Contemporary production music is the most distinctive link to the past and, until the 1980s was affected very little by the emergence of rock & roll.
The distinctive Hollywood musical came into its own in the 1960s after decades of adapting Broadway hits to the screen. The scores had the traditional song structure of Tin Pan Alley, the difference being in the use of the music. Instead of the plot line being defined and developed through a score, the music, while remaining essential, became secondary to the dialogue of the actors. There were numerous singers who were accomplished actors in the tradition of Judy Garland, most notably Barbara Streisand, Julie Andrews and Liza Minelli. By the late 1970s the popularity of the Hollywood musical waned and in the 1980s completely disappeared.
Contemporary film production music refers, primarily, to theme songs: individual pop songs written specifically for the context of the film. The instrumental score of the film is also crucial, and composers such as John Williams have become legendary in Hollywood for adapting symphonic works to a script.
From its birth in the late 1920's, film has always been a popular vehicle for plugging songs, but it was not until the 1960s that film was acknowledged as the most extensive and adaptable medium.
Stage theatre in America had always been popular. From the minstrel shows of the 1800s to the vaudeville and musical revues of the 1900s to the spectacular Broadway productions of Tin Pan Alley, Americans have always loved the theater. The legacy of the Broadway musical is exemplified in the work of Stephen Sondheim, who worked as a young lyricist with the legendary Leonard Bernstein in the 1957 production of "West Side Story" and then became the most successful lyricist and composer of contemporary theatre.
In 1971, a score heavily influenced by rock & roll was introduced to the traditional Broadway stage. "Jesus Christ Superstar," by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, brought the contemporary sounds of rock music to Broadway. Rice had been the long-time songwriting partner of Elton John, and when he teamed with Webber, the rock & roll rhythms and guitar-inspired instrumentation was something Broadway had never before experienced. However, Broadway was not affected by rock & roll in the same way popular standards were. Broadway has been enhanced by the new sounds of Webber and Rice, but the songwriters remain loyal to the traditional structure and sound of the Broadway musical.
Contemporary stage productions remain a bridge to the old and new with the most consistency of all American genres.