A Historical Perspective of the Progression of Racial Issues in Musical Theatre
In this essay I will address racial issues in Musical theatre, specifically the black and white divide. I have chosen this subject because I find it interesting how racism used to be so accepted in society, and although it’s decreasing presence it is still an issue today. I will be looking at two similar yet contrasting musicals written at different times. Both these musicals have racial issues through their storyline. I will look at the similarities and differences between these two musicals and how racial issues are expressed. Additionally I will consider when the shows were written; what impact these musicals had on society and vice versa.
The shows being investigated are Show Boat and Hairspray. I have chosen these shows because of their similar issues. In my opinion Show Boat has been one of the biggest influences on musical theatre and Hairspray made the biggest statement connecting to racism, in modern times.
An Original Advertisement in 1927
Show Boat was presented by Florenz Ziegfeld (1867-1932) in 1927. Ziegfeld was an American Broadway impresario. Show Boat was unlike anything he had ever produced before. Jerome Kern (1885-1945), one of the most important American Composers in the 20th century, came up with the idea of adapting Edna Ferber’s novel “Show Boat” into a musical with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein (1895-1960). When he approached Ziegfeld to produce Show Boat, Ziegfeld agreed to work on the show. This was unexpected since it was nothing like his legendary Follies, which were vaudeville shows.
In the first part of the 20th century, musical theatre consisted of vaudeville and minstrel shows....
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... an act of injustice whereas in Hairspray they make a statement about it. This was because of the different times they were written in.
Furthermore, it can be concluded that society majorly influenced these two shows. Both are a reflection of the society. Show Boat has influenced society by being the first show with racial issues that shocked the audience and gave the entertainment business an opportunity to make shows about it. Hairspray hasn’t influenced society as much because it wasn’t as shocking for the audience anymore. Racism was already known as a social issue. Yet racism will always be an issue in our society and I think it will always be important to have this matter in the entertainment business to raise awareness. Notwithstanding the different way racism is practiced these days, I hope we will never stop striving towards a more integrated society.