WEST SIDE STORY
• WEST SIDE STORY had a long journey to Broadway.
• Six years elapsed between Jerome Robbins’s first idea of a modern musical
adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and its actual Broadway debut in 1957.
• Originally, the action of the musical was to take place on New York’s Lower
East Side with tensions flaring between Jews and Catholics during the
Passover and Easter holidays.
• The original setting left the authors uninspired and the project was put on hold.
• Years later, when Arthur Laurents proposed changing the basis of conflict from
religion to race, the show gained creative momentum and WEST SIDE
STORY was born.
• Originally directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, WEST SIDE
STORY opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957
and garnered passionate reactions from critics and audiences alike.
• The piece has often been credited with changing the entire course of the
American musical theatre.
• Applauding the creators’ innovation in dance and musical style, TIME
Magazine exclaimed “Robbins’ energetic choreography and Bernstein’s
grand score accentuate the satiric, hard-edged lyrics of Sondheim and
Laurents’ capture of the angry voice of urban youth.”
• New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson described the show as “profoundly
moving; an incandescent piece of work where theatre people, engrossed in
an original project, are all in top form.”
• The original production starred Larry Kert as “Tony,” Carol Lawrence as
“Maria,” Chita Rivera as “Anita,” and won six Tony Award nominations
including Best Musical of 1957.
• Jerome Robbins won the Award for his groundbreaking choreography and
Oliver Smith took home the prize for Best Scenic Design.
• Also nominated were Carol Lawrence for Best Supporting Actress, Max
Goberman for Best Musical Director and Irene Sharaff for Best Costume
• WEST SIDE STORY ran for 732 performances before launching national and
international tours and a successful mounting at London’s Majesty Theatre
• The first revival of the musical opened on April 8, 1964 at New York City
Center by the New York City Center Light Opera Company.
• The production closed on May 3, 1964 after a limited engagement of 31
• The City Center production was staged by Gerald Freedman based on Robbins’
original concept. • A Broadway revival opened at the Minskoff Theatre on February 14, 1980
directed and choreographed by Robbins with the assistance of Tom Abbott
and Lee Becker Theodore.
• The revival was nominated for a 1980 Tony Award for Best Revival as well as
nods for Debbie Allen as “Anita” and Josie de Guzman as “Maria.”
• The current revival of WEST SIDE STORY on which this tour is based began
previews at the Palace Theatre on Broadway Monday, February 23, 2009,
opened to critical acclaim breaking box office records on Thursday, March
19, 2009, and recouped its $14 million investment after running only 30.
• The production closed on January 2, 2011 after 748 performances and 27
• An exciting and innovative motion picture version, directed by Jerome Robbins
and Robert Wise, was released in 1961 and starred Natalie Wood and
Richard Beymer as the star-crossed lovers “Maria and Tony” and Rita
Moreno as “Anita.”
• The film also received wide praise from critics, winning ten Academy Awards
out of its eleven nominated categories (including Best Picture) as well as a
special award for Robbins.
• The film’s soundtrack grossed more than any other album before it.
ABOUT MUSICAL THEATRE
• In the 19th century, the United States gave birth to four separate forms of
◦ The Minstrel Show
◦ the Broadway Musical
• Each appealed to a specific audience and each existed — in part — to present,
package, and promote popular music and dance.
• Perhaps the most important factor in the development of the American musical
theatre was its symbiotic relationship to the music industry.
• For over a century, the music industry used the theatre as its primary marketing
device for the sale of popular songs, initially in the form of sheet music
and, later, as phonograph records.
• In turn, the musical theatre built its offerings on the songs that fed the popular
mainstream and rapidly became the province of the great songwriters of the
19th and 20th centuries.
THE MINSTREL SHOW • The minstrel show, one of the earliest indigenous forms of American
entertainment, developed in the 1840s, peaked after the Civil War and
remained popular into the early 1900s.
• The minstrel show evolved from two types of entertainment popular in America
1. the impersonation of blacks by white actors between acts of plays or
2. the performances of black musicians who sang, with banjo
accompaniment, in city streets.
• The “father of American minstrelsy” was Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy”
Rice, who, between 1828 and 1831, developed a song–and–dance routine in
which he impersonated an old, crippled black slave named Jim Crow.
• This routine achieved immediate popularity, and throughout the 1830s Rice had
• Dan Emmett’s Virginia Minstrels, the first formal blackface troupe, debuted at
New York’s Bowery Amphitheatre in 1843.
• Initially, the minstrel show was exclusively composed of “Ethiopian
Delineators”: white performers who blackened their faces with burnt cork
and performed as Negro slaves.
• Their character creation, “the Stage Negro,” was, at best, an inaccurate and
demeaning portrayal of African Americans that appealed to the inherent
racist tendencies of the audience. It created one of the most lasting and
injurious stereotypes in American history.
• Prior to the Civil War, mixed casts of white and African American performers
were forbidden by law in many parts of the U.S., but African American
performers were secretly included in some white companies.
• After the Civil War, mixed and all–black minstrel companies toured America
and Great Britain.
• Most troupes were all male, using female impersonators in the skits.
• In later years, some minstrel troupes included women and an all–female
group, Madame Rentz’s Minstrels, toured burlesque circuits in the 1870s.
• By 1919, only three troupes remained in the U.S. Economic reasons contributed
to the decline, as did the competition from the growing popularity of
vaudeville and the Broadway musical.
• However, the most prominent reason for the decline was simply that the
audience had grown tired of – and embarrassed by – “the Stage
Negro’s” racist and insensitive depiction of blacks.
• In the 19th Century, the term “burlesque” applied to a wide range of comic
plays, including non-musicals. • Beginning in the 1840s, these works entertained the lower and middle classes in
Great Britain and the United States by making fun of (or “burlesquing”)
the operas, plays and social habits of the upper classes.
• These shows used comedy and music to challenge the established way of
looking at things.
• Everything from Shakespearean drama to the craze for Swedish opera singer
Jenny Lind could inspire a full–length burlesque spoof.
• Burlesque, like vaudeville, was typically a variety show that included songs,
dances, comic skits, magic, acrobatics, and any number of acts that
would appeal to its audience.
• Unlike vaudeville, the burlesque show was primarily directed at a male
audience and, consequently, involved more bawdy humor and risqué
fare than its family-oriented successor.
• By the 1920s, burlesque, like the minstrel show, had grown stale and unable to
compete with newer entertainments.
• Not even the striptease – introduced as a desperate bid to offer something that
vaudeville, film, and radio could not – would save the dying artfom.
• In 1937, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia closed New York’s burlesque houses,
dismissing them as purveyors of “filth.”
• Within two years most major cities had adopted laws and restrictions to prohibit
burlesque performances; by the beginning of World War II, the burlesque
theatre had, for all practical purposes, disappeared.
• Vaudeville emerged both as a reaction against the burlesque show and as an
attempt to woo the broader middle–class audience with the promise of
“good, clean, family entertainment.”
• In the early 1880s, Tony Pastor, a circus ringmaster turned theatre manager,
began to offer “polite” variety programs in several of his New York
theatres, hoping to to capitalize on on middle-class sensibilities and
• He barred the sale of liquor in his theatres, eliminated questionable material
from his shows, and even offered gifts of coal and hams to attendees.
• Pastor’s experiment proved successful and other managers soon followed suit.
• Within a few short years, vaudeville became the largest and most successful
form of stage entertainment in North America.
• By the turn of the century, more than 2,000 vaudeville theatres were spread
across the United States and Canada.
• A typical show consisted of between 8 and 20 different acts, ranging from silent
pantomime, animal tricks, and singers to contortionists, comedy acts, and
monologues. • Vaudeville’s jovial, nonintellectual atmosphere appealed to a general public that
just wanted to forget their daily worries, and it continued to grow and
prosper until the late 1920s.
• However, as vaudeville had displaced burlesque and the minstrel show, the
motion picture would in turn displace vaudeville.
• In 1932, the New York Palace, the largest and greatest of the vaudeville
theatres, ceased operation as a live stage venue…and became a movie
THE BROADWAY MUSICAL
• Musical theatre pieces of one kind or another have been a part of the American
theatre since the early 1800s.
• English ballad operas, musical interludes and afterpieces that accompanied
plays, “oratorical entertainments,” and short comic operas were performed
on stages in most American cities.
• However, the Broadway musical as we know it — a play with songs and dances
interwoven into the plot — first appeared in the late 1870s in the musical
comedies of Ned Harrigan and Tony Hart.
• The musicals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were very different from
the sophisticated musical dramas and comedies of today, but nonetheless
were similar in the fact that they were focused on and driven by the song
and dance numbers.
• The popularity of these stage musicals quickly attracted the attention of
songwriters who understood that they could introduce a dozen or more
songs in a single show and promote several to “hit” status if the show ran.
• For close to a century, the “Broadway musical” would be dominated by
◦ George M. Cohan
◦ George and Ira Gershwin
◦ Cole Porter
◦ Jerome Kern
◦ Rodgers and Hart
◦ Irving Berlin
• In the late 1950s and early 60s, the Broadway musical would change
dramatically as the mainstream of popular music moved away from “show
tunes” towards other forms, most notably rock and roll.
• It became increasingly rare for a showtune to land on the rock–dominated
airwaves and pop charts. As producer/director Hal Prince noted:
◦ In 1954, when we produced The Pajama Game, the week we opened we
had a hit song on the radio, Rosemary Clooney’s version of “Hey
There.” Of course that meant a lot to us at the box office. By the early sixties, that kind of cross–over was no longer a realistic
• Deprived of its longstanding connection to the music industry, Broadway
musicals had to function as theatre pieces that survived on box office
returns rather than on ancillary sources of revenue like the sale of sheet
music or recordings.
• Some musicals, like
◦ Kandar and Ebb’s Chicago
◦ Styne and Merrill’s Funny Girl,
▪ adhered to the basic formula of the traditional musical and
managed to succeed.
• Others, like
◦ Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd
◦ Webber and Rice’s Evita,
▪ adopted an opera–like approach in an attempt to revitalize the
• Still others embraced the shift in musical tastes and, with 1968’s Hair, the rock
musical was born.
• Today, the Broadway musical is a very loose term that covers a wide variety of
musical plays and entertainments.
• The common thread that links them together is that songs and dances are
still at the core of their popularity, and that their success still hinges on
the strength and interest generated by those songs and dances.
THE BROADWAY MUSICAL 1750-1900
Give my regards to BroadwayRemember me to Herald SquareTell all the gang at
42nd StreetThat I will soon be there–George M. Cohan, “Give My Regards To
• Broadway is the most famous avenue in the most celebrated city on earth.
• As one gazes around Times Square from the corner of Broadway and 42nd
Street, it is hard not feel a part of something: the crowds, the bright lights,
the sights and sounds that have been eulogized in countless songs and
immortalized many times over on stage and screen.
• Rich in history, yet the very embodiment of modernity and progress, Broadway
is an iconic symbol of America — a place to which millions have come in
search of a better life, the destination to which so many have followed their
• As New York’s main thoroughfare since colonial times, Broadway was the
logical place for the city’s theaters.
• Many of these now stand in Times Square, where Broadway is crossed by Seventh Avenue.
• The crossroads is a fitting home for the Broadway Musical, for it was born out
of a convergence of entertainment traditions.
• The earliest American musicals were dominated by British influence.
• The first known musical production to be staged in New York was John
Gay’s The Beggars Opera in 1750.
• This ballad opera was characteristic of works popular at that time:
◦ a British–written comic play that featured satirical re–workings of
• In the late 18th and 19th century, most musical productions were plays to which
popular songs were grafted, often with little regard for how well the songs
actually fit the story.
• Many of these productions were imported from Europe, though American–made
works grew in popularity throughout the early and mid–1800s.
• When the Civil War ended in 1865, Americans were hungrier than ever for
• The time was right for a turning point in the history of the American musical,
and it arrived in the form of an extravaganza unlike anything that had ever
been seen before.
• The Black Crook laid the foundations for the Broadway Musical as we know it
today, but it began as something far less spectacular.
• In 1866, William Wheatley was manager of a large Broadway theater
called Niblo’s Garden.
◦ For his fall season, he planned to stage a melodrama based on a
derivative script by an aptly named playwright, Charles M. Barras.
◦ Barras’s play was set in Germany around 1600, and told the story of
a crook–backed sorcerer who used black magic to send people’s
souls to the devil.
◦ Despite the material, Wheatley was prepared to spare no expense in
putting on a grand production, complete with musical numbers and
◦ As chance would have it, he would end up with something far more
extravagant than even he could have predicted.
◦ Around this same time, a Parisian ballet troupe was booked to appear at
the nearby Academy of Music — but the Academy of Music had
burned down the year before.
◦ Wheatley, aware that the dancers were in need of new employment and
sensing that they might add some entertainment value to his
production, decided to enlist their help in his staging of The Black Crook.
◦ His decision paid off, and audiences flocked to see the spectacle of 100 or
so French girls dancing across the stage in revealing outfits.
◦ Sure, there were also songs — “You Naughty, Naughty
Men,” and “March of the Amazons” among them — but there was
little doubt as to the primary reason for the show’s success.
◦ The Black Crook had a record–breaking run and grossed over a million
◦ More importantly, it provided the blueprint for the successful Broadway
◦ In the years after the Civil War, a number of other entertainments would
have a bearing on the development of the Broadway Musical.
◦ Among the most popular of these was the burlesque, a style of
entertainment that has taken on bawdy associations, but began as a
form of parody.
◦ One of the most popular burlesque performers was Lydia Thompson,
who, along with her British Blondes, arrived from England in
▪ The irreverent humor and sex appeal of Thompson’s all–female
troupe spelled big success on Broadway.
▪ Their mythological spoof, Ixion, grossed $370,000 in its first
▪ Thompson was one of several British acts to find success on
Broadway at this time.
◦ Foremost among the others were Gilbert and Sullivan, a creative duo
whose wildly successful operettas left a lasting impression on
GILBERT & SULLIVAN
• Playwright William S. Gilbert teamed with composer Arthur Sullivan in
the 1870s, finding success early on with short, satirical works like Trial by
Jury (1875) and The Sorcerer(1877).
• In 1878, their operetta, HMS Pinafore made its American debut, followed a
year later by The Pirates of Penzance.
• These “light operas” parodied European grand opera — as well as other
Victorian conventions — while, at the same time, retaining certain, more
traditional operatic elements.
• They were not quite “musicals” as we know them today, but — in the quality of
their music, the broad appeal of their witty and satirical librettos (i.e.,
operatic scripts), and their use of songs written specifically for each show
(rather than pre–existing material) — they established a new standard on Broadway.
• These operettas were rapturously received by audiences across the United
States, and remain popular today.
• Gilbert’s influence as a lyricist was just as far–reaching: Lorenz Hart, one of the
most important Broadway lyricists of the 20th century, called him “the
HARRIGAN & HART
• Around this same time, an American team began staging a new and distinctly
American kind of stage show: the musical comedy.
• Unlike Gilbert and Sullivan, Edward Harrigan, Tony Hart, and David
Braham drew their inspiration from daily life among New York’s lower
and middle classes — largely comprised of immigrants.
• Their most popular shows featured the Mulligan Guard, a farcical organization
based on one of New York’s neighborhood militias.
• The Irish Mulligans, as portrayed on stage by Harrigan and Hart (Braham
composed the music), were a ragtag military club that existed mainly to
drink, fight, and parade through their neighborhood in uniform.
• But no one was immune to their comic treatment.
• Between 1878 and 1884, Harrigan, Hart, and Braham produced and staged a
series of musical comedies that depicted New York’s Irish, German, Italian,
and African populations with realism and gentle humor.
• Audiences delighted in seeing themselves represented on the legitimate theater
stage for the first time.
• In drawing from everyday life in New York, Harrigan, Hart, and Braham
established the musical comedy as a distinctly American art form.
THE MINSTREL SHOW
• But the Broadway Musical owes its existence to another uniquely American
form of stage show, this one characterized by a far more sinister kind of
• The minstrel show can be traced back to the 1820s, when Thomas D.
Rice popularized a song titled “Jump Jim Crow.”
• Rice, who was white, performed the song in ragged clothes and blackface, while
dancing in imitation of a crippled black street performer he had seen.
• Racism in the first half of the 19th century allowed Rice to make a career out of
his Jim Crow act — and many others would follow him.
• “Jim Crow” would later become the name given to the laws and customs that
allowed the continuation of racism and discrimination against blacks after the Civil War.
• In the 1840s, the minstrel show began to develop into a unique and self–
contained stage show.
• Dan Emmett’s Virginia Minstrels were the first minstrel troupe to gain
◦ Emmett’s all–white, all-male troupe premiered in New York City in
◦ The shows were in two parts and featured the four- to six–man troupe
singing, playing instruments (violin, “bones,” banjo, and
tambourine), and dancing both as an ensemble and as soloists.
• In the 1850s, Edwin P. Christy’s Ethiopian Minstrels developed what would
become the standard three–part structure for minstrel shows.
◦ In the first part, the ensemble would perform dances, comic routines, and
sentimental songs in a semi–circular line–up, the tambourine player
at one end, the bones at the other end, and an Interlocutor — a
white–faced emcee — in the middle.
◦ The second part, called the olio, featured songs and variety acts,
sometimes performed without blackface (to prove that the
performers were white). The olio concluded with a “stump
speech,” a lecture on some contemporary issue, usually delivered
in a comically dialectical mode of speech.
◦ The third part burlesqued a play, novel, or grand opera. These
“afterpieces” or “one–act musicals” typically featured two stock
characters: “Jim Crow,” Rice’s simple–minded Southerner, and “Zip
Coon,” a dandified urban Northerner whose self–assurance and
attempts at upper–class refinement set him up for comic pratfalls.
• As laws changed, blacks were eventually allowed to become minstrel
performers — though they too were required to wear blackface.
• By the end of the 19th century, there were several all–black minstrel troupes, as
well as troupes that included women.
• However, with the emergence of newer forms of entertainment, minstrel shows
declined in popularity and virtually died out by 1920.
• Nonetheless, their influence survived well into the 20th century in vaudeville
stage and radio shows, in films, and on television.
• The first major “talking film,” The Jazz Singer (1927), starred Al Jolson in
• Minstrel shows occasioned the composition of a vast body of distinctly
• The southern anthem “Dixie,” still popular today, was written by Dan Emmett
for his Virginia Minstrels, as was the well–known fiddle–tune “Turkey in
the Straw” (originally titled “Old Zip Coon”).
• Stephen Foster wrote “Camptown Races” and “Oh! Susanna” for minstrel shows, as well as “My Old Kentucky Home,” which became the State Song
• James Bland, America’s first popular black composer, created some 600
• Bland, like Foster, was a Northerner who drew his inspiration from Southern
• While many minstrel songs expressed racist notions, others have rightfully
outlasted their minstrel origins and become American folksongs.
• More importantly, these early American songs paved the way for the
development of other distinctly American musical forms: ragtime, jazz,
blues, and the music of the Broadway stage.
• Vaudeville began in the early 1880s as a cleaned–up version of the variety
shows popular in the mid–1800s.
• Variety shows featured singers, dancers, chorus girls, circus acts, and comedians
all mixed together into one revue–style evening of entertainment.
• They were staged in New York theaters and “variety halls” — most
notably Koster and Bial’s on 23rd Street — but also in saloons across the
• Featuring dirty jokes, minimally–clothed women, and a general lack of anything
respectable or refined, variety shows catered to an audience that was
frequently drunk, often belligerent, and comprised almost entirely of men.
• The Industrial Revolution, however, brought a large portion of the American
population to cities like New York, drawn there by the promise of steady
• With this population shift, there emerged a new audience: middle class families
possessed of some spare cash, a little spare time, and a desire for family–
• In 1881, a devout Roman Catholic named Tony Pastor opened a theater in
Manhattan’s Union Square in order to stage his own “clean” variety
• Pastor’s Fourteenth Street Theater became the birthplace of what would later
be called vaudeville.
• In addition to the clean content of his shows, Pastor’s choice of location also
contributed to his success.
• In 1881, Union Square was one of New York’s public transportation centers,
and was the site of many of New York’s more respectable theaters.
• Pastor established the formula for vaudeville’s success, presenting shows that
attracted men and women of all ages and all social classes. • Beginning in 1883, B. F. Keith and Edward F. Albee built a chain of theaters
across the northeastern United States in order to stage multiple daily
performances of what was now called vaudeville.
• With the emergence of touring and regional companies, vaudeville spread to
every town and city in the country.
• By 1913, there were 2,973 vaudeville theaters in the United States.
THE BROADWAY MUSICAL 1900-1930
• At the start of the 1900s, many of the previous century’s most popular forms of
entertainment continued to thrive.
• Vaudeville was still on the rise and remained popular until the late 1920s.
• Minstrel shows did not die out until about 1920.
• Musical comedies, in the tradition of Harrigan, Braham, and Hart, found new
life in the works of George M. Cohan and Victor Herbert.
• European imports, following in the footsteps of Gilbert and Sullivan, continued
to find success in the United States.
• The 20th century, however, saw the advent of a new crop of talented producers,
writers, and performers.
◦ George Cohan
◦ Florenz Ziegfeld
◦ Bert Williams
◦ Irving Berlin
◦ Jerome Kern
◦ Oscar Hammerstein II
◦ and many others ensured that the entertainment traditions of the 19th
century evolved into new and viable forms for the 20th.
• When the curtain rose on Show Boat (1927), the team of Ziegfeld, Kern, and
Hammerstein showed that it was possible to combine the best aspects of
vaudeville, minstrelsy, musical comedy, and operetta into a new, distinctly
American art form: the Broadway Musical.
GEORGE M. COHAN
• First and foremost among the early innovators of the Broadway Musical
was George M. Cohan, a patriotic Irish–American who boasted of being
“born on the 4th of July.”
• In actuality, Cohan was born on July 3rd, 1878 into a family of vaudeville
• By the age of 15, he was already a veteran of the vaudeville circuit, and had begun writing skits for his family troupe, The Four Cohans.
• Not content to limit himself to vaudeville, Cohan began writing, scoring, and
starring in his own Broadway productions.
• His first show, The Governor’s Son (1901), ran for 32 performances at
Broadway’s Savoy Theatre, but his third show, Little Johnny Jones (1904),
brought him his first taste of stardom.
• Written and directed by Cohan (and starring him in the title role), Little Johnny
Jones featured two of Cohan’s most enduring compositions:
◦ “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Give my Regards to Broadway.”
• Later shows, like Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway and George Washington,
Jr. (1906), cemented Cohan’s reputation as “the man who owned
Broadway,” while his classic patriotic songs like “You’re a Grand Old
Flag” and the World War I hit “Over There,” ensured that he would be
remembered well into the future.
• Cohan’s patriotic musicals fit perfectly with the mood of the times.
• Show business at this time was, above all, a business, and producers were intent
on giving the public what they wanted: uplifting celebrations of the
• Because of his astounding versatility, Cohan’s “ownership” of Broadway lasted
until the 1920s.
• His friend William Collier summed it up this way:
◦ George is not the best actor or author or composer or dancer or
playwright. But he can dance better than any author, compose
better than any manager, and manage better than any playwright.
And that makes him a very great man.
• If Cohan was not the best Broadway composer of his time, that distinction
belonged to Victor Herbert.
• Herbert was born in Ireland and received his musical training at the Stuttgart
Conservatory in Germany.
• After immigrating to the United States in 1886, Herbert became a cello soloist
at the Metropolitan Opera House, and later became conductor of the
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
• In the course of his Broadway career, which lasted until his death in
1924, Herbert wrote over forty musicals and operettas.
• Unlike George M. Cohan’s compositions, Victor Herbert’s contained a level of
melodic invention and musical sophistication that reflected his classical
• With works like Babes in Toyland (1903), The Red Mill (1906), and Naughty
Marietta (1910), Herbert established a new musical standard on Broadway, marrying European refinement to the freshness and vitality of modern
• In doing so, he “set a course that would be followed by Jerome Kern, Richard
Rodgers, and other great Broadway composers.”
FLORENZ ZIEGFELD AND THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES
• While Cohan and Herbert were updating the musical for the 20th
century, Florenz Ziegfeld was doing the same for the revue–style stage
show popularized in variety and vaudeville.
• Inspired by a long–running Parisian revue, the Folies Bergere, Ziegfeld
envisioned an American stage show featuring songs, skits, and chorus
• Ever superstitious, Ziegfeld gave his show a name comprised of thirteen letters
and numbers: Follies of 1907.
• His precaution paid off, and the Follies of 1907 proved a huge success.
• The Ziegfeld Follies, as they were renamed in 1911, became an annual series
featuring the finest talents of the day.
• The Follies were, however, best–known for their chorus girls, who did not dance
or sing, but instead, simply looked beautiful on stage.
• Between 1917 and 1925, he hired Ben Ali Haggin to arrange semi–nude girls in
patterns called tableaux vivants, or living pictures.
• Ziegfeld’s favorite words were “glorification, femininity, and pulchritude,” and
his Follies became known as a “national institution glorifying the
• By the time of his death in 1932, Ziegfeld had staged twenty–one annual Follies,
sparing no expense in the process:
◦ he production costs of his 1919 edition alone exceeded $100,000.
• But his shows boasted some of the biggest names in the business, including
◦ Will Rogers
◦ Eddie Cantor
◦ Fanny Brice
◦ Bert Williams
• Though Ziegfeld was primarily concerned with spectacle, he sought out the best
songwriters of the day to liven up his productions.
• Most notable among them was Irving Berlin, a Russian-born New Yorker who
began his career in the city’s famed songwriting district, Tin Pan Alley. • Berlin published his first hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” in 1911.
• Three years later, at the age of 26, Berlin wrote his first Broadway score, Watch
• In 1919, Ziegfeld commissioned Berlin to write the score for that year’s
• His “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody” became the Follies’ unofficial theme–
• Although he never learned to read music or write in formal notation, Berlin went
on to write more than 2,000 songs over a career spanning 50 years.
• Among his most popular songs are “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,”
and “There’s No Business like Show Business.”
• His impact was perhaps best summed up by Jerome Kern: “Irving Berlin has no
place in American music. He is American music.”
• Berlin died in 1989 at the age of 101.
• From a songwriting standpoint, one might say that Irving Berlin is to George M.
Cohan as Jerome Kern is to Victor Herbert.
• Cohan and Berlin created simple yet enduring melodies despite — or perhaps
because of — their lack of formal musical training.
• Kern, however, picked up where Herbert left off, bridging the gap between
European operetta and the distinctly American music of the Broadway
• Like Herbert, and unlike Cohan and Berlin, Kern wrote only the music for his
songs, leaving the lyrics to various collaborators.
• Kern studied piano and harmony at the New York College of Music, and
gained firsthand exposure to European operetta while traveling in England
• When he returned to New York in 1904, British musicals were still very popular
on Broadway, but many such imports required the addition of new songs in
order to please American audiences.
• Kern began his career by interpolating his own songs into European shows; he
wrote his first hit — “How’d You Like to Spoon with Me?” — in 1905.
• Other hits followed, most notably “They Didn’t Believe Me,” from the The
Girl from Utah (1914).
• But it was a series of shows at New York’s Princess Theater that established
Kern as Broadway’s preeminent young composer.
THE PRINCESS THEATER MUSICALS • The Princess Theater Musicals ran from 1915 to 1920 and are considered by
many to be the first modern musical comedies.
• In Broadway: An Encyclopedia, Ken Bloom lists some of the things that
distinguished these musicals from those that had gone before:
◦ Because of the small size of the theater, they were necessarily intimate
shows that broke away from the general operatic tradition.
◦ The songs were better integrated into the story than in the old–style
shows, and the plots revolved around American characters in
◦ The shows were less overtly romantic than the typical musical comedy,
and they were more in tune with current trends and feelings.
• It is also worth noting that nearly all of these shows were written by Guy
Bolton and Britain’s famed comic novelist, P.G. Wodehouse.
• This stellar collaboration ensured that Kern’s music was matched in quality by
Bolton and Wodehouse’s lyrics and book. In Bolton’s words:
◦ Our musical comedies…depend as much upon plot and the development
of their characters for success as upon their music, and they deal
with subjects and people near to their audiences.
• In giving equal weight to story and music, the Princess Theater Musicals paved
the way for one of the most important and innovative musicals in the
history of Broadway: Show Boat.
• In 1927 Oscar Hammerstein II joined with Jerome Kern to create a landmark
in the history of the Broadway Musical: Show Boat.
• Oscar Hammerstein II began his career writing lyrics and librettos (i.e. scripts)
in collaboration with Otto Harbach.
• After a series of successful shows in the early and mid–1920s, Hammerstein
paired with Jerome Kern to write a new kind of show, one that would treat
the musical as a legitimate dramatic form.
• They sought to expand on the plot–and–character–centered Princess Theater
Musicals, but combined these elements with the kind of grand production
that only Florenz Ziegfeld could provide.
• Show Boat (1927) was the result of a collaboration between Ziegfeld
(producer), Hammerstein (book/lyrics), and Kern (music), and it was
unlike anything Broadway had ever seen before.
• Based on Edna Ferber’s 1926 novel
◦ Show Boat’s epic story dealt with racial tensions and other themes that
had never before been addressed on the musical stage.
◦ Featuring songs like “Ol’ Man River” (later immortalized by Paul Robeson), Show Boat left its opening night audience speechless.
◦ It ran for 575 performances, and has been revived multiple times on stage
• Kern and Hammerstein showed that the Broadway Musical could be much more
than mere entertainment.
• Show Boat opened the door for musicals that could tell serious stories and
address issues that had meaning and relevance to audiences in the troubled
years to come.
• However, the great flowering of the Broadway musical would come in the forty
years after Show Boat.
THE BROADWAY MUSICAL 1930-1970
• Show Boat (1927) proved that the Broadway Musical could be more than just a
vehicle for songs and stars: it could tell stories of tragedy, hardship, and the
struggles faced by real Americans; it could use songs in the service of story
and character–development, rather than vice–versa