Recovering the History of the U.S. Immigrant Musical Theater at the Library of Congress
From circa 1840-1940, a multitude of immigrant-oriented, non-English-language musical theater traditions flourished throughout the United States. Imagine Adolf Philipp’s German-American musical comedy Der Corner Grocer aus der Avenue A at his own Germania Theater in New York; Hamlet in Yiddish with music on New York’s Second Avenue—the Yiddish Broadway; Spanish zarzuelas for Mexican audiences in the Arizona mountain mining towns of Jerome and Bisbee; Cantonese opera in San Francisco and Los Angeles; Carmen sung in Finnish in Astoria, Oregon with a fisherman cast and fishtown audience; the operetta Die lustige Witwe/The Merry Widow in Hungarian in Lorain, Ohio; as well as performances at Detroit’s Polish Fredro Theater, San Francisco’s Filipino theater, and Los Angeles’ Mexican Teatro Hidalgo and Japanese Fujikan Theater. Musical theater served as a source of ethnic and national pride in the face of xenophobia in these and other locations, as well as entertainment and artistic edification. Over time it was also a means for accommodation and assimilation within U.S. society.
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