Saturday, 06 March 2021

Henley Probus Club - A history of musicals

THE club held its 435th meeting at Badgemore Park Golf Club on August 8.

After the normal business, the guest speaker Tony King was introduced.

He presented “Another opening, another show”, telling the history of musicals from their early days to the Broadway and West End spectaculars that are so popular today. The presentation comprised slides accompanied by film and music.

In 1728 John Gay presented what is considered to be the first ever musical, The Beggar’s Opera, at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

In 1855 Paris saw its first operetta. Operetta became very popular in Victorian times, from Offenbach to the Savoy operas of Gilbert and Sullivan (the Savoy Theatre opened in 1878).

But musical theatre really took off in 1927 in the ghettos of New York with Show Boat with song, music and production numbers where the music became subservient to the play.

Notwithstanding this, Show Boat will always be remembered for the song Ol’ Man River, made famous by Paul Robeson in the 1936 film.

The “Golden Age”, however, was ushered in with Oklahoma! in 1943, initiated by the musical theatre writing team of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

This team then followed up with a long succession of Broadway hits, including Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music, which was the last of their musicals due to the death of Oscar Hammerstein just nine months after its premiere.

Other Broadway productions which contributed significantly to the Golden Age were My Fair Lady and West Side Story.

In London’s West End in the Sixties, Oliver! became a smash hit, breaking box office records both here and then on Broadway.

The musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber followed with the great success of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

The world’s longest running musical is Les Misérables from producer Cameron Mackintosh, who initially thought he had a disaster on his hands due to severe newspaper criticism at its launch.

Thankfully, and not unusually, the newspapers got it wrong!

Members thanked Tony for an excellently prepared presentation which had taken them on a 50-minute trip down memory lane.

Henley Probus Club meets at Badgemore Park Golf Club on the second Tuesday (morning) of each month.

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