Presentation on theme: "Musical Theatre What is a Musical?. Musicals have gone by many different names Comic operas Operettas Burlesque Revues which have their roots in vaudeville,"— Presentation transcript:
Musical Theatre What is a Musical?
Musicals have gone by many different names Comic operas Operettas Burlesque Revues which have their roots in vaudeville, music halls and minstrel shows
The Best Musicals have three essential qualities… Brains (intelligence and style) Heart (genuine and believable emotion) Courage (The guts to do something creative and exciting)
Musical Theatre A Brief History
Greeks Added music to their productions as early as the 5 th 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
Romans 3 rd 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 shoes 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 – 18 th 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? 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 Opera? 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
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 director. 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 characters. 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)
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 resolved. 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 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 Americans. 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 AndyAl Jolson
Musical Theatre Musical Theatre in America: Burlesque
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.
Burlesque 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!
Burlesque 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.
Burlesque 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.
Burlesque 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: Vaudeville
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 popularity. 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.
Vaudeville 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.
Vaudeville 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 vaudeville. 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 Judy Garland George Burns and Gracie Allen
Famous Vaudeville Performers Eddie CantorSophie Tucker
Famous Vaudeville Performers W.C. FieldsJack Benny
Famous Vaudeville Performers Ma RaineyBessie Smith
Famous Vaudeville Performers Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Nicholas Brothers
Famous Vaudeville Performers Will RogersCharlie Chaplin
Famous Vaudeville Performers Marx BrothersBuster Keaton