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An over View of the Broadway Musical, Up to and Including Show Boat.

In: Film and Music

Submitted By dinahmay
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An over view of the Broadway Musical, up to and including Show Boat.

Early 1900’s New York City and the operetta was becoming quite popular; a mix of music and drama, it’s influences stretched back as far as Greek theatre and other types of European opera. No doubt at the time it held some sort of retro appeal.

In London a similar movement was taking place, more influenced by a vaudevillian styling, it was more comedic; designed specifically for soldiers on leave (the idea was to bolster morale, hence why theatres stayed open during the course of World War One) This style of musical comedy was also characterised by the incorporation of popular song and dance styles.

Fast forward to 1920’s/1930’s and, much like the emigration of disco in the 90’s in reverse, these styles combined to form the precursor to the known Musical. The Term ‘Musical’ itself was used in generality to describe the form and, obviously, stuck.

This emerging form featured the use of contemporary song styles, primarily Jazz and Rag-Time, Jerome Kern’s incorporation of syncopation and Jazz-like progression into many of his songs. Popular Dance element in any production and thusly, dance bands influenced the traditional pit orchestra; jazz elements again more prominent with the use of muted brass and Jazz style piano.

The rising popularity of radio broadcasting was instrumental in the expanding appeal of the musical from 1920’s-40’s.

Probably the most important development of this new form was the co-existence of the music and story; the songs would be fully integrated into the plot and action, sometimes furthering the narrative or even providing context, creating mood and supplying the audience with background information in a fun way.

On top of Jerome Kern, certainly one of the most prolific song-writers of his time, you had people like Cole Porter, a Broadway playboy of sorts, famous for both his excessive lifestyle and the fact he wrote both the music and lyrics for his songs. There was Kurt Weill, prominent for propagating his socialist views in the songs he wrote.

There were also many collaborators over this period, such as Rodgers and Hart, another musically creative powerhouse, writing over 500 songs and working on approximately 28 musicals. The Gershwin Brothers are an interesting coupling, sibling rivalry usually stifling creativity!

I Joke! George, the younger of the brothers was an experienced classical composer and his numerous works have been used on radio and television since. He and his lyricist elder brother worked together on some dozen or so Broadway shows.

I finally come to Jerome Kern (from earlier) and Oscar Hammerstein II, better worded Kern and Hammerstein, who composed and wrote the lyrics for arguably the most seminal Broadway piece, a musical that would irrevocably influence all that came after. I am, of course, talking about showboat.

Dominant themes include racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love; such serious plot devices were completely radical for the American musical up until this point. The racial themes were best characterized by the heavy influence of ‘black’ musical types such as rag-time.

Showboat stood out for the quality of music especially, something which both critics and audience recognised, particularly its Libretto, seen as especially good for music of its time although the typically happy ending did attract some criticism for its apparently contrived nature.

In spite of the small criticism it attracted, it was seen as a daring theatrical leap in a genre populated almost solely by ‘silly’ musicals. Showboat in my opinion is the most influential American Musical of the last hundred years as it ushered in a completely new and genuine style of musical that would be built on for years to come; all in time for the 1940’s!…...

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