How did the tradition of the showstopper start?
I'm wondering because I've been hearing the commercials for the traveling production of Wicked, returning here for five weeks starting in March. "And nobody in all of Oz, no wizard that there is or was, is ever going to bring, MEEEEEE, DOWWWWWWWWWWWWN..." We all know songs like that: everyone on stage stops, a singer (or singers) gets the spotlight, the notes are big and long, and the applause (the director hopes) is thunderous. Thing is, I think, that had to have evolved somewhere, somehow. I'm pretty sure the Ancient Greeks, for all their innovations in putting actors on a stage and telling tales, didn't come up with showstopping tunes. (I just pictured Antigone, the only Greek play I've seen produced, with songs. I think Wrong Thoughts.) Noh drama probably isn't big on the big productions, either (and how would you get a mask big enough for the elephant in Aida?). Shakespeare wrote musical language, not musicals; there's a difference. And I guess that at some point stage shows' songs started getting bigger responses from audiences, reinforcing the idea of having a Big Song That Stops Everything, leading to more composers writing such songs, and the feedback loop goes on...
...but how did it all begin?
But I'm not a theater geek, so I don't know how to find the answer. Except to ask y'all here.
How is Wicked the musical, by the way? Worth giving a listen on CD? And more to the point, is there much of a difference in tone and mood between the musical and Gregory Maguire's original novel (which I liked)?