The first big American hit of the time (still revived on occasion) was No, No, Nanette. Based on a play, it had charming songs, including the well-known ‘Tea for Two’, and was soon being toured around the world. Its recipe was to set the standard for years to come: a light-hearted, romantic plot, with plenty of song and dance, the music often flavoured by current styles, making its songs hits independent of the show.
It is at this point that we start to encounter some of the big names of early musical theatre such as Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin.
As the twenties kicked over into the thirties, some new names emerged on the scene. The team of Rodgers and Hart turned out show after show, including the hit-studded Babes in Arms and On Your Toes. Then there was Cole Porter. As with Rodgers and Hart, Porter’s individual songs tend to be better remembered today than the shows in their entirety, with a few exceptions such as Anything Goes. The same is true, for the most part, of Gershwin musicals, whose songs have been recycled over and over in new productions.
Throughout this period, shows were often written with a star (most likely a dancer) in mind and were tailored to show that person’s skills in the best light, with plot sometimes taking second stage.
However, that was all about to change, as you’ll see in May when we head into the middle years of the 20th century.