11 Broadway Musicals Featuring Characters in the U.S. Military

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Not only have the men and women of the United States Armed Forces served their country, they have also served as inspiration for the Great White Way.

1. Carmelina (1979)

This was the story of a single mother who told everyone in her small Italian town that the father of her teenage daughter was an American soldier who died heroically in battle during WWII. In reality, she had affairs with three different GI's, all of whom were still very much alive and one of whom was the real father. She's forced to face the truth when the entire American battalion returns to her village for a reunion. If that story sounds familiar, that's because it was based on the same story that would later inspire international musical phenomenon Mamma Mia.

2. Let's Face It! (1941 – 1943)

Despite the escalation of WWII, Cole Porter's forgettable Let's Face It! asked its men in uniform to serve as gigolos. Three wives are convinced their husbands go on so-called "camping trips" to commit adultery. In attempt to make their men jealous, they invite a trio of young GI's for a weekend at one of their Hamptons summer homes. While the young privates are willing, their girlfriends are not so pleased. So, the girlfriends decide to get their own revenge and seduce the husbands – who are actually just camping.

3. Bye Bye Birdie (1960 – 1961, first run)

In 1958, Elvis Presley was drafted. Bye Bye Birdie was a tongue-in-cheek response to the hysteria that ensued. After learning fictional crooner Conrad Birdie has been drafted, his handlers decide to capitalize on the situation. They bang out a new single for him entitled "One Last Kiss," and select a random small town teenager to be his "one last kiss" before he goes off to the army.

4. The Lieutenant (1975)

A rock opera about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam that opened on Broadway weeks before the fall os Saigon was, perhaps, a little too soon. It closed 7 days after it opened and has not seen any major revivals since. Despite its brief run, The Lieutenant still managed to snag 4 Tony nominations.

5. White Christmas (2009)

Though released as a film in 1954, Irving Berlin's White Christmas did not make it to Broadway until 2009. But without the army, there would be no White Christmas. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye's characters meet in the army during WWII, developing a song-and-dance routine that would make them famous after their service. Kaye uses an injury he sustained while saving Crosby's life to bribe him into going to a New England inn with some cute sisters. They discover their former general owns the inn and it is for the financial benefit of this retired general that they put on a Christmas extravaganza that includes the song "Gee I Wish I Was Back in the Army."

6. The Civil War (1999)

Inspired by the likes of Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, President Lincoln, and Ken Burns, the creator of The Civil War decided the people of this time period needed a musical treatment. This included both Union Soldiers and Confederates. It also featured song-accompanied combat, such as the First Battle of Bull Run. The bloody body count at the end of the show did not resonate with theatergoers, and the show closed after 2 months.

7. Miss Saigon (1991 – 2001)

By 1991, American audiences were ready to see a musical about the Vietnam conflict. A young U.S. marine falls in love with a 17-year-old Vietnamese prostitute only to be forced out of her arms in order to flee Vietnam. He leaves young Kim behind with a broken heart and a baby on the way. He returns to Vietnam to find his new child, but the encroaching Viet Cong spells imminent disaster.

8. Hair (1968 – 1972)

A musical about a bunch of hippies living on the streets, taking hallucinogenic drugs, getting completely naked, and growing their hair "long as they could show it" actually had everything to do with the army. This motley crew was made up of anti-Vietnam draft-dodgers. The message of peace, love, and counterculture was not enough to keep main character Claude from ultimately answering the draft, cutting his hair, joining the army, and then dying in battle.

9. On the Town (1944 – 1946)

Three American sailors unload at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for their 24-hour shore leave. Let loose in the Big Apple, they find adventure, love, and frequent occasions to break into songs like "New York, New York." But even a musical as exuberant as On the Town ends on a somber note when the men must return to their ship and set sail into the uncertain future of a world at war.

10. South Pacific (1949 – 1954)

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific, this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic told the story of a naval station on an island in the South Pacific. The restless sailors stationed there lust after a mystical island full of kept women known as Bali Ha'i. A naïve Naval nurse wrestles with the racial prejudices instilled in her by a conservative upbringing. All the while, WWII rages on and the Navy must eventually face the imminent threat of Japanese convoys.

11. This Is the Army (1942)

Commissioned to entertain the army during WWI, mega-composer Irving Berlin wrote the musical Yip! Yip! Yaphank! The show never made it to Broadway, remaining a hit among military personnel only. Then, during WWII, Berlin decided to update his old musical and take it to Broadway to raise money for the military. With the blessing of the army, he titled it This Is the Army and gathered an all-military cast. It was so popular that the show went on tour throughout the U.S. and overseas. It was then made into a film starring a young Lieutenant by the name of Ronald Reagan.

For 11-11-11, we'll be posting twenty-four '11 lists' throughout the day. Check back 11 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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November 11, 2011 - 5:11pm
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