Amazingly, musical theater has remained a popular form of entertainment in an age of rapidly evolving technology. Although the world has many entertainment options, including streaming and television, musical theater is still very popular. Theater transports audiences to a world full of romance and fantasy through its unique combination of song, dance, and drama. Musicals are now centered around Broadway in America. They have included extravagance that wasn’t necessary at first. Despite being not particularly baroque in their performances, early American musical theatre performances are still important. Florenz ziegfeld, Jr., as well as Irving Berlin, were two of America’s most significant figures. Ziegfeld’s bold attitude and Berlin’s contribution to the rise of American musical theater opened doors for others. Ziegfeld was more successful in popularizing artists and performers than Berlin, but both were integral in the integration of immigrants into American culture.
Florenz Jr. didn’t have an interest to attend musical college. Florenz Ziegfeld Sr. was the child of music professor Herr Doktor Florenz Ziegfeld. The Ziegfelds moved their family and college to Chicago’s downtown business district after the Great Fire on 1871 (Brideson 10,). Ziegfeld fell for a variety of people and entertainments. The brash nature and personality of Buffalo Bill Cody was something Ziegfeld admired (Brideson thirteen). Ziegfeld was a manager of amateur shows during his time working for his father. He decided to start his own business in 1894. Eugen Sandow, an immigrant from Prussia was the show that brought Ziegfeld to prominence. Ziegfeld exaggerated Sandows talents (Brideson 17). Ziegfeld was known for showcasing the best qualities and drawing people in. Sandow was made an American sex symbol by Ziegfeld. This earned him an unpopular reputation, which some people condemned. Although audiences traveled long distances to see this “monarchic muscle” (Brideson 19,), Ziegfeld used his management experience to help him popularize his musical acts. Ziegfeld always wanted perfection. Ziegfeld developed a show that featured a variety of talents and showcased one star, starting in 1907. Reporters called these shows “Mr. Ziegfeld’s extraordinary achievement” (New York Times). Burt Williams was a major contributor to the show’s success. Burt Williams, an African American comedian, performed The Follies’ iconic eleven o’clock song or encore performance for Gardner. Williams, who was light-skinned, was asked to perform with a black face. However, he was allowed to include the anger and sadness of African-Americans during that time. His performance was a big success. The Follies successfully integrated him, which opened the doors for aspiring artists.
Ziegfeld rose to stardom while Irving Berlin, a young man, was exposed the intricacies American entertainment. Berlin was an immigrant from Germany who lost his father young and had to take up singing on the streets in search of change (Gelbwasser 4) He was promoted to the position of singing waiter at Pelham Cafe in Chinatown, which was opened in 1906 (Kart). Berlin discovered a passion for music through his singing. Berlin also had the opportunity to learn from different pianists through his occupation. (Wright 39). Berlin was able to learn from a variety of pianists, which was especially helpful since he didn’t have any musical training. He was able to write a hit song, and he released “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (Wright 40) in 1911. Berlin believed American-sounding songs were not available, so he created one with Jewish and African American influences. Wright 40. He loved the use of slang, punctuation and grammatical errors, which was a huge hit with audiences. Jerome Kern, a noted composer, wrote that Irving Berlin was American music and had no place there (Holden).
Berlin’s talents weren’t lost on the world. His unique style was the defining characteristic of that era. Watch Your Step, America’s first-ever ragtime musical (Wright 43) was written in 1914 by Berlin. This was both Broadway’s first ragtime musical and the first to feature ragtime music in popular music. While ragtime music was not invented in Berlin, it did thrive during the Tin Pan Alley era. Tin Pan Alley’s era was from around 1980 to 1950. It was inspired by sounds that people were playing on their streets (Gelbwasser 6,). His ability to incorporate both his blackness and jewishness into his lyrics was the key to his success. Berlin’s lyrics focused on themes such as home, love and self-pity. Watch Your Step was a prime example of his unique style. Audiences of all colors enjoyed his American sound and it was obvious.
Broadway was subject to significant changes, which have led America to what it is today. The influence of Florenz Zegfeld, Jr. and Irving Berlin would have prevented this from happening. Ziegfeld was an extraordinary salesman and created beautiful productions. He also helped African-Americans get into the entertainment business through The Follies integration. Irving Berlin was a pioneer in nationalism, helping immigrants to integrate into American culture with his songwriting and America’s first ever ragtime musical. These figures would have been a great help to American musical theatre if they didn’t exist today.