Irving Berlin’s Theater

Jeffrey Magee

in Irving Berlin's American Musical Theater

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780195398267
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933358 | DOI:

Series: Broadway Legacies

                   Irving Berlin’s Theater

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Berlin’s conception of musical theater grew from his experiences performing in the saloons of New York’s Lower East Side in the early twentieth century. The term Lower East Side Aesthetic encompasses a distinctively Jewish survivalist sensibility for which expert craftsmanship serves faith in the audience, expressed in Berlin’s notion that “the mob is always right.” His songwriting reflects that belief in its disciplined simplicity, calculated repetition, deployment of antithesis, use of ragtime’s musical and linguistic features, and above all, in Berlin’s uniquely omnivorous stylistic range. His notion of theater likewise embraced everything available on the American musical stage: minstrelsy, vaudeville, revue, musical comedy, operetta, and opera. Above all, Berlin’s stage work manifests a meta-theatrical impulse: a sense that theater thrives by being about itself and reminding the audience of that fact.

Keywords: Lower East Side; Jewish; songwriting; ragtime; vaudeville; revue; musical comedy; minstrelsy; opera; meta-theater

Chapter.  12828 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music ; Popular Music

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