Sunday, January 28, 2007

First American Musical Q & A from the Times

I saw this in the times RSS feed and thought it would be something to share with all of you - it's a bit of interesting minutia from the theater world.

NY Times
post from today:

It’s a delight to see that “A Chorus Line” is back and doing well. Now, please tell me: What was the first American musical?

A. You can get an argument about this. Some purists, for example, may contend that the first modern musical was “Oklahoma!” or “Show Boat.” Others point to minstrel shows or even to an English ballad opera, “Flora,” presented in Charleston, S.C., in 1735.

But the most often mentioned ancestor of the musical and its predecessor, the leg show, is “The Black Crook,” which opened in Manhattan at Niblo’s Garden on Sept. 12, 1866.

According to Stanley Green’s Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theater (Dodd, Mead, 1976), the musical came about by accident. A French ballet troupe had been booked into the Academy of Music, but it burned down before the opening. Meanwhile, “The Black Crook,” a silly melodrama based loosely on Faust, was set to open at Niblo’s, on Broadway near Prince Street.

Not trusting the melodrama, William Wheatley, Niblo’s manager, hired the ballet company and combined it with the story line. The show ran more than five hours, but nobody seemed to care. The sight of 100 dancing girls was enough to ensure a spectacular run. If that weren’t enough, preachers denounced it from the pulpit for its suggestive songs.

In 1954, a Broadway musical, “The Girl in Pink Tights,” was based on the circumstances surrounding the original production.

Big production numbers and chorus girls — two vital Broadway features today — came into their own with “The Black Crook,” prompting some writers to label it the first true American musical comedy.

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