Stephen Sondheim’s Company is considered to be one of the first concept musicals, moving in a different direction from the book musicals of creative teams such as Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The construction of Company combines aspects of a concept musical with a psychological narrative. An investigation of the musical’s dramatic layers furthers a metadramatic understanding of Sondheim’s unique and innovative version of the concept musical—a version that refuses to subjugate character development and emotional accessibility for conceptual didacticism.
This according to “Concept meets narrative in Sondheim’s Company: Metadrama as a method of analysis” by Natalie Draper (Studies in musical theatre IV/2  pp. 171–83).
Today is Sondheim’s 90th birthday! Above, a photo from around the time Company was produced; below, the show’s climactic song, Being alive, from a 2011 concert production.
In 2018 A-R Editions published a new critical edition of Shuffle along, which premiered on 23 May 1921 and became the first overwhelmingly successful African American musical on Broadway.
Langston Hughes, who saw the production, said that Shuffle along marked the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance. Both black and white audiences swarmed to the show, which prompted the integration of subsequent Broadway audiences. The dances were such a smash that choreographers for white Broadway shows hired Shuffle along chorus girls to teach their chorus lines the new steps.
The editors have assembled the full score and libretto for this critical edition from the original performance materials, and the critical report thoroughly explains all sources and editorial decisions. The accompanying scholarly essay examines the music, dances, and script of Shuffle along and places this influential show in its social, racial, and historical context.
Above, a publicity photo from 1921; below, a recording from the production that includes the show’s breakout hit I’m just wild about Harry.
For the opening of a 1976 exhibit on Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the curator, Don Vlack, created an aperitif inspired by Lenya and named in her honor.
Vlack described the drink, which is made with Mandarine Napoléon liqueur and Kritter Brut sparkling wine, as “very much like the great singer in that it is slightly bittersweet, gentle but potent (even volatile), and is, in color, a light orange, the tint of her hair.”
This according to “Lenya: A moment in history (and a drink)” (Kurt Weill newsletter XXIX/2 [fall 2011] p. 9).
Today is Lenya’s 130th birthday! Above, enjoying her namesake aperitif at the opening reception; below, singing Seeräuber-Jenny, one of her signature songs.
Gertrud “Trude” Rittmann was on her way to becoming one of Germany’s most promising young composers when the rise of Nazism forced her to flee to the United States in 1937.
Through her work as accompanist and music director in the New York ballet world, Rittman met Agnes De Mille; the two subsequently collaborated closely on the creation of dance music for several landmark Broadway shows.
Rittmann also created choral arrangements and underscoring for Richard Rodgers, making major contributions to The King and I, The sound of music, and South Pacific, and she worked on every musical composed by Frederick Loewe, including Brigadoon, My fair lady, and Camelot. One of her finest achievements was the original dance music for the Small house of Uncle Thomas ballet in The King and I, created with the choreographer Jerome Robbins.
This according to “A composer in her own right: Arrangers, musical directors and conductors” by Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh, an essay included in Women in American musical theatre: Essays on composers, lyricists, librettists, arrangers, choreographers, designers, directors, producers and performance artists (Jefferson: McFarland, 2008, pp. 77–91).
Today is Rittmann’s 110th birthday! Below, a performance of Small house of Uncle Thomas in 2012.
Oscar Asche’s Chu Chin Chow was the most popular musical in Britain during World War I, playing 2,235 performances over almost five years. Much of its success was due to the era’s fascination with the Orient, and it contained accessible music by Frederic Norton that generally only hinted at exoticism.
Chu Chin Chow continued a tradition of Orientalist musical entertainments, perhaps most notably Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. The legacy continues in the 21st century, for example in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Bombay dreams.
This according to “Chu Chin Chow and Orientalist musical theatre in Britain during the First World War by William A. Everett, an essay included in Music and Orientalism in the British Empire, 1780s to 1940s: Portrayal of the East (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007, pp. 277–96).
Above, an autographed postcard depicting Asche in the original production; below, a film about the show’s promotion.
The Takarazuka Kagekidan (Takarazuka Revue) is a Japanese all-women musical theater troupe that delivers a wide array of performances, including Broadway musicals, traditional Japanese plays, and flashy Vegas-style revues.
Performers are assigned a stage gender that, with rare exceptions, they stick to and perform as throughout their time with the company. Women who play women on stage are referred to as musumeyaku, while those who portray men are called otokoyaku.
When comparing images of otokoyaku over time there is a palpable shift in appearance, from a look that seeks to portray a convincing male to a more androgynous aesthetic. While the otokoyaku’s shift in appearance from classically male to more androgynous and almost feminine may have been instigated by the male authorities of the Takarazuka Kagekidan, this different way of presenting themselves as male can in fact be seen as liberating and offering new opportunities for expression to the performers.
This according to “Dude looks like a lady: The otokoyaku’s transformation in Japan’s Takarazuka Revue” by Michelle Johnson, an essay included in Dance ACTions: Traditions and transformations (Birmingham: Society of Dance History Scholars, 2013, pp. 193–201).
Above, the Takarazuka Revue in 1930; below, the opening of one of the musicals in the Rose of Versailles series, which provides the main examples in the article.
Oscar Hammerstein’s Americanization of Georges Bizet’s Carmen—68 years after its premiere—altered its form from the operatic genre to that of musical theater and transformed the place and time to a setting more familiar to a Broadway audience.
Instead of playing in Seville, Carmen Jones takes place in a city of the American South, African Americans become the sociological equivalent of Spanish gypsies, and the cigarette factory becomes the more topical World War II army parachute factory.
The change from bullfighting to boxing, a spectator sport that had become increasingly popular in America since the 1890s, demonstrates how Hammerstein distances the Carmen story from the world of Prosper Mérimée’s novella without diminishing its universal constants of human tragedy.
This according to “Carmen am Broadway: Oscar Hammersteins Carmen Jones” by Manfred Siebald, an essay included in Caecilia, Tosca, Carmen: Brüche und Kontinuitäten im Verhältnis von Musik und Welterleben (Tübingen: Francke Verlag, 2006, pp. 225–234).
Today is Hammerstein’s 120th birthday! Above, a portrait by Abbey Altson from 1943, the year of Carmen Jones’s premiere; below, the trailer for Otto Preminger’s 1954 film version.
What is most striking about the nudie musicals that ran in New York in the 1970s—aside from the many naked, jiggling bodies, of course—was just how conventional they were.
Even the raunchiest of the bunch espoused the same basic messages: Human bodies are beautiful! Sex, regardless of with whom, is natural and fun! The seismic cultural shift that is taking place right outside this theater is not threatening or confusing or scary at all!
In marked contrast with XXX theaters, peepshows, and sex clubs like Plato’s Retreat, the sex that nudie musicals featured was simulated—never real—and was almost always packaged in a familiar, age-old format: the musical revue.
This according to “Nudie musicals in 1970s New York City” by Elizabeth L. Wollman (Sound matters 16 June 2014; RILM Abstracts 2014-15971). Wollman’s monograph on this topic is Hard times: The adult musical in 1970s New York City (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
Above, one Kenn Duncan’s photographs of the members of the original Broadway cast of Hair, now part of the New York Public Library’s Kenn Duncan Photograph Archive. Below, the finale of Oh! Calcutta!
While some scholars have suggested that Jerome Kern’s early work has little relevance to his later output, there are many continuities—not only in the way that Kern constructed his songs, but also in the way that he employed music to convey dramatic meaning.
Before becoming a successful writer of full scores for Broadway, Kern spent over a decade working as an interpolator, contributing songs to shows written principally by other composers. In this capacity he learned to write songs to specification for a variety of theatrical genres, including British and American musical comedy, Viennese operetta, and Broadway revue.
Kern thus gained technical fluency in numerous musical styles, and learned how these styles and their diverse associations of genre, gender, race, and social class could be harnessed to convey specific dramatic meanings. Continuities are also evident between his early and later work in his musical grammar: preferred song structures, harmonic and melodic sequences, modulations, and cadences.
This according to Becoming Jerome Kern: The early songs and shows, 1903–1915 by James Kenneth Randall, a dissertation accepted by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 2004.
Today is Kern’s 130th birthday! Above, an early photograph of the composer; below, Ella Fitzgerald’s Jerome Kern songbook.
Several stage and screen productions derived from L. Frank Baum’s The wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) preceded the renowned 1939 film The wizard of Oz.
A number of Oz musicals were staged between 1902 and 1918, beginning with Baum’s own The Wizard of Oz (1902; the full book and lyrics are here). A wide variety of silent Oz films followed between 1908 and 1925. While these are largely forgotten now, they figured in discussions when MGM began work on what was to become their classic Judy Garland vehicle.
This according to Oz before the rainbow: L. Frank Baum’s The wonderful wizard of Oz on stage and screen to 1939 by Mark E. Swartz (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). Above, a poster for the 1902 production; below, the earliest known film of the story, which is thought to have been based on that stage version.