music hall

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music hall. Strictly, the place where a particular type of variety entertainment was held, often attached to a public house or containing a bar where customers could drink while they listened and watched; but the term also means the entertainment itself. It flourished in Brit. from c.1850 to 1914. Among the most famous London music-halls were the Surrey (Southwark), the Bedford (Camden Town), the Metropolitan (Edgware Road), and Collins's (Islington). By 1870 there were said to be 200 in London and 300 elsewhere. Many ‘acts’ were performed; musically the halls’ importance lay in the association of a popular song with a particular performer, e.g. Charles Coborn and Two Lovely Black Eyes, Eugene Stratton and Lily of Laguna, Albert Chevalier and My Old Dutch, Harry Champion and Any Old Iron, Harry Lauder and Roamin’ in the gloamin’, Vesta Victoria and Waiting at the Church, Florrie Forde and Down at the ol’ Bull and Bush, Will Fyffe and I Belong to Glasgow, and Ella Shields and Burlington Bertie from Bow. After 1914 consumption of food and drink in the auditorium was forbidden and the music-hall gave way to the variety theatre and its stars like Gracie Fields and Hetty King. Something of the music-hall spirit survives in North of England working-men's clubs. It is an irony that while the songs and their singers have acquired a kind of immortality in Eng. theatrical folklore, the names of the composers are scarcely remembered, with the exception of Leslie Stuart, who wrote for Eugene Stratton. Thousands of music-hall songs, for example, were comp. by Joseph Tabrar, yet for one whose melodies reached more lips than Mozart's and Beethoven's, the reward has been almost total obscurity.

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music hall: In England, the Licensing Act of 1737 confined the production of legitimate plays to the two royal theaters—Drury Lane and Covent Garden; the demands for entertainment of the rising lower and middle classes were answered by song, dance, and acrobatics, and later by pantomime and comic skits and sketches provided by keepers of inns and taverns. The atmosphere, amidst eating and drinking, was boisterous and gay. Following the abolition (c.1843) of the royal-theater patents, the rise of the music hall as a separate place of variety entertainment was rapid. Personalities, such as the English Joseph Grimaldi, Dan Leno, Beatrice Lillie, and Gracie Fields and the French Yvette Guilbert, Maurice Chevalier, and Edith Piaf became stars, beloved by their audiences. Like American vaudeville, the music hall went into a decline with the coming of radio and motion pictures.

See D. Howard, London Theatres and Music Halls, 1850–1950 (1971).

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music hall Stage for popular variety shows, originally tavern annexes, devoted to comic song, acrobatics, magic shows, juggling, and dancing. The popularity of the music hall was at its height in late Victorian and Edwardian England, but declined with the advent of radio and motion pictures in the 1930s. In the USA, it was often known as vaudeville.