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Musical Theatre in America – Music GCSE

During the 20th century, there was a rise in musical theatre with the introductions of many different musicals. There was the Broadway musicals where some of the earliest musicals were performed such as showboat (1927). There was West End musicals which saw musicals such as Oliver Twist (1960), Cats (1981) and Phantom of the Opera (1986). Lastly, there were Rock operas where the musicals were based on the genre of rock-inspired work. Such include We Will Rock You (2002) and Mamma Mia (1999).

The Origins of the Musical

The musical as we know today has a long and colourful history. Music theatre can be traced back to the time of Ancient Greece, where stories and morality plays were acted out for entertainment. over the last three hundred or so years, the musical has gradually evolved from many different styles of entertainment, both musical and non-musical. Two of the oldest forms are the vaudeville and burlesque.

Vaudeville and Burlesque

The vaudeville was a form of entertainment popular in the 1700s. This work comprised popular songs ‘borrowed’ from other works but with new, often comical and vulgar words set to the music. The idea was to shock and entertain the audience.

The burlesque was similar in form to the vaudeville but tended to be a little more restrained and classical in style. The subject matter was often a parody of other serious plays. There were two other forms that were also important being the opera-bouffe and operetta.


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