14 Iconic Musicals Whose Lyrics Would Spark Controversy if Released Today

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Musical theatre has entertained the public with numerous classics to be remembered. However, many lyrics and themes from these beloved shows may no longer align with today’s values. What once was considered loveable would now be seen as controversial. Here’s a revisit to those classics whose lyrics might spark controversy if released today.

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South Pacific

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South Pacific was a musical released in 1949 by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and it tackled issues of racism and prejudice progressively for its time. There was a song named ‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’ in it, which explicitly addressed the learned nature of racism and emerged as a bold statement. While it was groundbreaking, portraying the islanders and using terms like “Bali Ha’I” might be seen as stereotyping non-Western cultures. Even a romantic subplot that involved a white man and a Polynesian woman could be critiqued for perpetuating a “white savior” narrative.

Show Boat

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Show Boat was released in 1927 and featured music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It addressed serious social issues such as racism and interracial marriage, with songs such as “Ol’ Man River” highlighting the struggles of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction South. However, the use of racial slurs and stereotypical dialects might receive negative reviews today. The portrayal of African American characters was sympathetic, but it can be seen as reinforcing racial stereotypes in today’s time.

West Side Story

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West Side Story was a musical performed by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and was a reimagination of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the context of gang rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks in 1950s New York. However, its themes of prejudice and violence remain relevant. Still, its depiction of Puerto Rican characters and the language used in songs like ‘America’ could be viewed as perpetuating ethnic stereotypes. The lyrics were a contradiction between the idealized ‘American dream’ and the harsh realities faced by immigrants but failed to show the real struggles of the immigrants.

The King and I

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The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein tells the story of a British school teacher, Anna Leonowens, who was hired to teach the children of the King of Siam. The main aim of this musical was to bridge cultural divides, but its portrayal of Asian characters can come across as stereotypical today. The attitudes expressed in songs like ‘Western People Funny’ can be perceived as showing the superiority of Western culture over Eastern traditions.

Miss Saigon

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Miss Saigon was created by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil in 1989 and has faced criticism since its debut for its portrayal of Asian characters and the casting of white actors in Asian roles. It retells Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and focuses on the tragic love story between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl. And the significant problems came in with songs like ‘The Heat is On in Saigon’ and ‘The American Dream’, which fostered stereotypes about Asian women and glorified the idea of ‘The Western male savior.’

Porgy and Bess

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Porgy and Bess was a popular and controversial opera by George and Ira Gershwin in 1935. It depicted the life of African Americans in the early 20th-century South, with a focus on the residents of Catfish Row. The iconic songs ‘Summertime’ and ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ used dialects and portrayed African American characters in a way that could seem superior and reductive. It was an American classic but failed to respect and represent African American culture.

My Fair Lady

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Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s ‘My Fair Lady’ released in 1956, was based on ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw and revolved around the transformation of Eliza Doolittle from a flower girl with a thick Cockney accent to a refined lady. This musical addressed the class distinctions and superficial social status present in society, but the treatment of Eliza by Professor Henry Higgins could be seen as deeply problematic today. Songs like ‘Why Can’t the English?’ use classist language and dismiss Eliza’s background.

The Mikado

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The Mikado was a comedic opera set in Japan in the 1880s. Despite this, it was filled with British satire and portrayed Japanese culture and characters with exaggerated and inaccurate depictions that mocked and trivialized another culture. Audiences today find songs like “A Wandering Minstrel I” offensive because they feature a fictionalized version of Japan that reduces a rich culture to a series of comedic tropes.

Kiss Me, Kate

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Kiss Me, Kate was based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and was created by Cole Porter in 1948. It had witty lyrics and clever integration with Shakespearean elements, but songs like ‘I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple’ reinforced outdated gender roles and the suppression of women. It also portrayed the refining of the aggressive Katherine by Petruchio, which could be seen as misogynistic and endorsing domestic control over women in today’s time.


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Another musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein is ‘Oklahoma!’. It was a milestone in developing the American musical with its song, dance, and storytelling combination. However, some of its themes and lyrics might not fit today’s audience as they can be seen as insensitive and stereotypical. Songs like ‘Many a New Day’ treated women in a manner that can be perceived as reinforcing traditional and limiting gender roles in today’s time. Even the portrayal of Native Americans and the language used in ‘Poor Jud is Daid’ could receive backlash.


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This musical by Lerner and Loewe revolved around the life of a young girl who was being groomed to become a courtesan in Paris. It was released in 1958 and had beautiful songs. However, the underlying themes can be troubling in today’s society. Songs like “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” could be seen as problematic due to their suggestions about gender and the objectification of young women. Additionally, it also included an older man pursuing a much younger girl, who would receive heavy criticism today for romanticizing inappropriate relationships.

Annie Get Your Gun

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Irving Berlin’s ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ released in 1946, captivated the audience with its catchy tunes and humorous lyrics, but songs like “I’m an Indian Too” would undoubtedly face criticism in today’s time for cultural appropriation and insensitivity towards Native American culture. It portrayed the Native Americans based on stereotypes while reducing a rich and diverse culture to offensive tropes.


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There’s one more musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein named ‘Carousel.’ It dealt with themes of love and redemption, but its portrayal of domestic violence and the romanticization of abusive relationships would receive heavy backlash in today’s time. Songs like “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’?” showed abusive behavior in a familiar and acceptable manner while suggesting that love justifies and excuses harm. Today’s values view these serious issues as insensitive and harmful.


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This musical, released in 1945, was set in pre-World War II Berlin and explored themes of corruption, political unrest, and the rise of dictatorship. While it was intended to show the importance of political engagement, songs like ‘If You Could See Her’ failed to do it justice. It depicted anti-Semitism and racial prejudice, which would be seen as problematic in today’s era.

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