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Outline the main changes and developments in American Stage Music from “Showboat” to “West Side Story”.

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Outline the main changes and developments in American Stage Music from "Showboat" to "West Side Story". Choose appropriate musicals to support your argument. The modern musical has been an important form of entertainment throughout the 20th century, still enjoying a good degree of popularity now. In its earlier days, a musical was often simply viewed as "something to fill the void between dinner and the call for last orders at the bar". There was no link between each piece of music; the shows were structured more like variety shows than actual stories. It was in the mid 1920's that significant change in American stage music began. In a genre so great in its content, it is difficult to pinpoint which shows really changed the direction of the American musical, but in order to answer this question I will identify and examine which productions were principally responsible for altering the audiences' perception of issues that affected them at the time, and also the shows that revolutionised musical content and appear years later, as fresh as they were when first drafted. These will be examined later in the essay, along with other productions that changed the direction of the musical in different ways, such as "Oklahoma!" with its innovative writing technique. A good starting point for this study is "Showboat"; a production, which just about every stage music enthusiast has agreed, redefined the genre. ...read more.


The American musical took another great step forward in 1935, when George Gershwin composed "Porgy & Bess". He took the elements of the New York 'street' sound consisting of blues, jazz, and ragtime and fused them into a newer, more popular art. Gershwin was by no means a newcomer to the scene; he had spent many years working on "Porgy & Bess" and had enjoyed success with productions such as "Of Thee I Sing" and "Girl Crazy". Along with his brother Ira, Gershwin made the production a success with his musical-dramatic instincts and varied tunes and melodies. These aspects coupled with Ira's compassionate lyrics made the transition from play to musical a success for "Porgy & Bess", but not immediately. An interesting development to come form this show was that Gershwin had the lyrics for 'I Got Plenty o' Nuttin' written first, something that would later become standard practice in the wake of "Oklahoma"! Gershwin described his work as a 'folk-opera', something that was rejected by many, who simply perceived his work with contempt for depicting out-dated, stereotypical views. Some claimed it gave 'a white man's view of the Negro' and 'was not free of some of the stereotypes associated with that view.' One critic challenged Gershwin's work, claiming "Folk-lore subjects recounted by an outsider are only valid as long as the folk in question is unable to speak for itself." ...read more.


Having studied under Hammerstein for a few years, Sondheim had the knowledge to write good, entertaining storylines and lyrics. Bernstein's influences came from his love of jazz, which he integrated with classical styles. The theme of racism is central to the plot and illustrated a problem that had received a great deal of recognition in previous shows. It didn't cause the controversy that "Showboat" and "Porgy & Bess" did, but still raised similar issues such as the white man's view of supremacy over coloured people. It contained a fair representation of the divide between black and white, more so than the white man's view of Negro life that had weighed down the other productions. Much change and development occurred after the watershed production of 1927. The American Musical has undergone many musical fashions and trends, some of which passed without significance, others leaving the blueprints for future shows and hits. It has blurred the edges between popular and classical music, with form and devices from all musical periods. Through the power of these shows, composers can amend our perception of subjects and educate the masses as well as entertain. Development and change have forever be a part of the genre; they went hand-in-hand and have never been separated. This has been shown by newer composers taking the ideas of the older generation and modifying them for the issues of the day, while adding ideas of their own at the same time. ...read more.

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