Fact Checked

What Is a Musical Comedy?

Emily Espinoza
Emily Espinoza

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.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

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.

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Discussion Comments


Most Bollywood (Hindi film sector) films are musicals. So naturally, most comedies are musical comedies. But actors in Bollywood films do not sing their own songs. They lip-sync to them. When I first started watching Hindi films, I thought that the actors were singing themselves!

Indian musical comedies are a lot of fun because there are also elaborately choreographed dances accompanying songs. It can seem odd for someone who is not used to this type of cinema. But when one gets used to it, non-musicals start to look boring. In India, most of the songs and music composed are composed for films, so film music releases are awaited eagerly by the audience.


@donasmrs-- A musical, by definition, is when one or more characters in a play or film sing. The actor could actually sing, or the actor could lip-sync. Films where characters do not sing are not musicals. So yes, there has to be singing for a comedy to be a musical comedy.

In musical comedies, songs are often used by the characters to communicate. Or the character could be telling a story with a song. A good example is Grease. I'm not sure actually if it could be categorized as a comedy, but I think so.


All films have some sort of music these days in the form of background music. But that doesn't make them musical comedies right? Does there have to be live singing for a comedy to be a musical comedy?

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