Saturday, September 12, 2009

THE VERY FIRST BROADWAY MUSICAL




On this day in 1866, was the premiere of "The Black Crook " now considered to be the first piece of musical theatre ever produced that conforms to the modern notion of a "book musical". The book is by Charles M. Barras (1826-1873), an American playwright. The music is mostly adaptations, but some new songs were composed for the play, notably "March of the Amazons" by Giuseppe Operti, and "You Naughty, Naughty Men", with music by George Bickwell and lyrics by Theodore Kennick.
It opened on September 12, 1866 at the 3,200-seat
Niblo's Garden on Broadway, New York City and ran for a record-breaking 474 performances. It was then toured extensively for decades and revived on Broadway in 1870-71, 1871-72 and many more times after that. It was originally produced by the theatre's manager, William Wheatley, who also directed the piece. The cast also included Annie Kemp Bowler, Charles Morton, Marie Bonfanti, J.W. Blaisdell, E.B. Holmes, Millie Cavendish and George Boniface.This production gave America claim to having originated the musical The Black Crook is considered a prototype of the modern musical in that its popular songs and dances are interspersed throughout a unifying play and performed by the actors.The musical is set in 1600 in the Harz Mountains of Germany. It incorporates elements from Goethe's Faust, Weber's Der Freischütz, and other well-known works. Evil, wealthy Count Wolfenstein seeks to marry the lovely village girl, Amina. With the help of Amina's scheming foster mother Barbara, the Count arranges for Amina's fiancé, Rodolphe, an impoverished artist, to fall into the hands of Hertzog, an ancient, crook-backed master of black magic. Hertzog has made a pact with the Devil-- the first use of this plot device) who is known as Zamiel, "The Arch Fiend": Hertzog can live forever if he provides Zamiel with a fresh soul every New Year's Eve. As Rodolphe is led to this horrible fate, he escapes, discovers a buried treasure, and saves a dove. The dove magically turns out to be none other than Stalacta, Fairy Queen of the Golden Realm, who is pretending to be a bird. The grateful Queen rescues Rudolph by bringing him to fairyland and then reuniting him with his beloved Amina. The Count is defeated, demons drag the evil Hertzog into hell, and Rodolphe and Amina live happily ever after. Today also is the day in 1962 when President John Kennedy made his famous ambition to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. We also lost the amazing Johnny Cash on this day in 1963. Where does time go so quickly? Of course all Broadway and Off Broadway theatres were closed on this day, in 2001 the day after 9/11. I was reading a quip by the late great Larry Gelbart. About three years before his actual demise (yesterday September 11th) a press report made an error and actually reported his passing in a major newspaper. The great Larry was quoted the next morning as saying "I was dead, but I'm better now". Well, now he is gone, but he's "better now" making God laugh. Don't forget, Larry actually wrote the screenplay for "Oh, God" starrring the late George Burns and the late John Denver. One of the funniest moments in the film is when George Burns playing God is asked a series of questions by religious leaders to determine if he really is God. They ask him "Has God ever made a mistake?" Now there's a tricky question. Dear Larry, the writer had George say one of the funniest lines ever "Of Course, I 've made mistakes-- take the avacado-- I made the pit too big!" That is just plain honest funny. God rest you, Larry!

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