Musical Theatre Sunday School: In the Beginning…

Capturing the spirit of THE BLACK CROOK

A drawing capturing the spirit of THE BLACK CROOK

In the beginning, there was music and there was drama, and musical theatre was without form. Broadway was in darkness. And Henry Jarrett and Harry Palmer moved upon the face of the district, by arrangement with William Wheatley.

“Let there be light,” they said: and there was The Black Crook. And audiences saw The Black Crook, that it was good, and musical theatre was born from the dark waters of the ballad opera and pantomime. And The Black Crook was called musical comedy, and everything else was called variety, vaudeville and burlesque. And the Mulligan Guard shows and Floradora were among the first musicals.

And George M. Cohan said, “Let there more of the American spirit in musical comedy, and let me write, direct, produce and star in these new musical comedies.” And Cohan made Little Johnny Jones, Forty-five Minutes from Broadway and George Washington Jr. and divided the musical comedy from fantasy extravaganzas like The Wizard of Oz: and it was so. And these were the age of the second musicals.



And Victor Herbert said, “Let the music of our operettas have its own American sound and let and American version of operetta appear” – and it was so. And Victor Herbert called his home grown operettas Babes in Toyland, The Red Mill and Naughty Marietta; and the gathering together of his more comical music he called It Happened in Nordland, Miss Dolly Dollars and Little Nemo: and Franz Lehar saw that it was good. And Franz Lehar said, “Let Basil Hood and Adrian Ross write an English adaptation of Die Lustige Witwe, and let The Merry Widow more romantic European style operettas: and Jerome Kern saw that it was good. And these were the third musicals.

And Jerome Kern said, “Let me fix the scores of these imported musicals, to divide our own sound from theirs; and let this new sound be used for the Princess Theatre musicals, for Oh Boy! and Leave it to Jane and Oh! Lady! Lady! And let them be lights in the heavens to give light to Irving Berlin, Harry Tierney, Joseph McCarthy, Vincent Youman, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein II: and it was so. And Florenz Zeigfeld and George White made two great lights: the greater Follies to rule the best, and the lesser Scandals to rule the rest: John Murray Anderson made The Greenwich Village Follies also. And producers set No, No Nanette, The Vagabond King, Sunny, Oh Kay! and Dearest Enemy in the firmament of the musical theatre to give light to Broadway: and audiences saw that they were good. And these were the fourth musicals.

And Oscar Hammerstein II said, “Let the waters of the Mississippi bring forth a musical that has life, which may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” And Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern created Show Boat: and the world saw that it was good. And Florenz Zeigfeld blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the houses of Broadway, and let musicals multiply throughout the earth. This was the age of the fifth musical.

Ethel Merman in ANYTHING GOES

Ethel Merman in ANYTHING GOES

And the audience said, “Let the composers and lyricists bring forth musicals of every kind.” – and it was so. And George and Ira Gershwin made Strike Up the Band, Girl Crazy and Of Thee I Sing; and Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart made On Your Toes, Babes in Arms and Pal Joey; and Noel Coward made The Third Little Show, Tonight at 8:30 and Set to Music; and Cole Porter made Anything Goes, Leave it To Me and DuBarry Was a Lady; and George Gershwin, Kurt Weill and Moss Hart made Lady in the Dark: and audiences saw that they was good.

And Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II said, “Let us remake musical theatre in our image: and let the book have dominion over the songs, and over the choreography, and over the direction, and over all the production, and integrate every creeping thing that creeps upon Broadway.” So Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II created Oklahoma!: in the image of the musical play they created it.

And audiences blessed them, and audiences said unto all librettists, composers and lyricists, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish Broadway and subdue it: and have dominion over the great white way, and over the musicals of other lands, and over every musical theatre production that is heard upon the earth.” And the librettists, composers and lyricists said, “Behold, we give you Annie Get Your Gun and On the Town and Bloomer Girl and Carousel and The Song of Norway and Brigadoon and Kiss Me Kate and Finian’s Rainbow and South Pacific.” And it was so. And audiences saw everything that they had made, and, behold, the musicals were very good.

And this was the sixth age of the musical.

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