The Black Crook
Although critics of the time may disagree, The Black Crook, sometimes referred to as the first musical, set up and inspired many of the great extravaganzas and musicals to come, whether it is realized by many or not. The show was in no means perfect. The performance was a total of 5 1/2 hours, the plot was basic, and there seemed to be missing parts of the script almost. Sometimes the character’s introductions were confusing. However, certain aspects of the show such as the switching of scenes, the dramatic music, and the presenting of the show girl idea, are all aspects of American musical theatre that have been carried throughout history, inspired by earlier shows such as The Black Crook itself.
The Black Crook was an extremely expensive show to produce, costing around $40,000 in the year 1866. Of course there are many expenses to a show, but something that was very prominent in The Black Crook was the set. This was a 5 1/2 hour show, so you can imagine the amount of different scenes that had to be presented. Reading the script of The Black Crook, characters are put anywhere from, “A quiet valley at the foot of the Hartz Mountains (Act1, Scene1)” to “An apartment in the castle of Wolfenstein. (Act1, Scene4)”. This idea of telling a story by putting the audience in the story, has a lot to do with the set. This can be seen in any Broadway show, or Musical playing today. For example Peter Pan may have Peter fly across the audience. Annie will have a replica set up of an orphanage so the audience feels they are there, suffering with the orphans. Overall, if the set is not changing, or interesting, viewers will have trouble becoming a part of the story.
The dramatic music in The Black Crook presents the idea of music portraying a specific emotion that should be felt in a scene. For example, some direction in the script will say, “Music hurried. Gnomes and amphibea spring to their feet; (Act2, Scene4)”, or “DRAGONFIN imitates & indulges in extravagant antics until Music changes, when he starts, inclines his ear to the ground & listens– (Act3, Scene1)”. Many succeeding Musicals or Extravaganzas, definitely stay true to this idea. Music in theater is not just background noise! The drama and excitement is in the music, just as much as it is in the acting, and dancing.
The Black Crook also created this view of an American Theatrical showgirl, still carried out today, pretty much described as an actress being, “dressed in little as the law allowed” (Patinkin, 41)”. As the saying goes, “No legs, No jokes, No chance”. Women in the show were presenting this sexual appeal on stage that would unknowingly be carried out in so many musicals to come. The glamorous showgirl can be seen as the heart of more modern productions such as Guys and Dolls, The Golddiggers and even a movie: Showgirls.
So, although The Black Crook may not be every Musical Theatre lovers spectacle, it may just be that it was The Black Crook that inspired their favorite spectacle. As humans, we study history to learn about how things began and how things change. But when we look at things closely, we may realize this long chain of inspiration is built off the same idea. The Black Crook began an era of greatness in ideas.
copyright: Carly Ristuccia