The Musical Theatre – A History Chapter 5 - The Birth of Musical Comedy Chapter 6 – A New Century by John Kenrick To review… The Greeks developed tragedy and comedy containing elements of music and dance In the renaissance Court masques and entertainments gave rise to ballet and other spectacles In Italy, the Medici court developed an early form of opera that emerged in France under the pen of Lully (who was born in Florence) The Ballet was elevated to new heights by the Russians 1880-1899 “It Belong’d to My Father Before I Was Born” Offenbach wrote operettes and opera-bouffes Gilbert and Sullivan wrote comic operas Early American musicals were often called Extravaganzas or burlettas Many historians believe that British producer George Edwardes invented the term musical comedy with his The Geisha in 1896 But, did 1891’s A Trip to Chinatown or the popular Harrigan and Hart shows introduce the term? The Mulligan Shows (Ned) Harrigan had made his name as a comedian in the variety halls of San Francisco. (Tony) Hart was a stagestruck reform school escapee with a rare gift for stage comedy. They met the mid-1870s, and soon developed a routine that poked fun at New York's infamous neighborhood militias. When Harrigan and Hart reached New York, their "Mulligan Guard" act was such a sensation that it played the city's top variety theaters for more than a year. Inspired by this acclaim, the team expanded the act into The Mulligan Guard Picnic (1878), a forty minute sketch that packed audiences into Broadway's Theatre Comique for a month -a very healthy commercial run for that time. This became the first in a seven year series of full length musical farces. ‘Musical comedy’ was generally used in 19th-century America to describe loosely constructed musical shows. Then, when the popularity of operetta and comic opera waned in the 1890s, the London impresario George Edwardes attached the term to a livelier type of show that featured fashionable modern dress and elements of burlesque and music hall as well as comic opera. The new genre attained major international success with Sidney Jones's The Geisha ( 1896), actually described as a ‘musical play’ to indicate its more substantial plot and score. Both THE GEISHA and MULLIGAN’S GUARD PICNIC used original, popularstyle songs. But Harrigan and Hart (and composer Braham) do seem to have originated the form based upon the evidence of surviving texts. Both THE GEISHA and MULLIGAN’S GUARD PICNIC had their foundations in Vaudeville… Vaudeville By the 1880’s, the Industrial Revolution had changed the once rural face of America. Half of the population was now concentrated in towns and cities, working at jobs that left most of them with two things they never had back on the farm – a little spare cash and weekly leisure time. These people wanted affordable entertainment on a regular basis. Most variety shows were too coarse for women or children to attend, and minstrel shows were already declining in popularity. In a world where phonographs, film, radio and television did not yet exist, something new was needed to fill the gap. Vaudeville also tried to bridge a social gap that had divided American audiences ever since the upper and lower classes clashed in a deadly 1849 riot. Tony Pastor (1832-1908) • Tony Pastor was the first manager to present commercially successful "clean" variety. He earned fame as a variety vocalist, songwriter and manager on New York's Bowery. A devout Catholic and attentive father, Pastor wanted to provide family-friendly entertainment. When he started presenting a clean variety show at New York's Fourteenth Street Theatre on Oct. 24, 1881, the location said a great deal about his intentions. • As an early center for public transportation, Manhattan's Union Square district included most of New York City's top theatres, restaurants and shops. Respectable theatergoers had no objection to attending performances there. Albee and Keith Other producers soon picked up on this innovation. Beginning in Boston in 1883, Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward F. Albee used the fortune they made staging unauthorized productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to started build a chain of ornate theatres across the northeastern United States. Stealing Pastor's format, they instituted a policy of continuous multiple daily performances, which they called "vaudeville." The origins of the term vaudeville are unclear. Some sources claim the word was a bastardization of "voix de ville," French slang for "songs of the town" – others say it came from "vaux de Vire," fifteenth century satiric songs written by Olivier Basselin, a native of the Vire valley in Normandy. We get yet another explanation from vaudevillian Sophie Tucker in her autobiography Some of These Days (1945, pp. 155-156). Her agent, William Morris, claimed that a red windmill in the Vire valley started serving wine and cheese to farmers waiting to have their wheat milled. Traveling entertainers took advantage by performing for the crowd and passing the hat. This arrangement proved so popular that others soon copied it. Morris insisted this place not only gave birth to the term "vaudeville" – it also inspired the name of the popular Parisian nightclub Le Moulin Rouge ("The Red Mill"). Opera House in Kirksville, MO Keeping it clean As vaudeville spread through the United States, major theatre chains or circuits were built by Sullivan & Consodine, Alexander Pantages, film mogul Marcus Loew and others. All of them were tough businessmen, but no one could match Keith and Albee's cutthroat tactics, or their ruthless insistence that acts keep their material clean at all times. Small to Big Time More than 25,000 people performed in vaudeville over it’s 50-plus years of existence, working their way through the three levels defined by the trade newspaper Variety – "Small time" – small town theatres and cheaper theaters in larger towns. Performers made as little as $15 a week in the early years, closer to $75 over time. These often crude theatres were the training ground for new performers, or the place for old-timers on the skids to eke out a few final seasons. "Medium time" – good theaters in a wide range of cities, offering salaries of up to a few hundred dollars a week. Performers seen here were either on the way up or on the way down. "Big Time" – the finest theaters in the best cities, using a two performance-a-day format. Most big time acts earned hundreds per week, and headliners could command $1,000 a week -- or far more. An act could be darn near anything that was inoffensive and entertaining. A performer's gender, race and appearance were no barrier to success, and nothing was too eccentric if it gave an audience ten to fifteen minutes of diversion. While singers and dancers were part of every bill, the specialty acts set vaudeville apart – The bill… The bill… To cut down on squabbles among performers, theater owners came up with the idea of advertising acts in order of appearance, rather than order of importance. 1. The "Opening" was a "silent act" that would not be ruined by the bustle of an audience settling in. Acrobats or animal acts were ideal. For any other kind of act, getting booked in this spot was the ultimate insult. 2. Usually a "singing sister" or "dancing brother" act – in which the performers were not necessarily relatives. The youngest of the singing Gumm Sisters went on to fame after changing her name to Judy Garland, and the tap dancing Nicholas Brothers played this spot before becoming headliners 3. A comedy sketch or one-act play. These could be old melodramas with unknown casts or new works featuring top Broadway stars. Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel Barrymore, Walter Hampden and Helen Hayes toured in vaudeville. Alfred Lunt got his first big break touring actress Lillie Langtry. Some of the finest professional writers provided sketches and one-act plays for vaudeville use, including J.M. Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, George M. Cohan and W.S. Gilbert. 4. A novelty act or eccentric dance act was thrown into the fourth spot to liven things up. 5. This spot was reserved for rising stars or falling ones, to close out the first half of the program with a solid crowd pleaser. 6. After intermission came a "big" act involving a large set – choirs, novelty orchestras and top animal acts were typical choices for this slot. Above: Vaudeville act with Rose Louise (Gypsy Rose Lee) and June Hovick (June Havoc), ca. 1925 7. "Next to closing" was the star spot reserved for the headliner – usually a vocalist or comedian. Jack Benny, Sophie Tucker, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Marie Dressler, Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor were among the few headliners whose fame outlived vaudeville. Singer Kate Smith (remembered for introducing Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" on radio) was held over at the Palace by popular demand for eight weeks – making her the longest-running headliner that house ever had. 8. The "closing" spot was reserved for short films -- or annoying acts that might encourage patrons to leave before the next show. A clunky one-man band or a grating singer were typical closers Harrigan & Hart got their start in Vaudeville Tin Pan Alley By the 1890s, most of the music publishing firms in New York City had set up shop on a small strip of West 28th Street which soon became known as Tin Pan Alley. The name came to stand for American popular music for years to come. Vaudeville performers bought songs from composers and publishers and built them into popular songs. Other hit songs… One of the popular Tin Pan Alley songs from 1891’s A TRIP TO CHINATOWN was The Bowery It also introduced After the Ball “Stars” of Vaudeville Francis Wilson (1854-1935) came to fame in Erminie (1885) The Belle of New York (1897) was so popular in NYC that it played in London for 697 performances beginning in 1898 Weber and Fields met as schoolboys on the lower east side and made famous their Dutch characters: WEBER: Who vass dat lady I saw you wid last night? FIELDS: That was no lady, that was my wife. Fay Templeton (1865-1939) contralto was one of the early stars Soprano Lillian Russell (1861-1922)was one of its greatest stars Show BUSINESS Theatre owners became wealthy on the vaudeville circuit and with the growth of musical comedy. Albee and Keith made a fortune as managers. Their chief competitors, Klaw and Erlanger, eventually joined with Charles Frohman and others to form The Syndicate. Florenz Ziegfeld and George M. Cohan eventually joined the fray pitting one side against the other. The Shuberts eventually challenged the syndicate. Black Performers came to stardom on the Vaudeville Circuit… Ethel Waters (a.k.a. "Sweet Mama Stringbean") - who went on to Broadway and film stardom Ma Rainey - jazz vocalist Bert Williams - Ziegfeld Follies star Bessie Smith - jazz vocalist Bert Williams in a vaudeville sketch spoofing Jim Crow. Bill "Bojangles"Robinson - tap dance legend Ma Rainey and her band Early Black Musicals A Trip to Coontown (1898) Clorindy, The Origin of the Cakewalk (1898) In Dahomey (1903) featured Bert Williams and George Walker and the characters of Zip Coon and Jim Crow and eventually toured to London In 1908, Ziegfeld hired Williams for his Follies A New Century (1900-1913) “Whisper of How I’m Yearning” The acclaimed British musical comedy FLORADORA (1899) was an even bigger hit in New York than in London where it opened in 1900. It also generated scandal when one of its featured dancers, Evelyn Nesbit, had a prolonged affair with architect Stanford White before marrying industrialist Harry K. Thaw. In 1906, Thaw shot White to death during a performance at the Madison Square Garden rooftop theatre. It was the end of the gilded age Hundreds of immigrants and fortune-seekers were arriving in New York daily at the turn of the century…and these new citizens yearned for affordable entertainment The theatre district moved uptown to Times Square. By 1900… There were over 30 legitimate theatres on Broadway. And vaudeville houses were springing up all over the city and across the country. Family entertainment was especially popular. After a successful NY run, THE WIZARD OF OZ enjoyed a long tour. Victor Herbert The pre-eminent Broadway composer at the start of the 20th Century was a patriotic Irish immigrant. Trained in Europe, Victor Herbert was the longtime musical director of the prestigious Pittsburgh Symphony. He composed more than forty musical comedies and operettas for Broadway, becoming one of the most acclaimed popular songwriters of his time. Herbert's musicals (written with various collaborators) involved simple American goodness triumphing over Old World ways. His most famous works include – Babes in Toyland (1903 - 192), a childhood fantasy best remembered for its sentimental title song and the martial "March of the Toys." An attempt to copy the success of the musical hit The Wizard of Oz. Mlle Modiste (1905 - 202) told of an American shop girl who finds romance and operatic fame in Paris. Metropolitan Opera soprano Fritzi Scheff triumphed in the title role, introducing the wistful waltz "Kiss Me Again.” The Red Mill (1906 - 274) involved a pair of vaudeville comedians kidding their way through some minor adventures in Holland. A 1945 production starring Eddie Foy Jr. ran for 531 performances, becoming Broadway's first musical revival to outlast an original run. Naughty Marietta (1910 -136) told the story of a French noblewoman who flees the prospect of a loveless marriage to find love with an American soldier of fortune in colonial New Orleans. The score included "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.” Designed as a showcase for operatic voices, it is the only Herbert musical still performed with any regularity. (One of its songs -- "I'm Falling in Love With Someone" -- reappeared in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002). Attributes of American operetta… • • • • • • • Historic or exotic setting. The music rules. Music and lyrics are flowery and poetic. Romance, not sex, is main ingredient. Heroine is indecisive. Hero is stalwart and masculine. Class differences between leads is preferred. • Productions are handsome and lavish. • Comedy is a “spice” and must be used sparingly. • “Wit? Never heard of it. Whatever it is, it need not apply.” (117-118) Fritzi Scheff in the bejeweled costume she wore for the finale of Mlle. Modiste. Herbert’s lasting legacy • Enjoyed a long and successful career. • Babes in Toyland and Naughty Marietta are often reprised. • Strongly influenced Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers and Frederick Loewe. • Served as co-founder of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.) George M. Cohan Cohan became one of the most powerful producers in show business, forming a longtime partnership with Sam Harris. In fact, Cohan excelled in more capacities than anyone else in American theatrical history, before or since. Although he strongly denounced the formation of Actor’s Equity, he remains the only actor with a statue on Times Square. George M. Cohan was an Irish-American graduate of variety and vaudeville who wrote, directed, choreographed, produced and starred in jingoistic musical comedies that celebrated the triumph of American know-how and New York-style "street smarts." After limited runs on Broadway, where most critics frowned on Cohan's shameless, sentimental jingoism, these musicals toured the U.S., drawing packed houses for a year or more. Cohan's most memorable hits included – Little Johnny Jones (1904) featured Cohan as an American jockey who loses the English Derby, clears himself of false charges that he threw the race, and simultaneously wins the girl he loves. Cohan's first wife Ethel Levy played his beloved, and his parents played major comedy roles. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Give My Regards to Broadway" gave Cohan a national reputation. George M. Cohan and first wife Ethel Levy in Little Johnny Jones (1904). Forty-five Minutes From Broadway (1906 - 90) featured musical comedy favorite Fay Templeton as a small-town girl who would rather give up an inherited fortune than lose the poor street-smart New Yorker she loves (played by newcomer Victor Moore). The title song and "Mary's a Grand Old Name" became lasting hits, and Cohan took over Moore's role when the show was revived a few years later. George Washington Jr. (1906 - 81) opened a few weeks after Forty-five Minutes, with Cohan playing a senator's son who (in the name of patriotism) refuses to marry a British nobleman's daughter. The showstopper was "You're a Grand Old Rag," a tuneful tribute to the Stars and Stripes. The word "Rag" was switched to "Flag" after one of Cohan's critics instigated a journalistic outcry. The song remains a patriotic favorite. Cohan and his contemporaries helped to popularize the AABA form for popular songs… Most traditional showtunes have two parts – The verse sets up the premise of a song. For example, the verse of one popular Cohan hit begins "Did you ever see two Yankees part upon a foreign shore?," going on to explain that the one remaining behind will ask his friend one parting favor. The verse can be most any length. The chorus (or "refrain") states the main point of the lyric – "Give my regards to Broadway, remember me to Herald Square." Since the early 1900s, the choruses of most American popular songs have been thirty-two bars long. Those thirty two bars are usually divided into four sections of approximately eight bars each. Musicologists describe this as the AABA form – * A is the main melody, usually repeated three times – in part, so that it can be easily remembered. *B is the release or bridge, which should contrast as much as possible with melody A. The uniform use of this predictable format falls easily on the ear, making songs easy to listen to. It also forces composers and lyricists to make their points efficiently, acting more as a discipline than a limitation. From George M. Cohan to Jonathan Larson and beyond, modern Broadway songwriters have written most of their songs in the thirty-two bar AABA format. In fact, it remained the standard for all popular music until the hard rock revolution of the 1960s. AABA Song Form - "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" First A: Somewhere over the rainbow way up high Second A: Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue B Section: Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me Final A: Someday over the rainbow bluebirds fly... Ziegfeld Follies Florenz Ziegfeld's name has taken on legendary status, and remains familiar in an age that pays little attention to the theater. This son of a Chicago music professor produced his first Broadway musical in 1895, showcasing glamorous French chanteuse (and common-law wife) Anna Held. It was not until 1907 that Ziegfeld (at Held's suggestion) invented his now legendary Follies. In this ad found on the back of a program for Show Boat, Ziegfeld is quoted as saying that Lucky Strike cigarettes "most assuredly protect the voice." Ziegfeld Follies of 1912 A circus act Held and Ziegfeld took their inspiration from the Folies Bergere, a long-running Parisian revue that used skits and songs to spoof the social and political "follies" of the day, pausing for production numbers featuring legions of creatively under-dressed women. Ziegfeld gave this format an American spin with lavish production values and a wholesome, attractive female chorus. Out of consideration for the sensibilities of respectable theatergoers, the tone was sexy but never trashy. Because the superstitious Ziegfeld considered thirteen his lucky number, he gave his revue the thirteen letter name Follies of the Day, taken from the title of a popular newspaper column penned by librettist Harry B. Smith -- who Ziegfeld hired to write the libretto. One of Ziegfeld’s follies From the New York Times, reprinted May 2007. The Shubert Brothers had such success staging lavish "reviews" at the new Hippodrome Theatre from 1906 onwards that competing theatre owners Klaw and Erlanger were on the lookout for a promising alternative. They agreed to finance Ziegfeld's Follies, which affirmed its European pretensions by using the French spelling, "revue." Never one to turn down a good source of funding, Ziegfeld settled for the title of producer and a salary. Although Erlanger made suggestions, Ziegfeld was given a relatively free creative hand -- so long as he stuck to a production budget of $13,800, a small figure dictated by the show's limited summer run. Starting as three month summer event, the Follies proved so profitable that it immediately became an annual institution. From the beginning, Ziegfeld's "girlie" show was so respectable that wives were happy to attend with their husbands. Far larger than any cabaret production and more elaborate than vaudeville, the Follies was the ultimate in variety entertainment. Ziegfeld supervised more than twenty editions of the Follies, setting new artistic and technical standards for the professional theatre in America. The Follies were known for their beautiful women. Some of the Folly girls through the years The Passing Show (1894) The Follies was not the first Broadway revue. In 1894, THE PASSING SHOW played 121 performances. Stars sought out Ziegfeld to star in his annual show To read more about Ziegfeld and The Follies, click here. Nora Bayes A CHINESE HONEYMOON is a forgotten hit of the new century. A Chinese Honeymoon is a musical comedy in two acts by George Dance, with music by Howard Talbot and additional music by Ivan Caryll and others, and additional lyrics by Harry Greenbank and others. It opened at the Theatre Royal in Hanley, England in 1899 and then toured extensively. It also played at the Casino Theatre, in New York, opening on 2 June 1902 for a run of 376 performances. It was the first musical to run for 1,000 performances. The story concerns couples who honeymoon in China and inadvertently break the kissing laws (reminiscent of The Mikado). The Shubert Brothers Looking for a hit to solidify their place on Broadway, the Shubert Brothers produced the first American production of A CHINESE HONEYMOON. Bickering, bad luck and broken promises helped to establish the longstanding feud with “The Syndicate” (Erlanger, Frohman, etc.) The Merry Widow Although Broadway audiences took increasing pride in homegrown musical shows, in the early 1900s a European import became the biggest cultural phenomenon since H.M.S. Pinafore. In 1905 composer Franz Lehár convinced Vienna's prestigious Theatre An der Wein to premiere his new operetta Die Lustige Witwe. With librettists Victor Leon and Leo Stein, Lehar had created a seamlessly integrated musical masterpiece, with every number and bit of dialogue contributing something crucial. It was translated into more than a dozen languages. And its success kept confounding the experts. London producer George Edwardes was surprised when his staging of The Merry Widow (1907) became a runaway hit. Success in New York The first Broadway production of The Merry Widow at The New Amsterdam Theatre (1907) delighted Americans with its romance and refined sensuality. When the dashing Donald Brian whirled Ethel Jackson around the stage in what became known as "The Merry Widow Waltz" ("I Love You So"), they ignited a cultural firestorm. Several companies toured the USA, a full length parody version ran profitably in New York, and the waltz itself was heard everywhere. Its imitators included The Chocolate Soldier (1909) THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER by Oscar Straus, was an adaptation of Bernard Shaw’s ARMS AND THE MAN. Lily Elsie (Sonia) and Joseph Coyne (Danilo) in the original London production of The Merry Widow. Shaw hated it and refused to allow PYGMALION to be adapted as a musical until 1964, As the new century revved up, Broadway balanced the influence of European works by developing fresh theatrical trends. From African-American rhythms to "the glorification of the American girl," there was fresh excitement brewing on the street that--thanks to the invention of electric light--was coming to be known as "the Great White Way."