musical comedy

views updated May 23 2018

musical comedy (musicals). Type of musical entertainment, 20th-cent. development of operetta, which relies for its popular success on a succession of catchy and easily memorable tunes, either as songs, duets, or choruses. Some early Eng. examples date from end of 19th cent., e.g. Lionel Monckton's The Runaway Girl (1898), but perhaps the first of the kind were Osmond Carr's In Town (1892) and Sidney Jones's A Gaiety Girl (1893), both staged by George Edwardes at the Prince of Wales Th., London. These were followed by Leslie Stuart's Florodora (1899), The Arcadians (Monckton, 1909), and The Maid of the Mountains (Fraser-Simson, 1916). The outstanding success of the First World War was Norton's Chu Chin Chow (1916). After 1918 American shows began to visit London and the names became familiar of Youmans (No, No, Nanette, 1924), Jerome Kern (The Cabaret Girl, 1922, Sunny, 1925, Show Boat, 1927), Gershwin (Oh Boy, 1917, Lady, Be Good, 1924, Funny Face, 1927, Girl Crazy, 1930, Strike up the Band, 1930), Rodgers and Hart (The Girl Friend, 1926, Evergreen, 1930, On Your Toes, 1936, Pal Joey, 1940), Cole Porter (Gay Divorce, 1932, Nymph Errant, 1933, Anything Goes, 1934). Emigré European composers such as Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml (Rose Marie, 1924, The Vagabond King, 1925), and Sigmund Romberg also contributed to the transatlantic successes. Romberg's shows incl. The Student Prince (1924), The Desert Song (1926), and New Moon (1928).

In England two native composers dominated the musicals of the 1930s, Noël Coward with Bitter-Sweet (1929) and Operette (1938), and Ivor Novello with Glamorous Night (1935), Careless Rapture (1936), and The Dancing Years (1939). Scarcely less popular were Vivian Ellis's Mr Cinders (1929), Jill Darling (1934), and Under Your Hat (1938), while Noel Gay's Me and My Girl (1937) made ‘The Lambeth Walk’ almost a national song for a time. After the Second World War, the 1930s type of musical comedy lingered on with Ellis's Bless the Bride (1947), Novello's King's Rhapsody (1949), Wilson's The Boy Friend (1953), and Julian Slade's Salad Days (1954). But the death-knell of this genteel kind of affair was sounded by the record-breaking Oklahoma! (1943) of Rodgers and Hammerstein, first of an amazing series of shows from this duo: Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), Flower Drum Song (1958), and The Sound of Music (1959). The stronger construction of these musicals attracted into the popular th. such choreographers as Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins, and George Balanchine. Comparable with them were Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun (1946) and Call Me Madam (1950), Porter's Kiss Me Kate (1948, based on The Taming of the Shrew), and Can-Can (1953), and (a new team) Frederick Loewe's and Alan Jay Lerner's Brigadoon (1947), Paint Your Wagon (1951), My Fair Lady (1956, based on Shaw's Pygmalion), and Camelot (1960).

A tougher vein was exploited by Leonard Bernstein with On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1953), and West Side Story (1957). The lyrics of the last-named were written by Stephen Sondheim, who later comp. some of the best musicals of the 1970s in Company (1970), A Little Night Music (1973), and Pacific Overtures (1976). The Brit. challenge to the Amer. dominance after 1946 was best represented by Lionel Bart's Fings ain't wot they used t'be (1959) and Oliver! (1960, based on Oliver Twist), Bricusse's and Newley's Stop the World—I Want to Get Off (1961), Charlie Girl (1965, Taylor and Heneker), but it was left to Andrew Lloyd Webber to chart a new course with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968), Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), Evita (1976, a life of Eva Peron) (all with Tim Rice), Cats (1981, based on T. S. Eliot poems), Phantom of the Opera (1987), Aspects of Love (1989), and Sunset Boulevard (1993). Other significant musicals of the second half of the 20th cent. have been Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls (1950), The Most Happy Fella (1956), and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), Adler's and Ross's The Pajama Game (1954) and Damn Yankees (1955), Jule Styne's Funny Girl (1964), Herman's Hello Dolly! (1964), Bock's Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Leigh's Man of La Mancha (1965, based on Don Quixote), Kander's Cabaret (1966, based on Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin), MacDermot's Hair (1967, a ‘rock’ musical which incorporated elec. sounds), Marvin Hamlisch's Chorus Line (1975), and C.-M. Schönberg's Les Misérables (1980) and Miss Saigon (1989).