obscure musicals, which had not been heard anywhere in the world since 1954. Again, following extensive work the show was performed complete in December 2014 to great acclaim. A feature article in the Times Higher Education magazine that month praised the ambitious combination of teaching, research supervision, research and public engagement that the project offers.

Each production is presented in concert form, with a 30-40 piece orchestra on stage, narration in place of most of the dialogue, a full cast and projections of the original production above the stage, where possible. We also offer a pre-concert talk before one of the performances of each show, in which we usually offer excerpts of cut material from the show and explain the compositional process.

Future plans for the project include a concert presentation of some of the cut material from Lerner and Loewe’s ‘My Fair Lady’ (1956), much of which has never been heard before (19 May 2015), and the first-ever UK performances of Irving Berlin’s ‘Miss Liberty’ (1949).