AMERICAN EXPLORATIONS (1624-1880) CHAPTER 3 “THE MUSIC OF SOMETHING BEGINNING” BROADWAY’S EARLY YEARS We date the start of the American Musical from “The Black Crook” in 1866. But was it really the first Broadway musical? The Dutch settled New Amsterdam in 1624 1664 The English renamed the settlement New York in honor of the King’s brother, The Duke of York And since High Street was the widest street, they named it Broadway DUTCH DID NOT ENCOURAGE THEATRICAL ENTERTAINMENT THAT THRIVED IN OTHER COLONIES Plays and comic operas were regularly performed in Charleston, Philadelphia and Williamsburg which were English colonies. New York was visited by a travelling professional company in 1732. FLORA (1735) The first recorded performance of a “musical” on American shores was FLORA, which was produced at the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, SC in 1735. DOCK STREET THEATRE DECEMBER 3, 1750 First recorded performance of a musical in New York City as a performance of John Gay’s BEGGAR’S OPERA 1776 - JOHN STREET THEATRE WAS BUILT IN NEW YORK After the war, George Washington frequently attended the theatres in Philadelphia and New York The John Street hosted THE ARCHERS (1796) an early comic opera This continued a trend where continental musicals were presented by touring companies or revived by native companies EARLY WORKS WERE SIMPLE ENTERTAINMENTS No lasting trends developed as MASQUES BURLETTAS PARLOR OPERAS and TOURS were presented THE BOWERY From the 1790s onward, entertainments on Broadway found a home in THE BOWERY MINSTRELSY Blackface performers were around for several decades before the first minstrel shows were performed. In the 1820s, white entertainer Thomas Rice “caused a nationwide sensation with a blackface song and dance act that burlesqued negro slaves.” (52) A born and bred New Yorker, Rice knew little about southern slaves, so his act was a gross stereotype. His song Jump Jim Crow became a hit song… HIS ACT WAS WIDELY IMITATED…SO MUCH IN FACT THAT HE ULTIMATELY WAS FORCED TO BILL HIMSELF AS “THE ORIGINAL” JIM CROW AFTER YEARS OF VARYING DEGREES OF SUCCESS, THE FIRST “MINSTREL SHOW” WAS PRESENTED IN 1843 The Virginia Minstrels (Billy Whitlock, Frank Pelham, Dan Emmett and Frank Brower) donned blackface and sat in a semicircle with a tambourine player on one end and a “bones” player on the other. Their first show included songs and dances interspersed with comic sketches and plantation “chatter.” BY 1853, NEW YORK HAD 10 RESIDENT MINSTREL COMPANIES The Virginia Minstrels The Christy Minstrels The Ethiopian Serenaders The Virginia Vocalists STANDARD FORM Part one – THE MINSTREL LINE • The full ensemble sat in a semi-circle. At the center sat the whiteface host, always called "Mr. Interlocutor." Two blackface comedians at either end (the endmen) were always called "Bruder Tambo" (playing the tambourine) and "Bruder Bones" (playing a pair of rattling rib bones or spoons). After an opening number, the Interlocutor shouted, "Gentlemen, be seated," and the endmen would lead the ensemble in a series of jokes, songs and dances. Intermission was followed by . . . Part two – THE OLIO • Clean, family-friendly “variety show” Part three – AFTERPIECE • A one-act play with songs AN EXAMPLE FROM "YES SIR, MR. BONES" (1951) Although clearly racist and unsophisticated, it was a true American form, not one beholden to European models and forms, this was one of its most significant contribution to the modern musical. DANCE FORMS WERE INFLUENCE BY MINSTELSY THE CAKEWALK WAS ONE OF MANY POPULAR DANCE FORMS. BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO MODERN MUSICAL - SONGS STEPHEN FOSTER Oh Susannah Camptown Races Old Black Joe Old Folks at Home Hard Times Come Again No More DAN EMMETT Turkey in the Straw Jimmy Crack Corn Dixie AFTER THE WAR… Black performers migrated to northern cities and performed minstrel shows IN BLACKFACE. Their troupes were known as “Colored minstrels” – Unfortunately, the presence of black performers only served to perpetuate the stereotypes… The Cohan and Harris' Minstrels (1909) was the last minstrel show to play Broadway, but minstrel traditions remained in use for decades. The offensive content of minstrelsy lived on too. The long-running radio series Amos n' Andy featured two white actors impersonating contemporary black characters that were direct descendants of "Zip Coon" and "Jim Crow." Some blacks protested such stereotyping, but listeners made it a top series for more than a decade. When Amos n' Andy moved to TV in the 1950s, black actors were used – but the spectacle of blacks demeaning themselves had become unsettling, and the show was cancelled in 1953. AMOS ‘N’ ANDY TV CAST AMERICAN VARIETY This form probably began as a cheap rip-off of minstrelsy’s OLIO, or from school pageants, talent shows, medicine shows or even circuses….however obscure its beginnings, it had a huge impact on the development of musical theatre… VARIETY HOUSES OPENED ALL OVER AMERICA In saloons…in civic auditoriums… Douglas Gilbert (American Vaudeville: Its Life and Times, Whittlesey House, NY 1940 - paperback: Dover, NY 1960) points out that any abandoned church, barn or warehouse could be converted for variety use. The resulting spaces were often shabby but almost always profitable. Owners called them "palaces," "museums," "free and easies" and "wine halls," but performers referred to them as "slabs," "dumps" and "honky-tonks." By any name, they were still saloons. P.T. BARNUM THE AMERICAN MUSEUM America's most prestigious variety house was Koster and Bial's on West 23rd Street in New York City. This elegant auditorium was the most desired booking in pre-vaudeville show business, but it was few women went along when their husbands caught a show there. Every town in the USA had something that passed as a variety house, including the raunchiest settlements in the Wild West. Neither the shows nor their fans were known for their sophistication. MUSICALS OF THE PRE-CIVIL WAR YEARS By 1850, original musicals were commonplace fare on Broadway, but no one was calling them "musicals" yet. The Magic Deer (1852) advertised itself as "A Serio Comico Tragico Operatical Historical Extravaganzical Burletical Tale of Enchantment" -- just to make sure potential ticket buyers got the point. At the time, most Broadway theatre companies ran varied repertories, so it was rare for a single production to rack up more than a dozen performances. In most cases, the scripts for these disposable entertainments are longsince lost, so we cannot be sure exactly what they were like. Seven Sisters As New York City's population boomed, the demand for more ambitious entertainments grew. Riding the crest of this new cultural wave, actress-manager Laura Keene became one of the first nationally recognized stars of the American stage -- and the first American woman to succeed as manager of her own troupe. With a strong business sense and versatile stage talents, she produced and starred in a series of popular comedies and musicals in her theatre at 622 Broadway (just above Houston Street). After setting Broadway's first "long-run" musical record with a 50 performance hit called The Elves (1857), Keene astounded everyone in New York when her "musical burletta" Seven Sisters (1860) racked up an unprecedented 253 performances. Keene starred as one of seven female demons who come up from hell to go sightseeing in New York. Surviving programs list a score cobbled from now-forgotten songs, plus the minstrel classic "Dixie" for a slam-bang finale. LAURA KEENE 1826-1873 THE BLACK CROOK WHY A LANDMARK? It was the first Broadway musical to become a nationwide hit. ANOTHER REASON Not only was it a nationwide hit, that spawned numerous revivals…it also introduced dance, comedy, story and spectacle into an American-produced musical extravaganza. It inspired a demand for extravaganza on American stages… 1870S-1880S: BURLESQUES AND PANTOMIMES Full length burlesque musicals were almost as lavish as extravaganzas, but aimed their comedy at specific targets, with a bit of sex appeal thrown in. The first Broadway burlesques appeared in the 1840s, with story lines that allowed lower class audiences to laugh at the habits of the rich -- or at the high-minded plays and operas the rich admired. Burlesque moved to a new level of popularity when English star Lydia Thompson and her troupe of "British Blondes" came to Broadway in a mythological spoof entitled Ixion (1868 - 104). SOON COPYCAT PRODUCTIONS AROSE UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF MALE ENTREPENEURS, THE FORM FLOURISHED… BURLESQUE EXTRAVAGANZAS Produced with lavish stage effects, these musicals spoofed anything from literary classics to contemporary celebrities, poking fun simultaneously at any number of targets. Edward E. Rice dominated the genre, becoming America's first prominent stage composer and producer. PICTURED - Henry E. Dixey as Adonis (1884), a marble statue that comes to life and does not find human existence all it is cracked up to be. EVANGELINE (1874) ADONIS (1884) Burlesque musicals continued to thrive through the 1890s. Rice's final production was Excelsior Jr. (1895), another Longfellow spoof that enjoyed a profitable run thanks to a stellar performance by Fay Templeton. Burlesque musicals continued to thrive through the 1890s. Rice's final production was Excelsior Jr. (1895), another Longfellow spoof that enjoyed a profitable run thanks to a stellar performance by Fay Templeton. Playbill for Clorindy by E.E. Rice PANTOMIMES: CLOWNING AROUND One act musical pantomimes had been a London and Broadway staple since the 1700s, sharing the bill with other entertainments. By the mid-1800s, American pantomimes placed figures from Mother Goose stories in varied settings, then gave a mischievous fairy an excuse to transform them into the characters taken from commedia dell’ arte… Playbill from HUMPTY DUMPTY, an 1873 revival starring George L. Fox. GEORGE L. FOX (1825 - 1877) The American Grimaldi HUMPTY DUMPTY The most successful American pantomime was Humpty Dumpty (1868 - 483), with comic actor George Fox in the title role. The plot (if you can call it that) turned young Humpty and his playmates into harlequinade characters romping through such diverse settings as a candy store, an enchanted garden and Manhattan's costly new City Hall. With a lavish ballet staged by David Costa (choreographer of The Black Crook), there was plenty of visual spectacle to offset the knockabout humor. The score was sometimes credited to "A. Reiff Jr.," but it was largely assembled from existing material, a mish-mosh of recycled Offenbach and old music hall tunes. But no one paid much attention to the songs – Fox's buffoonery was the main attraction. Humpty Dumpty set a new long-run record, was revived several times and inspired a series of sequels. Pantomime survived in England as a form of Christmas entertainment, but faded from American stages by 1880. American audiences were looking for something more intimate than burlesque and less childish than pantomime. The time was right for an innovation – the form we now know as "musical comedy."