The first American musical?

The Black Crook was a large scale "musical" first produced, with great success, in New York in 1866. Many music historians consider The Black Crook to be the first American musical.

The original production opened on September 12, 1866 at the 3,200-seat Niblo's Garden. It was an amazing five-and-a-half hours long, but despite its length, it ran for a record-breaking 474 performances, and revenues exceeded a record-breaking one million dollars. It was a script of Faustian fairytale drama and romance included a full musical score consisting of adaptations of existing songs as well as new ones written for the show by various writers, all selected and arranged by Niblo's musical director, Thomas Baker. Popular songs from the show included "You Naughty, Naughty Men", with music credited to George Bickwell and lyrics credited to Theodore Kennick, although the song may really have been adapted from an English song or songs.

The production included modern special effects, including a pantomime-style transformation scene that converted a rocky grotto into a fairyland throne room in full view of the audience. A scantily-clad female dancing chorus in skin-colored tights was a big draw. It was respectable enough for the middle-class audience, but very daring and controversial enough to attract a great deal of press attention.

The Black Crook book is by Charles M. Barras (1826–1873). The story is a Faustian melodramatic romantic comedy, but the production became famous for its spectacular special effects and skimpy costumes.

Below you can read Mark Twain's descriptions of the original Black Crook musical...


Mariposa Gazette, Volume 12, Number 52, 22 June 1867 —


Mark Twain thus does up the " Black Crook" as it is now played in New York :

" The name of this new exhibition which touches my missionary sensibilities, is the " Black Crook." The scene effects —the water-falls, cascades, fountains, oceans, fairies, devils, heaven and angels, are gorgeous beyond anything ever witnessed in America, perhaps, and these goods certainly attract the women and girls.
Then the endless ballets and splendid tableaux, with seventy beauties arrayed in dazzling half costumes, and displaying all possible compromises between nakedness and decency, capture the men and boys.
The scenery and the legs are everything ; the actors who do the talking are the wretchedest sticks on the boards.
But the fairy scenes—they fascinate; the boys. Beautiful bare legged girls hanging in flowery baskets; others stretched in groups on great sea-shells; others clustered around fluted columns; others in all possible attitudes! Girls—nothing but a wilderness of girls— stacked up, pile on pile, away aloft to the dome of the theater, diminishing in size and clothing, till the last row, mere children, dangling high from invisible ropes, arrayed only in a "word blurred in original scan" . The whole tableau resplendent with columns and scrolls, and a vast ornamental work, wrought in gold, silver and brilliant color— all lit up with gorgeous theatrical fires, and witnessed through a great gauzy curtain hat counterfeits a soft silver mist.
It is the wonders of the Arabian Nights realized.
Those girls dance in ballet, dressed with a "word blurred in original scan" greatness that would make a parasol blush, and they prance around and expose themselves in a way that is scandalous to me. Moreover they come trooping on the stage in platoons and battalions, in most gorgeous attire I grant you but with more tights in view than anything else. They change their clothes every fifteen minutes for four hours, and their dresses be come more beautiful and rascally all the time.

Sheet music from
The Black Crook

We have prepared a PDF file with scans of original sheet music related to the Black Crook. The PDF is prepared for standard size paper as easy to print black and white sheet music.

1. Bolero Diabolique
2. Transformation Polka
3. You Naughty Naughty Men
4. The Black Crook Galop
5. The Black Crook Waltzes
6. March of the Amazons

Price - $4.00

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