THE CREATION of American operetta, like the Austrian and British varieties, was provoked by the overwhelming reception given to foreign works. In the eighteenth century, British ballad operas were popular in the colonies and led to American imitations, along with Shakespeare, farces, and other English fare. By the middle of the nineteenth century, New York was the principal theatrical city, with its cosmopolitan audience supporting Italian opera, serious drama, and, from 1841, the native minstrel show, along with lower-class diversions centered around the Bowery. Extravaganzas of the British type and burlesques, travesties, and pantomimes flourished. The music hall—usually a disreputable saloon with "waiter-girls" dispensing more than drink—was given a certain respectability by the impresario Tony Pastor, who opened his Music Hall in 1864.
Americans were—and have always been—attracted to anything new (which explains the frequent U.S. resistance to operetta revivals). Along with this quest for novelty, spectacle was always desirable. Thus, the extravaganzas and pantomimes of the 1840s and '50s generally featured extraneous diversions, like elaborate dancing or scenic effects, that often had little to do with the main plot. These erratic combinations reached a famous zenith in 1866, with the production of The Black Crook (Niblo's Garden, 12 September 1866), often regarded the "first" American musical comedy. This five-and-a-half-hour spectacular was the amalgam of two separate attractions. One was a Parisian ballet company, performing the 1845 féerie, La Biche aux bois, contracted to play a New York theatre that had burned down; the other was a derivative melodrama by Charles M. Barras called The Black Crook, at least suggested by the plot of Weber's