The Flight Continues: Contemporary Musical Theatre History
The students will demonstrate their understanding of basic Musical Theatre History by completing a short worksheet and by using that worksheet as a guide in a game show-style quiz.
T.V./VCR, movie clips from the various featured musicals, musical selections for those not on video, buzzer, quiz.
Anticipatory Set/Hook The class should again look like an airplane. Welcome the students back and tell them that while the flight to the next destination is in progress, there will be some entertainment. Ask the students if they have any stupid human tricks or campfire skits they would be willing to perform for the class. Give them a few minutes to work them out and then have them perform for the class.
Step 1: Minstrel Shows. Talk about how out of the south developed a new concept of entertainment. Inspired by the cake-walks of the slaves, white artists began writing skits and songs that made fun of the slaves. White actors would paint their faces black and perform “stock characters” which, while they were often portrayed as not very intelligent characters, became beloved characters by the dominantly white audiences. Out of these shows that made fun of the black culture came a true admiration and love of the art forms (such as tap, blues etc.) and the culture itself. Some well known minstrel songs are; Dixie, Camptown Races, Oh Susannah.
Step 2: Vaudeville. Later into the early 20th century these variety shows expanded into what was called Vaudeville. Vaudeville shows were variety shows much like MAD TV, or Saturday Night Live and presented a wide variety of acts from songs and dances to pet tricks etc. that would travel around to different venues to perform.
Step 3: Pirates of Penzance. Explain that around the same time in England there was a team of two men who were doing their own style of mocking. These men, W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, created shows that mocked the dramatic operas of the day. Of their comedic operas, their most famous work is Pirates of Penzance. (Play a short video or musical clip of Pirates. I recommend the scene with the police but any that showed the comedy of the piece would work). Explain that this European creation was a huge hit in the U.S. and inspired the musical theatre craze that would soon hit the United States.
Step 4: Showboat, 1927. Showboat is considered by many to be the first well-known American made musical. It also started what was known as the musical theatre “Golden Age”. It integrated dialogue with the music further distinguishing the musical theatre genre from opera and straight theatre. It also dealt with difficult issues of the day such as broken marriages, abandonment, class issues, race issues, alcoholism etc. (play short video or musical clip from Showboat)
Step 5: Oklahoma!, 1947. Oklahoma! was the first and most well known show done by two most famous collaborators of the Golden Age; Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. Some of their other shows include; The King and I, South Pacific, Cinderella, State Fair, Carousel, and The Sound of Music. Oklahoma! was a landmark musical because of it’s legendary Dream Ballet. Dance is used to show us the hidden fears of the main character Laurey. It also was known for how real it was. It didn’t start with a chorus of pretty dancing girls or a big musical number but started with an old woman sitting on stage churning her butter. (play clip from Oklahoma!, I recommend showing part of the Dream Ballet)
Step 6: West Side Story (1957). West Side Story is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and takes place in the rough neighborhoods of New York City’s West Side. It shows the trouble when a gang of Puerto Ricans (the Sharks) invades the turf of the reigning gang (the Jets). This musical is landmark because it deals with serious issues such as youth delinquency, gang violence, racial violence and eventually murder. It dared to say that a musical didn’t have to end happily to be great. It was also landmark because of how it integrated dance into the everyday movements of the characters. (Show a clip from West Side Story, I recommend the opening shot).
Another landmark musical of this era was a show called Hair. It was one of the first “rock musicals” and much of the music was introduced into popular culture such as “The Age of Aquarius” and other songs. It also mirrored the social unrest that marked the 1960’s with drugs, anti-war protest, free love, etc. This musical ended the “golden age” of musical theatre.
Step 7: Talk about how the 1970’s and 80’s was marked by a foreign invasion of musical theatre. Such artists as Andrew Lloyd Weber and Boublil and Schonberg came on the scene from Europe and stole the show from the Americans. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s pieces include; Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Starlight Express. Boublil and Schonberg’s biggest hits include; Les Miserables, and Miss Saigon. Another characteristic of this period was the use of large spectacle. In Phantom, at one point, a large chandelier falls from the ceiling and crashes on stage. In Miss Saigon, a real helicopter lands on stage. (play a short musical clip from one of these shows, I recommend “On My Own” from Les Miserables since most of them will be familiar with it already).
Step 8: Talk about how the 90’s and early 2000’s are marked by a division on Broadway. Show brief clip from the PBS Special on Broadway about how Disney cleaned up Broadway and also show a little of the segment about Rent. Talk about how Disney wanted to make musicals that were family friendly and would show a cleaner side to musical theatre while Rent presented the opposing view. It promoted an alternative lifestyle to traditional family values and showed the raw edge that often accompanies social decay. It talks about difficult issues and promotes tolerance for those with alternative lifestyles.
Step 9: Have the students divide into two teams and play Broadway Feud. Have them study their notes for a few minutes and then begin. Rules: Have one member of each team come up to the front and ask them a question from the quiz. The first person to push the buzzer gets to answer the question. If they get it wrong or take too long, the other person gets a chance. If neither of them can answer it they both return to their teams and the first team with the right answer gets one point. If one of the individuals gets it right the first time, their team gets two points. The quiz questions cover both days from Athens to contemporary musical theatre.
(notes: courtesy of the faculty of Music Dance Theatre History 300- Brigham Young University)