Exploring the World of Musical Theater Jazz

Musical Theater Jazz

Musical Theater Jazz is a fun and engaging class for the young aspiring actor/dancer. Students will dance to a variety of showtunes and popular music.

Broadway musicals evolved from earlier light theatrical entertainment forms such as vaudeville, minstrel shows and Victorian burlesque. Musical theatre combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting and dance to communicate an emotional story to the audience.

Music

Musical theatre is a theatrical form that encompasses many genres of music, including opera, ballet, jazz and rock. It is performed worldwide in large venues such as Broadway and the West End of London, as well as regionally and by amateur and community actors.

The first musical comedies appeared on Broadway in the 1920s, and marked a move away from the minstrelsy tradition of white performers in blackface who sang, danced and acted out racist stereotypes for the entertainment of white audiences. These early musical comedies also drew from African-American musical traditions and were more dignified in their representations of black characters.

The musical theater genre includes dance that blends elements of ballet, modern and jazz styles with a focus on exaggerated movements, high energy and story telling. The music of a musical is often a mixture of European and African musical traditions.

Styles

Broadway jazz, also known as theatre dance, evolved in the 1920’s as a way to tell a story through movement. Theatre dance can use any style of music but is characterized by its high energy and story-telling. It often blends elements of ballet, modern and jazz, and can range from traditional jazz to contemporary jazz fusion.

Musicals are dramatic stage works that combine song with spoken dialogue and acting. They can be based on novels (Wicked and Man of La Mancha), plays (Hello, Dolly! and Carousel), classic legends (Camelot) or historical events (West Side Story).

Musicals frequently explore social issues. For example, the Broadway productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Swing! celebrate Fats Waller and the Harlem Renaissance. The theme of racial tolerance is explored in the musicals Parade and Ragtime, and is fully expressed by the end of West Side Story. Homosexuality is also frequently portrayed in musicals such as Hair, La Cage aux Folles and Rent.

Technique

Musical theater dance classes teach students how to perform a Broadway-style routine with ease and grace. They focus on beginner jazz warm-ups, center floor work, progressions, kicks, leaps and turns to develop the strength, flexibility and coordination needed for this type of dancing.

The storytelling aspect of theatre jazz is unique to this genre of dance, which incorporates acting techniques into the movement. The goal is to captivate the audience with the expressiveness of the body, which can be challenging as the music often requires a high level of energy.

The musical theatre genre developed from the traditions of the popular music hall and melodrama, as well as from the styles of the early 19th century: snappy banter, stylish spectacle and breezy popular songs. The length of a musical is flexible; it may range from a one-act entertainment to several acts, usually of two hours or less in length. Typically, much more time is given to music than to dialogue.

History

In America, musical theatre evolved out of vaudeville shows that involved singing, dancing and music with a scripted storyline. The genre incorporated comedy, drama and tragedy in addition to the standard fare of musical numbers.

The genre has had its ups and downs throughout history. Early forerunners include minstrelsy, where black actors portrayed stereotypical characters to entertain white audiences. During this time, audiences often laughed at racial and ethnic stereotypes as well as people with physical disabilities.

The first musical to integrate its story, music and dance was Show Boat, a Broadway production from the 1920’s. Cole Porter’s writing, though at times controversial and raunchy, made him the leader of the Jazz Age. He was able to harness the frantic energy of the music and create treasured shows that spoke to the human experience. This helped to open up the audience for the musical genre. Today, musicals can be seen worldwide, from big-budget Broadway productions to small off-Broadway or fringe theatre productions in major cities.

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