Musical theatre

Musical theatre combines music, songs, spoken dialogue and dance. Also called 'musicals', they are usually performed in theatres.

Musical theatre

Musicals set out to entertain through a combination of:

  • Catchy music in a popular style
  • Solo songs, duets, choruses and ensembles
  • Orchestra or band accompaniment
  • Spoken dialogue
  • Dance sequences, stage spectacles and magnificent costumes
Performers on stage competing for the role of Joseph in the BBC's Any Dream Will Do

Performers compete for a musical theatre role in the BBC's 'Any Dream Will Do'

These are all held together by the plot.

Musicals are usually performed in theatres, most famously on Broadway and in the West End of London. Broadway is also used as a general term to refer to American musicals.

Every musical has a:

  • Libretto - the overall text including the spoken and sung parts
  • Lyrics - the words to the songs

Most songs are either:

  • Action songs, which move the plot forward or
  • Character songs, which enable a character to express their feelings

Within these two formats, different song types can be found including:

  • Ballads, which are usually slow, romantic and reflective
  • Comedy songs , which are funny, so the lyrics are very important
  • Production numbers, which involve the full company and are used to show major changes in location or plot, and often open and close acts
  • Rhythm songs are driven by energetic rhythm patterns

Although most musicals use dialogue some are through-composed. There is little or no dialogue, nearly everything is sung.

Many show songs use verse and chorus form.

The chorus:

  • Sets the refrain of the lyrics and often contains the title words
  • Usually returns several times, always with the same words
  • Is normally the 'catchiest' part of the song

The verse usually has different words with each repetition.

Back to Music in the 20th century index

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