The history of musicals from early ballad operas to today’s West End blockbusters can be explored through the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Collections.
In contrast to the slick, sophisticated American musicals of the 1930s, Britain evolved the ‘nostalgia’ musical such as Noël Coward's 'Bitter Sweet' (1929). The 1960s brought Lionel Bart’s low-life musicals 'Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be' and 'Oliver!', while the 1990s heralded the 'compilation' musical such as 'Mamma Mia'.
Fred and Adele Astaire
Fred Astaire (1899–1987) was one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century. He and his sister Adele (1896–1981) were child stars in American Vaudeville before moving into musicals in their late teens. They became major Broadway stars and then in 1923 appeared for the first time in Britain, where they were an immediate hit.
Jessie Matthews (1907–1981) was Britain’s favourite 1930's musical film star. She made her name in theatre before starring in a number of successful musicals such as Rodgers and Hart's 'Ever Green'. In the 1960s she became a household name again as the eponymous heroine of the hugely popular radio soap 'Mrs Dale’s Diary'.
Theatre & Performance
The Theatre and Performance collection was founded in the 1920s when a private collector, Gabrielle Enthoven, donated her extensive collection of theatrical designs, memorabilia, books and photographs to the Museum. Since then the collection has continued to grow and has provided a home for many other significant objects and archives. All areas of the live performing arts are represented in the collections, documenting both current practice and the history of the performing arts in the UK.