Top 10 Musicals with Historical Inaccuracies

Musicals with Historical Inaccuracies

Even if the media doesn’t claim to be entirely historically accurate, certain portrayals of characters or events can still influence audiences.

Even if the media doesn’t claim to be entirely historically accurate, certain portrayals of characters or events can still influence audiences. Interestingly, people may form opinions that aren’t necessarily grounded in fact simply because they saw it on TV or in a movie.

Most of the shows mentioned below are not intentionally deceiving viewers. The inaccuracies listed are mainly for the purpose of enhancing the show’s flow and entertainment value. However, it is worth noting that all of these shows contain some degree of exaggeration, errors, or outright fictional elements.

Related: Unmasking the Truth: 10 Infamous Ufologists Exposed as Fakes

Table of contents:

10. Finding Neverland

The tale of Peter Pan has been adapted numerous times, but have you ever wondered about its origins and the boys who sparked its creation? Finding Neverland delves into J.M. Barrie’s fascinating connection with the Davies family, whose sons served as the inspiration behind the iconic story of Peter Pan and the magical world of Neverland.

However, the musical only presents part of the story. It suggests that Barrie and the Davies sons’ mother, who was believed to be a widow, develop a romantic relationship. In reality, this never occurred as the Davies’ father was alive and well. Discover the untold truth behind the fascinating dynamics of their relationship.

In the stage show, it is stated that Sylvia Davies, the mother of the Davies family, passed away before the premiere of Peter Pan in 1904. This adds a touch of dramatic melancholy to the story portrayed in Finding Neverland. However, the reality is that she actually lived until 1910, well after the play had achieved great success.[1]

9. Catch Me if You Can

How can someone effectively convey an authentic story when the primary source constantly provides misleading information?

Surprisingly, in 2023, it was uncovered that Frank Abagnale Jr., the notorious conman from Catch Me if You Can, had embellished several of his escapades detailed in his autobiography. While certain core facts remain true, like his extended impersonation of a PanAm pilot and imprisonment in France, several other cons he claimed, such as teaching at Brigham Young University and serving as a consultant to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, turned out to be false. Unveiling the truth behind the enigmatic life of Frank Abagnale Jr. reveals a captivating tale of deception and intrigue.

These findings also debunk the accuracy of the movie with the same title. It’s worth noting that the musical’s creators couldn’t have predicted what lay ahead, which is why it made it to the list purely by technicality.[2]

8. The King and I

In the 1860s, a British schoolteacher journeyed to the Siamese court, sparking intrigue. However, the romantic liaison between her and King Mongkut of Siam was nothing more than a fabrication. While the show creators may not be entirely responsible for this deception, it raises questions about the historical accuracy presented.

The musical is an adaptation of Anna Leonowens’ memoir documenting her experiences in what is now known as Thailand. Written during the era of Victorian England, the book likely aimed to capitalize on the prevalent Orientalism of the time. However, it contained numerous liberties that Thai government officials assert are entirely fictional. These include accounts of a monk being subjected to violence, which no residents of Thailand during that period recall ever occurring.

After perusing the novel, the King of Siam offered a fascinating and insightful response to Anna’s story, which “has supplied by her invention that which is deficient in her memory.”[3]

7. Six

It’s hard to believe, but this one deserves to be ranked as number six.

In 2017, Six made a sensational debut in Edinburgh, captivating audiences worldwide. This electrifying pop musical is like a thrilling rock concert, featuring the six wives of Henry VIII competing in a singing contest judged by the audience. Get ready to be entertained and amazed by this unique and unforgettable show!

Artists often take creative liberties, but sometimes these exaggerations reach a point where it’s hard to believe everything is true. For instance, imagine Henry and Anna of Cleves meeting on a dating app! It’s intriguing how history can be reimagined with a touch of imagination.

However, certain lyrics and portrayals of these remarkable women may not accurately capture their true essence. One notable example is Anne Boleyn’s portrayal where she sings,“I wanna dance and sing / Politics, not my thing.” The essence of her song suggests that her intentions in the court were merely to enjoy Henry’s company, rather than aspiring to become queen.

This portrayal does a grave injustice to the real Anne of Boleyn, who was one of the most astute and politically engaged female leaders in history. Though not all details of her life are known, historians concur that her prominent position at court was attained through diligent effort, rather than mere chance.[4]

6. The Sound of Music

The hills resound with the echoes of misinformation.

That’s quite a dramatic twist! While the majority of the plot in this classic musical is based on true events, there are some interesting nuances to consider. While Maria did marry Georg von Trapp, the father of ten children, she was actually the governess to only one of them. Even more intriguing, Maria confessed that her love was primarily for the children, which led her to say, ” I loved the children, so in a way, I really married the children.”

However, the most astonishing revelation emerges from Maria herself, who is described as having a strict and authoritative demeanor. According to one of her daughters, Maria had a fiery temper and would often have explosive outbursts, involving loud shouting, object throwing, and door slamming.

The portrayal of Maria in the musical suggests her as a sweet stepmother. While it is possible that the real Maria also embodied this kindness, it is difficult to imagine Julie Andrews or Mary Martin doing anything other than singing sweetly in response to challenges posed by the children. This dynamic adds an intriguing and captivating element to the story.[5]

5. Funny Girl

“Funny Girl” places a greater emphasis on the entertainment value of musicals rather than aiming for educational or historical accuracy. This comes as no surprise, as the main character herself aspired to captivate and enchant audiences above all else.

Contrary to what the musical portrays, Fanny Brice’s upbringing was far from poverty and squalor. In fact, she grew up in well-to-do apartments across Brooklyn. The musical also suggests that she started off as a haphazard member of a chorus line, but the truth is quite different. Fanny Brice began her career as a solo singer right from the start.

In the musical, Fanny is completely devoted to Nick Arnstein, a criminal involved in gambling. Interestingly, this portrayal reflects reality, although the historical account is not as pleasant. While Fanny’s fame grows, Nick continues to gamble and work, insisting that he doesn’t want to rely on her money. However, in real life, Nick, who had a criminal nature, had no qualms about using his wife’s earnings when he needed them.

Nick’s arrest in 1920 reveals a fascinating twist in his story. Instead of surrendering to the authorities for stealing Wall Street securities, as depicted in the musical, Nick chose to go into hiding for four months and battled the charges for years. Surprisingly, his wife generously covered his legal expenses. While the musical hints at marital troubles, it portrays Nick as a charming, intelligent, and attractive conman caught between a life of crime and his devotion to his wife. However, the truth is that there was never truly a competition between the two. Join me as we delve into the captivating tale of Nick’s intricate web of deception and loyalty.[6]

4. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Contrary to popular belief, President Andrew Jackson did not possess the attributes of a rock star.

He may not have been a literal star, but he was a controversial and incredibly popular figure in his era, comparable to a modern-day celebrity. This is the backdrop for the plot of BBAJ. The musical takes us through Jackson’s journey of political rise, immense influence, and eventual downfall. While making minor alterations, these changes don’t significantly impact the storyline or the audience’s grasp of history.

In the show, a significant event occurs that deeply impacts the audience: Jackson’s family is tragically killed by Native Americans. As the story progresses, this incident sheds light on why Jackson harbors such strong animosity towards American Indians. It provides a glimpse into his justification for displacing them through the harrowing Trail of Tears, a profoundly violent chapter in history.

Despite the fact that most of Jackson’s family succumbed to disease rather than encounters with Native Americans, the show inadvertently provides excuses for his racism through a single scene. It begs the question: what other factors contributed to Jackson’s animosity towards Native Americans? Let’s explore this intriguing aspect further.[7]

3. Annie Get Your Gun

Discover the fascinating world of girls and guns. What more could you ask for?

Annie Oakley captivated touring sharpshooter Frank Butler back in 1875 when, at just 15 years old, she outperformed him in a shooting contest. In reality and in the musical adaptation of her life, she eventually marries Frank and embarks on a global tour as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. However, it’s important to note that the storyline of the show deviates from the actual events, adding an extra layer of intrigue to Annie Oakley’s fascinating journey.

In the captivating musical “Annie Get Your Gun,” the story unfolds with Frank’s initial jealousy towards Annie, a remarkably skilled shooter. Their friendly rivalry for the spotlight drives the narrative until a surprising twist occurs. Annie, in a selfless act, intentionally allows Frank to achieve victory, ultimately boosting his self-confidence.

If you’re familiar with Anne Oakley, you’d know that the popular story of her losing intentionally to boost her husband’s ego is simply not true. Anne was incredibly proud of her skills, and there is no evidence to support such a claim. Furthermore, historical records do not indicate any rivalry between her and Frank. Instead, the truth reveals a fascinating dynamic between Annie and a younger girl named Lillian Smith. Let’s explore this lesser-known aspect of their relationship.[8]

2. Gypsy

Rose Hovick was an ambitious stage mother. In 1911, she enrolled her first daughter in dance and singing classes, dreaming of stardom. When that path didn’t unfold, she took a chance with her second daughter, who ultimately became a vaudeville sensation.

Gypsy tells the captivating story of Louise, the eldest daughter, as she breaks free from her controlling mother and rises to become an iconic figure in the world of striptease. Inspired by a memoir of the same name, this stage musical introduces a few intriguing twists to the narrative. Discover the journey of a woman who defies expectations and embraces her own path to fame.

Initially, it is worth noting that the age gap between Louise and her sister June was just one year, contrary to what the musical implies. Additionally, their relationship was not as amicable as portrayed in Gypsy. In the show, the sisters wholeheartedly support each other’s aspirations – June’s desire to become a performer and Louise’s aspiration to break free from her mother’s control. However, in reality, Louise regarded June’s act as childish, thinking her sister was foolish for pursuing it. Conversely, June held the belief that she was superior to her non-performing sibling. This disparity adds a compelling layer of complexity to their dynamic, unveiling a contrasting perspective from what is presented on stage.[9]

1. Newsies

This Broadway musical is based on the 1992 movie, which, upon its release, was one of Disney’s lowest-grossing live-action films. However, in 2012, Newsies had a chance at redemption, and it seized it with great success. Newsies on Broadway went on to win eight Tony Awards, including the prestigious Best Musical category.

The show tells the inspiring story of a group of determined newsboys in New York City. They come together to protest against Joseph Pulitzer, the influential publisher of the New York World. This gripping tale is based on the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899, a pivotal event that ignited a series of strikes by mistreated workers in the early 20th century. Join us as we delve into the captivating journey of resilience, solidarity, and the relentless fight for justice.

But when it comes down to it, Newsies is a Disney property. And Disney has a long history of sanitizing history to make a story a bit happier. As such, there are quite a few inaccuracies in Newsies, starting with the ending. In the movie, the newsboys gather a crowd of children who eventually wear Pulitzer down until he agrees to lower the price of the papers again. In reality, the strike ended in a compromise, with Pulitzer agreeing to buy back unsold paper from the newsies.

In the musical and movie, the central character is Jack Kelly, a fictional figure with no historical existence. Interestingly, the actual strike was spearheaded by a young boy named Kid Blink, who is only portrayed as a secondary character in the movie and completely left out in the Broadway version. Surprisingly, Kid Blink’s story takes a twist in reality as he succumbs to a bribe from news executives, resulting in his discredit and becoming a subject of mockery among the other strikers.

Moreover, by 1899, the actual Joseph Pulitzer had been retired for almost a decade and was experiencing significant vision and hearing impairments. However, witnessing a disabled, elderly man succumb to defeat is not as captivating as observing the cunning and slick Pulitzer from the musical acknowledge his own downfall.[10]