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17 - Melodrama and the Modern Musical

from IV - Extensions of Melodrama

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2018

Carolyn Williams
Affiliation:
Rutgers University, New Jersey
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Summary

Like so much of Modernism’s rejection of the Victorians, the twentieth-century musical too has tried to assert its modernity by setting itself apart from its ancestor; but the modern musical’s many-threaded debt to Victorian melodrama is a tangled one. Three shows, Oklahoma!, Show Boat, and The Black Crook, are often credited as the first modern musical: all engage Victorian melodrama in multiple ways. Meanwhile, Oliver! and Sweeney Todd exemplify both the modern musical’s debt to melodrama and its effort to distance itself from that debt. These musicals not only employ conventions drawn from theatrical melodrama but also derive from Victorian novels, Oliver Twist and The String of Pearls, that were already both influenced by, and had contributed to, Victorian stage melodrama. Upon their initial publication (or even during serialisation), both were immediately adapted to the Victorian melodrama stage, setting up complex lines of inheritance, demonstrating the intertwined set of relationships among each novel, melodrama, film, and musical. Tracing these lines reveals the degree to which the modern musical, for all its innovations, is fundamentally a reshaping of Victorian melodrama.
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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