The history of musical theatre is deep long and of course dramatic! Many people wander off the street into a Sydney Recording Studio to lay down their musical theatre demo.
The ancient roots of Musical Theatre
Most people think of Rogers and Hammerstein and the banging tunes of the 40’s and 50’s. While this has been the focus of Musical theatre over the past century it actually has its roots far earlier.
The Greeks kicked it off in fact! Needless to say we don’t have any recordings of this or any written music but plenty was written about it. Most of the musical performances were connected to the god Dionysus who was the god of wine and celebration. Aristophanes and Eurypides wrote famous plays that would have been sung in Greek Theatre. Essentially its the age old tradition of music giving much more life and power to words!
However we can’t talk much about that simply because its all hearsay. Similarly there were patches of medieval history that encompassed travelling minstrels. The minstrels would tell a story in song and act out various themes to a hungry audience. A good Sydney voice over studio will do great justice to historical readings about musical theatre.
The influence of Opera and classical music
Opera could be said in some way to be connected to musical theatre (though it takes on a very different form) John Gay wrote the famous Beggar’s Opera in the early 18th century and incorporated popular tunes of the day. Yet the musical theatre we are most familiar with probably was most influenced by the French and Austrian Operettas of the 19th century. Johann Strauss the second wrote romantic comedies which were widely acclaimed. Opera and classical singing is still recorded regularly at Sydney Recording Studio Crash Symphony Productions.
Operettas and Minstrel shows
These operettas somehow combined with the Variety and Minstrel Shows that toured the USA and evolved into Vaudeville. Possibly the first musicals in this style were the comic Operettas of Gilber and Sullivan. The wit, musical brilliance and flow of these shows set the standard be.ore the year 1900. In the early 20th Century it was American writers like Jerome Kern and P.G> Wodehouse that popularised their slant of musical theatre. A flurry of composers followed these guys influenced by the growing jazz movement. Composers like Rodgers and Hart (Fly with me, The Garrick Gaeities, Peggy-Ann, Chee-Chee, Heads up) continued to develop the genre. Minstrel shows and Operettas can be captured in a good Sydney voice over studio.
Gershwin burst onto the scene in the 1930’s with comedies like “Of Thee I Sing” (a Pulitzer Prize winning effort). Cole Porter was right on his heals with the famous hit “Anything Goes” in 1934. Gershwin was a master at using jazz chords and rhythm and combining them with classical and impressionist orchestration. His musical accompaniments were sweet and rich. Furthermore they were relatable and had characters that inspired the audience. Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get your Gun” was a smash hit and had songs that leaked onto the radio as singles. A good Sydney sound studio can bring out the best in any musical theatre hopeful.
New York was the melting pot for most of these works and the focal point was Broadway. This region of the city had multiple cities (currently a total of 41 theatres) and developed musical theatre to its high point. Th 2018/19 season recorded nearly 15 million ticket sales!
Broadway began on Nassau Street (1753) where Shakespeare plays and the formerly mentioned opera The Beggars Opera were staged. This was followed by the Park Theatre on Chatham Street which was built just after the revolution. PT Barnum had a big theatre in Lower Manhattan which added to the cascade. Gradually throughout the 1800’s theatres began to multiply. All types of people attended the theatre. Poorer folk would save for a special outing and richer folk condsideered it part of their social fabric. A famous story involved the Astor Opera House which opened in 1847. The lower-class patrons of the Bowery objected to the snobbery of the upper class audiences at Astor Place and rioted! Broadways first long running show was The Elves in 1857. This lead to a history of show runs and is a testament to the popularity of the shows.
The evolution of styles in musical theatre
Another milestone in musical theatre history is the masterpiece Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. It was based on the novel by Edna Ferber. It follows the lives of the performers on a stage boat called the Cotton Blossom. The producer was Florenze Zeigfeld. It was a very different musical because it took on more serious unertones with theme and musicality. This distinguished it from the thus far employed “musical comedy”. Yet it had plenty of comedy woven throughout the story.
Into the 1960’s and beyond
The post war tradition of comedy and jazz music fuzed with classical continued into the 1960’s. Hello Dolly and Fiddler on the Roof were huge successes. People always seemed to hunger for this style (even to this day). Yet people began to push the envelope in the late 60’s. Hair broke the old in 1968 and included a lot of rock music and hippy references. Hair was a commentary on the politics and cultural revolution of the day. It narrates the story of a tribe of long-haired hippy people. They lived in New York and fought against the idea of the Vietnam War. Of course there is sex and drama and romance involved.
There are parents in the script who are naturally resistant to the younger progressive ideas. It was also a very long running musical and sold 1750 performances. Jerome Ragni and James Rado were the masterminds behind it. They conceived it when they performed together in an unsuccessful musical Hang Down Your Head and Die. Writing the musical from 1964 onwards they used their own lives as part of a template for the plot. They incorporated people they knew from the streets and in an and around the East Village. Part of the simple main thrust is the rights of young people to grow long hair!