An Overview of Musical Theater Troupes

Creating a Musical Theater Troupe

A musical theater troupe must include more than just actors. It also needs tech crew, hair and makeup artists, costume designers and musicians for the band.

The chorus serves several functions: delivering exposition, specificizing the world of the musical and offering spectacle. To be successful, a chorus must be talented at singing and dancing and possess ceaseless enthusiasm.

Origins

Musical theater works, usually referred to as musicals, are performed around the world. They may be presented in large venues, such as big budget West End and Broadway theater productions in London and New York City, or they may be staged by amateur groups in schools, theaters and other informal stages. There are also vibrant musical theatre scenes in continental Europe, Australia and Asia.

The modern concept of a musical, combining original music with dance to help tell a story, developed in the mid-1800s. By the time Show Boat opened in 1927 and ran for 572 performances, it was clear that a musical could draw audiences on both sides of the Atlantic ocean.

Ensemble members have long been a key to the success of any musical theater production. They are a group of talented people who share one or more parts in the show. An ensemble member’s part, known as a “track,” includes all the lines, blocking, dance choreography and backstage traffic that he or she must memorize and execute.

Development

Musicals have a unique capacity to convey an entire story, with humor, pathos, love and anger, through music, spoken dialogue and dance. A Broadway musical can be seen by a much wider audience than a straight play of comparable length.

A thriving musical theater scene exists worldwide, with large productions of new and traditional work staged on Broadway or in London. Many regional and fringe theatres also produce musicals. Additionally, musicals may be presented by amateur and community groups.

The best musical ensemble members have a ceaseless passion for all facets of theatrical performance, not just singing and dancing. They are also excellent collaborators, willing to take direction from their directors and dance captains. This is because the musical genre requires a team of highly skilled creative artists.

Styles

Musicals are performed around the world in many different venues, from big-budget West End and Broadway theater productions in London and New York to off-Broadway or regional theaters, as well as amateur groups in schools and community theatres. A key component of a musical is the use of music and dance to tell the story. These elements may be combined in many ways, from traditional opera to lighthearted musical comedy or slapstick melodrama.

A specialized type of musical is the pastiche, which blends styles and genres. Examples include “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Spamalot,” which parody traditional musical theatre tropes. Other types of musicals are operetta, a light-hearted, sung dramatic form; burlesque, which features comic skits and striptease; and revue, a variety entertainment that includes popular song, comedy, specialty acts, and a plot.

Themes

Musicals provide opportunities to express a wide range of emotions through music, songs and spoken dialogue. Typically, many fewer words are sung in a song than spoken in a five-minute block of dialogue, so the writers must develop drama with a compressed time frame.

Musical themes may be based on novels (Wicked and Man of La Mancha), plays, classic legends or historical events. Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess moved musical theater closer to opera than previous shows, such as Show Boat; Carousel tackled spousal abuse, thievery and suicide more deeply than its predecessors; South Pacific explored miscegenation more thoroughly than Show Boat, and The King and I addressed the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938.

A school production of a musical with sensitive themes requires careful planning and support from the administration. Shorewood High School has partnered with organizations that address the issues presented in their productions, including a youth homeless shelter and gay rights groups.

Audiences

The audience is key to a musical theatre production. Knowing the age range of your audience allows you to select plays that appeal to them and decide what jokes are appropriate and how much to emphasize a theme. The age range also affects what music and dance styles to incorporate.

There are a number of special positions in a theatrical ensemble, including dance captains and understudies. The dance captain keeps a show’s choreography up to date and leads routine dance rehearsals once the production opens. The understudies learn all the show’s roles so they can fill in at a moment’s notice.

Box office staff sell tickets to audience members before performances, either in person or by phone. They also monitor audience arrivals and liaise with the back of house team, giving them “clearance” to start the performance when it is ready.

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