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What Are Broadway Musicals?

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  • Written By: Lumara Lee
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 21 March 2014
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A Broadway musical is a form of musical theater that holds performances in the theater district in New York City. Musical theater is a style of performing arts that combines music, singing, dancing, and spoken word. Broadway musicals are considered to be the highest form of musical theater.

The Broadway theater district is composed of 40 large theaters that seat 500 people or more. These theaters are located in Manhattan between 40th Street and 54th Street, and across Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. The theater district includes Times Square, and nearby Lincoln Center also hosts Broadway musicals.

Broadway was the main street in New York City during the 1800s, which made it the ideal location for investors to build theaters and other entertainment establishments. Burlesque shows that were performed in theaters on Broadway were the forerunners of the style that later became known as Broadway musicals. In 1866, a show called The Black Crook combined all of the elements of music, song, dance, and speech, and is considered to be the first Broadway musical. William Wheatley, the manager of Niblo's Garden where The Black Crook was first performed, is known as the originator of Broadway musicals.

In the latter part of the 19th century, Gilbert and Sullivan found success with H.M.S. Pinafore and other comic operas. Flo Ziegfield brought the Ziegfield Follies to Broadway in 1907. The Follies entertained Broadway theater aficionados for many years.

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By the early 1900s, Broadway musicals had developed into the style that is still popular today. Top composers wrote the music and lyrics for these plays. Many of the songs from these Broadway productions became hits.

Rodgers and Hammerstein, a prolific composing duo, gained popularity in the 20th century. Hammerstein wrote most of the lyrics for the Broadway productions that they developed, and Rodgers wrote the musical scores. The first show that they collaborated on was Oklahoma, which became an overnight success. They subsequently created other popular productions, including Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music.

Irving Berlin is considered one of the top American composers. After writing hit songs that included There’s No Business Like Show Business and God Bless America, he turned his talents to Broadway musicals and wrote the successful Broadway productions White Christmas and Annie Get Your Gun. One of his contemporaries named Jerome Kern stated, "Irving Berlin has no place in American music -- he is American music."

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