Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920s

Overview

The 1920s represented a turning point in the history of the Broadway musical, breaking with the vaudeville traditions of the early twentieth century to anticipate the more complex, sophisticated musicals of today. Composers Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and their contemporaries revitalized the musical with the sound of jazz and other new influences. Productions became more elaborate, with dazzling sets, tumultuous choreography, and staging tricks, all woven into tightly constructed ...

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Overview

The 1920s represented a turning point in the history of the Broadway musical, breaking with the vaudeville traditions of the early twentieth century to anticipate the more complex, sophisticated musicals of today. Composers Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and their contemporaries revitalized the musical with the sound of jazz and other new influences. Productions became more elaborate, with dazzling sets, tumultuous choreography, and staging tricks, all woven into tightly constructed story lines. These dramatic changes of the 1920s ushered in the "golden age" of the American musical theater.
Ethan Mordden captures the excitement and the atmosphere of Broadway during the 1920s in Make Believe. In captivating, lively prose, Mordden describes in superb detail the stars, the songs, the jokes—the sheer fun of this era. Here are shows great, interesting, or even bizarre— Sally , The Student Prince, Rose-Marie, Lady, Be Good!, No, No, Nannette, Rainbow, Good News!, Ziegfeld Follies, The "Coconuts", The 5 Oclock Girl, Blossom Time, Whoopee. Early on, the charisma of entertainers such as the bragging Al Jolson ("You ain't heard nothin' yet!"), the bewitching Marilyn Miller, the madly prancing Eddie Cantor, the unpredictable Gertrude Lawrence, and the indescribable Marx Brothers were the essential element in a hit musical. But, as Mordden demonstrates, the stars lost power and the authors took control, as shows like Desert Song , Peggy-Ann, Strike Up the Band, and Sweet Adeline reinvented the old forms. The musical became more "adult," too, baiting the censor in the lyrics of Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, and B. G. DeSylva. And Broadway became more racially integrated, with "blackface" acts dying out while all-black musicals such as Shuffle Along and the Blackbirds shows enjoyed mainstream success.
Make Believe reaches its climax with Morddens' deep look at Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's 1927 masterpiece, Show Boat. With its intricate story line spanning four decades, its gala interracial cast, its stunning physical production, its powerful score including "Ol' Man River," "Bill," "Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun'," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," "Life on the Wicked Stage," and "Why Do I Love You?," Show Boat was the first American musical universally hailed as a classic. Fusing the decade's developments into one epic show, Kern and Hammerstein created something at once timeless and contemporary, the ultimate twenties show but, as producer Florenz Ziegfeld called it on the posters, "the all American musical comedy."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
The 1920s was the decade that transformed the American musical from a string of generic formula tunes and specialty acts into a cohesive play that advanced plot and expressed characterization through individualized and dramatic songs. So claims critic and author Mordden (Broadway Babies; How Long Has This Been Going On?) in this convincing book that goes even beyond musicals and operettas. Mordden, who often writes for The New Yorker, seems to be familiar with every star, song and show that appeared on Broadway during that decade, but his erudition is happily leavened by a schmoozy, jocular style, which embraces the reader as another theater insider. Examining the reactionary appeal of operetta, the domination of personalities like Eddie Cantor and Marilyn Miller, and the advancement of stagecraft, Mordden shares new insights into the black musicals-both revues and book shows-of the time, and into the influence of jazz on George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rogers and the other composers who were to shape what would be the golden age of musicals. In one chapter, Mordden persuasively argues that the 1927 musical "Show Boat," based on Edna Ferber's novel of race and show business, introduced that age. Sprightly, opinionated and well-informed, this will be a hit with theater lovers.
Booknews
Describes the transition decade during which the Broadway musical was turning away from its vaudeville roots and taking on more elaborate sets, tumultuous choreography, staging tricks, tightly constructed stories, and jazz and other new musical influences. Discusses operetta, the star comic, the variety show, new social attitudes, and other dimensions. No bibliography or illustrations. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195105940
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/15/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.44 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Ethan Mordden's articles on the American musical have appeared in numerous magazines, especially the New Yorker. He is also the author of Broadway Babies and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and, in fiction, the Buddies tetralogy, and How Long Has This Been Going On?

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Table of Contents

1 Little Angel Cake: The State of Musical Comedy 3
2 The Second Violin: The State of Operetta 36
3 Hooray for Captain Spalding: The Star Comic 53
4 The Girls of My Dreams: The Variety Show 83
5 Yankee Doodle Rhythm: The New Music 99
6 Let's Merge: The New Social Attitudes 132
7 In Love with Love: Operetta Reinvented 161
8 Add a Little Wiggle: Musical Comedy Reinvented 184
9 Go, Little Boat: The All American Musical Comedy 205
10 My Future Just Passed: What Happened After 233
Index 237
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