Musical play

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The musical play is a genre of the US American musical theater that was mainly developed by the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II in the 1920s to 1940s: It presents a mostly serious plot with a historical background and local references. Special emphasis is placed on a self-contained book , often based on an important literary model. The hallmark of Musical Play is the dramatic integration of action, song, dance and music.


The emergence of musical play is closely related to the emergence of the sound film since around 1928. In addition, after the stock market crash of 1929, Black Friday , the New York theatrical landscape changed, and the merely entertaining, non-problematic plays lost in popularity.

The Broadway -Theater at the beginning of the 20th century was to a considerable extent from dramatic disjointed revues . The American Vaudeville was composed of a series of artistic numbers that were moderated. Musical comedies , such as Cole Porter's or George Gershwin's early musicals, often had funny to sarcastic musical texts and a rather schematic plot that tended towards a loose motto like the annual themes of the Ziegfeld Follies . The music numbers were set up so that they could be easily separated from the stage play and reused in other media such as radio and records . Many of today's jazz standards come from now forgotten musical comedies. For example , hardly anyone knows that the song “ Tea for Two ” originally came from the musical comedy No, No, Nanette (1925). The play that once linked the musical numbers has only recently been rediscovered. A similar case is “I Get a Kick Out of You” from Anything Goes (1934).


The musical play tried to set itself apart from such arbitrary compositions. On the one hand it made competition for the undramatic musical comedies and on the other hand for the film melodrama with its novel-like, self-contained plots. It does contain musical numbers that can be separated from the plot of the piece, such as " Ol 'Man River " from Show Boat (1927), "O What A Wonderful Morning" from Oklahoma! (1943) or “ Summertime ” from Porgy and Bess (1935), but many key musical numbers are hardly understandable without this connection, such as “Pore Jud Is Daid” from Oklahoma! or the finale "I'm On My Way" from Porgy and Bess .

The music numbers in Musical Play are not thrown together and, in principle, interchangeable, but have a stylistic concept, recurring leitmotifs and dramaturgically meaningful repetitions. They characterize the characters and drive the action forward. The sound of strings in music is more important than big band sound. Oscar Hammerstein's musical play dispenses with jazz elements and rather tries to be an American modernization of the game opera . Sometimes it is therefore a continuation of the American operetta of Victor Herbert and Sigmund Romberg understood.

The characters in musical play are more complex than the comedic types in musical comedy. They often speak and sing dialect or sociolect . Realistic and dazzling, for example, is the pitiful villain Jud in Oklahoma! . Musical plays dispense with irony and tend to have a pathetic or moralizing undertone.

The dance but is not a decorative accessory, integrated into the action: either as ballroom dancing that characterizes the lives of the characters, or then in the form of whole ballets (as identified by Agnes de Mille choreographed dream vision in Oklahoma! ).


Hammerstein wrote most of the famous musical plays together with the composer Richard Rodgers . But Gershwin's later stage works, above all Porgy and Bess , are related to these reform efforts.

The most prominent musical plays are Show Boat , Oklahoma! and South Pacific (1949). With them, striking moments in American history are treated as part of a musical love romance. The naive seriousness of these pieces is program and should characterize a kind of American folk opera according to Hammerstein's ideas. This actually had an identifying and political meaning: The theme song of Oklahoma! became the national anthem of the state of Oklahoma .

Other musical plays contain realistic portrayals of the milieu, such as the showman drama Carousel (1945) set in New England , the piece Carmen Jones (1943, based on the opera Carmen ) , which is set in the African-American milieu of the southern states - or they have rural and exotic subjects outside of America such as Thailand in The King and I (1951) or Salzburg in The Sound of Music (1959).

Also about Fanny (1954) by Harold Rome , a melodrama in the port of Marseilles milieu, musical play was called. Still Fiddler on the Roof (1964) by Jerry Bock , whose action in the Jewish milieu of the Ukraine plays on the eve of the World Wars, roughly equivalent to the characteristics of this genre.


The pathetic of musical play seemed exhausted in the later 1950s. With West Side Story (1957) the composer Leonard Bernstein broke new ground by combining the examination of current American history and social problems with elements of jazz and the sarcasm of musical comedy (whereupon Stephen Sondheim , here still exclusively as a lyricist, made a considerable contribution Influence). The musical Hair (1967) or the provocative revue Oh! Calcutta! (1969) completely went beyond the scope of action that has meanwhile been perceived as honest.

However, the conception of musical play continued to influence the musical Broadway theater. With Evita (1974) Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice attempted to combine an emotional drama with a linear plot, historical background and exotic local color with the political commitment of the 1968 movement . In the well- composed musicals of the 1980s and 1990s, new variants of serious musicals with historical themes emerged (e.g. Miss Saigon , 1989).


  • Marc Bauch : The American Musical . Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2003. ISBN 3-8288-8458-X
  • Marc Bauch: Themes and Topics of the American Musical after World War II . Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2001. ISBN 3-8288-1141-8
  • Gerald Bordman: American Operetta. From HMS Pinafore to Sweeney Todd. Univ. Press, Oxford: 1981. ISBN 0-195-02869-4
  • Richard Kislan: The Musical: A Look at the American Musical Theater . Applause Books, New York 1995. ISBN 1-55783-217-X

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