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Pennsylvania State University
Integrative Arts

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 Design. • WEST SIDE STORY ran for 732 performances before launching national and international tours and a successful mounting at London’s Majesty Theatre in 1958. • 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 performances. • 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 previews. • 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 musical theatre: ◦ The Minstrel Show ◦ Vaudeville ◦ Burlesque ◦ 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 before 1830: 1. the impersonation of blacks by white actors between acts of plays or during circuses 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 many imitators. • 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. BURLESQUE • 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 • 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 spending power. • 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 theatre. 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 songwriters: ◦ 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 possibility. • 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 musical. • 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” (1904) • 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 dreams. • 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. BEGINNINGS • 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 popular songs. • 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 entertainment. • 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 lavish sets. ◦ 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 dollars. ◦ More importantly, it provided the blueprint for the successful Broadway show. ◦ 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 1868. ▪ 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 season. ▪ 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 Broadway. 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 master.” 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 imitation. • 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 widespread popularity. ◦ Emmett’s all–white, all-male troupe premiered in New York City in February, 1843. ◦ 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 blackface. • Minstrel shows occasioned the composition of a vast body of distinctly American songs. • 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 of Kentucky. • James Bland, America’s first popular black composer, created some 600 minstrel songs. • Bland, like Foster, was a Northerner who drew his inspiration from Southern plantation songs. • 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 • 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 United States. • 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 work. • 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– friendly entertainment. • 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 shows. • 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 entertainers. • 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 American spirit. • 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. VICTOR HERBERT • 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 European training. • 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 American song. • 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 girls. • 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 American girl.” • 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 comedians like ◦ Will Rogers ◦ Eddie Cantor ◦ Fanny Brice ◦ Bert Williams IRVING BERLIN • 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 Your Step. • In 1919, Ziegfeld commissioned Berlin to write the score for that year’s Follies. • His “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody” became the Follies’ unofficial theme– song. • 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. JEROME KERN • 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 stage. • 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 and Germany. • 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 American settings. ◦ 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. 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 and screen. • 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
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