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A musical comedy is a theatre production that incorporates musical numbers into the story. Many stories have been told through this genre, but there are a few recurring themes that are integral to many of them. Musical comedy has its roots in French productions from the mid-19th century. The style spread and continued to develop in the United States throughout the 20th century.
Various recurring features tend to be mainstays of musical comedy. Plots tend to be positive and there is often a moral at the end of the story. "Good" always overcomes "bad," and the boy always gets the girl, leaving the audience feeling uplifted. Glamorous musical numbers that involve catchy music, beautiful costuming, and, occasionally, even special effects are also an important element. It is this element that arises from the genre's roots in burlesque and operetta productions.
The origins of musical comedy begin with the French composer Hervé, who is credited with the development of the operetta. Several other composers produced many popular operettas throughout the latter half of the 19th century. Translations made their way onto stages in London and New York and introduced the people there to world of musical theatre. The first show of this kind that actually originated in the United States is thought to have been The Black Crook, which opened in New York in 1866. It is believed that these early operettas paved the way for the development of musical comedy as it is known today.
In the early 20th century, musical comedy began to emerge as its own art form and developed a more uplifting and patriotic feel that American audiences could relate to more easily. This was due largely to the work of George M. Cohan, who wrote the well known song, "Give My Regards to Broadway," among many others. Following Cohan's early creations, the genre flourished as composers such as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin contributed their works.
Musical comedy continued to grow in popularity throughout the rest of the 20th century. Artists such as Rogers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Bob Fosse all left their mark on the genre. In 2011, musical comedy remains a popular form of theatre production.
Frequently Asked Questions
What defines a musical comedy?
A musical comedy is a theatrical genre that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance. The story and emotional content of the piece—humor, pathos, love, anger—are communicated through the words, music, movement, and technical aspects of the entertainment as an integrated whole. Musical comedies are known for their light-hearted plots, catchy melodies, and often feature satirical or comedic elements that engage the audience in a fun, entertaining manner.
How does a musical comedy differ from a regular musical?
While both musical comedies and regular musicals integrate songs and narrative, musical comedies specifically emphasize humor and often have more lighthearted storylines. Regular musicals may cover a broader range of emotions and themes, including serious and dramatic content. Musical comedies aim to entertain and amuse, often prioritizing laughter and enjoyment through witty dialogue, comedic situations, and humorous characters.
What are some classic examples of musical comedies?
Classic examples of musical comedies include "Singin' in the Rain," which showcases the transition from silent films to talkies, and "The Producers," known for its satirical edge on Broadway productions. "Guys and Dolls," set in New York City, is another iconic musical comedy that features gangsters and gamblers, while "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" combines Roman farce with infectious tunes.
Can musical comedies be successful on film as well as on stage?
Absolutely, musical comedies have found great success on film, often reaching a wider audience than stage productions. Film adaptations allow for more elaborate sets, special effects, and cinematic techniques that can enhance the storytelling and comedic elements. Successful film adaptations of musical comedies include "The Sound of Music," which won five Academy Awards, and "Mamma Mia!" which grossed over $600 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.
How have musical comedies evolved over time?
Musical comedies have evolved significantly since their early days in the 20th century. Initially, they often featured simplistic plots and were a vehicle for showcasing songs. Over time, they have become more sophisticated, with complex characters and plots that can satirize contemporary issues or parody musical forms themselves. The integration of various musical styles and the influence of pop culture have also helped musical comedies remain relevant and appealing to modern audiences.