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 • 3D: costumes, props, ruby slippers • Multi-media: Time Warner video • www.npg.si.edu/exh/rh&b
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 • 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 • 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 • 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 • 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 • 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 • 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. • “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 • 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 • 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 • 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 • 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 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 • 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
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? • 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 • 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 • 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 • 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 • 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 • 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-) • 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 • 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 • 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 • 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.