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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
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
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
    • 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.”
  • 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!



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

  • 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.