History of Broadway

Topics: Musical theatre, Opera, Oscar Hammerstein II Pages: 6 (2241 words) Published: October 26, 2008
There have been many debates on whether or not Broadway musicals are considered “serious” art forms. People feel that a musical can never be taken seriously if the character is always singing sporadically, which is very unusual in real life. However, musicals have been around for quite some time now, many musicals are being adapted into major motion pictures, many children are raised on the famous Disney musical cartoons and everybody( whether they’ll admit it or not) has seen at least one musical in their lifetime and are able to sing some of the songs from it. It seems that musicals have made an impact on society but yet are still not taken seriously.

The history of musicals dates back to the Greeks. It is a common known fact that the Greeks incorporated song and dance into their stage comedies and tragedies as early as the 5th Century B.C. Some used existing songs but it is known that Sophocles wrote his own. The Romans are also known for taking the Greek musicals and expanding on them. The Romans liked the idea of musicals so much that they attached metal chips to their shoes, creating the first tap shoes, so that there would be more focus on the dancing throughout the play. Of course musicals and the idea of telling stories through song and dance really became popular through the Renaissance era. During the 1700’s the two main types of plays were ballad operas and comic operas. Many people think that musicals evolved from operas however if you follow the history of musicals and operas you will learn that it is the other way around yet operas are much more respected than musicals.

Musicals came to America during the mid-1800’s as saloon shows. They were also known as variety shows and consisted of everything from clowns, singers, dancers and chorus girls. In Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, New York, 1991, p. 92), historian Luc Sante, claims that variety shows were born in Manhattan's Bowery saloons during the 1840s. One of the first and most famous variety houses was Koster and Bial's on West 23rd Street in New York City. The variety shows were very distasteful and were later cleaned up and renamed vaudeville then in the 1900’s the shows were cleaned up even more and were then known as minstrelsy. While the minstrelsy shows were much cleaner than the original variety show they would still be considered extremely raunchy by today’s standards.

Musicals later came to take the form of the misunderstood form of Burlesque performances. Burlesque shows became popular and kept America entertained from 1840 through the 1960’s. Many people identify burlesque with strippers or scantily dressed women. The burlesque shows however covered many topics of interest from Shakespeare to spoofs of the famous operas of the moment. In 1860 Burlesque made its appearance on Broadway with Lydia Thompson's British burlesque troupe and their first hit entitled Ixion. It became clear that respectable people would pay lots of money for a sexy performance. The theatre group would use popular songs of that time and parts of operas to perform too which made some of the audience try to say made the Burlesque show more classy and easier to relate too. Soon the offended audience members began to raise their voices in protest of the performances saying that they were extremely inappropriate and tasteless. This of course only made people more curious about the performances and the crowds began to grow for the show. With the success of the shows people began to copy them and bring them back to their own communities. The majority of the managers and choreographers were women and finally women were beginning to gain respect in the theatre business. Men quickly began to see the success and start their own shows. The point of the shows were to hint at the idea of the women being naked and to show as much skin as was considered acceptable. The Burlesque shows, while being popular, were...
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