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The London Palladium , one of the theaters in London's West End

The musical [ ˈmju: zik ə l ] is a form of popular musical theater usually performed in two acts , which combines song, dance, drama / dialogue and music in a consistent framework. The history of the modern musical began in New York in the 1920s, but in addition to New York's Broadway , it quickly spread to London's West End , both of which are still considered metropolises of musicals today. Based on these centers, the musical has spread worldwide. In addition to the temporary inclusion in the schedules of numerous large and small theaters, pure musical theaters have also established themselves in many cities outside of New York and London, which only show musicals as mostly longer and lavishly designed productions (so-called en-suite productions ). Tour productions of various musicals can also be found frequently. Despite their worldwide distribution, musicals of US or British origin still dominate today, although there are also successful musicals from other origins. Due to the great success, many musicals have also been filmed.

Thematically, a wide range of tragic and humorous subjects are dealt with, which take place at different times and in different places. The musical has always shown itself to be open to socially or politically sensitive topics. Many musicals are based on literary models from various genres and epochs. A broad spectrum of stylistic influences can also be identified musically: from pop music , dance and light music to jazz , swing , soul and rock 'n' roll , to name just a few. In terms of genre history, elements of drama , comedy , revue , operetta , variety show and opera have influenced the development of the musical. The musical is a total work of art and is both a literary and a music-theatrical genre.

Etymology and definition of terms

The word musical is just an adjective ( English musical ) and was used in additional terms for the play titles such as A Musical Comedy , A Musical Play , Musical Drama , Musical Fable , Musical Revue . A precise definition of the term is difficult because it encompasses a wide range of styles and ideas have changed over time. Often “musical” and “ musical comedy ” are used synonymously. The predominantly serious musical is called Musical Play (in the style of Show Boat , 1927). Usually dialogues and song numbers alternate. The well- composed musicals since the 1970s are a more recent phenomenon.

The Broadway musical once set itself apart from the operettas at this location in that it barely contained musical numbers in 3/4 time. In contrast to the revue, the musical usually has a continuous storyline. The boundary between these genera is fluid, especially in the early period up to around 1940.



Operettas like The Geisha by Sidney Jones (1898) dominated the London and New York stages around 1900.

The American cities, which were still small in the 18th and early 19th centuries, had no significantly different theater offerings than in Europe, and, as there, mixed forms of spoken and musical theater dominated here too, originating from the Opéra comique . In the field of cabaret there were specifically American genres such as the minstrel show . Like the European music halls or singing arcades , the American vaudeville shows had been privately organized since around 1880.

The origins of the musical can be found in London and New York in the 19th century and have to do with the growth of these cities and the increasing demand for entertainment. The spectacle The Black Crook , produced in 1866, is often named as the first musical ever : because a European ballet troupe who had traveled to the New York Academy of Music, which had since burned down, was integrated into a melodrama by Charles Barras, which unexpectedly turned into a great success and led to numerous musical and scenic productions.

The theater district on Broadway has played a decisive role since roughly the First World War as a melting pot of different nationalities, cultures, skin colors, denominations and social classes. Various influences flowed into the first musicals: swing and jazz from the minstrel shows , French revues and music hall concerts, theater forms from British immigrants such as vaudeville and burlesque consisting of artistic numbers , the operettas from Paris and Vienna and the flair the Wild West sideshow . New techniques such as belting were added to classical opera singing . In elaborate extravaganzas , stage effects, stage machinery , dance routines and costumes were of great importance.

At the beginning of the century, Broadway entertainment consisted mostly of revue shows like the Ziegfeld Follies . One can only speak of a specific, independent genre “musical” since the 1920s, when the American operetta by Victor Herbert or Rudolf Friml lost its influence. George Gershwin's Lady, Be Good (1924) and Jerome Kern's Show Boat (1927) date from this period . Show Boat is considered to be the first "serious" musical ( musical play ). In this piece the songs emerged from the plot without interrupting it. Social criticism was also woven in, such as against discrimination against African Americans.

Classic time

Along with the West End in London, New York's Broadway is still considered the center of the musical world. As a result of the increasing competition from the sound film , the musical broke away from the mere number show and experienced a heyday from the 1930s to the mid-1960s. Even after the Second World War , the musical dealt with sensitive social issues such as B. 1949 in South Pacific . These were pieces that, with a literary book, stood out from the colorfully arranged revues and musical comedies that were less cohesive in terms of content.

A first generation of composers such as Cole Porter , Irving Berlin and George Gershwin (1920s to 1940s) was followed at the height of the “classical” period by a second with Richard Rodgers , who initially worked with the lyricist Lorenz Hart ( Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys from Syracuse (1938), Pal Joey (1940) and others) and later with Oscar Hammerstein ( Oklahoma! (1943) , Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951) , The Sound of Music (1959) and others) created numerous musicals.

Further representatives of this classic period are, for example, Frederick Loewe (e.g. My Fair Lady (1956)), Jule Styne (e.g. blondes preferred (1949), Gypsy (1959), Funny Girl (1964)) and Jerry Herman ( e.g. Hello, Dolly! (1964), Mame (1966), La Cage aux Folles (1983)).

West Side Story (1957) by Leonard Bernstein shaped the increasing distance of the musical from pathos and droll comedy . Also Cabaret (1966) and Chicago (1975) by John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) to remote scenically and musically from older classics.

The film musical

The film musical, made possible by the invention of the sound film since 1927 ( The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson ), made the musical genre popular worldwide. At first these were mainly revue films . The medium of film opened up new dimensions for the musical and enabled more perfection and more luxurious equipment. By leaving the stage, the illusion theater gave way to realistic landscapes. For the first time, it was possible to achieve rapid changes of scene without having to take a break, as well as close-ups that gave the audience the feeling of sitting in the front row of the theater. For the film musical, new recording techniques were invented at the beginning of the thirties, with which the viewer was to be freed from the perspective of the theater audience: the so-called "overhead shots" made the choreographies of Busby Berkeley , who produced musicals for Warner Brothers , a trademark. In it - far removed from any reality - hundreds of dancers formed human ornaments. In The Lullaby of Broadway ( Lullaby of Broadway ) shows hundreds of quilting dancing feet in huge Art Deco -Kulissen. The dance films with Fred Astaire can also be seen as the origin of the film musical.

Although not yet referred to as such at the time, the film Die Drei von der Gasstelle (1930) is now considered the first successful, essential German film musical in German-language filmmaking .

The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio had a special position . MGM - and especially Arthur Freed's productions - became synonymous with this genre. Films such as The Magic Land (1939), An American in Paris (1951, based on George Gershwin), Singin 'In The Rain (1952) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) are considered to be formative . Starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Walt Disney also used the musical form for cartoons .

There was a lively exchange of ideas between the Broadway musical center and Hollywood , the center of film production. Many of the Broadway successes were filmed, just as films later served as musical models. The film musical was able to create varied entertainment for a mass audience through memorable songs, jokes, acrobatic dance skills, expensive equipment and technical effects. So the musical became a commodity and developed into a " culture industry ".

The heyday of the revue-like film musical with an emphasis on dance and set was the late 1940s and 1950s, after which this genre gradually became unpopular. However, numerous other musical films followed, which however (similar to the development of the stage musical) were less “revue-like” and placed more emphasis on the plot. These included numerous film adaptations of stage musicals, such as B. West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound of Music (1965) and Cabaret (1972). However, original musical films that were not based on stage musicals such as B. Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Mary Poppins (1964), which went down in film history with its combination of real film and animation and decades later became a stage musical: Mary Poppins (2004).

The rock musical

The Rocky Horror Show

At the end of the 1960s, new ideas and sounds, influenced by Woodstock , underground music , the 1968 movement and social upheavals, did not go past the musicals either. This development included the musical Hair from 1967, which deals intensively with the problems of young people and their current situation, such as the critically viewed Vietnam War . The barrier between the actors and the audience was broken through built-in play-along scenes. The musical style and instrumentation also adapted to the new requirements. Current rock music supplanted the symphonic features and the jazz elements in music. The orchestra was supplemented or replaced by electro-acoustic instruments such as the electric guitar .

Hair (1967) or Oh! Calcutta! (1969) replaced the action framework with a provocative conceptual content that came closer to the revue again . A new kind of satire like in Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show (1973) turned against the now well-behaved comedy of musical comedy.

Modern musicals

The phase of revolutionary experimentation with new content, musical styles and staging ideas of the late 1960s and early 1970s quickly came to an end. The musical Grease premiered on Broadway as early as 1972. It took up the music style of the 1950s and combined it with a classic love story at an American high school. With A Chorus Line by Marvin Hamlisch , a piece was released in 1975 that was novel in terms of content in that it made the musical genre itself the topic and represented the auditions for a musical and the personalities of the applicants. With a playing time of almost 15 years with over 6,000 performances, this became the longest-running musical on Broadway at the time. Another musical followed in 1980 with 42nd Street with music by Harry Warren , which was reminiscent of the classics of the 1940s to 1960s, both musically and staged. With seasons lasting several years on New York's Broadway and in London's West End, this musical also proved that the classic musical was by no means out of date and continued to meet with great audiences.

At the same time, a new trend in the way of composing was already emerging: the narrative spoken dialogues in the old Opéra comique style disappeared. As in “well- composed ” large operas, it was sung throughout and spoken texts reduced to a minimum. The music created a seamless connection. This meant the rise of the British musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber , who already celebrated first successes in the 1970s (e.g. in 1978 with Evita ) and from the 1980s on with pieces such as Cats (1980), Starlight Express ( 1984), The Phantom of the Opera (1986) or Sunset Boulevard (1993) achieved worldwide fame and whose name was used almost synonymously with the term "musical" at that time. The producer Cameron Mackintosh brought his pieces to the stage in elaborate productions, which triggered a real musical hype and also brought Cameron Mackintosh the big breakthrough as a musical producer. Cameron Mackintosh also discovered the piece Les Misérables by the French Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Alain Boublil (lyrics), which premiered in France in 1980 and, after being revised, premiered in London in 1985. With this piece, too, Cameron Mackintosh achieved a box-office hit, which was repeated in 1989 with Miss Saigon (also by Boublil & Schönberg). Due to the increasingly lavish equipment, investments increased and very long terms had to be achieved for refinancing, but this succeeded effortlessly. The licensed productions in other countries were also great successes. A trend also set in that the productions were staged even more consistently than with the classical musicals and that music, instrumental cast, sets, costumes, scenic realization and lighting etc. served as unchangeable templates for all productions.

Starlight Express in the Starlight Express Theater in Bochum (March 2018).

In Germany, too, the pieces by Andrew Lloyd Webbers and the duo Boublil / Schönberg triggered a musical boom and achieved long running times. While longer-running en-suite productions were standard on Broadway and London, this has now also become standard in Germany, where previously shorter seasons at city theaters and other stages were common. In many cities, new musical theaters were built in the 1990s , where only musicals were shown in en-suite operation ( Neue Flora 1990 in Hamburg , Apollo Theater 1994 in Stuttgart , Theater im Hafen 1994 in Hamburg, Theater am Marientor 1996 in Duisburg , Colosseum Theater 1996 in Essen , Palladium Theater 1997 in Stuttgart, Theater am Potsdamer Platz 1999 in Berlin , Metronom Theater 1999 in Oberhausen ). With the Starlight Express Theater in Bochum , built for 24 million DM , a venue was opened in 1988 that is only geared towards this one musical and where the actors, all of whom act on skaters, elaborate bridge constructions and several lanes running between the spectators to be able to use. This is the first theater that was specially built for a specific play.

In addition to these musicals, which attracted the masses, composers were also able to establish themselves whose pieces did not achieve the same international fame, but who are also very popular, at least in English-speaking countries. One example is the composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who for decades wrote musical plays with sophisticated subjects that were highly praised by critics, such as: B. Follies (1971) and Sunday in the Park with George (1984).

Mamma Mia! on broadway

Since the turn of the 21st century there has been a new trend of so-called jukebox musicals , for which the well-known music titles of an artist, a style, or the like are sometimes used with adjustments and are often placed in a new context. A first representative was Buddy in 1989 , who tells the story of Buddy Holly . In 1998, Saturday Night Fever followed , which is based on the film of the same name and uses other titles from the Bee Gees in addition to the music from the film . The final breakthrough for the jukebox musical came in 1999 with the piece Mamma Mia! , which put ABBA's music in a completely new context of a love story and the search for the father of a young woman. The worldwide success of Mamma Mia! triggered a veritable flood of jukebox musicals, including Jersey Boys (2005), which shows the story of the band The Four Seasons , or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2006), which is based on the film Priscilla - Queen of the Desert and Disco -Music used by various artists. In Germany, too, the music of German-speaking interpreters was used to turn them into jukebox musicals; the most successful representative is I was never in New York (2007) with the music of Udo Jürgens , which was shown at numerous venues in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Japan over the course of 10 years and during this time reached a total of several thousand performances.

Another trend in modern musicals, since the success of the stage musical based on the Disney film of the same name, Beauty and the Beast (1994), has been that the Walt Disney Company is also bringing more and more of its films to the stage as musical versions.

Kinky Boots in the Operettenhaus, Hamburg (May 2018).

Regardless of this, it can be observed that in comparison to the past, where literary models or newly developed material dominated, films today often provide the ideas for new musical material. Examples are Victor / Victoria (1995) by Henry Mancini , Hairspray (2002) by Marc Shaiman , Billy Elliot (2005) by Elton John , Sister Act (2006) and Newsies (2011) by Alan Menken , Kinky Boots (2012) by Cyndi Lauper , Mrs. Henderson Presents (2015) by George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain.

42nd Street in the Theater Royal Drury Lane in London (September 2017).

In addition, revivals of previous musicals continue to attract large numbers of visitors. Usually little or nothing is changed to the book and music and only the equipment is adapted; Examples are the revival of Gypsy in 2015 at London's Savoy Theater or from 42nd Street since 2017 at London's Theater Royal Drury Lane . Occasionally, however, there are also revisions of classical musicals in which the book and / or music are changed; One example is Half a Sixpence , which was played very successfully in an edited version at the Noël Coward Theater in London from 2016 to 2017, in which the book was slightly revised and some music titles were replaced by new ones.

In addition, the number of musical films is increasing again. After the end of the classic film musicals at the end of the 1960s and there were only isolated film adaptations of stage musicals (e.g. Grease (1978) and A Chorus Line (1985)), it has been since the beginning of the 2000s Years to see a renaissance of this film genre, so z. B. Chicago (2002), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Mamma Mia! (2008). But not only film adaptations of successful stage musicals are experiencing a new bloom, but there is also the classic film musical without a stage template, e.g. B. La La Land , one of the most successful films of 2016.

At the same time, there is also a trend towards not filming musicals, but recording and publishing the original stage production. Examples include the records of Victor / Victoria (New York, 1995), Cats (London, 1998), Love Never Dies (Australia, 2012), Billy Elliot (London, 2014), Gypsy (London, 2015) and Miss Saigon (London , 2016).

Important musical composers

There are numerous musical composers, of whom the most important, internationally successful representatives and their most important works are named here. For a more extensive list, see the list of musical composers .


Children's musical

The term “children's musical” first appeared in the early 1970s in the field of professional children's and youth theater. While initially only plays were meant that are aimed at a young audience, but are performed by professional theaters, in the course of the 1970s there were also pieces that were designed for performance by children and young people. By the end of the decade, the term “children's musical” was already established.

Musicals that are intended for children to perform include the Ritter-Rost series by Jörg Hilbert and Felix Janosa , then the musicals by the couple Veronika te Reh and Wolfgang König, and the musicals by Mechthild von Schoenebeck-Reis. Musicals by Peter Schindler ( witching hour at Eulenstein Castle , Christmas is canceled , Max and the Cheeseband , König Keks , Zirkus Furioso and Schockorange ) are among the most frequently performed works of their kind in children's and youth choirs in theaters and schools. Thekla and Lutz Schäfer released the children's musical Amadeus los geht los for the Mozart year 2006 . Other musicals for the performance by young people write u. a. Claus Martin ( Pinocchio , Heidi , Dracula, the grusical ).

Compared to musicals that are aimed at an adult audience (although many of these pieces may also be suitable for children of a certain age), the element of dance is often very underrepresented in musicals that are intended to be performed by children. Mostly there is a concentration on speaking scenes and singing, whereby the younger actors mainly use the unanimous choir. With older children and adolescents, there are often solo parts as well. Chants and other more complicated arrangements are rarely found. The musical genres are also very limited in comparison. A large (but flexible) number of roles so that all children can play along are typical. The range of roles is also broad: through roles with little text, silent roles, etc., even shy children can participate and be introduced to theater and music.

In addition to the children's musicals intended for young amateurs, there are also professional productions for children, mostly based on children's books and films such as Pippi Longstocking , Das Sams , Jim Knopf and Lukas the locomotive driver , Tabaluga , Yakari - friends for life . One of the most played authors in this field is Christian Berg . The author and composer of numerous children's musicals, which are based on biblical stories and are therefore predestined for performances in churches or community centers, is Helmut Jost .


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Web links

Commons : Musical  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Musical  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. musical. Pons-Verlag , accessed on September 9, 2013 .
  2. ^ Howard Taubman: The Making of the American Theater, McCann, New York 1965, pp. 105f.
  3. Data on the Starlight Express Theater Bochum
  4. Stage Entertainment: On October 24th, 2013 it was the last time - Cast off ... ( Memento of the original from February 3rd, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. a b On the history of children's and youth musicals
  6. Peter Schindler gives a concert at home. Retrieved April 4, 2014 .