This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Arthur Schwartz, composer, speaks on the rise and influence of musical comedy.
First session of the ASCAP seminar on the musical theater.
Schwartz begins by quoting a small speech written by Howard Dietz, who was supposed to be on stage with him.
American musical theater did not take a shape of its own until Jerome Kern worked with Guy Bolton and PG Wodehouse. In 1914, they started a series of shows that were American in nature and didn't borrow from European sources. The chief characteristic of these shows was that the book - however trivial or farcical - was an intimate book based on chiefly American characters and aimed at light comedy.
Jerome Kern's music was a direct change - it was bombastic.
The rise of the intimate musical comedy created a form which gave American musical theater its start. The operetta came in to disfavor because audiences were reaching out for things more believable and honest, without bombast. The songs for the first time had to fit the story, the lyrics had to fit the story. A thorough integration of lyrics and music with the book.
The revolution in the musical theater has given more importance to the lyricist. Writers took courage from the success of Showboat and tried to explore new methods to integrating lyrics and story. The lyricist is the bridge between the book and the songs.
If you're searching for a career in musical theater, you'd be best off attaching yourself either to an author or to find a subject. The subject for a musical play is the most important thing about a musical play in determining its success.
To be extremely original is the gift of great geniuses, like Gershwin. Kern was not as original. Originality is not something to aim at, because it might make you less melodic or less understandable, and is not a great big prize unless you have it in you.
Discussion of plots in many plays, including Oklahoma and My Fair Lady.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 72272
Municipal archives id: LT9471