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American Musical Theater: a century of production Making of an Exhibit Red, Hot & Blue: In research & production seven years Nat’l Portrait Gallery/American History Sought to infuse museum w/ musical life Not just flat portraiture Posters, playbills, set design

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american musical theater

American Musical Theater:

a century of production

making of an exhibit
Making of an Exhibit
  • Red, Hot & Blue:
    • In research & production seven years
    • Nat’l Portrait Gallery/American History
    • Sought to infuse museum w/ musical life
    • Not just flat portraiture
    • Posters, playbills, set design
    • 3D: costumes, props, ruby slippers
    • Multi-media: Time Warner video
    • www.npg.si.edu/exh/rh&b
street scene 1866 1906
Street Scene, 1866-1906
  • Bowery: 1880s
    • Minstrelsy still popular
    • Variety shows: bawdy pastiche
      • Played in saloons
      • Catered to illiterate audiences
      • Exaggerated skits and parodies
      • Spectacle appealed to non-English speakers
      • Limited appeal because of reputation
    • Tony Pastor catered to middle class
      • “Cleaned up” variety shows
      • Appealed to a wider audience . . .
street scene 1880s
Street Scene: 1880s
  • Vaudeville: 1890s
    • Derived from minstrelsy and circus
      • “Olio” (series) of specialty acts/skits
      • Marketed as family entertainment
      • New York Herald: “rowdyish and troublesome elements” eliminated
    • From Bowery to Broadway
      • Pastor architect of popularity
      • Featured tightrope acts, Magic Flute, and everything in between
vaudeville ellis island
Vaudeville & Ellis Island
  • Popular acts = immigration pattern
    • Blackface -> Irish -> “Dutch” (German)
  • Harrigan & Hart: Irish
    • Acts relied on parodies of Bowery life
    • Mimicked countrymen & others
  • Weber & Fields: Polish Jews
    • Slapstick, parody
    • Rooted in everyday experience
  • Williams & Walker: cakewalk
    • In Dahomey – performed for Queen
tin pan alley early 1900s
Tin Pan Alley – early 1900s
  • Named for cacophony of song plugs
  • Before 1900 “plugging” by minstrels
  • Oliver Ditson & Co. also sold choral music, sacred music, chamber music
  • From old-school gents to Bohemian
  • Witmark, Stern followed profits
    • Published “coon songs” and ragtime
  • Song pluggers travelled to music halls, jockeying for position
  • Composers a licentious group
larger marketplace
Larger Marketplace
  • Producers send shows on tours
  • August: theater owners went to NYC to lure show “direct from Broadway”
  • Agents combine into Syndicate
    • Network of 700 theaters
    • Centralization = NYC popularity
    • Little attention to local tastes
vaudeville operetta to musical
Vaudeville & Operetta to Musical
  • Craze for light opera
    • Lillian Russell
    • Retained European flair
  • Victor Herbert
    • Made music central, not just enhancement
    • Integrated music and story
    • Babes in Toyland, Naughty Marietta
  • George M. Cohan
    • Could “carry” a show
    • Lent coherence to form
    • “Give My Regards to Broadway”
  • Vaudeville grad. becoming mainstream
rise of the impresario 1907 1927
Rise of the Impresario, 1907-1927
  • Ziegfeld Follies 1907 - 1943
    • Professional staff
      • Joseph Urban
    • Lavish settings, costumes
    • More attention to staging
    • “Topical comedy”
    • Feminine - er, appeal
    • Narrative loosely tied acts together
    • Stars: Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor
  • Produced “Showboat” 1927
rise of the impresario cont
Rise of the Impresario, cont.
  • “Messrs Shubert”:

Lee and J.J. Shubert

    • Imitated Ziegfeld style
    • Did not aspire to art
    • Theater “machine that

makes dollars”

    • Encouraged individual (often native) performance styles in entertainers
    • Shubert Alley 44th/45th St., national
  • Al Jolson
jerome kern s show boat
Jerome Kern’s Show Boat
  • Equal importance to story, music, and character
  • All-star production team:
  • Lyrics-libretto Hammerstein
  • Produced by Flo Ziegfeld
  • Designed by Joseph Urban
  • American sentiments in an American idiom
  • “Ol’ Man River”
  • Descendants 10 years later
  • Depression = escapism
b way hollywood 1927 1942
B-way & Hollywood, 1927-1942
  • Jazz Singer =“talkies” + musicals
  • Berkeley: Warner Bros film director
    • Elevated dance to critical acclaim
  • In movies, camera determines gaze
  • Shot and edited with one camera
  • Used fountains, elaborate costuming, cast of thousands, girlsgirlsgirls
  • RKO: Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers
    • “Each dance ought to spring somehow out of character or situation, otherwise it is simply a vaudeville act.”
fair and balanced biography
Fair and Balanced Biography
  • Biographical conventions
  • 1800s
    • Sing the subject’s praises
    • No unwarranted private information
  • 1900s
    • “Tell it like it is”
    • More smarmy details
  • A.S. Byatt
    • Biography should give factual information, make no inference
george gershwin 1898 1937
George Gershwin 1898-1937
  • Straddled popular and classical genres
    • Tin Pan Alley song plugger
    • Studied harmony & composition
  • Musical theater: 24 scores, enduring songs popular today
  • Orchestral/instrumental works
    • Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, Three Preludes for Piano, An American in Paris
  • www.gershwin.com
george and ira
George and Ira

Collaborated on two dozen scores together

Ira later collaborated with Kurt Weill, Burton Lane, Harold Arlen

  • Fascinatin’ Rhythm: retrofitted lyrics
  • Unusual rhymes: I’m bidin’ my time,

‘Cuz that’s the kinda guy I’m . . .

  • Word Play: Love is Sweeping the Country

Waves are hugging the shore . . .

political operettas
Political Operettas
  • Strike up the Band – 1928
    • Commercial, but not critical success
  • Of Thee I Sing – 1930
    • Wintergreen runs for Pres on platform of love: contest for fiancee
    • Pokes good-natured fun at electorate
    • Won Pulitzer Prize
  • Let ’Em Eat Cake – 1933
    • Commercial flop
    • Too sardonic for Depression audiences
slide17
Schoenberg:
    • Many musicians do not consider George Gershwin a serious composer. But they should understand that, serious or not, he is a composer—that is, a man who lives in music and expresses everything, serious or not, sound or superficial, by means of music, because it is his native language. There are a number of composers, serious (as they believe) or not (as I know), who learned to add notes together. But they are only serious on account of a perfect lack of humor and soul.
gershwin jazz composer
Gershwin: jazz composer?
  • Regarded as such in his lifetime
  • Jazz emerging, not clearly defined
  • Deems Taylor: Gershwin “a link between the jazz camp and the intellectuals”
  • Gershwin on jazz
porgy bess
Porgy & Bess
  • African American cast, set in South
    • “Blue” motives urban/rural
  • Four characters recurring motifs
  • Connections, musical foreshadowing
  • Armitage: “In P&G is a promise of a future Gershwin operain which he might have been able to eliminate even the aria.”
curtain
Curtain
  • Died at age 38 from brain tumor
  • Oscar Hammerstein:

Our friend wrote music

And in that mould he created

Gaiety and sweetness and beauty

And twenty-four hours after he had gone

His music filled the air

And in triumphant accents

Proclaimed to this world of men

That gaiety and sweetness and beauty

Do not die . . .

broadway hollywood
Broadway & Hollywood
  • Golden Era of musicals:
    • Oklahoma, Wizard of Oz, Carousel, South Pacific, Sound of Music, King & I, My Fair Lady, Meet Me in St. Louis, Music Man
  • Composers/Lyricists:
    • Lerner & Loewe, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Bernstein & Sondheim, Comden & Green, Frank Loesser, Meredith Willson
  • Choreographers:
    • Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins
  • Designers: Harold Prince, Oliver Smith
oklahoma 1943
Oklahoma - 1943
  • Ran on Broadway 2,248 performances
  • 10+ years touring
  • Most successful to date
  • R&H worked forward from setting & story
  • No “show stopping”
  • Opening/Act I Finale: this will be different!
  • Agnes de Mille choreo
  • Wartime optimism, “open air spirit”

Live and in person!

Oklahoma,

Cabaret,

Jason Robert Brown

west side story
West Side Story
  • Recasting of Romeo & Juliet in NYC
  • Shows constraints of art. difficulty:
    • Needed dancers who could handle Robbins’ choreo
    • Didn’t get “real” singers
    • Arthur Laurents insisted no opera!
  • Bernstein recorded w/opera singers and symphonic players
  • Opportunity to explore rehearsal process

DVD #1, 8, 10

redefinition 1960
Redefinition (1960-)
  • Boundary-pushing:
    • Hair, Pippin, Cabaret: sex, drugs
    • Godspell: Jesus as . . . game show host?
    • Tommy: rock music
    • Cabaret: Nazi Germany
    • RENT: AIDS
  • New forms of musical
    • Twyla Tharpe/Billy Joel dance-ical
  • Twist on familiar story: Wizard of Oz
    • The Wiz (African American retake)
    • Wicked (told from Witches’ POV)
different forms of revival
Different forms of revival
  • Disney: animated musicals
    • Little Mermaid, Aladdin, B&B, Lion King
    • Many are revivals of familiar stories
    • Use popular composers for theme song
  • Chicago, Moulin Rouge, RENT, Phantom of the Opera, Annie
    • Revivals of popular musicals
  • Stage versions of opera
    • Aida, RENT (Boheme), M. Butterfly
new compositions
New compositions
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
    • Dave Zabriskie: video games/slots
    • Musical version of traditional story
    • Premiered Oct. 29, 2004
    • Croswell Opera House
    • Lyricist looked online for composers
    • Only five pieces written when booked
    • Still being written during rehearsal!
    • DVD recorded for marketing purposes
    • “Ichabod Crane” and composer to NYC

#26 DVD

references
References
  • Armitage, M. (1938). George Gershwin. New York: Longmans, Green & Co.
  • Crawford, R. (2001). An introduction to America’s music.New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
  • Ewen, D. (1970). George Gershwin, his journey to greatness. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.
  • Gershwin, G. (1926). Does jazz belong to art? In G. Suriano (Ed.), Gershwin in his time. New York: Gramercy Books.
  • Henderson, A. & Blocker Bowers, D. (1996). Red, hot & blue: a Smithsonian Salute to the American Musical. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press.
  • Jablonski, E. & Stewart, L.D. The Gershwin years. New York: Doubleday & Co.
  • Peyser, J. (1993). The memory of all that. New York: Simon & Schuster.
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