In this article we're going to present a brief history of musical theater from its early beginnings right up to the present day.
Musicals actually started with the ancient Greeks who put on plays with songs. While they weren't called musicals at the time, that is indeed what they were. The music was crude by today's standards and the stories were not very well done, again by today's standards, but this was the early beginning of what was to become the modern musical.
In the 1700s there were many stage entertainments, though again they were not called musicals. The first English language work that had any lasting value was The Beggar's Opera which was done in 1728. It was a satirical spoof of the times. This was typical of the type of entertainment one would find up until the 1800's.
Musicals, as we know them today, started in the 1800s with the French and Viennese Operettas. The works of Offenbach and Strauss were the first musicals to achieve international popularity.
The contemporary Broadway musical, as we know it today, took its form from these operettas and was done in what we call Minstrel Shows. These eventually gave way to a new form of musical known as Vaudeville.
It wasn't until 1860 with the success of The Black Crook that the American musical really began to take off. During this time we were treated to the great works of Gilbert and Sullivan from 1871 to 1896.
During the early 1900s, composers like George M. Cohan and Victor Herbert gave musicals a new sound and style that is still popular to this very day. This style was then updated by composers such as Jerome Kern, Guy Boulton and P.G. Wodehouse.
By the 1930s the American musical had reached popularity the like of which it had never seen before, with composers such as Rogers and Hart and Cole Porter dominating the era.
By the 40s and 50s we were treated to some of the greatest musicals in what was called the modern era. These musicals included such classics as Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, The King and I, My Fair Lady, and the list goes on for miles.
In the 1960s we saw such great musicals like Hello Dolly, Fiddler On The Roof, and Hair, which was the first musical in the United States to feature nude actors.
By the 1970s musical theater had become pretty extravagant with the advances in technology and design. The 70s brought us such great shows as A Little Night Music, A Chorus Line, No No Nanette, Sweeney Todd and Evita.
But the hits kept coming and would continue to come, many from Britain. In the 80s we saw such great shows like Cats, Les Miserables and Phantom Of The Opera.
In the 25 years since, literally hundreds of musicals have hit the stage. Some great, some not so great. But what was once a humble beginning is now one of the major forms of entertainment, not only in the United States but all across the world.