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intro to musical theater

I've been asked to create a middle school elective as an intro musical theater.  I'm looking at doing a little history of musical theater and showing some classic musicals to discuss the elements that create a successful musical.  I'd also like to have the kids act and sing some short scenes and, if time, write their own musical theater scenes.  Do you have any suggestions for textbooks for the students or resources for me?  I already have the PBS Broadway: An American Musical DVDs, CDs and book as well as numerous DVDs of various musicals.  Thanks!
on May 8, 2013 9:15am
Hi, Jennifer.  I'm not sure if you could use this as a text, but it is a great resource for you to read in prep for your class.  I own it, have read it, and it was very helpful and informative about the different types of musicals, how to write them, where the form is heading in the future, etc.  It's available on amazon and it's called "Writing Musical Theatre" by Allen Cohen and Steven Rosenhaus.  All the best and have fun!
on May 8, 2013 12:47pm
Hi Jennifer,
I did something similar this year, and my focus ended up being more on theater than on musical theater, but it sounds like you have a good start.
My favorite books for scenes are "Ten-Minute comedy plays for Middle School" by Kristen Dabrowski and "Childsplay" edited by Kerry Muir
The classroom textbooks by MacMillan/McGraw Hill ("Spotlight on Music") has Broadway Junior shows in each level of their books.  Also, 7th Grade Worlds of Music from Silver Burdett has a version of "Oliver" that can be performed.  The 8th grade Worlds of Music has "Carmen."  You might be able to find some of these books on amazon or ebay, and then suppliment with other recordings.  Silver Burdett/Ginn also had "Fiddler on the Roof" in the 7th Grade Music Connection. 
If you look online, Broadway's Mary Poppins has short videos of different jobs for musical theater: costume designer, lighting, sets, etc.  There are also some behind the scenes videos from Shrek: The Musical.
Have fun! My class next year will have a stronger music componant to it, too. 
on May 9, 2013 4:18am
Hello Jennifer,
I have been preparing to teach a class on musical theatre for several years, waiting for administration approval.
One unexpected resource I found was on the American Theatre Wing's website,  They are the group who is responsible for the Tony Awards.  They have collected and posted videos of all of their panel discussions with various theatre professionals over the past 20+ years.  While I wouldn't recommend showing an entire episode to middle schoolers, there are likely several sections you could use to highlight various productions and professions within the musical theatre world.
Also, most current Broadway shows have beautifully produced video clips from the shows, and several have interviews with actors, directors, choreographers, costumer designers, and the like.
Good luck!
Ken Ahlberg
on May 10, 2013 7:31am
I started an 8th grade music theater class as the choir class when I taught middle school.  Music became an elective in 8th grade, and before I got there, nobody was signing up.  My first year I had no 8th grade choir!!
Anyway....   I approached it as a choir first, with the addition of theater.  A lot of choral teachers also have theater directing experience, but not as many theater teachers have choral directing experience.  Kids can really build bad habits in music theater land if they are not being guided by a trained singer.  I would advise against starting with the history materials and then trying the singing and acting.  Instead, choose a few songs or a medley from a show they know and enjoy, and learn the music.  Then, while you are teaching them about healthy vocal production and when/when not to belt, etc....   you can align acting (which gets its inspiration from the lyrics you are singing), history, costuming, makeup, blocking, choreography, etc....   Have them be inspired to learn starting from the music.
When I was teaching m.s., Phantom was huge.  I got a Phantom of the Opera medley - I believe I just used 2-part, and the kids were super-stoked. 
People raved about it.  Those kids convinced me to start a school musical - and before I left a few years later, there were 80 kids signing up for my 8th grade "choir" class and about 300 kids involved with our musical every year in some capacity.
Literature should be your guide.  I had a real knack for picking music that made the kids light up, but that would let me teach real skills.  I never in my life thought I'd see 8th-graders who would be interested in the history of opera - but when they knew that history was going to lead them to the music they were performing, they ate it up.
Let the music be your guide - and then you will have real focus on what you can teach and what the kids will be receptive to. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 30, 2013 6:02am
Hi Jennifer,
I've always used the name of the musical to be performed as my "textbook."  It has never been rejected by my administrator.  There are so many great things you can do at the MS level.  If you ever decide to do a huge production, I'd suggest "Lil' Abner" as a starting point.  Lots of parts, only a few big ones and the songs are so much fun. "Cinderella" is also a good MS choice.  Enjoy your class!
on July 1, 2013 3:34pm
In addition to the other resources that people have mentioned, MTI has study guides for many of its musicals.  I have used West Side Story and Fiddle on the Roof.
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