Musical comedies, or musicals, have become America’s most significant contribution to world theatre. Musical comedy is a type of play that tells a story through a combination of dialogue, songs, and dances.
Musical comedy developed in the United States during the late 1800s. It shared roots with both European and American popular forms of entertainment. European influences included the operetta, or light opera, and extravaganza, or spectacle. The basic American influences were vaudeville, minstrel show, and burlesques.
Musical comedy differs from other forms of musical shows. It has a simple but distinctive plot which unifies all of its other elements: the book, or the libretto, the music, the lyrics, and the dancing.
“The Black Crook”, produced in New York in 1866, marked the beginning of American musical comedy. The real maturity came to American musicals during World War I and the years immediately afterwards. “Show Boat” (1927) by Jerome Kem and lyricist Oscar Hammers Lein II, and a political satire called ‘Of Thee I Sing” (1931) by George Gershwin and his brother Ira developed the real American style of musical and helped to raise its status to the level of serious theatre.
The premiere of “Oklahoma!” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1943 began the modern era of musical comedy. Rodgers and Hammerstein rapidly became the most popular team in the history of musicals due to their skill of integrating the story, music, and dancing. Their hits include “Carousel”(1945), “South Pacific” (1949) and “The Sound of Music” (1959).
Magnificent shows “My Fair Lady” created by Frederic Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, “West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein, “Hello, Dolly!” by Jerry Herman appeared during the 1950s and 1960s. Other notable later musicals include “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1971) by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, “Grease” (1972) by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Llovd Webber’s “Evita” (19 78), “Cats” (1981), “The Phantom of the Opera” (1986).
Most major American musical comedies that have enchanted audiences throughout the world were first presented in New York City, normally on Broadway. One of the longest-running show in Broadway history was “Fiddler on the Roof” (1964) by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnik. The musical, based on Shalom Aleichem’s stories was a fabulous success. It drew Broadway audiences for more than eight years.
From Speak Out 1, 1997