All in Back To Before

The Broadway Musical Troublemaker of 1947

Every once and a while, a musical comes along that stirs up the pot, shocking us with its audacity to speak the truth. In recent years, musicals such as HamiltonNext to NormalThe Scottsboro Boys, and Fun Home come to mind as examples of musicals that were not afraid to look societal and artistic norms in the face and thumb their nose as what is comfortable or conventional. This was done in-an-effort to cast some light on overlooked subject matter, issues that demanded a new perspective, or inconvenient truths that may have been glossed over. It might be hard to believe, but musical theatre has typically been at the forefront of performance mediums in addressing controversial topics. In fact, Finian's Rainbow, which opened on Broadway in 1947 (and celebrated the 70th Anniversary of that premiere on January 10th), may have been one of the nerviest of all Broadway productions. It subversively confronted race issues by addressing bigotry, head-on, and by taking steps within its production to demonstrate active change. Finian's Rainbow was (and remains to be) one of Broadway's bravest shows. 

Back to Before: Part III – Stout-Hearted Men and a Mysterious Lady: Homegrown American Operetta

We left off with our epic journey through the history of musical theatre having just explored British composing team Gilbert and Sullivan’s influence on the evolution of the art form. Their popular operettas crossed the Atlantic and took America by storm. It wasn’t long before American composers got on board with this trend and began churning out their own operettas, a trend that would hold on for decades, well into the 1930s. In the early part of the 20th Century there were several homegrown operettas entertaining the Broadway audiences. The Wizard of Oz (1902) and Babes in Toyland (1903) were both enormous successes on Broadway, on the road, and overseas. The family-friendly nature of their plots, as well as the popularity of the sheet music in conjunction with lavish spectacle soon made operetta a hot ticket. 

Back to Before: Part II The Very Model Framework for a Modern Broadway Musical

Picking up where we left off in Part I of this series, we started looking at the transition from opera to contemporary musical theatre via the vehicle of operetta. Operetta really began to take off with heightened popularity in Great Britain in the late 1800s, largely thanks to the commercial success of the composing and producing team of Gilbert and Sullivan.  It would be these two gentlemen who would advance the art form of musical theatre style storytelling one step closer toward its contemporary conventions.

Back to Before: Part One — It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish?

To truly understand an art form of any kind, you have to go back and look at its roots and see how it evolved to become the art form that we know today. Musical theatre is no exception, but it is one of the trickiest genres in which to pinpoint a genesis. Musical theatre pulls from so many different areas of music, theatre, and storytelling that it has been a work in progress almost since man first began using art as a means of communication. The first story put to music around a caveman’s campfire was musical theatre in a rudimentary sense. Musical theatre is about conveying the human experience, theatrically, through words and song. Humans have always been compelled by rhythm and melody as ways to pass our story along, so it is not much of a leap to suggest that musical theatre has always been a part of our heritage and was destined to become one of the preeminent devices of communicating the human experience.