The American musical has evolved over the last two centuries into what today has become one of the most popular theatrical genres. The basic roots of the modern musical began with the introduction of the minstrel show in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Some form of music had often accompanied stage performances in the eighteenth century, but the incorporation of music as an integral part of a show began with the development of minstrelsy, which featured song and dance. Melodrama, burlesque, vaudeville, opera, operetta, opera bouffe, and musical revues and extravaganzas followed the minstrel show as popular forms of entertainment in the nineteenth century, spilling over into the early twentieth century as well. Its broad appeal helped to establish musical theatre as a mainstay in both professional and amateur venues.

With the advent of the Broadway musical in the twentieth century, music became the dominant vehicle to move the plot forward rather than merely serving as a supportive component in a show. In 1927, the musical Show Boat became a turning point in the development of American musical theatre. The collaborative team of Oscar Hammerstein II, writing the book and lyrics, and Jerome Kern, composing the score, created a musical comedy that fused music and action in a way previously unseen.

The next revolution in form came in 1943, when Richard Rodgers teamed with Oscar Hammerstein II in their first collaborative effort, creating the musical Oklahoma!, which ran for a record 2,212 performances at the St. James Theatre in New York. Their successful legacy and collaboration set the course for the Broadway musical to dominate the New York theatre scene and to appear on stages across the country, delighting scores of audiences.