Broadway musicals have become a real brand. Hollywood stars then participate in local productions; and theater lovers eagerly read in the newspapers some reviews of new plays. The famous theatre was started as a minstrel show and the first theatre.
The Role of Minorities in Broadway Musicals
The minstrel theatre as a genre of the American origin appeared, according to researchers, between the 18th-19th centuries. All roles in the Minstrel Show were performed by men, originally being the white troupe of actors (Stempel 24). A basis of the plot was a comic presentation of the life of blacks and their owners. In the theatre of minstrels several types of characters have developed: a dressed in rags laborer, a simpleton, a dandy African-American and a rogue African-American. The African-American women were portrayed satirically stupid, but very sensual (Lewis 55).
Finally, the genre in all its components was formed by the middle of the 19th century. In this regard, a remarkable creative activity of D. Emmett and his Virgin of Minstrels have to be mentioned (Betz, Carnes, and American Council of Learned Societies 207).
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- The first part of his show was a song and some musical numbers, the performance of which was accompanied by a playful dialogue.
- In the second part, Olio, there were the scenes from the life of African dances (Lewis 59).
- The third part is a view similar to the ballad opera. And the reception was a brilliant use of intelligence of the city, which was to act as a theatre of minstrels. Before the troupe entered the city, the actor reconnaissance learned in advance all the local gossips and topical issues.
- Then, much to the delight of spectators, this information was used in a humorous satirical aspect, in the third part (Hischak 85).
The show was a success!
Of the particular importance to the American culture, there was the musical legacy that kept the theatre of minstrels. It has turned out that many African songs have come from Scottish and English songs. However, in the final version, they are a synthesis of the European and African musical thinking (Stempel 32). They have become a fount of creative American composers in the 20th century. It should be noted that in the heyday of the genre, to the end of the nineteenth century, many minstrel troupes were accompanied by a speech sound of the orchestra (Betz, Carnes and American Council of Learned Societies 210).
African-Americans were not considered by a minstrel theatre with its art. Moreover, presented in grotesque images, it evoked their contempt and resentment, although performers ridiculed not only blacks imitating them and white masters, but also the white masters depicting them boastful, haughty and often short-sighted (Green 76). Nevertheless, the image of a minstrel buffoon was received with resentment especially by the generation of the 1930s-1940s during the struggle of American blacks for their human rights (Betz, Carnes and American Council of Learned Societies 215).
At the present stage, these types of characters are present in the concert programs, for example, in the famous musical dance show River dance of 1996 and 1999 years. Several parts were addressed specifically to this heritage of the American culture. The major elements of the initial Broadway shows were revues.
Revue is a genre of the French origin, the peculiarity of which is similar to vaudeville. This pop display consists of parodies, comic numbers, songs, and dances. However, the vaudeville revue is used for a typical thematic unity of design and music (Betz, Carnes and American Council of Learned Societies 205).
A special role in the promotion of this genre in the American theatre scene was played by a director and producer F. Ziegfeld (Suskin 153). His productions have determined the face of Broadway theatre shows for many years. An undoubted advantage of revue Ziegfeld was a harmonious blend of the French and American elements in the representation, the reliance on high professionalism of all performers, directors and composers. The researchers of F. Ziegfeld’s creativity have noted that this was a highly paid work of all project participants. In the genre of the revue, such composers as I. Berlin, George Gershwin, W. Herbert, J. Kern, and others were working (Suskin 36).
A significant impact upon revue was caused by cinema, especially the emergence of the sound cinema. The musical revue absorbed ability to combine the most diverse and seemingly incompatible elements including jazz (Hischak 56).
Another significant part of Broadway shows was operetta. This genre originated in Europe in the middle of the 19th century. However, operetta was popular thanks to such European composers like Johann Strauss, Offenbach, and others. In America, this genre enjoyed a great success. In addition, the existence of the feature of European operetta in America gets a name change to operettas. For example, the operetta Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss was titled as The Merry Countess and displayed in 1912. Later, it appeared to be performed in 1929, under the title Amazing Night. As the researchers have noted most Americans of the last century drew creativity of British operetta’s composers. Much popularity was gained by the products of V. Gilbert and Sullivan A. Her Majesty’s Frigate that was formed in 1878 and then The Mikado in 1885 (Suskin 19).
Under the influence of European and American operettas, there The First Team Brighton Patrolled by JS Kraus, Desert by D. Buck in 1880, and The Little Tycoon by Spencer W. in 1887 appeared. The heyday of American operetta’s composers is associated with the names of R. Coven, G. Cracker, G. Lauders, Romberg B., Prick-Bertha, and others (Suskin 55).
The Americans imitated the European operetta, its romanticism and exoticism. Nevertheless, the theatricality definitely attracted, but did not meet the needs of modern times and the needs of the society. Reality, topical satire and humor, connectedness with the American reality are the elements that were necessary and interesting to the American public. So the answer to the problem, opposed to other genres and the operetta, was a musical, which absorbed all the best from its predecessors.
It is important to mention the role of jazz in the musical. Jazz and musicals were the brainchildren of one time basis and the musical language of performances in the 20th century becoming jazz. However, in its pure and original form, jazz could not be used in a musical score. It is well known that the core of jazz is rhythm and improvisation. The latter one was not possible to dynamically pull, which musical is. Improvisation in jazz is a free and creative artist’s statement, which cannot be constrained by time. The most important thing is to express an idea. The musical is a surprisingly dynamic performance where the effectiveness is very significant. So the musical language of the genre comes primarily by jazz rhythm, harmony, the style of performance as instrumental and vocal, characteristic sounds, wind and percussion instruments.
The names of the composers of the American musical, which was synthesized in its work elements of jazz, symphonic thinking, pop songs are well known. Their works constitute the wealth of the musical culture. They are Arlene G., Berlin I., Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin and others (Suskin 4). The history of the musical genre spans a century. This original creation has been much associated with the existing culture in the American theatrical genres like revue, vaudeville, and operetta. Thus, the first two decades of the 20th century were marked by a gradual growth of the economic welfare of the country. They have generated the extraordinary demand for entertainment genres contributing to the growing popularity of jazz. But, as the researchers note, subjects were superficial. They were dominated by the operetta to a greater extent. A significant step towards the formation of a new genre, i.e. the musical, was done by Showboat by J. Kern in 1921 and A Connecticut Yankee by R. Rogers in 1927. The latter one was based on the novel written by Mark Twain (Filichia 45). They differed from the earlier performances as they seriously had affected the depth of the problems in conjunction with brightness, dynamic and spectacular views.
The third decade of the 20th century was a very difficult period for the American theatre due to the economic crisis of 1929 in the United States. Many theaters were closed due to the fact that the ticket to the cinema was much cheaper than theatrical. Operettas, revues, and musicals have become a fertile basis for the film industry.
The musical continued as a genre and changed qualitatively, enriching some social problems to its topical nature. For example, such satirical musicals by Gershwin as Grand Orchestra in 1930 and Of Thee I Sing in 1931 ridiculed the corruption of those ones in power, the electoral system, and some political machinations. In the same vein, there are the musicals Facing the Music by E. Berlin in 1932, Johnny Johnson by K. Weill in 1936 and many others devoted to this topic (Filichia 117).
The trend towards some more diverse musicals has continued in the 1940s. It covered the following themes: folklore and legends of the African Americans, i.e. Cabin in the Sky by V. Duke; a psychoanalysis Lady in the Dark by K. Weill; the Civil War in Annie, Take the Gun by E. Berlin, the World War II in In the South Pacific by R. Rogers, and the American image during the pre-industrial era were depicted in Oklahoma by R. Rogers (Stempel 318). In parallel with the expansion of musical themes, there was an improved form. At this time, in the American musical, the significant role of sculpture and dance dominated the performance, for example, in the musical On Pointe by R. Rogers.
In the 1950s-1960s, in the fate of the musical genre, there were truly stellar. Its themes expanded the boundaries that had been formed; and the expressive musical emerged. At this time, the genre was characterized by the high professionalism of its creators. The international fame on the stage was later acquired in cinematography performances. Among the most popular ones there are My Fair Lady by Frederick Loewe of 1956, The West Side Story by Bernstein L. of 1957, The Sound of Music by R. Rogers in 1959, Hello, Dolly by J. Herman in 1964, Cabaret by J. Kander in 1966 and many others (Suskin 10).
However, the 1960s became the time of the crisis beginning for the musical genre. The coming era of the rock movement brought the new problems, i.e. acute, civil, social and topical. The musical entertainment with its predominantly oriented themes became temporarily irrelevant. The development of the Broadway Theatre does not stop even today. Theatres are looking for some new solutions and approaches to provide viewers for the Broadway show.
Nowadays Broadway is a synonym for the commercial theatre, the embodiment of the proverbial American dream. Now, there are only 26 theatres compared to 80 ones in the 1920s. Much has changed, including the cost of performance. Before the war, the play cost has been $10 thousand contrary to the contemporary price of $10 million (Stempel 456). However, for the money, the viewers get the enchanting sight: the amazing scenery, catchy melodies; choreography of the highest level, beautiful voices, dynamics, colors, and etc. The artists’ work flat out completely; they play with passion, being uninhibited and free, demonstrating the high level of professionalism. The last performance should not differ from the premiere: people pay for tickets a lot of money. The flowering of the modern musical is associated with the name of the composer Lloyd Webber, a director Trevor Nunn and a producer Cameron Mackintosh. It all started with the grand success of the play Cats, based on the Book of Practical Cats written by Thomas Elliott. It had been lasting in the Broadway Show Theatre for 18 years and took place in the Winter Garden. Over the years, there were completely 3 of the principal performers replaced. The themes have changed and tended to have more open views and disclose problems that there were earlier.
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There is a great impact on Broadway of the creative efforts of sexual minorities, especially in the performances with homosexually (Benton 59). But among them there is the only noteworthy performance of Minetta Lane Theatre called Jeffrey. The subtle humor and skills of its creators were able to defeat the prejudice of the audience. The rest of the presentation of this kind, including the sensational show Whoop-Dee-Doo, are the lack of professionalism and the poor pictorial means that resemble amateur theatricals.
The best remake of the year in this thematic network is called The Normal Heart, staging Larry Kramer. Her first appeared on Broadway a quarter century ago. This play addresses the problem of the emergence of the AIDS in New York City and the problems of sexual minorities (Benton 148). The performance and its recognized problems are still relevant. In the same category, the musical award went to Anything Goes by Cole Porter (Benton 103).
One of the beginners of the open demonstration and protection of rights of sexual minorities was Mae West. The first starring role on Broadway was in her own play, which she called Sex. Despite the terrible criticism, the tickets for the show were sold out very quickly. The opponents of her play yet have achieved the result that the show was discontinued. West with her troupe was arrested. She was accused of moral indecency, and, on 19 April 1927, she was sentenced to ten days in jail. However, she was released after 8 days for the good behavior. This episode of her life brought Mae only benefits, as her popularity has grown rapidly.
Her next play Hitch was not less controversial, as it covered a homosexual theme and talked about the work of Karl Heinrich Ulrich. The play was a huge hit on the stage, but it was staged only in New Jersey. It was banned on Broadway. Mae was one of the first ones being not afraid to talk openly about sex. She was also was one of initiators of the movement for the rights of sexual minorities.
Speaking about the contemporary Broadway shows, they have diverse programs that cover a number of social, political, gender, professional, sexuality and other themes. The composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim said that he decided to turn his protagonist of the popular 1970s’ musical Company into a gay. This was reported by The New York Times. The author of the original version of the musical is currently working on its transformation along with the director John Tiffany. The latter one created the musical Once.
The first private screening of the show took place on 18 October 2013. After this, the representatives of the company Roundabout producing the show will determine the further fate of the musical. Roundabout often holds similar displays for the company’s management, after which they cancel a number of productions.
All changes in the musical will be based on a sexual orientation change of the protagonist named Bobby. Bobby dating many girls will turn into many young guys in the new version. The main theme is the protagonist’s inability to create a family and his fear of commitment in a relationship will remain unchanged.
It is still a musical about family ties. Just the marriage in 2013 looks very different than that in the 70s. They are not dealing with the issue of gay marriage as such, but on the question of relations in the new version, they look from a different point of view. This was the main idea of the interview with Sondheim in The New York Times. The composer has noted that he rewrites the musical, but just a little, correcting some dialogues and monologues.
The action in the musical Company, which was released for the first time on Broadway in April 1970, is set in New York and describes the relationship of several couples and their friend Robert (Bobby). He dates to many women, but cannot marry. Critics and audiences have repeatedly speculated that Bobby is not able to start the family because he is a hidden gay. However, Stephen Sondheim and his collaborator George Firth always rejected this version.
The original production of Company has withstood more than 700 shows on Broadway. It was awarded 15 nominations for the major American theatre award Tony and won in six categories, including the Best Musical. The musical libretto was translated into several languages. The show actions place in Brazil, Singapore, Germany, Italy and other countries. Their versions of the play were done by many well-known theatre and film directors, including Sam Mendes.
Broadway has a long history of its development. It presents an example of the greatest birth of the most amazing theatrical shows in the world. Theatre actors and actresses dream to be able to sing on its stages and perform in its plays. Broadway Shows are of the great interest for the tourists all over the world. At the same time, it is one of the spectators of the social, political and economic changes in the society and the whole country. Social problems and tendencies have been reflected in the plays since its beginning. It started with minstrel shows and the African-American problem and developed to a wider approach to the problems of sexual and other minorities. The spectators of the show can see the show and get to know more about the particular culture and its history. As a matter of fact, Broadway is a live history of the whole nation and the whole country.