Sweet Nothings

Ned Sherrin presents a programme about the origins of musical comedies, that very British genre of musical theatre which first took London by storm in the late-19th century with shows such as The Gaiety Girl, The Shop Girl and The Dollar Princess.

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20060726

The Story of Musical Comedy
1/2. Ned Sherrin explores the origins of musical comedies, which first took London by storm in the late 19th Century with shows such as The Gaiety Girl, The Shop Girl and The Dollar Princess.
The musical comedy genre was characterised by simple romantic plots, set in the modern era, punctuated by songs which became classics of their day - such as Moonstruck, Private Tommy Atkins, and A Little Piece of String.

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Created, if that's the right word, by the enterprising George Edwardes, manager of the Gaiety Theatre, the musical comedy genre was characterised by simple romantic plots, set in the modern era, punctuated by songs which became classics of their day, such as Moonstruck, Private Tommy Atkins, and A Little Piece of String.

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The Story of Musical Comedy
2/2. Ned Sherrin explores the origins of musical comedies. Starting in the 1880s in London, British musicals then began touring the US and Europe to great acclaim, with their simple plots and romantic melodies, beautiful women and amusing leading men.
After the First World War, however, the Americans began to produce their own musical comedies, with big production numbers and a kind of high energy performance which left the gentler British productions rather in the shade. Could the British composers and lyricists find a way of reclaiming the genre, or was the future of the musical comedy a predominantly American one?

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America's rise to dominance of the musical comedy genre began in the early 1900s, just as British musical comedy was approaching its peak.

George Cohan was the first American composer of shows to be described as musical comedy, but his compositions drew heavily on European musical styles and generic plotlines lifted wholesale and transplanted to American locations.

His popularity was huge, albeit short-lived, but it had whetted the US appetite for musical comedy.

The emergence of a truly American style was largely due to Jerome Kern, who had received his early training as a songwriter in London.

His first contributions to musical comedy in America were additional songs written for the US adaptations of successful British shows such as The Earl And The Girl by Ivan Caryll.

What he and others later achieved was to combine elements of the black musical genres of jazz and ragtime - then moving into the mainstream - with the established principles of successful musical comedy: witty lyrics, singalong tunes and romantic plotlines.

Several established British composers of musical comedy, among them Ivan Caryll, had by now settled in the States and were adapting their styles to the tastes of their new audience.

Their familiar names drew British audiences to shows which came over on tour.

By the mid-1920s, American musical comedies - by then known simply as musicals were in the ascendant over their British antecedents, a trend which continued for most of the next fifty years.