Forms of American Theater
This genre of theater offered a variety of short acts, which evolved from minstrel shows (c. 1840 - 1870) and beer gardens. However, its roots came from a French form of nineteenth-century pastoral plays with musical interludes. A typical show consisted of between eight and 14 acts ('turns'), and showcased music, dance, magic, comedy, acrobatics, and even animal acts. The success of the carefully constructed vaudeville format influenced early motion pictures. Around 1890 the term 'variety' came into use and replaced the term vaudeville. As entertainment changed, the variety/vaudeville circuit retained some popularity until 1932, when New York's Palace Theater replaced live acts with films.
Burlesque was originally a dramatic literary work. It is reported to have first appeared in the Greek and Roman plays (from authors such as Aristophanes and Euripides). It is satiric and comic in nature, characterized by ridiculous exaggeration. Burlesque seeks to treat serious subjects lightly, and lofty subjects with mocking humor or triviality. Later, it gained notoriety as being bawdy, risque entertainment. It mimicked the Minstrel Show by adhering to a 'tripartite' form.
In the 1860's, female troupes began performing much of the musical portions of the show, often interspersed with male comedy acts. The striptease emerged from this genre, usually in the grand finale.
Extravaganza and Spectacle
Neither of these forms are as well-defined or well known as the others. Relatively obscure, their crossover status is reflected in the definition of their titles. In fact, many times the terms were combined to describe works at the turn of the century: the spectacular extravaganza.
Extravaganzas are elaborate, spectacular displays. They were dramatic, light entertainment, often with improbable storylines, and sometimes parodied contemporary, legitimate shows or stories. The distinctive works of Cecil B. DeMille, for example, are considered extravaganzas of epic proportion.
Spectacles embody the larger-than-life-production. They are literally remarkable, impressive displays, or lavish entertainment. The term characterizes much of the decadence and grandeur found in lavish entertainment forums, and often include exotic settings. Extravaganzas and spectacles can be considered precursors to the musical genres.
The musical underwent transformations and resulted from influences from many categories.
The theme of the musical revue began on the heels of burlesque. However, it focused on using a single cast in contrast to performances where different entertainers were used. These revues were normally accompanied by carefully executed, showy set designs. The best known example of the revue was the Ziegfeld Follies. The Follies of 1907 brought to the stage extravagant, dazzling sets. The musical comedy was typically a narrative story along with dance and song, and, like the revue, it used one cast to perform the show. American musical comedy was influenced by European operetta and light opera, but the story lines became less serious while incorporating more dancing, often at a quicker pace.
Works of Gilbert and Sullivan, Reginald DeKoven ("Robin Hood," 1891), and later Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin added their artistic mastery to the musical form.