American Music Theatre from Kern to Sondheim

Essay by elephantjuissA+, May 2003

download word file, 8 pages 4.8 1 reviews

Downloaded 118 times

The American musical is a relatively new form which developed over the years leading up to the 20th century. In the romantic period, 'heavy' operas by composers such as Verdi and Puccini lead to a reaction in Europe where composers such as Offenbach began to write lighter comedy operas. In England during the late 19th century, Gilbert and Sullivan developed the form in their D'Oyly Carte opera productions. Speech was introduced, and the operettas developed until they were almost plays with songs. Also contrary to ideas at the time, they mocked Victorian social propriety and class distinction. When taken to America, these operettas made American counterparts such as 'The Black Crook' look unsophisticated, which lead to Gilbert and Sullivan increasing in popularity. Also popular in America at the time was Vaudeville, theatrical entertainment with combinations of songs, dances, comedy and acrobatics. This was strongly influenced by the style of Gilbert and Sullivan, and many Gilbert and Sullivan songs would have probably been performed in Vaudeville houses as there were no effective international copyright laws at the time.

The combination of these two genres lead to the development of the American musical, which was a show with a story line containing songs which could also be taken out and performed separately without loosing their appeal.

There was one obvious place where this new form could grow and develop. Broadway, New York, had been the centre of the music publishing industry in America for many years, and was the obvious place for composers to sell their work because of this and because of the money in the area - New York was the richest city in the world. The street gained the nickname 'Tin Pan Alley' because of the sound of pianos and other instruments playing music for potential customers in the...