Vaudeville, Bringing Music and Comedy Together

 
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Music has always played a pivotal role in complementing the creative arts such as theatre, film, and dance. A creative director’s process involves thinking about the function of the sonic arts in a performance - how music might enhance a show, inspire new choreographic heights, or even how sound effects might add to the effectiveness of humour in a show. Over the years, music has established its place in theatrical conventions. Specifically, music shared one of its greatest moments with comedy through the conception of Vaudeville shows.

Adopted by the United States in the mid-1890s from the Parisian boulevard theatre, Vaudeville connotes a form of light entertainment that consisted of unrelated acts featuring magicians, musicians, dancers and many others. This new ‘polished’ act was a stark contrast compared to its predecessor, coarse and obscene shows held in beer halls, primarily aimed towards male audience. Vaudeville shows were “polite”, curating acts that are inoffensive to men, women and children. As part of the show, vaudeville musicians were trained to act as well, doing comedic routines along with the tunes that they prepared.

Bred from this tradition, soon Vaudevillians such as Sammy Davis Jr, Judy Garland, and Micky Rooney, among many others soon found commercial success not only through Vaudeville shows, but also through radio broadcasting. Through radio broadcast, Vaudevillians who usually perform in one region only were well-known nationwide. Vaudeville also set the tone for its successor - musical theatre shows that flourished between the late 19th-century and early-20th century. Many of the shows shown during this period bear traces of Vaudeville in them. The most apparent example would be “Ziegfried Follies”, a Broadway production which ran from 1907 to 1931.

Despite going into a decline since 1930 due to the great financial depression and also the growth of radio and television broadcast, traces of Vaudeville can still be found in music genres such as jazz, which embraces the showmanship and spontaneity of Vaudeville shows. Musically, Vaudeville opened the possibility to combine comedy and music together to produce new styles which have endured through the years. Musicians such as “Weird Al” Yankovic, Fred Armisen and Bo Burnham often wrote novelty songs which were largely propelled by comedy.

Check out Judy Garland & Gene Kelly performing Ballin’ the Jack below.

The marriage of comedy and music also made its mark in one of the greatest piano comedians of all time, American-Danish Victor Borge. With a flourishing career spanning more than seven decades, Borge found his niche in incorporating humour into his performances. Praised for his musical and comedic sensibilities, the talented pianist and comedian was renowned for his clever play on words, whilst maintaining a high level of virtuosity over his musically adept performances on the piano.

So, who knew that music could forge this uncanny relationship with comedy. From this, soon, silent films were born which also share a similar bond with music. In fact, music also played an important role to drive the success of silent films.

In the meantime, with the recent introduction of the Singing for Musical Theatre Graded Exams 1-3 by ABRSM, if you are interested in taking up lessons geared towards the syllabus, feel free to give us a buzz at 03-7498 1307 or email us at admin@dflat.com.my to schedule lessons with us.

Play on and Tinkle Away!!