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History of Musical Theatre: Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:04 Musical Theatre
  • 0:25 Early Musicals
  • 1:19 American Musicals
  • 2:19 Broadway
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jenna Conan

Jenna is a fourth grade teacher with a master's degree in instructional design and an undergraduate degree in elementary education.

In this lesson, you will learn about the history of musical theater. You'll learn about where it started and how it changed throughout the centuries as well as about some of its different forms.

Musical Theater

If you've ever been to a play or musical, you're probably familiar with musical theater. Musical theater is an art form and type of entertainment that combines acting, dancing, and singing. Musical theater productions, also known as musicals, are performed around the world. From plays at your school to Broadway in New York City, many people enjoy musical theater performances.

Early Musicals

Historians believe that musical theater began in ancient Greece about 2,500 years ago. The ancient Greeks staged comedies and tragedies that included music and dance in open-air amphitheaters.

Greek open-air amphitheater
Greek Open-Air Amphitheater

Later, Roman comedies also included song and dance routines performed with orchestra music. They used special effects to make their shows more exciting, a method that's still used in modern musicals. In medieval times, traveling entertainers sang songs and performed comedies.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, churches used musical theater to set their services to religious chants. In the Renaissance period, clowns would act out stories using song and dance while wearing masks. The use of backdrops to set the scene also became popular.

By the 1700s, opera, or the use of singers and orchestras to tell a story, became popular in Great Britain, France, and Germany. Operas could be funny, romantic, or tragic.

America Musicals

The first musical theater performance to come to America took place in 1735, before the United States was even technically a country. Flora, an English opera, was performed in both America and Europe, and is even still popular today.

After the United States became a nation, burlesque - a new type of musical theater known for its fancy costumes and large dance numbers - became popular. Burlesque shows were mostly parodies, or imitations used to make fun of famous people or plays.

Modern musical theater began in the mid- to late-1800s, the result of major social and technical changes. Transportation was improving, so it was easier for people to travel to theaters. Better jobs and better salaries meant people had more money to spend on entertainment. And the invention of electricity led to street lights, which made it safer for people to go out at night.

The Black Crook musical
The Black Crook Musical

The Black Crook was the first modern musical in New York, performed in 1866. It was 5 1/2 hours long and ran for 474 performances.

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