MUSICAL THEATER

Ciara Terry

Before the late 1890s, the image portrayed of African-Americans on Broadway was a “secondhand vision of black life created by European-American performers.”Stereotyped “coon songs” were popular, and blackface was common.

Will Marion Cook and Bob Cole brought black-written musical comedy to Broadway in 1898. Cook’s Clorindy, or The Origin of the Cake Walk, an hour-long sketch that was the first all-black show to play in a prestigious Broadway house, Casino Theatre’s Roof Garden. Cole’s A Trip to Coontown was the first full-length New York musical comedy written, directed and performed exclusively by blacks. The approach of the two composers were diametrically opposed: Cole believed that African Americans should try to compete with European Americans by proving their ability to act similarly on- and offstage, while Cook thought African Americans should not imitate European Americans but instead create their own style.

The origin and intent of black people in musical theater was to mock African-Americans and their culture. Black musical theater has transcended over time into numerous depicting more than the plight of African-Americans and or coon/coonette works. Such popular black musical theaters like the Wiz, Sparkle, Fame, Carmen Jones, Purple Rain, and Stormy Weather for example.