Hellzapoppin' was a musical revue which was a Broadway hit, running from 22 September 1938 to 17 December 1941, and was at the time the longest-running Broadway musical with 1,404 performances—one of only three plays to run more than 500 performances in the 1930s.
A comedy hodgepodge full of sight gags and slapstick, the show was continually rewritten throughout its run to remain topical (its opening scene was Hitler speaking in a Yiddish accent). A circus atmosphere prevailed, with midgets, clowns, trained pigeons and audience participation adding to the merriment. The book was by Olsen & Johnson, a comedy team consisting of John "Ole" Olsen and Harold "Chic" Johnson, the music and lyrics were by Sammy Fain and Charles Tobias. It featured such performers as Chic Johnson, Ole Olsen, Billy Adams, Ray Kinney and the Aloha Maids, the comedy team Barto & Mann (Dewey Barto and George Mann), Bergh and Moore, The Charioteers, Bettymae and Beverly Crane, Ray Kinney, Walter Nilsson, J. C. Olsen, The Radio Rogues, Reed, Dean and Reed (Bonnie Reed, Syd Dean, and Mel Reed), Roberta and Ray, Hal Sherman, The Starlings, Dorothy Thomas, Shirley Wayne, June Winters, and Whitey's Steppers (also known as Whitey's Lindy Hoppers).
The songs (decidedly less a factor for the show's success than its comedy), included:
Songs and lyrics featured during the run include work by Don George, Teddy Hall, Annette Mills, Gonzalo Curiel, and Oscar Hammerstein II.
The show opened at the original 46th Street Theatre, and moved later in its run to the Winter Garden Theatre and the Majestic Theatre, and spawned several successful sequels. The television show Laugh-In (1968-1973) was an attempt to replicate the atmosphere for a new generation.
A movie version was made in 1941, directed by H.C. Potter and depicting Ole and Chic making a movie for the fictitious studio Miracle Pictures (their slogan "If it's a good picture, it's a Miracle!"), and featuring arguably the most famous example of the Lindy Hop on film - a frenetic routine performed by Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. There is also a less-famous dance scene with Dean Collins. The cast of the movie included Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson (playing themselves), Martha Raye, Shemp Howard (before his stint in the Three Stooges), and The Six Hits. The credits for the movie assert that "any resemblance between Hellzapoppin' and a motion picture are coincidental"—a truth that is perhaps responsible for it being much less successful than the stage show which engendered it. In spite of this, the dance scenes from the movie are some of the most well-known Lindy Hop scenes from the Swing Era has made the film popular among modern lindy hoppers.
"Pig Foot Pete", an Academy Award nominee for Best Song in 1942 (it lost to "White Christmas"), was attributed in its nomination to Hellzapoppin', but it never appeared in that film. It actually appeared in the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello movie, Keep 'Em Flying.