This is Part 2 of a series of posts called "Dance in Musicals." For more information check out Part 1.
Part 2--Dance = A Form of Acting
In 1944, On The Town used modern dance and song to tell the romantic adventures of three sailors on leave in New York City. Collaborating with George Abbot, Jerome Robbins, who started at New York’s Ballet Theatre, choreographed the musical. A character was the motivation for every step Robbins created. He was one of the first to consider dance a form of acting and mixed ballet, jazz and realistic movement in his choreography. He changed musicals forever by making dance as vital to the story-telling as the score (Kenrick, “History of Stage Musicals”). “In one startling night…and 436 subsequent performances, On the Town created and established the greatest of all American contributions to the stage arts: American theatre dance,” said Denny Flinn (qtd. in Everett 175).
When On the Town was turned into a film by MGM in 1949, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra took leading roles. Kelly, formerly a Broadway hoofer, also choreographed the screen version. He had won dancing acclaim in the film Cover Girl (1944), produced by Columbia, by performing a series of dance pieces where he danced with his own reflection. He received such acclaim that MGM refused to loan him to other studios for future musicals. His athletic and dynamic choreography and performances combined ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom and gymnastics. This would lead him to collaborate with producer Arthur Freed to make some of the finest musicals ever created, such as Singin' in the Rain (1952), bringing on-screen dance to a new level of sophistication (Kenrick, “History of Stage Musicals”).
Toward the end of the decade, the last musical hit had little dance. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (1949), a story of a military nurse who falls in love with a French planter, was directed by Josh Logan. Besides including little dance, there was more than one main love-story and dramatic tension was created by racial prejudices. However, it won the Tony for Best Musical and became the second musical to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Kenrick, “History of Stage Musicals”).