The Broadway Musical surfaced in 1919 and was widely received by audiences for many reasons. After taking inspiration from former entertainment styles such as operas, pantomimes, burlesques and vaudevilles, which were used purely for amusement purposes, with the addition of emerging themes such as integration and popular styles of the time such as jazz and ragtime, the Broadway Musical was born. The use of contemporary popular song styles from the time period was a new feature which belonged to the Broadway Musical.
This meant that songs influenced by styles of the time became more popular in the musicals. Showboat’, perhaps the most successful Broadway Musical ever, made use of this feature by integrating the song ‘After the Ball’ into the play. Unlike all the other music in ‘Showboat’, ‘After the Ball’ was not written by Kern for the show, but by Charles K Harris and was a big hit at the turn of the century. This is why the use of this ‘prop song’ proved to be so successful among the audience of ‘Showboat’. In addition, Kern made use of the growing prominence of jazz-styles in music by integrating it into his songs for ‘Showboat’.
For example; in ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man’, the singer exploits the use of a vocal glissando alongside jazz style chords to emphasis the jazz theme of the piece. Which was again, received well by audiences as jazz was a growing acclaim of the time. It has been suggested that the most prominent feature of the Broadway Musical was the decision to integrate the music into the action of the shows. This meant that songs didn’t only provide entertainment, but also created mood, revealed characters and advanced the plot; effects that music in performances had previously not provided.
Music that was associated with and represented a certain character is known as a ‘leitmotif’. Leitmotifs became a common theme in Broadway Musicals and accurately revealed a character’s personality and motives without the need for speech. In ‘Showboat’ the character of Parthy has a leitmotif which features a tri-tone (sharpened fourth), an interval which is commonly known in music as the ‘Devil’s chord’; it is attached to Parthy’s character to emphasis her hatred for her husband’s lifestyle and for the river itself.
The song ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’ from ‘Anything Goes’, is integrated into the musical in such a way that Reno, the singer progresses the plot by providing information for the audience through her music. ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’ explains Reno’s feeling toward Sir Evelyn which both reveals her character and also advances the plot of ‘Anything Goes’. During the 1920s and 1930’s, dances such as the Charleston (the precursor to the Lindy hop), Swing and tap were popular in society.
The song ‘I Got Rhythm’ from ‘Girl Crazy’ which first opened in 1930, exploits the use of brass instruments and percussion to provide a swing style which also accommodates the Charleston. Another example of how popular dance styles were integrated into the Broadway Musicals is demonstrated in ‘Anything Goes’, the paramount song in the show. Girls and sailors join in with Reno’s singing with a complex tap routine. Both the Charleston and tap routines were popular dances throughout the 1930s.
The emergence of jazz greatly influenced the pit orchestra as the use of piano, saxophone and muted brass became more popular. For example; in ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’ in ‘Anything Goes’, the pit orchestra accompanies the singing with a piano, saxophone and drum kit brushes, the latter of which provides a distinct jazzy style. In ‘Porgy and Bess’, an operatic musical opened in 1935, a jazzy style is maintained throughout to represent the black community.
Despite the fact that ‘Bess You is my Woman Now’ is accompanied by strings, lower 7ths and syncopated octave leaps are employed to maintain the jazzy style of the piece. It is clear to see that although greatly influenced by the forms of entertainment that came before it: the pantomime, burlesques and vaudevilles, it is those features that are affiliated with the Broadway Musical such as the integration of music, and the influence of popular styles of the time that made the entertainment of the Broadway Musical distinct from those that came before it.