Stage and Film


  • Tin Pan Alley
  • Stage and Film
  • Ragtime and Jazz
  • Popular Standards
  • Blues and Early Folk

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By the 19th century, live entertainment had been well established in America and the theater proved to be the great medium for introducing the American public to the diversity of popular entertainment.

During the last years of minstrel shows, European operettas were a heavy influence on the stage and introduced a new intimacy between music and scene. Operettas were later adapted into comedic vaudeville or variety shows that provided a range of live entertainment, musical presentations, novelty and specialty acts.

Musical revues were introduced in contrast to vaudeville, using a theme to connect each song and act. While vaudeville strung individual acts together, revues used a single cast performing interconnected skits, dialogue and songs. A new format called musical comedy adapted both the revue and operetta to a new platform by adding a libretto and interpolating a narrative with songs and dances.

Stage productions, which had remained the entertainment of choice for over a century, had its final manifestation in 1920 by fusing all preceding stage formats--minstrel, vaudeville, musical comedy and revues--to create the Broadway musical. While the preceding formats would continue for another 20 years, nothing ever matched the success or grandeur of the Broadway musical.

American film began in the late 1890s, and in 1903 the first silent film was released. While the screen remained silent, individual songs were interpolated into the scenes by way of a house pianist who decided what and when to play. It was not until 1918 that a musical score was composed specifically for a movie (still played by a house pianist, but with structured cues and songs). In 1926, the first "talkie" was released, and the following year, Warner Brothers produced "The Jazz Singer." This film is not only viewed as a pioneer of film sound, but as the inauguration of the movie musical.

Broadway and Hollywood musicals have always had a strange marriage, with most credit going to the stage as the source of subject matter and soundtracks from which films have borrowed. However, both mediums--so similar and equally loved by the songwriters of Tin Pan Alley--have produced more popular stars, brilliant collaborations and enduring standards than any other era to date.