Musical Theatre

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					Musical Theatre
  What is a Musical?
Musicals have gone by many different
   Comic operas
   Operettas
   Burlesque
   Revues which have their roots in
    vaudeville, music halls and minstrel
The Best Musicals have three essential
   Brains (intelligence
    and style)
   Heart (genuine and
    believable emotion)
   Courage (The guts to
    do something creative
    and exciting)
Musical Theatre
   A Brief History
   Added music to their productions as early as the
    5th Century B.C.
   The Greek Chorus sometimes included music
    (Aeschylus & Sophocles composed their own
    music but melodies no longer exist)
   Solos were not unheard of
   No direct effect on modern musicals but it shows
    that show tunes have been around for more than
    2500 years
   3rd Century comedies of Plautus included song
    and dance routines with full orchestrations
   To make dance steps more audible in large
    open air theatres, actors attached metal chips
    called "sabilla" to their footwear – the first tap
   Stress on spectacle and special effects, a trend
    that echoes into our own time
Europe – Middle Ages
   Traveling minstrels and roving troupes of
    performers offered popular songs and
    slapstick comedy
   12th and 13th centuries religious dramas,
    intended as liturgical teaching tools, used
    church chants, creating their own form of
    musical theatre
Europe – Renaissance
   Minstrels reached their peak with
    Commedia Dell’arte in Italy with raucous
    clown characters improving their way
    through familiar stories
   Formal musical theatre was rare in the
    Renaissance, but Moliere turned several of
    his plays into comedies with songs when
    the court of Louis XIV demanded song and
    dance entertainments in the late 1600s
Europe – 18th Century
   By the 1700s, two forms of musical theater were
    common in Britain, France and Germany
       ballad operas like John Gay's The Beggars Opera
        (1728) that borrowed popular songs of the day and
        rewrote the lyrics
       comic operas, with original scores and mostly
        romantic plot lines, like Michael Balfe's The
        Bohemian Girl (1845).

   Which brings us to the question…
Are Musicals Descended From
   Opera has been with us since the late 1500s, but
    contemporary musical theatre and film are not direct
    descendants of grand opera.
   Opera can be called a descendant of classical theatre.
    When Renaissance writers and composers tried to
    resurrect the forms of Greek drama, they added music.
    This eventually led to the birth of grand opera.
   From its birth in the 1800s, the musical has often
    spoofed opera, but it traces its roots to other sources.
    Vaudeville, burlesque, and many other forms are the
    true ancestors of the modern musical -- not opera.
Are Musicals Descended From
   Of course, the melodies of grand opera were part of the
    popular musical culture of the 1800s and early 1900s,
    and therefore had some effect on the musical theater
    melodies of that time.
   However, the so-called "comic operas" that dominated
    Broadway in the late 1880s and 90s, including the works
    of Gilbert & Sullivan, are not operas. Producers called
    these shows "comic operas" to make them sound more
    sophisticated, but with extended dialogue and melodies
    designed for the popular taste of that era, they were
    clearly musicals.
Musical Theatre
  Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
   In the 1870s, William S. Gilbert and Arthur
    Sullivan revolutionized the musical theatre,
    creating witty, melodic operettas. Their songs
    sparkled with melody and clever rhyme, and
    Gilbert's librettos blended silliness and satire in
    settings that ranged from fantasy to the realistic.
   Producer Richard D'Oyly Carte publicized these
    shows as "light operas", but by any name, they
    were musicals – some of the finest the world
    would ever see.
Gilbert and Sullivan - Beginnings
   Gilbert was an unsuccessful attorney before his
    comic poems appeared in popular magazines. This
    opened the way to a career as a playwright and
   Sullivan was Britain's most promising serious
    composer, but he woud compose lighter pieces to
    cover the expenses of his high-society lifestyle.
   In the 1860s, British musical theatre consisted of
    variety shows, French operettas, and slapdash
    comic light operas presented by John Hollingshead
    at The Gaiety Theatre.
Trial by Jury (1875)
Trial by Jury
   Hollingshead hired G&S to create Thespis (1871), a
    mythological spoof. Gilbert didn’t like it, but it impressed
    producer Richard D'Oyly Carte.
   4 years later, he needed a one-act "curtain raiser" to share
    the bill with his production at London's Opera Comique. Carte
    convinced G&S to adapt one of Gilbert's satirical poems.
   Trial by Jury (1875) was a huge success
   This piece established several themes that run through most
    of Gilbert and Sullivan's shows –
       unqualified men who have oiled their way into high public office
       the course of true love flowing in surprising directions
       an appalling disdain for women over 40 years of age
Gilbert and Sullivan – The Sorcerer
   D'Oyly Carte then persuaded G&S to attempt a full-length
    work. The Sorcerer (1877) involved a magician who wreaks
    havoc in a small English village with a love potion.
   Gilbert and Sullivan were developing a form of British
    operetta that was quite unlike its predecessors. They
    eliminated overt sexual references and replaced the
    cartoonish characters with more familiar, believable
   Encouraged by The Sorcerer's profitable run, they then
    created an operetta that succeeded beyond their wildest
    dreams, with a show that reshaped the popular musical
    theatre on both sides of the Atlantic.
HMS Pinafore (1878)
HMS Pinafore (1878)
   H.M.S. Pinafore was the story of a naval captain's daughter
    who spurns the attentions of the First Lord of the Admiralty
    because she loves a common sailor, spoofing the Victorian
    class system.
   Pinafore was such a hit that D'Oyly Carte's investors tried to
    steal the production from him, sending thugs to carry off the
    sets and costumes in the middle of a performance!
   Since there was no international copyright laws, both Britain
    and the U.S. were flooded with Pinafore copycats. When
    G&S brought their company of Pinafore to New York, the
    casts of several unauthorized Pinafore's brazenly turned out
    to welcome them in the harbor.
Pirates of Penzance (1880)
Pirates of Penzance
   D'Oyly Carte secured the first international copyright by
    premiering The Pirates of Penzance (1880) simultaneously
    in New York and Great Britain.
   Pirates is the story of Fredrick, a young man who was
    accidentally apprenticed to a band of pirates. He falls in love
    with a Major General's ward and tries to atone for his past by
    plotting the destruction of his former comrades. When it turns
    out the soft-hearted pirates are really "noblemen who have
    gone wrong," they and a relieved Frederick marry the
    multitudinous wards of the rather "modern Major General."
   The success of Pirates confirmed Gilbert and Sullivan's place
    in popular culture. The amazing thing was that they were just
    getting started.
The Rocky Road of Success
   G&S continued to turn out successes such as Patience
    (1881), Iolanthe (1882), but Princess Ida (1884) was not as
    well received so it closed early. D’Oyly requested another
    show to take it’s place.
   Gilbert submitted yet another plot involving a love potion, and
    when no amount of re-writing could make Sullivan accept it,
    the disagreement turned ugly.
   Sullivan declared that it was time for him to concentrate on
    more serious compositions, and Gilbert resented the
    suggestion that their collaboration was holding Sullivan back.
   The partnership was on the brink of collapse when a
    Japanese sword fell from the wall of Gilbert's study –
    inspiring the plot for their most popular show ever.
The Mikado (1885)
The Mikado
   The Mikado was influenced by an 1880s craze for “all things Japanese.” The
    complicated plot centers on what happens when the Emperor of Japan decrees
    that flirting is punishable by death. Because no one in the town of Titipu is
    willing to enforce this horrible law, a condemned tailor (Koko) is appointed Lord
    High Executioner – the reasoning being that he cannot behead anyone until he
    beheads himself. When it turns out he has to execute someone after all, he
    selects Nanki-Poo, a traveling minstrel. Nanki-Poo will only agree to the
    scheme if he can first marry the executioner's ward and finance, the lovely
    Yum-Yum. This will allow the minstrel a month of happiness, and the
    Executioner can then behead the man and marry his ward as planned. An aged
    woman (Katisha) from the royal court appears, announcing that Nanki-poo is
    really the crown prince who has been in hiding since he toyed with her
    affections! After a series of deceptions and misunderstandings, everything is
   The Mikado's Japanese setting and costumes masked the fact that it was a
    send-up of British customs and pretensions. In the United States, "Mikado-
    mania" fed a nationwide American passion for all things Japanese. It
    remains one of the most frequently produced musicals of all time, and still
    receives new amateur and professional stagings worldwide.
The Beginning of the End
   G&S’s following shows were not able to live up to
    the success of The Mikado.
   When it seemed Gilbert and Sullivan's
    collaboration was at its peak, it fell apart over
    several trivial disputes – including an infamous
    quarrel over the price of some new carpeting in
    the Savoy Theatre.
   After several years, the Savoy trio effected a
    reconciliation, but things were never quite the
    same. Gilbert and Sullivan's talents were intact,
    but both were losing the fresh creative edge.
The Final Years
   G&S remained on cordial terms in their final years, and were both
    hailed by the public. When Sullivan received a knighthood in 1888,
    Gilbert was overlooked. The old collaborators worked on revivals
    and shared curtain calls at the opening nights. Sullivan continued
    composing classical pieces, and wrote comic operas with new
    librettists. Weakened by years of kidney trouble, he succumbed to
    a severe case of bronchitis in 1900 at age 58 years.
   Gilbert enjoyed renewed health and popularity in the new century,
    writing plays and musical librettos, and finally received his
    knighthood in 1907. In late May 1911, Gilbert (at age 74) suffered a
    fatal heart attack while saving a young woman from drowning on his
    country estate.
   After many years of illness, Richard D'Oyly Carte died in 1901.
Musical Theatre
Musical Theatre in America:
    The Minstrel Show
Minstrel Shows
   The American musical has one shameful chapter in its history –
    minstrel shows. The most popular musical stage shows of the
    early and mid 19th Century, minstrelsy embodied racial hatred.
   Both white and black performers donned blackface, and audiences
    of all colors loved it. Hateful as it was, minstrel shows were the first
    form of musical theatre that was 100% American-born and bred.
   Minstrel shows developed in the 1840’s, peaked after the Civil War
    and remained popular into the early 1900s. In these shows, white
    men blackened their faces with burnt cork to lampoon Blacks,
    performing songs and skits that sentimentalized slave life on
    Southern plantations.
   Blacks were shown as naive buffoons who sang and danced the
    days away, gobbling "chitlins," stealing the occasional watermelon,
    and expressing their inexplicable love for "ol' massuh."
Jim Crow
   Blackface acts were common features in circuses and
    traveling shows from the 1790s onwards.
   In the 1820s white entertainer Thomas "Daddy" Rice
    caused a nationwide sensation by wearing burnt cork to
    perform the song "Jump Jim Crow" on stage. He first
    heard it from an old black street singer who supposedly
    made up the lyric about his own name –
   "Jim Crow" turned out to be more than a popular song. It
    became a stock comedy character, and a by-word for
    legalized racial segregation. (Separate but Equal)
Minstrel Shows
   Minstrelsy was the first example of the way American
    popular culture would exploit and manipulate Afro-
    Americans and their culture to please and benefit white
   As laws changed, several all-black minstrel companies
    toured America and Great Britain. Black performers still
    had to wear blackface makeup in order to look "dark
    enough," performing material that demeaned their own
    race. Despite such drawbacks, minstrelsy provided
    African American performers with their first professional
    stage outlet.
Famous Minstrel Performers

  Amos and Andy      Al Jolson
Musical Theatre
Musical Theatre in America:
   Beginning in the 1840s, these works entertained the lower
    and middle classes by making fun of (or "burlesquing") the
    operas, plays and social habits of the upper classes.
   Everything from Shakespearean drama to opera could inspire
    a full-length burlesque spoof.
   By the 1860s, burlesque relied on the display of shapely,
    underdressed women to keep audiences interested. In the
    Victorian age, when proper women went to great lengths to
    hide their physical form beneath bustles, hoops and frills, the
    idea of young ladies appearing onstage in tights was a
    powerful challenge.
   Suggestive rather than bawdy, these shows relied less on
    strong scripts or songs than on sheer star power. When
    Broadway's The Black Crook became a massive hit in 1866,
    its troop of ballerinas in flesh-colored tights served notice that
    respectable American audiences were ready to fork over big
    bucks for sexually stimulating entertainment.
   At first, the American press praised burlesques, but turned
    vicious under pressure from influential do-gooders. But the
    cries of the self-righteous had an unintended effect. Editorials
    and sermons condemning burlesque as "indecent" only made
    the form more popular!
   By the 1880s, wit was gradually replaced by a determination
    to reveal as much of the feminine form as local laws allowed.
    But obscenity and vulgarity were avoided – the point was to
    spoof, not to offend.
   Burlesque underwent a crucial change when Michael Leavitt
    produced burlesque variety shows using something similar to
    the three act minstrel show format –
       ACT ONE: The ensemble entertains with songs and gags,
        dressed in formal evening clothes.
       ACT TWO: An "olio" of variety acts (singers, comics, skits, etc.).
       ACT THREE: A complete one-act musical burlesque. These
        ranged from Shakespearean take offs like Much Ado About a
        Merchant of Venice to a Gilbert and Sullivan spoof called The
        Mick Hair-Do.
   The biggest burlesque star of the early 20th Century was dancer Millie
    DeLeon, who tossed her garters into the audience and occasionally
    neglected to wear tights, which got her arrested on occasion, and helped to
    give burlesque a raunchy reputation.
   In time, burlesque bills began and ended with extended skits that made fun
    of hit shows and popular topics. In between came a variety olio where
    singers, comics, and specialty acts were all part of the mix. By the time
    most performers reached vaudeville, they were already experienced pros.
   While it was common for burlesque stars to graduate into vaudeville,
    vaudevillians considered it a fatal disgrace to appear in burlesque, insisting
    that only those who were "washed up" would stoop so low. However, many
    vaudeville veterans did burlesque during dry spells, appearing under an
    assumed name.
   Some famous comedians learned their craft working in burlesque, including
    future musical comedy stars Jackie Gleason, Bert Lahr, W.C. Fields, Red
    Skelton, and Bob Hope.
   From the 1880s onwards, burlesque comedy was built around
    situations familiar to lower and working class audiences. Sexual
    innuendo was always present, but the focus was on making fun of
    sex. Some examples –
        (Injured Man crosses stage in assorted bandages and casts.)
         Comic: What happened to you?
         Injured Man: I was living the life of Riley.
         Comic: And?
         Injured Man: Riley came home!
        (Minister walks up to a beautiful young woman.)
         Minister: Do you believe in the hereafter?
         Woman: Certainly, I do!
         Minister: (Leering) Then you know what I'm here after.
   Many burlesque routines spoofed social conventions and linguistic
    idiosyncrasies. The most famous was Bud Abbott and Lou
    Costello's glorious "Who's On First,"
Musical Theatre
Musical Theatre in America:
   By the 1880’s, half of the population was now
    concentrated in towns and cities, that left most of them
    with a little spare cash and weekly leisure time.
   People wanted affordable entertainment on a regular
    basis. Most variety shows were too coarse for women or
    children to attend, and minstrel shows were declining in
   Vaudeville also tried to bridge a social gap that had
    divided the American upper and lower class.
   Two Boston producers in 1883, using the fortune they
    made staging unauthorized Gilbert and Sullivan
    productions started building a chain of ornate theatres
    across the northeast.
   Presenting commercially successful "clean" variety
    shows, they instituted a policy of continuous multiple
    daily performances, which they called "vaudeville."
   As vaudeville spread through the United States, major
    theatre chains or circuits were built. All of them were
    run by tough businessmen, and all insisted that acts
    keep their material clean at all times.
   Headliners could bend the rules, but transgressions by
    lesser known performers were not tolerated.
   By 1907, Variety reported that vaudeville was earning
    $30 million a year.
   Appearing in vaudeville was hard. A successful act
    toured for forty plus weeks a year, doing "one nighters,"
    or weekly stands.
   Performers put up with these demanding schedules
    because even those who did not reach the level of
    headliner could make good money.
   In 1919, when the average factory worker earned less
    than $1,300, a small time circuit performer playing a 42
    week season at $75 per week earned $3,150 a year.
   Anyone with determination and a talent to entertain
    could earn a solid, respectable living. Few other fields
    could claim to offer the disadvantaged such accessible
    rewards in the early 20th Century.
Vaudeville Acts
   More than 25,000 people performed in vaudeville over it’s
    50-plus years of existence
   An act could be anything that was inoffensive and
    entertaining. A performer's gender, race and appearance
    were no barrier to success, and nothing was too eccentric.
    While singers and dancers were part of every bill, the
    specialty acts set vaudeville apart
   Among them were mind readers, escape artists - Houdini
    and his many imitators, high divers, strong men,
    contortionists, balancing acts, freak acts, and regurgitators
    - who drank liquids and then brought them back up. Hadji
    Ali would swallow water & kerosene, then spew kerosene
    onto open flames, followed by the water to put the flames
    out. Not pretty, but audiences were fascinated.
The Decline of Vaudeville
   Many factors brought about the end of Vaudeville
   The advent of motion pictures was a devastating blow to
   Audiences also grew tired of the vaudeville format
    causing a sharp decline of ticket sales.
   The Great Depression also hit the vaudeville circuit
    pretty hard.
   Most vaudeville houses were converted to movie
    theatres and several circuit producers made the
    transition to movies as well.
   Many vaudeville performers were able to make the
    transition to radio and film.
Famous Vaudeville Performers

                  George Burns and
   Judy Garland     Gracie Allen
Famous Vaudeville Performers

   Eddie Cantor    Sophie Tucker
Famous Vaudeville Performers

   W.C. Fields      Jack Benny
Famous Vaudeville Performers

   Ma Rainey        Bessie Smith
Famous Vaudeville Performers

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson   Nicholas Brothers
Famous Vaudeville Performers

   Will Rogers     Charlie Chaplin
Famous Vaudeville Performers

  Marx Brothers    Buster Keaton
Musical Theatre
    1900 - 1920
   By 1900 there were 33 Broadway theatres and many more
    on the rise.
   London was still the theatrical capital of the world and as a
    result most Broadway shows were from London.
   In 1904 the NY Subway opened allowing many more people
    to come to the theatre district
   Improved railroads also allowed Broadway shows to be
    shown around the country
   Everyone working in the theatre saw it as a business, not an
    art form. This meant that all shows had to appeal to the
    growing middle and working classes.
   Musicals were mostly upbeat celebrations of American know-
    how and decency. And no one was more expert at providing
    such entertainments than George M. Cohan.
George M. Cohan
   An Irish-American graduate of variety and vaudeville who
    wrote, directed, produced and starred in patriotic musical
    comedies that celebrated the triumph of American know-how
    and New York-style "street smarts."
   After limited runs on Broadway, where most critics frowned
    on Cohan's shameless, sentimentality, these musicals toured
    the U.S., drawing packed houses for a year or more.
   Cohan's most memorable hits included –
       Little Johnny Jones (Give My Regards to Broadway & Yankee
        Doodle Dandy)
       Forty-five Minutes to Broadway
       George Washington Jr.
Florenz Ziegfeld & The Follies
   Ziegfeld made the revue format a huge success with his
    Follies in the early 1910’s.
   Ziegfeld spared no expense making Follies the costliest
    shows on Broadway. The 1907 edition was produced for a
    mere $13,800 -- the 1919 edition came in at $150,000, and
    the 1927 edition cost over $250,000.
   Although the emphasis was on spectacle and beautiful girls,
    the Follies introduced several memorable songs. Irving
    Berlin's "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" became the unofficial
    anthem for the series.
   The Follies biggest attraction was its line-up of comedic
    talent. Some of the funniest stars in show business achieved
    fame, including W.C. Fields and Will Rogers.
   The Follies would remain on Broadway through the late 20’s.
Broadway & WWI
   When the U.S. entered the war in 1917 most Broadway stars
    played an active role at home.
   George M. Cohan wrote the mega-hit “Over There.”
   Al Jolson and other actors entertained the troops
   Few book musicals dealt with the war, but many musical
    reviews did.
   An influenza outbreak in 1918 almost wiped out commercial
    theatre across the nation, but NY kept their theatres open to
    very small crowds.
   At the end of the war, American pride ran high and brought
    about the “Roaring 20’s,” and Broadway was glad to oblige.
The Actors Strike of 1919
   The Post WWI boom was interrupted when the Actor's Equity
    Association demanded better working conditions for its members in
    response to abusive treatment by producers.
   It was common practice for actors to pay for their own costumes, to
    rehearse endless hours without pay, and to be fired without notice.
   In a patriotic gesture, Equity waited until after the war to press its
   When producers refused to recognize the union, Equity called the
    first-ever strike in the history of the American theatre 1919.
   Producers tried to put together non-union casts to keep shows
    running until the stagehands union agreed to honor the strike,
    shutting down almost every professional production in the country.
   Faced with crippling losses, the producers were forced to recognize
    Actors Equity, finally giving actors professional leverage.
Musical Theatre
    The 1920’s
   The1920s were Broadway's busiest years, with as
    many as fifty new musicals opening in a single
   Record numbers of people forked over up to $3.50
    a seat.
   Shows began to be written by craftsmen who took
    musical theatre seriously, trying to provide quality
    entertainment and make a profit at the same time.
   No, No, Nanette was one of the biggest hits of the
Black Theatre during the 20’s
   Shuffle Along, also a huge hit, was produced, written and
    performed entirely by African-Americans. It gave major
    breaks to Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson
   Starting in 1926 a series of Blackbirds reviews were also
    successful with all black casts but produced by whites.
   By contemporary standards, these shows would seem
    offensive. Actors still wore blackface, and most of the
    comedy relied on old minstrel show stereotypes.
   With racial enlightenment was still more dream than reality in
    1928, many African Americans embraced the show, realizing
    that a certain degree of bowing and scraping was necessary
    for the success of the performer.
Musical Theatre
New Composers of the 1920’s
Rogers and Hart
   Gained fame with the review The Garrick Gaities
   Rodgers, Hart and Fields achieved even greater success with
    A Connecticut Yankee. Based on Mark Twain's tale of a
    modern American who dreams that he has been transported
    to King Arthur's legendary court.
   Their early shows were lighthearted romps, but some of their
    songs had surprising, bittersweet undertones.
   As the stock market crash of 1929 led to tough times on
    Broadway, Rodgers and Hart suffered a series of frustrating
    near hits and outright flops. When Paramount Pictures
    offered them a generous contract to create screen musicals,
    they took their talents out West.
Cole Porter
   Cole Porter inherited a fortune, so he had little financial
    incentive to pursue a theatrical career.
   After his initial failure with the musical, See America First,
    (he quit and lived the high life in Europe for several years.
   Things changed in the 1920’s when he began working on a
    succession of worthwhile projects. The musical Paris had the
    daring song hit "Let's Do It," which led to the musical comedy
    Fifty Million Frenchmen, featuring "You've Got That Thing"
    and "You Do Something to Me."
   Porter's melodies ranged from bright to sensual, and his witty
    lyrics featured witty rhymes and daring sexual innuendo. The
    first Broadway lyricist to openly discuss sex in his songs,
    Porter would rise to fame in the 1930’s.
George and Ira Gershwin
   George's rousing melody to "Swanee" won little attention in a
    mediocre Broadway revue, but then Al Jolson made it an
    international sensation.
   George quickly became one of the hottest musical talents in
    New York, and teamed with Ira on nine 1920s stage scores.
   Lady Be Good (1924) brought Broadway stardom to Fred
   Oh Kay! (1926) was about a millionaire who doesn't realize
    that rum runners are using his mansion as a smuggling
   Funny Face (1927) featured a girl trying to get back her diary
    from her guardian, opening the way for a series of mishaps.
   Their librettos were little more than excuses to get from song
    to song, something they change in the next decade.
Musical Theatre
The Mega Hits of the 1920’s
Good News (1927)
   Good News was not the first musical about college life,
    but it was such a hit that it established its own set of
    theatrical clichés.
   The plot about a football hero who has to pass an exam
    so he can play in the big game and win the girl he loves.
   The dance-happy songs included "The Best Things in
    Life are Free" and "The Varsity Drag," a Charleston-
    style dance number that became an international craze.
   Depicting the "roaring 20s" as people would like to
    remember it, this show remains one of the definitive
    theatrical events of 1920s.
Al Jolson
“The World’s Greatest Entertainer”
   Born in a Russian in the 1880s. His family emigrated to the
    U.S. and Asa Yoelson decided to become an entertainer and
    changed his name to Al Jolson.
   After winning fame in minstrel shows and vaudeville, Jolson
    made his Broadway debut at The Winter Garden Theatre
    where Jolson became the toast of New York.
   His shows toured the country for years at a time, making him
    a star from coast to coast.
   Jolson is best remembered today for his use of blackface, but
    he was not a racist.
   Sensitive to discrimination of all kinds, he championed the
    rights of black performers on several occasions.
   His career spanned stardom in minstrelsy, vaudeville,
    Broadway, Hollywood and radio.
Showboat (1927)
   One of the most powerful and popular musicals ever written,
    Show Boat was the collaborative effort of three theatrical
    giants -- producer Florenz Ziegfeld, composer Jerome Kern
    and lyricist-librettist Oscar Hammerstein II.
   It told the epic tale of the inhabitants of a Mississippi show
    boat from the 1880's to the 1920s, it deals with racism and
    marital heartbreak – subjects that had been considered taboo
    in musicals.
   The ground-breaking libretto was matched by an innovative,
    character-driven score with such hits as "Make Believe," "Old
    Man River" and "You Are Love."
    Although many identify "Old Man River" with Paul Robeson,
    the song was introduced on Broadway by Jules Bledsoe.
Showboat (1927)
   Show Boat was a tremendous gamble. Nothing like it had
    ever been tried on Broadway before, and Ziegfeld was
    wracked with doubts about the show's commercial prospects.
    Even so, he spared no expense, giving this sweeping saga
    the visual grandeur it needed to achieve optimal impact. After
    the opening night performance at the Ziegfeld Theater, a
    stunned audience filed out in near silence. Ziegfeld thought
    his worst fears had been confirmed. He was shocked when
    the next morning brought ecstatic reviews and long lines at
    the box office. Show Boat was an unqualified triumph, the
    most lasting accomplishment of Ziegfeld's career.
   This masterpiece spawned no trends, but it showed what
    musical theater could aspire to. With one silent and two
    sound film versions, as well as four acclaimed Broadway
    revivals, Show Boat's appeal has survived the test of time.
  Musical Theatre
          The 1930’s
Broadway & The Great Depression
   During the 1930’s, Broadway dealt with the last
    Vaudeville bill closing (1932), the Great
    Depression, and Radio & Movies.
   Radio was free, movies were only 5 cents, but B-
    way musicals were around $3 a seat.
   Producers kept theatre alive through bankruptcy
    and great personal sacrifice.
   Despite the turmoil, the 1930’s saw the Broadway
    musical reach new creative heights.
Hits of 1930’s
   George & Ira Gershwin produced hits such as Strike Up
    the Band, Girl Crazy (Ethel Merman’s debut), Of Thee I
    Sing, and the famous Jazz-Opera Porgy & Bess.
   George died in 1937 but Ira continued to work in movies
    through the 1950’s.
   Rogers and Hart turned out several hits including The
    Boys from Syracuse (a musical version of The Comedy
    of Errors) and starring such stars as Ray Bolger, Ethel
    Merman, and Desi Arnez.
   Reviews continued to be popular but were redefined
    due to rising costs and slumping box offices.
Hits of 1930’s
   Noel Coward (Britain’s only success in Broadway during
    the 30’s) turned out several hit revues and the hit
    comedy, Private Lives.
   The most popular composer of the 30’s was Cole Porter
    who wrote the hits; The Gay Divorce (“Night and Day”)
    Anything Goes (“I Kick Out of You”) and Red Hot and
    Blue (“Delovely”)
   With network radio offering all-star variety entertainment
    at no charge, revues became rare on Broadway in the
    1940s, and eventually moved to the less expensive
    realm of Off-Broadway.
Musical Theatre
       The 1940’s
 Broadway & World War II
   With WWII and America still suffering echoes of the Great
    Depression, Broadway felt that audiences during the early
    1940s wanted entertainment that provided an escape from
    reality, the more lighthearted the better.
   Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin continued to have
    several hits including Berlin’s military revue This is the Army
   As the 1940s began, great art was not the goal in musical
    theatre. Most producers and critics were convinced that good
    songs and good fun were all that theatergoers required.
   Rodgers and Hart split in 1942. Rodgers then teamed with
    Oscar Hammerstein II creating the most renowned creative
    partnership the American musical theatre has ever known.
   The plot involves an Oklahoma Territory farm girl of the early
    1900s choosing whether she will go to a dance with the
    farmhand she fears or the cowboy she loves.
   This simple love story takes a jarring turn when the farmhand
    proves to be a psychopathic murderer who the heroic cowboy
    is forced to kill in self defense. Murder in a musical?
   Despite strong comic material and a healthy dose of
    romance, it was neither a typical musical comedy nor an
    operetta. This was something new – a fully rounded musical
    play, with everything dedicated to moving the story forward.
   Hammerstein had tried something similar in his libretto to
    Show Boat, but those characters were two dimensional and
    the plot relied on all sorts of old melodramatic devices.
   R&H insisted that the leads fit the characters rather than use
   Since the play dealt with emotions that might sound awkward
    if spoken, R&H decided to use dance as an integral element
    and hired famed modern dancer Agnes DeMille, who insisted
    on selecting trained modern dancers in place of the standard
    chorus girls.
   The Pre-Broadway reviews were terrible. One critic stated;
    “No gags, no girls, no chance."
   After some major revisions, Oklahoma opened to rave
    reviews on Broadway setting records in NY and London.
    Initial backers gained 2500% on their investment.
Oklahoma’s Impact
   Before Oklahoma, composers and lyricists were songwriters.
    After Oklahoma, they had to be dramatists, using everything
    in the score to develop character and advance the action.
   Everything in a musical now serves a dramatic purpose.
   Diverting dance routines of the past were replaced by
    choreography that helped tell the show's story. Past shows
    used stars to perform showstoppers that had nothing to do
    with the plot. Oklahoma rejected these ideas, tossing out
    anything which did not fit the plot or bring characters into
    sharper focus.
   Audience members now have compassion for the characters
    who are no longer one dimensional.
Post - Oklahoma
   After Oklahoma, Rodgers did a revival of
    Connecticut Yankee and Hammerstein did
    Carmen Jones.
   They reunited to create Carousel (1945)
   Other big hits of the 40’s included On the Town,
    Kiss Me Kate, Annie Get Your Gun and the last
    big hit of the 1940’s was South Pacific (again by
    Rogers and Hammerstein)
   Another big advancement started in the 1940’s
    was the full cast recording released on vinyl and
    packaged to look like a “photo album.”
South Pacific (1949)
   As the 40’s ended, New York was the center of the theatrical world,
    and the last musical hit of the decade was one of the biggest ever.
   R&H wrote South Pacific about a military nurse who falls in love
    with a Frenchman, and a Lieutenant who gives his heart to a
    Polynesian girl. Dealing with bigotry and set amid the tensions of
    WW II, it was a world away from previous musical comedies hits.
   It had a well crafted script, and a score that included "Some
    Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime," "Bali Hai," and
    "I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy".
   There was almost no dance, more than one key love story, and the
    dramatic tension was not provided by an antagonist ("bad guy") or a
    "silly misunderstanding."
   South Pacific confirmed R&H’s command of the genre. It won the
    Tony for Best Musical and became the second musical to receive
    the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

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