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Musical Theatre
musical (noun):
a stage, television or film production
utilizing popular-style songs dialogue optional - to either tell a
story (book musicals) or showcase
the talents of the writers and/or
performers (revues).
We know that the ancient
Greeks included music
and dance in their stage
comedies and tragedies as
early as the 5th Century
The songs were often a
means for the chorus to
comment on the action,
but they also took part in
the plot, and musical solos
were not unheard of.
The Romans copied and expanded the forms
and traditions of Greek theatre. The Third
Century B.C. comedies of Plautus included
song and dance routines performed with full
orchestrations. To make the dance steps more
audible in large open air theatres, Roman
actors attached metal chips called "sabilla" to
their stage footwear – the first tap shoes.
In the Middle Ages, Europe's cultural
mainstays included traveling minstrels and
roving troupes of performers that offered
popular songs and slapstick comedy.
 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, and comic
operas, with original scores and mostly
romantic plot lines, like Michael Balfe's The
Bohemian Girl (1845).
The earliest American
musicals were comic
operas (satirical
operas with original
scores and libretti)
The Park Theatre was New York's first world class entertainment venue.
Seen at the center of this period print, it stood just across from City Hall
Park from 1798 to 1848.
By the 1850’s, most Broadway theatre
companies ran varied repertories, so it
was rare for a single production to rack up
more than a dozen performances. In most
cases, the scripts for these disposable
entertainments are long-since lost, so we
cannot be sure exactly what they were
Broadway soon developed
a homegrown form of
musical theatre, sometimes
defined by scholars as
burlesque extravaganzas.
Produced with lavish stage
effects, these musicals
spoofed anything from
literary classics to
contemporary celebrities,
poking fun simultaneously
at any number of targets.
The form we know as
musical comedy was
born on Broadway in a
series of shows starring
Edward Harrigan and
Tony Hart. Produced
between 1878 and
1884, these musical
comedies featured
characters and
situations taken from
the everyday life of New
York's lower classes.
Beginning in the 1870s, William S. Gilbert and
Arthur Sullivan revolutionized the musical theatre,
creating witty, melodic operettas that set a new
standard for stage professionalism. 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.
The late 1920s saw the birth of a new performing
art, musical film. Although popular, the earliest
Hollywood musicals were clumsy, and it would be
several years before filmmakers recognized this
new genre's unique artistic needs and possibilities.
Walt Disney had been turning out animated
short films for years, but industry experts
scoffed at his plans for a full-length animated
musical. Many believed there was little of any
audience for such a project. Thanks to Disney's
insistence on quality, Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs (1937) was as expensive to
produce as most live-action films. However,
Snow White's visual beauty and genuine sense
of wonder made it a sensation with all age
Rodgers and
neither a typical musical
comedy nor an operetta:
every element moves the
plot forward
Wartime audiences loved
the all-American show
backers saw a 2,500%
return on their
Before Oklahoma, composers and lyricists
were songwriters – after Oklahoma, they
had to be dramatists, using everything in
the score to develop character and
advance the action.
 The diverting dance routines of the past
were replaced by choreography that
helped tell the show's story.
 Oklahoma was also the first Broadway
musical to have every major number
recorded by the full original cast and
Set a new record as
Broadway's longest running
It had enough low comedy and
general goodwill to entertain
almost anyone
the most commercially
successful 1970s rock musical
The 1978 big screen version
became the highest-grossing
musical in Hollywood history
By 1979, most Broadway musicals cost
over $1,000,000 a piece, and operating
expenses were so high that even a yearlong run could not guarantee a profit.
Some blamed the volatile economy, but no
one could pretend that inflation had run at
a rate of 400 percent!
Andrew Lloyd Webber
and director Trevor Nunn
reshaped the theatrical
landscape with Cats
(1982 ), a musical based
on T.S. Eliot's Old
Possum's Book of
Practical Cats. They
emphasized aerobic
dance, high-tech effects
and heavy-duty
marketing tactics.
The revolutionary thing about Cats was
not the show on stage – it was the
marketing. Before this, most musicals
limited their souvenirs to photo programs,
songbooks and T-shirts. Cats splashed its
distinctive logo on all kinds of things!
By the late 1990’s, almost every show that
made it to Broadway was a corporate
product. With the average musical budget
running over $8,000,000, it took a lot of
people to finance a show, and they all
wanted some say in the production. This
left no room for amateurs or rebels.
From 1943 to the mid-1960s, Broadway musicals
could be mounted for under $250,000, and a
well-managed production could turn a solid
profit in less than a year. Now physically simple
productions like Rent can cost $3,000,000 or
more, while The Producers is rumored to have
cost over $10,000,000. Even with ticket prices
topping $110, shows can run for several years
and still close at a loss. The combined effects of
inflation and too many people demanding a
bigger share of potential profits take a mounting
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.