What is Musical Theater?
As entertainment goes musical theater is extremely popular. However, what does the term musical theater actually mean? This is an attempt to decipher the answers and also explore the history of this rich form of entertainment.
Going to the theater has always been a special occasion, even the movies cannot stand up in comparison to live performance. Going to the theater is a one-off experience that will never be replicated again as no two performances are ever the same.
Therefore, it is hardly surprising that theater has a tight hold on audiences around the world, but talking about theater in America we are often referring to musical theater. Musical theater is a term for a production that comprises of music, dance, singing, and acting that all relay a story. Sometimes we refer to musical theater simply as musicals, and the audience is encouraged to join in and be part of the show.
Generally concerning musical theater there are three types of dramatic performance, ballet, opera, and musicals. Ballet is the odd one out as it completely tells its story through dance, whereas operas and musicals combine music, dance, and singing to relate their tales.
The difference between operas and musicals is that in operas all the dialogue is spoken. This is not the case with musicals, where there is a mixture of dialogue and singing.
So, musicals and operas are inherently different, and it was the opera that first took to the world stages. Opera first became popular around the 18th Century and they varied in form and content. Operas came in two forms, highbrow opera that was performed in theaters for the elite of society, and operettas that were whimsical and often performed on street stages for the populace to enjoy.
This was the scene in Europe before the genre crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America. These frontier people were not bound by the same class structures as in the old countries, and so entertainment was enjoyed by everybody. The early musicals in the New World were in the form of minstrel shows, where larger than life characters performed in satirical roles lampooning stereotypes of the day.
All through the 19th Century the minstrel shows gathered popularity across the U.S but they started to be refined into more gentile forms of musical performances known as burlesque and vaudeville. Burlesque was slightly sleazier than vaudeville but both forms of musical performances included singing, dancing, and acting.
Mostly it was traveling bands of performers who formed troupes that were almost on permanent tours all over the country. As the troupes honed their skills the formation of theater as an entertainment medium in America became mainstream and out of this came The Musical.
The first recorded musical that took place was in 1866, when a performance of The Black Crook was performed for the very first time. It featured all the prerequisites of musical form, it had dialogue, singing, and dancing. But it was completely different than what had been performed before and it was the beginning of the American Musical.