The American Musical
Comes Of Age
The American Musical, vibrant and brassy, has to be America´s most dramatic contribution to the performing arts; and of all the great Musicals that have graced Broadway for the last 100 years, Kern & Hammerstein´s supremely epic SHOW BOAT sails alone, the most ambitious work ever mounted on the Great White Way.
Before SHOW BOAT, musical Broadway was mostly borrowed European operetta and hodgepodge Revues crammed full of singing, dancing, comedy, colorful characters minus any cohesive theme or story to hold it all together. During WWI, it was Jerome Kern, in collaboration with Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, whose series of Princess Theatre Musicals [1915-1918] provided a first lighthearted glimpse into what was possible with regard to a distinctly American Musical Theatre. Here at last were American characters, locales, lingo, situations all “integrated” into a reasonably cohesive storyline, acted and sung to homegrown American melodies.
Another decade would pass until Kern and young Oscar Hammerstein II musically adapted Edna Ferber´s Book-Of-The-Month-Club selection about show business pioneers in the American heartland. The challenge was to create a fully integrated stage work utilizing serious universal themes drawn from the mother lode of American history.
The result, premiering on November 27, 1927, was a sprawling masterpiece that took its startled opening night audience on an uncharted musical voyage into American life as lived over three generations of entertainers from the 1880s thru the 1920s.
Over the years, the original five hour production has gone through as many changes and incarnations as SHOW BOAT’s 90+ characters do. The individual songs have had very active lives of their own: “Make Believe, ” “Ol’ Man River,” Can´t Help Lovin´ Dat Man of Mine,” “You Are Love,” “Life Upon The Wicked Stage,” “Why Do I Love You?” Several movie versions survive, and right up to Kern´s death in 1945, new material was always being added, either to the film versions or the stage revivals.
It is the towering achievement of its distinguished creators and of the Golden Age in which they flourished. In the history of the American Musical Theatre, there are only two eras: Before SHOW BOAT and After SHOW BOAT.
Without the inspired vision of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, the Golden Age of American Musicals that followed would have looked much less golden. This singularly great American musical saga, like its indestructible “Ol´ Man River,” just keeps rollin´ along.
If you would like to engage Fred Miller for one of his Lectures-in-Song, please contact him directly at any time. For a full listing of all Lectures, click here.
Fred Miller’s Lectures-In-Song comprise a series of solo programs, each an historical, anecdotal and musical profile of some great personality or important aspect of American Popular Song. These Lectures are delivered by singer/pianist/narrator Miller at the piano, and each reflects his lifetime passion and appreciation for great music. He studied classical piano in his hometown of Albuquerque from ages 7-15 but early on gave up any notion of music as a profession. At that time, Fred assumed a musical career was either one devoted to the rigid discipline of classical music or being a freewheeling rock star, and he accurately decided he had no aptitude for either. However, at age 22, upon hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing Cole Porter, he found his calling and life’s mission.
Through the Seventies and Eighties, Miller studied and absorbed in minute detail the life and times and songs of nearly all the great American composers and lyricists who thrived during Broadway & Hollywood’s Golden Age between the two World Wars. In 1987, he founded Silver Dollar Productions in order to produce operettas, dramas, musicals and small cabarets. Silver Dollar Productions required ensemble casts, props, costumes and, most significantly, the challenges of publicity and selling tickets, and for a dozen busy years, the company presented an unbroken string of varied and highly lauded performances.
In 1999, Miller was simultaneously underwritten by both his local Hunterdon County Library and the Art Alliance of Philadelphia to present a series of six solo Lectures-In-Song, each devoted to one of the premiere Broadway/Hollywood songwriters: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.
In presenting history, biography and psychology while sitting at a piano singing the superlative songs of his heroes, Miller has found a single performing medium that utilizes most of his intellectual and musical passions.The list of Lectures-In-Song that began with six in 1999 is now more than seventy(and growing!), a joyful tribute to the boundlessly rich field of American Popular Song.