Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dance in Musicals: Part 2—Dance = A Form of Acting

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”).            


  1. You do realize, my friend, that ON THE TOWN was composed by Leonard Bernstein. He, Robbins and Betty Comden & Adolph Green devised ON THE TOWN out of the success of the Bernstein/Robbins ballet FANCY FREE that chronicles a sailors' evening out in NY during WWII.

    I don't think the Rodgers & Hammerstein producing organization had anything to do with producing the show but I could be wrong. R & H certainly had nothing to do with authorship of this show.
    And you are certainly wrong in your blog by omitting the name of the composer, America's great man of music and the theatre, Leonard Bernstein!!

    Not criticizing here....just a correction of fact. Good luck with your project!

  2. Funny, that "friend" posted a whole heap of what looks like criticism to me, and couldn't bother to even leave his/her name. There is a polite way to point out inaccuracies and that was not it. Also, while Bernstein is indeed a great, this is not a blog about music. It is about dance. So to leave out the composer may be an oversight or simply unfortunate but it isn't WRONG.

    As to your facts, I can't say whether they are correct/incorrect. But I did want to say that I love the movie On the Town, which also stars Ann Miller, one of the best female tap dancers of her day!

  3. Thank you both for your comments. I was wrong about Rodgers and Hammerstein, which is probably why I left out Leonard Berstein (I guess my source, which I sighted in the post was wrong). But what I really am interested in and wanted to highlight is the choreography by Robbins.

    As always, thanks for the input!