In the 1860s the British musical stage was dominated by the operettas of Jacques Offenbach and his French contemporaries. However, French operetta in its original form was considered too risqué for British audiences, and the shows had to be bowdlerised to a considerable extent. It was the unique partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan that produced a home grown answer to the French which was free of "anything that could give the slightest offence".
(See also "The Gilbert and Sullivan Story" in the composers section.)
By examining two operettas in particular - Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Pirates of Penzance' and Offenbach's 'Les Brigands' - we can see how the work of both Gilbert and Sullivan was influenced by their French predecessor.
When the partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan came to an end in the 1890s the void was filled by a new and even lighter entertainment called musical comedy. We look at the development of this genre from 'The Shop Girl' of 1894 through to Lionel Monckton's hit show 'The Arcadians'.
Under the influence of imported American shows between the wars, traditional operetta declined, and English musical theatre evolved from musical comedies such as 'Chu Chin Chow' to the romantic musicals of Ivor Novello. This change is illustrated with many musical examples from shows of the period.