Musical theatre

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Plays

The Beggar's Opera

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Gay’s ‘ballad opera’ set in eighteenth-century London’s underworld is at once a vigorous satire on the moral and financial corruption of a fast-growing commercial society, and a groundbreaking piece of theatre. Combining spoken dialogue with popular songs, The Beggar’s Opera is in effect the first musical. Witty, barbed and fast-moving, the play was a theatrical sensation when it opened in 1728 at the Theatre Royal, London, with the romance between the feisty innocent Polly and the rogue Macheath seizing the popular imagination.

Polly Peachum, daughter of a fence and a thief-taker, has secretly married the notorious highwayman Macheath. Horrified at their daughter throwing herself a way on such a man, Mr and Mrs Peachum plot to extricate Polly from the marriage, as well as to profit by it, by turning in their son-in-law, collecting the reward for doing so, and seeing him hanged. The besotted Polly helps Macheath escape, but he is betrayed by a group of whores and taken to Newgate prison, where he is once again helped to escape, this time by Lucy Lockit, daughter of the prison-keeper, who is pregnant by and betrothed to him. Through their eternal love triangle, Gay explores the pleasures and dangers of romantic and social aspiration, while the double-dealing Mr Peachum embodies the ruthless self-interest of his age and the fine line between respectability and criminality.

Blood Brothers

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A compelling story of friendship, loyalty and fate, Blood Brothers is one of the longest-running and most successful ever West End musicals, as well as one of the most moving.

Twin brothers are separated at birth because their mother cannot afford to keep them both; one of them is given away to a wealthy woman, the other remains with his mother. They become friends and swear to be blood brothers, all the time unaware of their true fraternity. But as they grow older, the two brothers find they can no longer ignore the class difference that divides them, and the love triangle that has dominated their lives erupts into a quarrel. The staggeringly emotional climax of the play questions whether it was destiny, or the inevitable difference of class, that led to the fatal conflict of two brothers who were once so close. Blood Brothers was first performed at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983.

Brief Encounter

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Your heart dances. The world seems strange and new. You want to laugh and skip and fall forever… You are in love. You are in love with the wrong person. Laura, the respectable suburban wife, and Alec, the idealistic, married doctor, meet in a station buffet, fall passionately in love but are doomed never to find fulfilment.

David Lean's iconic 1945 movie, Brief Encounter, was written by Noël Coward and was based on one of his one-act plays, Still Life, written a decade earlier. This version for the stage was adapted by Emma Rice, Artistic Director of Kneehigh Theatre Company, bringing this timeless tale of joy and heartache into the theatre. Also included within the romantic action are nine songs originally written by Coward.

Kneehigh’s production Brief Encounter was first presented by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Cineworld at the Cinema Haymarket on 2 February 2008.

Cavalcade

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

‘It is a magnificent play in which the note of national pride pervading every scene and every sentence must make each one of us face the future with courage and high hopes’ The Daily Mail, 1931. Such was the reception for Coward’s spectacular pageant when it first appeared at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. Telling the story of a great swathe of history, from the Boer War, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and the coming of the Jazz Age, Coward’s great coup de théâtre was to channel these historical moments through the prism of the lives of one Mayfair family.

Although there have been some revivals, no subsequent production of Cavalcade has ever matched the premiere for its scale. As Sheridan Morley writes in his introduction, ‘Cavalcade was a prodigious feat of sheer stage-management . . . a grandiose stage epic in three acts and twenty-two scenes that was to cost an almost unprecedented thirty-thousand pre-war pounds and to keep a cast and backstage crew of three hundred people employed at Drury Lane for more than a year, playing to a total box office take of well over three hundred thousand pounds. Cavalcade was the kind of show of which a latterday Cameron Mackintosh or Andfrew Lloyd Webber would be proud.’

Conversation Piece

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in the decades after the French Revolution, Conversation Piece tells the story of Paul, Duc de Chaucigny-Varennes, who has come to Brighton to escape the terrors in France. In his company is Melanie, a dance hall singer whom Paul passes off as his ward and the offspring of his murdered friend. He hopes to marry her off to a member of Brightonian high society; she, however, has other plans and, with the help of her suitor Edward, tries to outmanoeuvre Lady Julia Charteris, in the hope of getting her heart’s desires.

Writing about the original production, the Daily Telegraph said: ‘It was a big occasion before ever the curtain rose . . . It became a great one as soon as Yvonne Printemps appeared . . . Mr Coward shares her triumph. Or, rather, since he is author, composer, producer and chief male actor in this brilliant show, he enjoys a separate triumph all to himself.'

Conversation Piece, a musical comedy, was first performed at His Majesty’s Theatre, London, in 1934.

The Coronation of Poppea

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Coronation of Poppea, freely adapted from the libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello for L'incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi, depicts the triumphant adultery between Poppea and the Roman emperor Nero. Ravenhill updates Tacitus’s scathing portrayal of imperial degeneracy with language which is contemporary, spare and brutally powerful.

This version of the The Coronation of Poppea opened at the King’s Head theatre, Islington, in April 2011, in a production directed by the author.

audio Dugout III: Warboy (and the Backboard Blues )

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Drawing upon his childhood memories of West Texas, artist, musician and writer Terry Allen has created this magical, multi-layered evening in the tradition of Southern story-telling. As Allen explains, “Dugout is a love story; an investigation into how memory is invented.”

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Jo Harvey Allen, Terry Allen, Richard Bowden and Lloyd Maines.

Featuring: Jo Harvey Allen, Terry Allen, Richard Bowden, Lloyd Maines

End of the Rainbow

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

End of the Rainbow is a savagely funny and deeply moving drama, infused with all the glamour and melancholy of stardom.

It is Christmas 1968, and with a six-week booking at London’s famed cabaret restaurant 'Talk of the Town', it looks as though Judy Garland is set to make a comeback. The failed marriages, suicide attempts and addictions are all behind her: at forty-six, with her new fiancé at her side, she seems determined to reclaim her crown as the greatest talent of her generation.

Yet in her suite at the Ritz Hotel, Garland battles with a tornado of drugs and alcohol as the exhausting series of concerts takes its toll. A tough, compelling woman, armed to the teeth with a razor-sharp wit, she finds that happiness continues to elude her.

End of the Rainbow premiered at the Sydney Opera House in 2005.

Hoodoo Love

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Young Toulou has run away from the cotton fields of Mississippi to big city Memphis to make it as a blues singer. When she falls in love with a rambling bluesman, Ace of Spades, she gives into the suggestions of the local madam, Candylady, and conjures up a hoodoo trick to make him fall in love with her back. When her brother Jib, a born-again Christian missionary, arrives in town, Toulou is forced to confront all that she was running away from, and a chain of events with devastating consequences is set in motion.

The first of Katori Hall’s ‘Memphis Plays’, Hoodoo Love is set during the Great Depression, when the memory of slavery, and the slave belief in hoodoo folk magic, is still very much alive. With original music and lyrics by Katori Hall, the play was first produced by Cherry Lane Theatre, New York City in 2007.

audio J. Edgar!

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

A sidesplitting musical about one of the most powerful men of the 20th Century. Learn about his secret love life, his need for personal privacy, and his obsession with knowing the private affairs of others. If you weren’t so busy laughing and humming the tunes, the show might upset you!

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Dan Castellaneta, Ethan Glazer, John Goodman, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Guest, Rudy Hornish, John Kapelos, David L. Lander, Tom Leopold, Michael McKean, Marian Mercer, D.W. Moffett, Marnie Mosiman, Judith Owen, Julie Payne and Harry Shearer.

Featuring: Dan Castellaneta, Ethan Glazer, John Goodman, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Guest, Rudy Hornish, John Kapelos, David L. Lander, Tom Leopold, Michael McKean, Marian Mercer, D.W. Moffett, Marnie Mosiman, Judith Owen, Julie Payne, Harry Shearer

A stage entertainment or film that tells a story using a mixture of dialogue, songs, and dance routines. Probably the single most impressive contribution made by Broadway to the modern theatre, the musical developed from many sources, including vaudeville, revue, melodrama, and operetta.

The first work to combine these influences to create a recognizably new genre was William Wheatley’s spectacular ballet-melodrama The Black Crook, first produced in New York in 1866. George Edwardes’ In Town, produced at his old Gaiety Theatre, London, in 1892, is usually considered the first British musical. Edwardes developed a highly successful formula that involved the use of a sketchy plot as a framework for memorable songs and expensive production numbers featuring attractive chorus girls.

A stage entertainment or film that tells a story using a mixture of dialogue, songs, and dance routines. In the early 20th century US musicals remained heavily indebted to the tradition of European operetta. After World War I, however, a more energetic and sophisticated, but still essentially lightweight, type of show was pioneered by such writers as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers, and Rodgers and Hart. In 1928 Jerome Kern’s Show Boat gave a new prominence to plot and demonstrated that the musical could encompass more serious themes.

These developments were taken further in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark production Oklahoma! (1943). The same combination of an exciting plot, memorable songs, vigorous professional dancing, and extravagant costumes and sets characterized their subsequent hits Carousel (1945), and South Pacific (1949). The tradition they had established was continued by Lerner and Loewe in international successes such as My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1960). Other hits of the 1950s and 1960s included West Side Story (1957), Hello Dolly! (1963), Fiddler on the Roof (1964) and Cabaret (1966).

In the late 1960s and 1970s the tradition of the classic Broadway musical appeared to decline. The only important US writer to continue in the genre was Stephen Sondheim, whose sophisticated and idiosyncratic works won critical praise but lacked popular appeal. The main development of this period was the advent of the rock musical, as represented by Hair (1967) and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (1968), and Jesus Christ Superstar. In the 1970s and late 1980s Lloyd Webber led a revival of the large-scale spectacular musical with a series of shows that proved immensely successful on both sides of the Atlantic: these included Evita (1978), Cats (1981), Phantom of the Opera (1986), and Sunset Boulevard (1992). The blockbuster musicals of this era also include the Cameron Mackintosh productions Les Misérables (1985) and Miss Saigon (1987), both by the French team of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. A more recent trend has been the creation of a stage show from an already familiar corpus of hit songs, as with the hugely successful Abba musical Mamma Mia! (2001), or from a well-loved film, as with Mel Brooks’s The Producers (2004) or Billy Elliot (2005).

from Jonathan Law, ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011).