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The Musical Theatre


The Musical Theatre A History Chapter 5 - The Birth of Musical Comedy Chapter 6 A New Century by John Kenrick It was the end of the gilded age Hundreds of ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Musical Theatre

The Musical Theatre A History
  • Chapter 5 - The Birth of Musical Comedy
  • Chapter 6 A New Century
  • by John Kenrick

To review
  • The Greeks developed tragedy and comedy
    containing elements of music and dance

In the renaissance
  • Court masques and entertainments gave rise to
    ballet and other spectacles

  • In Italy, the Medici court developed an early
    form of opera that emerged in France under the
    pen of Lully (who was born in Florence)

The Ballet was elevated to new heights by the
  • It Belongd to My Father Before I Was Born
  • Offenbach wrote operettes and opera-bouffes
  • Gilbert and Sullivan wrote comic operas

Early American musicals
  • were often called Extravaganzas or burlettas
  • Many historians believe that British
  • producer George Edwardes invented
  • the term musical comedy with his The Geisha in
  • But, did 1891s A Trip to Chinatown or the
    popular Harrigan and Hart shows introduce the

The Mulligan Shows
  • (Ned) Harrigan had made his name as a comedian in
    the variety halls of San Francisco. (Tony) Hart
    was a stage-struck reform school escapee with a
    rare gift for stage comedy. They met the
    mid-1870s, and soon developed a routine that
    poked fun at New York's infamous neighborhood
  • When Harrigan and Hart reached New York, their
    "Mulligan Guard" act was such a sensation that it
    played the city's top variety theaters for more
    than a year. Inspired by this acclaim, the team
    expanded the act into The Mulligan Guard Picnic
    (1878), a forty minute sketch that packed
    audiences into Broadway's Theatre Comique for a
    month -- a very healthy commercial run for that
    time. This became the first in a seven year
    series of full length musical farces.

Musical comedy was generally used in
19th-century America to describe loosely
constructed musical shows. Then, when the
popularity of operetta and comic opera waned in
the 1890s, the London impresario George Edwardes
attached the term to a livelier type of show that
featured fashionable modern dress and elements of
burlesque and music hall as well as comic opera.
The new genre attained major international
success with Sidney Jones's The Geisha ( 1896),
actually described as a musical play to
indicate its more substantial plot and score.
original, popular- style songs. But Harrigan and
Hart (and composer Braham) do seem to have
originated the form based upon the evidence of
surviving texts.
their foundations in Vaudeville
By the 1880s, the Industrial Revolution had
changed the once rural face of America. Half of
the population was now concentrated in towns and
cities, working at jobs that left most of them
with two things they never had back on the farm
a little spare cash and weekly leisure time.
These people wanted affordable entertainment on a
regular basis. Most variety shows were too coarse
for women or children to attend, and minstrel
shows were already declining in popularity. In a
world where phonographs, film, radio and
television did not yet exist, something new was
needed to fill the gap. Vaudeville also tried to
bridge a social gap that had divided American
audiences ever since the upper and lower classes
clashed in a deadly 1849 riot.
Tony Pastor (1832-1908)
  • Tony Pastor was the first manager to present
    commercially successful "clean" variety. He
    earned fame as a variety vocalist, songwriter and
    manager on New York's Bowery. A devout Catholic
    and attentive father, Pastor wanted to provide
    family-friendly entertainment. When he started
    presenting a clean variety show at New York's
    Fourteenth Street Theatre on Oct. 24, 1881, the
    location said a great deal about his intentions.
  • As an early center for public transportation,
    Manhattan's Union Square district included most
    of New York City's top theatres, restaurants and
    shops. Respectable theatergoers had no objection
    to attending performances there.

(No Transcript)
Albee and Keith
Other producers soon picked up on this
innovation. Beginning in Boston in 1883, Benjamin
Franklin Keith and Edward F. Albee used the
fortune they made staging unauthorized
productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to
started build a chain of ornate theatres across
the northeastern United States. Stealing Pastor's
format, they instituted a policy of continuous
multiple daily performances, which they called
  • The origins of the term vaudeville are unclear.
    Some sources claim the word was a bastardization
    of "voix de ville," French slang for "songs of
    the town" others say it came from "vaux de
    Vire," fifteenth century satiric songs written by
    Olivier Basselin, a native of the Vire valley in
  • We get yet another explanation from vaudevillian
    Sophie Tucker in her autobiography Some of These
    Days (1945, pp. 155-156). Her agent, William
    Morris, claimed that a red windmill in the Vire
    valley started serving wine and cheese to farmers
    waiting to have their wheat milled. Traveling
    entertainers took advantage by performing for the
    crowd and passing the hat. This arrangement
    proved so popular that others soon copied it.
    Morris insisted this place not only gave birth to
    the term "vaudeville" it also inspired the name
    of the popular Parisian nightclub Le Moulin Rouge
    ("The Red Mill").

? Opera House in Kirksville, MO
Keeping it clean
  • As vaudeville spread through the United States,
    major theatre chains or circuits were built by
    Sullivan Consodine, Alexander Pantages, film
    mogul Marcus Loew and others. All of them were
    tough businessmen, but no one could match Keith
    and Albee's cutthroat tactics, or their ruthless
    insistence that acts keep their material clean at
    all times.

Small to Big Time
  • More than 25,000 people performed in vaudeville
    over its 50-plus years of existence, working
    their way through the three levels defined by the
    trade newspaper Variety
  • "Small time" small town theatres and cheaper
    theaters in larger towns. Performers made as
    little as 15 a week in the early years, closer
    to 75 over time. These often crude theatres were
    the training ground for new performers, or the
    place for old-timers on the skids to eke out a
    few final seasons.
  • "Medium time" good theaters in a wide range of
    cities, offering salaries of up to a few hundred
    dollars a week. Performers seen here were either
    on the way up or on the way down.
  • "Big Time" the finest theaters in the best
    cities, using a two performance-a-day format.
    Most big time acts earned hundreds per week, and
    headliners could command 1,000 a week -- or far

The bill
An act could be darn near anything that was
inoffensive and entertaining. A performer's
gender, race and appearance were no barrier to
success, and nothing was too eccentric if it
gave an audience ten to fifteen minutes of
diversion. While singers and dancers were part
of every bill, the specialty acts set vaudeville
The bill
1. The "Opening" was a "silent act" that would
not be ruined by the bustle of an audience
settling in. Acrobats or animal acts were ideal.
For any other kind of act, getting booked in this
spot was the ultimate insult.
To cut down on squabbles among performers,
theater owners came up with the idea of
advertising acts in order of appearance, rather
than order of importance.
2. Usually a "singing sister" or "dancing
brother" act in which the performers were not
necessarily relatives. The youngest of the
singing Gumm Sisters went on to fame after
changing her name to Judy Garland, and the tap
dancing Nicholas Brothers played this spot before
becoming headliners
3. A comedy sketch or one-act play. These could
be old melodramas with unknown casts or new works
featuring top Broadway stars. Sarah Bernhardt,
Ethel Barrymore, Walter Hampden and Helen Hayes
toured in vaudeville. Alfred Lunt got his first
big break touring actress Lillie Langtry. Some of
the finest professional writers provided sketches
and one-act plays for vaudeville use, including
J.M. Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London,
George M. Cohan and W.S. Gilbert.
4. A novelty act or eccentric dance act was
thrown into the fourth spot to liven things
up. 5. This spot was reserved for
rising stars or falling ones, to close out the
first half of the program with a solid crowd
6. After intermission came a "big" act involving
a large set choirs, novelty orchestras and top
animal acts were typical choices for this
slot. Above Vaudeville act with Rose Louise
(Gypsy Rose Lee) and June Hovick (June Havoc),
ca. 1925
7. "Next to closing" was the star spot reserved
for the headliner usually a vocalist or
comedian. Jack Benny, Sophie Tucker, George Burns
and Gracie Allen, Marie Dressler, Al Jolson and
Eddie Cantor were among the few headliners whose
fame outlived vaudeville. Singer Kate Smith
(remembered for introducing Irving Berlin's "God
Bless America" on radio) was held over at the
Palace by popular demand for eight weeks making
her the longest-running headliner that house ever
8. The "closing" spot was reserved for short
films -- or annoying acts that might encourage
patrons to leave before the next show. A clunky
one-man band or a grating singer were typical
Harrigan Hart got their start in Vaudeville
Tin Pan Alley
  • By the 1890s, most of the music publishing firms
    in New York City had set up shop on a small strip
    of West 28th Street which soon became known as
    Tin Pan Alley. The name came to stand for
    American popular music for years to come.
    Vaudeville performers bought songs from composers
    and publishers and built them into popular songs.

Other hit songs
  • One of the popular Tin Pan Alley songs from
    1891s A TRIP TO CHINATOWN was The Bowery
  • It also introduced
  • After the Ball

Stars of Vaudeville
  • Francis Wilson (1854-1935) came to fame in
    Erminie (1885)
  • The Belle of New York (1897) was so popular in
    NYC that it played in London for 697 performances
    beginning in 1898
  • Weber and Fields met as schoolboys on the lower
    east side and made famous their Dutch characters
  • WEBER Who vass dat lady I saw you wid
    last night?
  • FIELDS That was no lady, that was my
  • Fay Templeton (1865-1939) contralto was one of
    the early stars
  • Soprano Lillian Russell (1861-1922)was one of its
    greatest stars

  • Theatre owners became wealthy on the vaudeville
    circuit and with the growth of musical comedy.
    Albee and Keith made a fortune as managers.
    Their chief competitors, Klaw and Erlanger,
    eventually joined with Charles Frohman and others
    to form The Syndicate. Florenz Ziegfeld and
    George M. Cohan eventually joined the fray
    pitting one side against the other. The Shuberts
    eventually challenged the syndicate.

Black Performers came to stardom on the
Vaudeville Circuit Ethel Waters (a.k.a. "Sweet
Mama Stringbean") - who went on to Broadway and
film stardom Ma Rainey - jazz vocalist Bert
Williams - Ziegfeld Follies star Bessie Smith -
jazz vocalist Bill "Bojangles"Robinson -
tap dance legend
Bert Williams in a vaudeville sketch spoofing Jim
Ma Rainey and her band
Early Black Musicals
  • A Trip to Coontown (1898)
  • Clorindy, The Origin of the Cakewalk (1898)
  • In Dahomey (1903) featured Bert Williams and
    George Walker and the characters of Zip Coon and
    Jim Crow and eventually toured to London
  • In 1908, Ziegfeld hired Williams for his Follies

A New Century (1900-1913) Whisper of How Im
  • The acclaimed British musical comedy FLORADORA
    (1899) was an even bigger hit in New York than in
    London where it opened in 1900.
  • It also generated scandal when one of its
    featured dancers, Evelyn Nesbit, had a prolonged
    affair with architect Stanford White before
    marrying industrialist Harry K. Thaw. In 1906,
    Thaw shot White to death during a performance at
    the Madison Square Garden rooftop theatre.

It was the end of the gilded age
  • Hundreds of immigrants and fortune-seekers were
    arriving in New York daily at the turn of the
    centuryand these new citizens yearned for
    affordable entertainment
  • The theatre district moved uptown to Times Square.

By 1900
  • There were over 30 legitimate theatres on
    Broadway. And vaudeville houses were springing
    up all over the city and across the country.
    Family entertainment was especially popular.
    After a successful NY run, THE WIZARD OF OZ
    enjoyed a long tour.

Victor Herbert
The pre-eminent Broadway composer at the start of
the 20th Century was a patriotic Irish immigrant.
Trained in Europe, Victor Herbert was the
longtime musical director of the prestigious
Pittsburgh Symphony. He composed more than forty
musical comedies and operettas for Broadway,
becoming one of the most acclaimed popular
songwriters of his time.
Herbert's musicals (written with various
collaborators) involved simple American goodness
triumphing over Old World ways. His most famous
works include Babes in Toyland (1903 - 192), a
childhood fantasy best remembered for its
sentimental title song and the martial "March of
the Toys." An attempt to copy the success of the
musical hit The Wizard of Oz. Mlle Modiste (1905
- 202) told of an American shop girl who finds
romance and operatic fame in Paris. Metropolitan
Opera soprano Fritzi Scheff triumphed in the
title role, introducing the wistful waltz "Kiss
Me Again. The Red Mill (1906 - 274) involved a
pair of vaudeville comedians kidding their way
through some minor adventures in Holland. A 1945
production starring Eddie Foy Jr. ran for 531
performances, becoming Broadway's first musical
revival to outlast an original run. Naughty
Marietta (1910 -136) told the story of a French
noblewoman who flees the prospect of a loveless
marriage to find love with an American soldier of
fortune in colonial New Orleans. The score
included "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life. Designed as
a showcase for operatic voices, it is the only
Herbert musical still performed with any
regularity. (One of its songs -- "I'm Falling in
Love With Someone" -- reappeared in Thoroughly
Modern Millie (2002).
Attributes of American operetta
  • Historic or exotic setting.
  • The music rules.
  • Music and lyrics are flowery and poetic.
  • Romance, not sex, is main ingredient.
  • Heroine is indecisive.
  • Hero is stalwart and masculine.
  • Class differences between leads is preferred.
  • Productions are handsome and lavish.
  • Comedy is a spice and must be used sparingly.
  • Wit? Never heard of it. Whatever it is, it
    need not apply. (117-118)

Fritzi Scheff in the bejeweled costume she wore
for the finale of Mlle. Modiste.
Herberts lasting legacy
  • Enjoyed a long and successful career.
  • Babes in Toyland and Naughty Marietta are often
  • Strongly influenced Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers
    and Frederick Loewe.
  • Served as co-founder of ASCAP (American Society
    of Composers, Authors and Publishers.)

George M. Cohan
Cohan became one of the most powerful producers
in show business, forming a longtime partnership
with Sam Harris. In fact, Cohan excelled in more
capacities than anyone else in American
theatrical history, before or since. Although
he strongly denounced the formation of Actors
Equity, he remains the only actor with a statue
on Times Square.
George M. Cohan and first wife Ethel Levy in
Little Johnny Jones (1904).
George M. Cohan was an Irish-American graduate of
variety and vaudeville who wrote, directed,
choreographed, produced and starred in jingoistic
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,
sentimental jingoism, these musicals toured the
U.S., drawing packed houses for a year or
more. Cohan's most memorable hits included
Little Johnny Jones (1904) featured Cohan as an
American jockey who loses the English Derby,
clears himself of false charges that he threw the
race, and simultaneously wins the girl he loves.
Cohan's first wife Ethel Levy played his beloved,
and his parents played major comedy roles.
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Give My Regards to
Broadway" gave Cohan a national reputation.
Forty-five Minutes From Broadway (1906 - 90)
featured musical comedy favorite Fay Templeton as
a small-town girl who would rather give up an
inherited fortune than lose the poor street-smart
New Yorker she loves (played by newcomer Victor
Moore). The title song and "Mary's a Grand Old
Name" became lasting hits, and Cohan took over
Moore's role when the show was revived a few
years later. George Washington Jr. (1906 - 81)
opened a few weeks after Forty-five Minutes, with
Cohan playing a senator's son who (in the name of
patriotism) refuses to marry a British nobleman's
daughter. The showstopper was "You're a Grand Old
Rag," a tuneful tribute to the Stars and Stripes.
The word "Rag" was switched to "Flag" after one
of Cohan's critics instigated a journalistic
outcry. The song remains a patriotic favorite.
Cohan and his contemporaries helped to popularize
the AABA form for popular songs
Most traditional showtunes have two parts The
verse sets up the premise of a song. For example,
the verse of one popular Cohan hit begins "Did
you ever see two Yankees part upon a foreign
shore?," going on to explain that the one
remaining behind will ask his friend one parting
favor. The verse can be most any length. The
chorus (or "refrain") states the main point of
the lyric "Give my regards to Broadway,
remember me to Herald Square." Since the early
1900s, the choruses of most American popular
songs have been thirty-two bars long. Those
thirty two bars are usually divided into four
sections of approximately eight bars each.
Musicologists describe this as the AABA form
A is the main melody, usually repeated three
times in part, so that it can be easily
remembered. B is the release or bridge,
which should contrast as much as possible with
melody A.
The uniform use of this predictable format falls
easily on the ear, making songs easy to listen
to. It also forces composers and lyricists to
make their points efficiently, acting more as a
discipline than a limitation. From George M.
Cohan to Jonathan Larson and beyond, modern
Broadway songwriters have written most of their
songs in the thirty-two bar AABA format. In fact,
it remained the standard for all popular music
until the hard rock revolution of the 1960s.
AABA Song Form - "Somewhere Over the
Rainbow" First A Somewhere over the rainbow way
up high Second A Somewhere over the rainbow
skies are blue B Section Someday I'll wish upon
a star and wake up where the clouds are far
behind me Final A Someday over the rainbow
bluebirds fly...
Ziegfeld Follies
Florenz Ziegfeld's name has taken on legendary
status, and remains familiar in an age that pays
little attention to the theater. This son of a
Chicago music professor produced his first
Broadway musical in 1895, showcasing glamorous
French chanteuse (and common-law wife) Anna Held.
It was not until 1907 that Ziegfeld (at Held's
suggestion) invented his now legendary Follies.
In this ad found on the back of a program for
Show Boat, Ziegfeld is quoted as saying that
Lucky Strike cigarettes "most assuredly protect
the voice."
Ziegfeld Follies of 1912
  • A circus act

  • Held and Ziegfeld took their inspiration from the
    Folies Bergere, a long-running Parisian revue
    that used skits and songs to spoof the social and
    political "follies" of the day, pausing for
    production numbers featuring legions of
    creatively under-dressed women. Ziegfeld gave
    this format an American spin with lavish
    production values and a wholesome, attractive
    female chorus.
  • Out of consideration for the sensibilities of
    respectable theatergoers, the tone was sexy but
    never trashy. Because the superstitious Ziegfeld
    considered thirteen his lucky number, he gave his
    revue the thirteen letter name Follies of the
    Day, taken from the title of a popular newspaper
    column penned by librettist Harry B. Smith -- who
    Ziegfeld hired to write the libretto.

One of Ziegfelds follies
  • From the New York Times, reprinted May 2007.

  • The Shubert Brothers had such success staging
    lavish "reviews" at the new Hippodrome Theatre
    from 1906 onwards that competing theatre owners
    Klaw and Erlanger were on the lookout for a
    promising alternative. They agreed to finance
    Ziegfeld's Follies, which affirmed its European
    pretensions by using the French spelling,
    "revue." Never one to turn down a good source of
    funding, Ziegfeld settled for the title of
    producer and a salary. Although Erlanger made
    suggestions, Ziegfeld was given a relatively free
    creative hand -- so long as he stuck to a 
    production budget of 13,800, a small figure
    dictated by the show's limited summer run.
  • Starting as three month summer event, the Follies
    proved so profitable that it immediately became
    an annual institution. From the beginning,
    Ziegfeld's "girlie" show was so respectable that
    wives were happy to attend with their husbands.
    Far larger than any cabaret production and more
    elaborate than vaudeville, the Follies was the
    ultimate in variety entertainment. Ziegfeld
    supervised more than twenty editions of the
    Follies, setting new artistic and technical
    standards for the professional theatre in

The Follies were known for their beautiful women.
  • Some of the Folly girls through the years

The Passing Show (1894)
  • The Follies was not the first Broadway revue. In
    1894, THE PASSING SHOW played 121 performances.

Stars sought out Ziegfeld to star in his annual
To read more about Ziegfeld and The Follies,
click here.
Nora Bayes
A CHINESE HONEYMOON is a forgotten hit of the
new century.
A Chinese Honeymoon is a musical comedy in two
acts by George Dance, with music by Howard Talbot
and additional music by Ivan Caryll and others,
and additional lyrics by Harry Greenbank and
others. It opened at the Theatre Royal in
Hanley, England in 1899 and then toured
extensively. It also played at the Casino
Theatre, in New York, opening on 2 June 1902 for
a run of 376 performances. It was the first
musical to run for 1,000 performances. The story
concerns couples who honeymoon in China and
inadvertently break the kissing laws (reminiscent
of The Mikado).
The Shubert Brothers
  • Looking for a hit to solidify their place on
    Broadway, the Shubert Brothers produced the first
    American production of A CHINESE HONEYMOON.
    Bickering, bad luck and broken promises helped to
    establish the long-standing feud with The
    Syndicate (Erlanger, Frohman, etc.)

The Merry Widow
Although Broadway audiences took increasing pride
in homegrown musical shows, in the early 1900s a
European import became the biggest cultural
phenomenon since H.M.S. Pinafore. In 1905
composer Franz Lehár convinced Vienna's
prestigious Theatre An der Wein to premiere his
new operetta Die Lustige Witwe. With librettists
Victor Leon and Leo Stein, Lehar had created a
seamlessly integrated musical masterpiece, with
every number and bit of dialogue contributing
something crucial. It was translated into more
than a dozen languages. And its success kept
confounding the experts. London producer George
Edwardes was surprised when his staging of The
Merry Widow (1907) became a runaway hit.
Success in New York
  • The first Broadway production of The Merry Widow
    at The New Amsterdam Theatre (1907) delighted
    Americans with its romance and refined
    sensuality. When the dashing Donald Brian whirled
    Ethel Jackson around the stage in what became
    known as "The Merry Widow Waltz" ("I Love You
    So"), they ignited a cultural firestorm. Several
    companies toured the USA, a full length parody
    version ran profitably in New York, and the waltz
    itself was heard everywhere.

Its imitators included The Chocolate Soldier
  • THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER by Oscar Straus, was an
    adaptation of Bernard Shaws ARMS AND THE MAN.
  • Shaw hated it and refused to allow PYGMALION to
    be adapted as a musical until 1964,

Lily Elsie (Sonia) and Joseph Coyne (Danilo) in
the original London production of The Merry Widow.
  • As the new century revved up, Broadway balanced
    the influence of European works by developing
    fresh theatrical trends. From African-American
    rhythms to "the glorification of the American
    girl," there was fresh excitement brewing on the
    street that--thanks to the invention of electric
    light--was coming to be known as "the Great White