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The Mid-Week Beat: 147 Years of the Musical!

Arts >

This week on the Mid-Week Beat, we pay tribute to the art of musical theater because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a musical? Okay, maybe some of you don’t but even the most ardent detractors of the art form will admit a love for at least one musical, be it West Side Story or Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

We can trace the roots of “musical theater” back to ancient Greece, where music and dance was incorporated into stage comedies and tragedies, but the modern Western “musical” as we know them, gained prominence in the late 19th Century with the basic structural elements established by the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in Britain and by Harrigan and Hart in America. The first modern “musical,” which is generally defined as a theatrical work that is enhanced by adding dance and original music to help tell the story, was The Black Crook, which debuted in New York on September 2, 1866. The show was five and half hours long and ran for a record-breaking 474 performances.

That record was broken in the late 1800’s by a series of long-running, family-friendly comic opera hits by309px-Circa-1879-DOyly-Carte-HMS-Pinafore-from-Library-of-Congress2 Gilbert and Sullivan including 1878’s H.M.S. Pinafore and 1885’s The Mikado. Gilbert and Sullivan revolutionized musical theater by creating examples of how to better integrate music into theatrical pieces so that the lyrics and dialogue advance the story and make it more coherent. Their works would influence many composers of subsequent musicals by the likes of Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein II and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

American composers like George and Ira Gershwin, Irivng Berlin and Rodgers and Hart would eventually take away Britain’s dominance in the musical theater world by replacing the operatic and theatrical styles of the 19th century with a modern approach more fitting to 20th century sensibilities. They began to incorporate popular musical styles like ragtime and jazz and, by the 1920s, the focus began to shift away from the plot and more towards star actors or actresses, big musical numbers and popular songs. Many of today’s “standards” were written during this time period and the careers of early Broadway legends like Fred Astaire were launched.

The advent of film killed vaudeville and other theatrical attractions but miraculously, the musicals survived. In fact, many consder the “Golden Age” of the musical to be 1940s to the 1960s, a time when Hollywood was flourishing. It was this time period that gave us timeless classics like Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music and, of course, West Side Story. All of which went on to become popular films as well.

Rock musicals like Hair and The Rocky Horror Picture Show would flourish in the 1970s alongside modern classics like Cabaret, Chicago and A Chorus Line, breathing new life into the musical and eventually leading into the “mega-musicals” of the 1980s like The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon and Cats. Since then, the musical has continued to thrive. Whether it be a re-telling of old musical classics like Grease or Fiddler on the Roof, musical versions of popular films like Hairspray or The Producers, “jukebox musicals” based on the music of popular recording artists like Rock of Ages (based on 80s classic rock hits) or Mamma Mia! (based on the music of ABBA) or edgy musicals that push boundaries like Urinetown or American Idiot. What’s become apparent is the musical isn’t going anywhere.

So, this week, as we approach the 147th anniversary of the modern musical, let’s celebrate all the great musicals coming up on Brown Paper Tickets’ site. Of course we can’t feature them all so feel free to put in “Musical” in the Keyword section of our search engine and find one near you. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 29 to Saturday, September 21 Grease – By Jim Jacobs & Warren CaseySanta Ana, California   Good girl Sandy and greaser Danny fall in love over the summer and are to be separated once school resumes. But … when the two unexpectedly discover they’re now in the same high school, will they be able to rekindle their romance, or is the pressure of ones peers gong to get the better of them?

Thursday, August 29 to Saturday, September 7 I Pr0ne: The Casting Couch Musical ComedyChicago, Illinois   Underscore’s flagship production of the season is a world-premiere musical comedy about the intersecting worlds of internet pornography, the justice system and the American family. An aspiring actress is dragged into the public spotlight as her video becomes the focus of a legal battle concerning exploitation in the adult entertainment industry. PrOne, a dark comedy, is equal parts raucous, poignant and provocative.

Thursday, August 29 to Saturday, September 14 I Sing, MuseAustin, Texas   Sing Muse–an original a cappella musical–returns to the Vortex with an all-new production where music and dance, comedy and tragedy, poetry and science come together to retell an ancient story of human love touched by divine inspiration.  The VORTEX transforms into the Theatre of Dionysus in beautiful downtown Athens! Few remember Thamyris, the once-legendary poet of Ancient Greece who was the first man to fall in love with another man. But the Muses remember. Thamyris claimed he could make art superior to the Muses’ and failed. After defeating him, they sentenced him to an eternity in Hell. However, eternity is a long time, and now The Muses will give Thamyris one last chance to redeem himself.

Thursday, August 29 to Sunday, September 8 I The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling BeeMammoth Lakes, California   In the Tony-Award winning musical comedy six lovable misfits, nerds, neurotics (and no jocks), hilariously captures the angst, exhilaration, and heartache that makes growing up so painful and so wonderful. The New York Times has called Spelling Bee “irresistible, riotously funny and remarkably ingenious.”

Friday, August 30 to Saturday, September 14 I Evil Dead: The MusicalDenver, Colorado   Based on Sam Raimi’s 80s cult classic films, EVIL DEAD tells the tale of 5 college kids who travel to a cabin in the woods and accidentally unleash an evil force. The songs are hilariously campy and the show is bursting with more farce than a Monty Python skit. EVIL DEAD unearths the old familiar story: boy and friends take a weekend getaway at abandoned cabin, boy expects to get lucky, boy unleashes ancient evil spirit, friends turn into Candarian Demons, boy fights until dawn to survive. As musical mayhem descends upon this sleepover in the woods, “camp” takes on a whole new meaning with uproarious numbers like “All the Men in my Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons,” “Look Who’s Evil Now” and “Do the Necronomicon.”

Friday, August 30 to Saturday, November 30 I Foodies! The Musical – San Francisco, California   San Francisco’s new hit comedy! The San Francisco Chronicle calls it “A hilarious musical comedy revue of songs and sketches about . . . food!” The SF Weekly says “Move over, GLEE, FOODIES! THE MUSICAL is here – a thorough skewering of ‘eating habits, restaurants, trends, quirks and more.” And, San Francisco Theatre District guide says “If you eat and drink, FOODIES! is for you.  Everybody’s gotta eat, but, not everybody can laugh at it.  Learn how it’s done from the talented cast of FOODIES! THE MUSICAL. Nobody’s food habits are sacred.  Grab a date with a sense of humor and get your tickets now.”

Saturday, September 7 to Saturday, November 2 I “Eeek! A Mousical” – The Fun New Family MusicalNew York, New York   The exciting new family musical is by Jack Dyville & John Stutte and will play with their “A Mermaids’ Tale” at STAGE 72 @ The Triad Theatre on an open-end, off-Broadway run. A perfect show for adults & children; this delightful musical reminds us all that it is okay to be different – and that it would be a pretty boring world if everyone was the same, and liked or disliked the exact same things!