History of Musical Theater

Music has been a part of theater since ancient times. In ancient Greece, widely recognized as the birthplace of Western theater, theatrical performances were accompanied by choruses, which responded to the actions of the characters and spoke directly to the audience. However, the origins of musical theater as we know it today -— most famously seen on Broadway — can be traced back to the 19th century (Britannica, 2022). At that time, various forms of musical theater emerged throughout Europe: ballad operas — where dialogue alternated with songs —, burlesque and even acrobatic shows that incorporated music (New World Encyclopedia, 2022). The best representation of this period is John Gay's The Beggar's Opera which told the story of delinquents, featuring scenes of dialogue and moments where the characters began to sing comic songs about their misdeeds, parodying popular and serious Italian and English operas of the time.

Musical theater in the United States has two major influences: European ballad operas and the minstrel show, a form of theater that originated in the United States — a racist practice where music, dancing, singing, and acting were incorporated into a performance where white men used paint on their faces to mimic and mock the black population (Kennedy Center, 2022). From these influences, musical theater had three initial characteristics: it was music aimed at the general public, dialogue was interspersed with songs, and these songs were not central to the story. As musicals continued to evolve, the songs became increasingly important in telling the story and conveying the emotions of the characters. Stephen Sondheim — a composer — was one of the biggest influences on musicals in the last century, incorporating the characters and the main themes of the story magnificently into the songs. In the 1990s, Jonathan Larson's musical Rent revitalized musicals, bringing a younger population of audiences back to theaters. Today, musical theater is open to more forms of experimentation than ever, as evidenced by the musical Hamilton, which incorporates rap into a story about America's founding fathers.

Musical theater is everywhere. Around the world, thousands of shows are performed every day: because musicals are not just in the United States and Europe. Spotlight seeks to continue the history of musical theater in Peru, seeking to bring the magic of musicals to Lima, combining artistic training with English language acquisition. We teach today's youth 21st century skills through the performing arts, thus forming future leaders.


  • Musical. Britannica. (2022) https://www.britannica.com/art/musical
  • [Photo] Musical Theatre in America. (2022) Kennedy Center. https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/resources-for-educators/classroom-resources/media-and-interactives/media/theater/musical-theater-in-america/