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Musical theater: the journey of this spectacular art form

Musical theatre is a piece of theater that contains dialogue, music and most importantly dance where all of these performing arts are combined to produce a work of greater momentum and poignancy. These elements combine to form a greater narrative of a story that binds all the finer aspects of the individual arts into a compelling integrity. It typically employs popular styles of music.

This fascinating art form exists in enchanting variants. Book musicals are those in which a strong storyline guides the characters and the music is traditional. The three ruling components of a book musical are the music, the lyrics and the book.  The book of a musical refers to the story, character development, and dramatic structure, including the spoken dialogue.  Book can also refer to the dialogue and lyrics together, which are sometimes referred to as the libretto which is Italian for little book. The music and lyrics together form the score of the musical.

A revue is a collection of songs bound by a common element; concept musical is where the concept of the act is as prominent or weighty as the story; the jukebox musicals runs a story using songs of a single artist and the rock or pop musical uses rock or pop music for it storytelling with usually little or no dialogue and can be called the rock or pop opera.

A musical typically comprises of two acts consisting about six guiding pieces of music, and over ten songs. Verbal dialogue is scattered across the musical though there may be musicals that are only sung all the way through like Jesus Christ Superstar or Evita. The moments of greatest tension or importance are told through songs.

The people behind putting up a musical comprise producers, directors, choreographers, musical director, technical director, stage manager that is the person responsible for the technical aspects of production such as staging, lighting, props, set, costumes, sound, or any special effects.


The beginnings of musical theater can be linked back to Greek antiquity. In its earliest forms as Greek or Medieval etc, it existed in some variant of the present evolved scene. But musical theatre as it is today started with Operettas which were a transition from Opera forms to musical comedy Such as Gilbert & Sullivan.


The first theatre musical in America that qualifies under the modern definition of the form was The Black Crook that embraced music and dance for relating a story.

It premiered in New York on September 12, 1866 with a staggering five and a half hours show but in spite of its length, it ran for a record-breaking 474 performances. The form was popularly accepted and celebrated for its capacity to entertain and the allowance for music and art it gave.


The golden era of musicals was during the 1940’s to 1960’s. It started with Oklahoma! by Rodger’s and Hammerstein that beautifully integrated all aspects of musical theatre. It had a cohesive plot, songs that forwarded the story, and dance sequences that supported the plot too as well as went into the fruitful task of character development. It was a break from what the musical had been rapidly rendered as in those times, as a cheap entertainer devoid of taste. It was the first blockbuster Broadway show, running for a total of 2,212 performances, and it was consequently made into a popular film.

It still remains one of the most repeated and loved productions


This period gave the genre Timeless musicals such as Carousel in 1945, South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959).

There was a shift in subject matter here and it grew to be more serious, focused and meaningful.


The antagonist in Oklahoma! is a suspected murderer and psychopath who hosts a fetish for lewd post cards. The musical Carousel deals with spousal abuse, burglary, suicide and the afterlife.

The most notable musical contributor who emerged during the 1960’s was Steven Sondheim. His popular works include Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and many more.


The 1970’s saw the appearance of rock musicals such as Jesus Christ, Superstar Rocky Horror , GODSPELL  while in the 80’s and 90’s saw the beginning of the mega- musicals or Pop Operas . there emerged in this genre one of the most popular musicals of all times such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Cats Miss Saigon Aida Little Shop of Horrors that won over world audiences.


Musicals currently drive on huge profits, viewership, the creation of spectacle; Broadway influenced shows as well, Broadway being the momentous place for the showcase of shows, the most prestigious. However there have been a few shows that are different from the others. Avenue Q , The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Spring Awakening , In the Heights , Next to Normal , The Book of Mormon are some of the most popular musicals of our times. The form is a ripe one, an apt performing art that caters to the audiences’ different entertainment reaches.

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