Music in Gotham and Song, Stage and Screen III present a conference on American Musical Theater: Abstracts

2-5 April, 2008

An Electronic Edition of The Black Crook
Doug Reside
University of Maryland, College Park

Despite the fact that the 1866 melodrama, The Black Crook, is widely regarded as, if not the first, then at least an important primal text in American musical theater, the text of the piece is currently available only in an anthology of “Nineteenth Century American Drama.” This anthology includes a short historical introduction, but no textual notes and almost none of lyrics for the interpolated songs. Of course, the songs changed frequently and so one must not be too hard on the editor of the anthology who was, when the book was published in 1967, bound by the limitations of print and forced to try to represent a dynamic text in a static medium. Today, however, alternatives exist. I have recently begun work on a new critical electronic edition of The Black Crook which records changes in the texts and songs over time. The record of these changes offers a fascinating window into the production history of The Black Crook and into the tastes and values of the audiences of nineteenth and early twentieth century musical theater. In this paper I will outline some of the discoveries I have made while working on this project and will discuss, more generally, how digital media can revolutionize the way we study and understand musical theater.

Orchestration in the Early Twentieth Century Revue: Frank Saddler, Sol Levy, and
The Passing Show of 1914
Jonas Westover
The Graduate Center, CUNY

After the advent of the modern American revue in the 1890s, the genre quickly became a showcase for songs by a host of popular songwriters. The loose plot structure allowed for constant transformation of the show’s musical components without the need to adhere to a logical relationship between the dances, songs, and musical interludes; a Hawaiian hula could be followed by a ragtime song spoofing opera without any loss of coherence to the audience. Thus, revues were an ideal location to experiment with new musical and dance forms without fear of negative reviews. Of all these areas of manipulating music, modifying orchestration was one of the primary methods of creating new sounds for the Broadway stage.

Though orchestration is one of the most important components of determining the “sound” of a musical in its historical period, very little scholarship has focused on this facet of shows. In many cases, the original parts have been discarded, making an accurate re-creation of the earliest Broadway musicals nearly impossible. Luckily, there are a some instances where the original score and its parts remain extant for study. One of Sigmund Romberg’s early revues, The Passing Show of 1914, will be discussed in this paper, specifically focusing on the work of the musical’s orchestrators, Frank Saddler and Sol Levy. Their orchestrations contain some surprises in instrumentation and orchestral color, but comparing the work of the two also highlights how two different orchestrators went about the business of scoring show business. Based on examples of parts, scores, and a few choice recordings, the rich sounds of Broadway in the teens depict a genre breaking away from the operetta and striving to find a voice of its own.

and the Downsizing of the American Musical Tradition
Garrett Eisler
The Graduate Center, CUNY

One of the most successful ventures of the New York musical theatre in recent years has been “Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert,” a program of revivals at the City Center. A nonprofit company presenting only three productions a year at five performances each, “Encores” has pioneered a form of the staged reading (or “concert version”) that is cheaper to mount than full productions, yet attracts public attention commensurate with Broadway openings. On the one hand “Encores” has provided invaluable services: recuperating or restoring “lost” pieces from the past or lesser known works from illustrious songwriters’ catalogues, as well as showcasing that material with preeminent performers otherwise unavailable or unaffordable. But in proving the viability of scaled-down readings, has “Encores” also unwittingly set a hazardous precedent for the musical revival in the long run? As professional theatrical production costs skyrocket (in both commercial and nonprofit spheres alike) the fully staged revival of even a canonical American musical is an endangered species. Does “Encores”—as well as the spate of “piano and music-stand” imitators it has spawned—risk reinforcing the cost-cutting mentality of current theatrical practice by inuring audiences to the lowered expectations of rudimentary staging and designs, performed “scripts-in-hand” with abridged or revised librettos? As their successful transfer of Chicago has showed, the “Encores” aesthetic can now sell on Broadway.

By focusing on specific productions, as well as the company’s business and marketing practices, I suggest that “Encores” and its ilk have fulfilled some of the needed functions of a National Theatre of the American musical, but while also asking: at what price?

Men, Women, and the European Musical Canon on the American Stage
Wynn Yamami
New York University

In the final scene of René Fauchois’s play, Beethoven, the eponymous composer was depicted in the throes of despair. Deaf, dismissed by critics, and abandoned by his beloved nephew Karl, Beethoven cried out, “But, oh, to die alone–deserted and betrayed. Oh Karl, Karl, Karl! I loved you like a son–my only son! No child of mine is here in sorrow at my knees, and men will say Beethoven has no child.” Suddenly, as in a vision, nine young women garbed in flowing white dresses appeared before the abject man, announcing themselves as his nine daughters–his nine symphonies.

The depiction of European composers on the American stage was a recurrent phenomenon in the first half of the twentieth century. While each biographical production followed its own unique contour, generally related to the historical record, certain details were common to all: composers (men) were geniuses, and women were secondary, cast either as distant muses, devoted housewives, or anthropomorphized musical compositions. What is less obvious, however, is the emasculation of the composers themselves. At once elevated as geniuses, composers were simultaneously condemned as sterile, fragile, sickly, effete or simply unattractive. Tracing these ideas through three productions (Beethoven, 1910 play; Blossom Time, 1921 musical; White Lilacs, 1928 musical), I will suggest that this trope of emasculation mirrored the ambivalent relationship between American culture and European high art.

If I Loved You: Problems and Solutions in the First-Act Love Songs of Hart and Hammerstein
Brian Hoffman
University of Cincinnati

The trend toward realism begun by Show Boat resulted in a certain problem for the conventional first-act love song. In this paper, I address this issue by focussing on the new type of love song that resulted in the works of Rogers and Hart and Rogers and Hammerstein, and its effects on the musicals’ plots.

At the time Oklahoma! was written, the audience for musical comedy had specific expectations regarding the archetypical “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” plot. Such plot transparency allowed unabashed love upon the initial meeting of two characters, which was then expressed in song. However, beginning with Show Boat and continuing with Oklahoma!, the desire for transparent plots was challenged by the trend toward dramatic realism; and this, in turn, affected the typical first-act love song. The convention of having the lovers meet and sing was retained, but now the songs began to express either hypothetical love (“Where or When,” “If I Loved You,” and “Some Enchanted Evening”) or an unwillingness to admit or reveal love (“This Can’t Be Love,” “People Will Say We’re In Love,” and “Shall We Dance?”)

After considering these songs, I posit a trend in the plots of the musicals whereby the eventual uniting of the lovers is de-emphasized, while the nature of their relationship is cast into focus. This trend culminates in The King and I, in which the lack of an outward relationship is the plot’s focus, as betrayed subtly by the finale, “Shall We Dance?”

The works of Stephen Sondheim, a protégé of Hammerstein, provide an apt conclusion to this study. By briefly addressing songs such as “A Very Nice Prince” from Into the Woods, “Now,” “Later,” and “Soon” from A Little Night Music, and “We Do Not Belong Together” from Sunday in the Park with George and the musical Company, I show that Sondheim introduces a cynicism that contrasts Hammerstein’s tendency toward eternal optimism.

Wednesday Afternoon, April 2

Understanding and Preserving the Craft of the Musical Theater Orchestrator
George Ferencz, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Jon Alan Conrad, University of Delaware
Bruce Pomahac, The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization

It remains difficult to generalize about what Broadway’s orchestrators have provided for the songwriters employing their services. Victor Herbert engaged orchestrators principally because of time constraints; Irving Berlin, famously a non-reader of music, needed others even to prepare lead sheets, much less full orchestrations. The unique demands of the profession have led theater songwriters to repeatedly seek out a very select subset of New York’s professional arrangers, among them Frank Saddler in the early twentieth century; Robert Russell Bennett, Hans Spialek, Don Walker and Ted Royal, who got their start in the 1920s and 30s; and names like Sid Ramin, Irwin Kostal, Robert Ginzler, and Philip J. Lang in the postwar years. Those of prominence today include Jonathan Tunick, William David Brohn, and Bruce Coughlin. This presentation surveys the demands and constraints of this specialized craft, its practitioners’ working relationships with composers, and changing fashions in instrumentation and style. Also addressed are the restoration of such enduring properties as Carousel and The King and I as well as recent updates of canonic shows’ orchestrations in response to new technologies and shrinking AFM-minimum pit-orchestra sizes.

“‘Gaudy Name’ or Gray Eminence: Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. and the Genesis of Show Boat”
Katherine L. Axtell
University of Rochester

As scholars increasingly embrace notions of Broadway musicals as collaborative works with highly mutable, composite texts, questions arise: what constitutes an authorial voice, and who among the panoply of contributing individuals merits consideration as an auteur? More simply, as Mark N. Grant has stated in The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical, “whose point of view gets delivered and how?” Grant’s definition of auteur in the context of the early-twentieth-century musical excludes producers, whose responsibilities (he asserts) pertained not to artistic oversight but to publicity and the provision of “compelling packaging” for stars, songs, and stories. This model aptly describes some producers of the era, but it falls short for Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., perhaps the most prominent and idiosyncratic of Broadway’s early masterminds. Perhaps due to his popular reputation as the “Glorifier of the American Girl,” scholars consistently overlook Ziegfeld’s direct and multifaceted involvement in his productions and his role in shaping the generic expectations of American musical theater. No production has suffered more in this regard than Show Boat (1927), the most celebrated of Ziegfeld’s offerings, yet the one for whose success historians have ceded him the least responsibility. This paper draws on script drafts, correspondence, and critical reviews to illustrate Ziegfeld’s distinctive methodology and his hitherto unacknowledged impact on the genesis and reception of Show Boat, arguably his most historically significant production.

The First History of the American Musical: Text, Context, Subtext
Larry Stempel
Fordham University

The oft-cited “revolution” of the musical stage in the 1940s rested on more than just the practices of such writers of shows as Kurt Weill and Rodgers and Hammerstein. It also involved a conceptual revolution that had as much to do with the cultural work undertaken behind the scenes, as it were, by theater critics, theorists, and ultimately historians. Indeed, the writing of the first comprehensive history of America’s musicals at the end of the decade, Cecil Smith’s Musical Comedy in America, served to vindicate this intellectual ferment. Moreover, as the first of its kind, Smith’s book not only legitimized the study of the musical as a genre in its own right but it also framed the terms governing the historiography of that genre ever since.

Many of the influential debates of the 1940s concerning the creation of a new sense of prestige for the musical that might warrant such a history were waged in the pages of Theatre Arts Magazine. Its editors, Edith J.R. Isaacs and Rosamond Gilder, even used its pages to propose speaking of “musical theater” in an effort at once to elevate the domain of what was then called “musical comedy” and to mark a cultural space for it distinct from, but no less worthy than that of “non-musical” theater. Smith contributed several articles to the magazine during the 1940s and it is surely no coincidence that in 1950 his history was first published by Theatre Arts Books. The ideological trajectory of the magazine and the arguments of those of its contributors who addressed the cultural status of the musical as an issue may well provide a larger intellectual context for understanding Cecil Smith’s landmark achievement.

George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, and the Jewish Immigrant Experience
bruce mcclung
University of Cincinnati

For his American opera Street Scene, Kurt Weill modeled the strawberry seller’s music on a parallel passage from George Gershwin’s folk opera Porgy and Bess. An examination of Porgy and Bess’s sources reveals that the strawberry seller is present neither in DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel nor Dorothy and DuBose Heyward’s 1927 play. Furthermore, the character is incompatible both to the Gullah culture, and for the story’s season and locale.

Within Porgy and Bess, the strawberry seller seems to defy the diegesis of the drama: why do none of Catfish Row’s residents respond to her street cry? Gershwin marked the lento passage piano, and the free declamation and fermatas give it the quality of an incantation. The presence of organ-like pedal tones, strong subdominant orientation, and 4-3 suspensions lends the music a spiritual quality. Street Scene’s strawberry seller appears in a similar dramatic place, sandwiched between not one, but two love triangles. The similarities between the passages include the same tempo marking, soft dynamic, pedal tones, sustained accompaniment, and alternation of thirds in the vocal part. As before, the street vendor sings twice, but no one responds.

Examining Porgy and Bess’s compositional material suggests that Ira Gershwin interpolated the strawberry seller from one of his favorite novels. However incongruous to the setting of Porgy and Bess, this character links the otherness of American Jews on the Lower East Side with that of Charleston’s Gullah community. The Jewish origin also explains why Weill chose to memorialize this passage in his Broadway opera.

Thursday Morning, April 3

Scalar Passages in Rodgers and Hart
Larry Bomback
New York

An analysis of the songs of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart yields a noteworthy finding: In over 90% of these melodies, Rodgers composes an ascending scalar passage ranging from a tetrachord to more than a full octave. When composing these lines, Rodgers does not appear to discriminate between verses (“Manhattan” is a very obvious example of a full octave ascent) or choruses (“Have You Met Miss Jones” for instance). The passages are usually situated within some sort of major modality, although, as is the case with “My Funny Valentine,” Rodgers does not shy away from minor realms when composing these special lines. Indeed, in a song like “My Funny Valentine,” or even “Bewitched,” the ascending scalar passage is carefully embedded within ornamental notes. Songs with these hidden passages are of particular interest to me because of their unusual lyrics so often wrought with subtext.

But perhaps of most scholarly significance is the apparent absence of such scalar ascents in the songs of Rodgers and his other major collaborator, Oscar Hammerstein II. In fact, when Rodgers begins writing songs with Hammerstein, the once rather sweeping melodies (clearly a result of the above-mentioned scalar passages), give way to more recitative-like lines with several repeated notes and minimal ranges (think “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”). The only song of Rodgers and Hammerstein that seems to return to the obvious scalar ascents of Rodgers’ earlier works is “Do Re Mi,” which, in the context of The Sound of Music, is a pedagogical song all about—you guessed it—scalar ascents!

Castration on the stage: the integrated musicals of Rodgers and Hart
Dominic Symonds
University of Portsmouth

The mythology of the integrated musical has dominated discourse in musical theatre since the triumphant success of Rodgers & Hammerstein with Oklahoma! in 1943. Since then the ideology of integration has been indelibly linked to the oeuvre of Rodgers and Hammerstein and anticipated in the subsequent canon of more recent collaborators. Typical narratives (Block, Mast, Lahr, Steyn, Swain, Everett & Laird) evoke a ‘before’ and ‘after’ mythology in which standards of value, maturity and artistry have been established, often denigrating the pre-war period of writing, during which rare works (Showboat; the Princess Shows) seem to stand out as exceptions to the otherwise prevailing superficiality of musical comedy. Yet Rodgers’ previous collaboration with Lorenz Hart, which spanned the inter-war period, reveals a committed attitude to developing the ‘integrity’ of musical theatre, and aside from the acknowledged classics in their repertoire, several more experimental works stand out: not least Peggy-Ann (1926) and Chee-Chee (1928). This paper will seek to revisit the existing narrative of musical theatre and explore the influence of Rodgers and Hart on the development of the integrated musical, focussing particularly on the little known ‘castration musical’, Chee-Chee.

Pal Joey: Reconstructing a classic Rodgers and Hart score
Paul Christman
The University of Oklahoma

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were successful writers of musicals including On Your Toes and Babes in Arms. Their timeless songs including “Bewitched” and “I Could Write A Book” have remained popular standards for decades. However, the musical in which these songs were first heard is now rarely, if ever, produced. Originally praised for its strong book, lyrics and music, why then is Pal Joey unknown to most audiences? The answer is the condition of the score. Besides serving as musical director/conductor on the show at the University of Oklahoma in 2006, my work with the production included a restoration of the musical’s score. After visiting the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization in New York City during the summer of 2005, I spent the following eight months reconciling the vocal and instrumental elements of the piece. This included using notes from Hans Spialek, the original orchestrator, to correct errors in the score and restoring Hugh Martin’s two vocal arrangements. Lyrics were returned to the songs “Bewitched”, “Zip”, “Plant You Know, Dig You Later”, “Take Him” as well as an entire number deleted prior to the Broadway opening, “I’m Talking To My Pal.” The result was a production that was closer to the intended sound of the initial version for the first time in over sixty years. Like Pal Joey, restoration of once successful but no longer produced musicals from Broadway’s Golden Age should be done to preserve the art form.

Golden age and After: the Persistence of Musical Comedy
Robert Gordon
University of London

The history of the American musical is commonly constructed as a teleological process initiated by Kern and Hammerstein with their ground-breaking Show Boat (1927), consolidated in the triumph of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (1943), and brought to perfection with My Fair Lady (1956) and West Side Story (1957). According to this version of theatre history, 1920s musical comedy represents a primitive phase in the evolution of the dramaturgically and musically integrated musical play. Cabaret (1966) is commonly seen to signal the formal saturation of the musical play. This evolutionary history of the genre fails to offer any adequate account of such classics as On the Town (1944), Finian’s Rainbow (1947), Kiss Me Kate (1948), Guys and Dolls (1950), The Pajama Game (1954), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Hello, Dolly (1964), and Sweet Charity (1966), nor does it explain the resurgence of musical comedy after The Producers (2001). In an attempt to offer a less partial explanation of developments in musical theatre, this paper will explain how the emergence of a tradition of satirical thirties musicals by the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Weill and others gave rise to an alternative principle of musico-dramaturgical integration that not only constituted a generic paradigm for “golden age” musical comedies but ultimately established the aesthetic terms of “concept” musicals such as A Chorus Line (1975), Chicago (1975), and Sondheim’s Company (1970), Follies (1971), Pacific Overtures (1976), and Assassins (1991).

From Broadway to Auckland: the Key Role Played by Amateur Musical Theatre
Julie Jackson-Tretchikoff
School of Music, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Despite the geographical isolation of New Zealand, and its unique mixture of British colonial and Maori heritage, the American musical has had a substantial role to play in the development of musical theatre in this country.

The city of Auckland has a population of 1.3 million, but has never been home to a permanent professional musical theatre company. Nevertheless, musical theatre in Auckland has a long and active history due, largely, to the pivotal role of its amateur musical theatre societies, currently numbering no fewer than nine. Of these, Auckland Music Theatre Inc. (AMT), founded in 1919, is the longest-established. Since its inception AMT has staged 160 musicals, of which more than 50% have been American, in a list that embraces British, French, German and New Zealand musicals, plus a number of mixed revues.

Over the decades some major front-line American musicals, including Fiddler on the Roof, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Company have been assimilated into AMT’s repertoire. Today, the society continues to mount fully-staged works and concert performances such as the New Zealand premiere of Ragtime, presented in July 2007.

During more than a century of theatrical activity, a professional performing tradition of real quality has been established. Theatrical families have emerged through succeeding generations, a skilful theatrical resource has been painstakingly developed in a faraway land, and elements of community identity have been nurtured through an increasingly confident possession of the American musical as an “adopted child” that has helped an emerging community discover and celebrate itself.

This paper, based on the author’s ongoing research from the archives of AMT, surveys more than a century of musical theatre in the Auckland region and highlights a number of its strengths and challenges.

Any Dream Will Not Do
Tony Castro
Trinity College of Music

Perhaps, given the popularity of reality instant-fame TV shows such as Pop/American Idol, the success of recent similar shows in the UK casting the leads in West End musicals is no surprise. But where the pop music world has actively perpetuated the dream of discovering hidden raw talent and thrusting it into the limelight regardless of background, experience or training, success in Musical Theatre, and the iconic “triple threat” model in particular, has always presupposed a significant proven aptitude grounded in training and experience.

What, then, the future of musical theatre training if the audience has the final say in casting? How might the dreams of young performers be realised if decisions are based on a popularity contest rather than proven ability to do the job? Is there any ethno-cultural bias in such “casting” decisions? How might training courses respond to this new paradigm?

Musical Theatre training in the UK has traditionally developed out of drama and dance training. Until relatively recently both arenas sat outside the state-supported Higher Education undergraduate degree context, being deemed “vocational” and therefore neither `worthy`of or requiring “academic” study. Changes in funding conditions and a government strategy of widening participation has brought many musical theatre courses into an HE environment, which brings its own challenges, not least of which are (a) meeting academic expectations within vocational training and (b) matching widening participation with actual job opportunities (casting).

In both drama and dance contexts institutions tend to select those applicants who excel in the relevant skills, thereby advantaging those applicants from socio-economic and cultural backgrounds in which prior exposure to the performing arts is more likely. But what becomes of those aspiring performers who lack these pre-training experiences? The presence of TV shows which allege to cast from obscurity (the truth of this is debatable) offer a cruel tease which may leave many a dream dashed.

This paper therefore seeks to explore how contemporary Musical Theatre training in the UK is responding to a variety of factors including reality TV-style casting; the increase in productions (and therefore employments) in the West End, the nature of these employments and the extent to which they support government strategies for widening participation; and opportunities (or lack thereof) for aspiring performers to legitimately see themselves (through role models) in such employments.

The paper will draw upon research undertaken by key stakeholders including the National Council for Drama Training, Conference of Drama Schools; inclusivity initiatives explored by Theatre Royal Stratford East; recent developments in training at Greenwich Musical Theatre Academy; and, in particular, the new Foundation Degree in Musical Theatre at Trinity College of Music, London—the first degree course of its kind in the UK.

Thursday Afternoon, April 3

Love, Loyalty, and the Civil War: When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Orly Leah Krasner
Hofstra University

When Americans contemplated the Civil War at a remove of fifty years, film-making was poised to take off as a major art form; indeed D.W. Griffith’s 1915 Birth of a Nation is a landmark both of national recollection and cinematography. Celluloid, however, was not the only artistic medium to probe the national psyche.

In 1902, less than forty years after Lincoln’s assassination, Julian Edwards gave Broadway audiences When Johnny Comes Marching Home. Generally credited as Edwards’s best work, it ran for 71 performances and had later revivals. Stanislaus Stange, the librettist, was—like Edwards—an expatriate Englishman, and the two often worked together. Their choice of the verismo War Between the States to frame a rather typical love story is a notable exception to the Ruritanian backdrops emblematic of turn-of-the-century comic opera. The impetus, however, came more from contemporary events rather than anticipation of the half-century remembrance. This paper provides a context for When Johnny Comes Marching Home both in terms of Edwards’s career and American patriotism at the end of the 19th century.

Hooray for What! A Glimpse into the Golden Age of Sexual Harassment
Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh
Rollins College

Throughout the ages, the theater has been a particularly fertile site for sexual harassment, so much so, that the theatrical term, “casting couch” has entered the lexicon as a euphemism for the trading of/demand for sexual favors in return for career advancement—regardless of the career itself. In the 1930s, women, particularly chorus women in the musical theater, had come to expect that negotiating the sexual advances of the men they worked for was part and parcel of their job. Scenes in movies from the era such as 42nd Street (1933) play these “flirtations” for comic effect, and the chorine with her sugar daddy became a stock character in many screwball comedies of the era. But off the screen, in the rehearsal room, the situation was hardly funny.

Though sexual harassment may have been rampant in the golden age of the musical theater, its very normalcy left it invisible to chroniclers of the time and hence to historians. The historian looking for documentation of sexual harassment in this period is hampered by a lack of any legal records, since no crime had been committed, as well as by a dearth of anecdotal evidence—why make a note of something that was so commonplace as to be “routine”. When anecdotal evidence is found, it is usually in the form of a boys-will-be-boys-and-can-you–believe-the-good-times-we-had type of recollection. The women’s voices are absent and so they appear to be willing participants; their silence appears to legitimize the behavior.

There is one notable exception to this lack of first hand documentation and that is the 1937 Shubert production of Hooray for What! with music by Harold Arlen, book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, and lyrics by Yip Harburg, the production was directed by Vincent Minelli and choreographed, at least for a while, by Agnes de Mille. Several of the key players left detailed accounts of their experiences including Agnes de Mille, Vincent Minnelli, and Dorothy Bird, a former Martha Graham dancer and member of the chorus. Reading their accounts against each other reveals just how vulnerable the women in the production were to sexually predatory behavior and just how unmindful most of the men involved were to the women’s feelings of violation and fear. What Agnes de Mille and Dorothy Bird record in great detail offers disturbing evidence of the ways in which the Shubert brothers and their business manager reduced the women of the chorus to sexual objects and created a consistently hostile environment; preventing a choreographer from fulfilling her vision, costing several women their jobs and ultimately destroying a dancer’s confidence and with it her desire to perform in the musical theater.

Leftward Leaning, Still Proceeding. . . : “Left-Wing” Musical Theater, 1936–37
Tim Carter
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Roosevelt’s second-term victory on 3 November 1936 changed—however briefly—the political climate for worker’s rights in the U.S. The Spanish Civil War (begun 17 July 1936), the treaty of friendship signed by Germany and Italy (25 October), and the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan (25 November) also caused profound anxieties that Roosevelt aired before the Inter-American Peace Conference in Buenos Aires on 1 December. The immediate aftermath prompted a striking change of fortune for Johnny Johnson, Paul Green and Kurt Weill’s pacifist musical play with a lowly artisan as its hero. The Group Theatre production had opened on 19 November to poor reviews in the main New York press. More niche-oriented newspapers, however, were far more favorable, and somewhat unusually, several major critics significantly revised their opinions in early December.

Johnny Johnson soon closed on Broadway but was taken up with enthusiasm by the Federal Theatre Project. It joined a number of FTP-sponsored plays with music (to varying degrees) in the 1936–37 season, including It Can’t Happen Here, Power, and, of course, the aborted The Cradle Will Rock. FTP directives identified (positively) these shows as having a “frankly partisan appeal to labor audiences.”

Placing these and similar works in context prompts a more nuanced view than their being mere left-wing agitprop. They demonstrate that the musical theater could respond to immediate political circumstances even as it fell victim to them. They also reveal that certain audiences, at least, wanted more from their entertainment than mere Broadway pap.

Selling the “Age of Aquarius” and the Continental Congress:
How Draft Dodgers and Presidents Found Themselves SRO on Broadway
Laura MacDonald
Central School of Speech and Drama

The intense political drama playing out in the United States and in Vietnam in the late 1960s may not have initially appeared to be material ripe for the Broadway musical stage. However the reality of civil unrest in a nation at war inspired two musicals radically different in form yet equally engaged politically. Hair (1968) and 1776 (1969) enjoyed enormous popularity with audiences at the end of the 1960s, but as this paper will argue, the contemporary relevance of their politically charged stories was only partly responsible for their box office success.

Strategic marketing and crafty PR on the part of their producers, Michael Butler and Stuart Ostrow, carefully positioned the two musicals not just as entertainment but as a means for audiences to engage with history in the making. The ink was long dry on the Declaration of Independence, but 1776 offered ticket buyers the opportunity to witness the historical event and create their own cultural memory. Hair welcomed its audiences to a safe and controlled environment in which to observe protests, drugs and free love, with the option of joining in.

Hair’s rock score and criticisms of racism, war and sexual repression provided ample material for marketing the show as a desirable experience to consume. In 1776, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were suddenly dynamic young rebels as vigorous as any hippies. This paper considers both musicals in context as well as the tactics employed by their producers, to suggest why their political engagement proved so profitable.

An Analytical Approach to Performing Company:
Sondheim’s Musical Roadmap for the Singer-Actor
Peter Purin
University of Kansas

Sondheim’s creative use of tonality and form in the musical Company not only provide the listener/spectator interesting music, but music that enhances the drama. Sondheim’s writing exceeds the singer-actor’s expectations by providing a musical roadmap for dramatic interpretation. Tonality is crucial in understanding the drama behind the song “Barcelona.” The key signature indicates E-flat major, but the harmony is ambiguously colored. The melody clearly establishes the key, but when combined with harmonic issues like a circle of fifths that does not lead to a tonic, a certain amount of ambiguity is established. The uncertainty reflects the dramatic implications of how the main character feels. He pays lip service to the woman he spent the night with, but the music tells the audience something entirely different.

Formal devices are explored through the song “Being Alive.” The typical AABA is re-imagined through the use of evaded cadence, a B section that shares A material, irregular phrase lengths, and the position of the modulation within the piece. These issues delay aural closure and build tension until Robert realizes what “being alive” means to him. These two songs become indicators of how Sondheim gives the singer-actors in Company a solid blueprint for character intentions.

Sunday in the Park with Sondheim, Babbitt, and Seurat
Lara Housez
Eastman School of Music

“My God, this is all about music,” Stephen Sondheim exclaimed, as he studied the work of nineteenth-century painter Georges Seurat. “He experimented with the color wheel the way one experiments with a scale.” Seurat so captured Sondheim’s imagination that he became the central figure in Sondheim’s musical, Sunday in the Park with George. As he embarked on his first collaboration with James Lapine, Sondheim set out to find as many analogies to Seurat’s “chromoluminarism” as possible. At first, he arranged the 12 notes of the chromatic scale side-by-side, just as Seurat organized his 12 colors. But, realizing that this would limit the score to a string of minor seconds, Sondheim looked for other ways – both musical and non-musical – to emulate Seurat’s technique. In this paper, I will focus on the analogies to “chromoluminarism” that Sondheim ultimately included in Sunday, a topic that the Sondheim literature has only begun to explore.

Sondheim used his analogies to construct what his teacher, Milton Babbitt, called “architectonic” relationships, or large-scale structural parallels, which, from an abstract perspective, also reflected Seurat’s “chromoluminarism.” Just as Seurat’s viewer combines the dabs of color on the canvas in order to perceive the figures and landscapes, so Sondheim’s audience must step back and “blend” acts I and II of Sunday in order to spot the similar characters, musical numbers, and events that bridge the disparate acts. I will untangle the web of architectonic relationships that culminates in the finale, “Move On.” My analysis will demonstrate that Sondheim, by connecting as many “dots” as possible, wove an intricate musical and dramatic fabric that echoed Seurat’s technique on multiple levels.

One More Folly? The London Version of Follies
Olaf Jubin
Regents College, London

Ever since Stephen Sondheim’s Follies opened on Broadway in 1971 there has been criticism that this “embarrassment of riches” (Sondheim) is saddled with an unworkable libretto. This may have been one of the reasons why Sondheim and librettist James Goldman – asked by producer Cameron Mackintosh whether they would like to change anything – completely overhauled the book and added several new songs for the first ever British mounting of Follies in 1987. But although the star-studded London production won every major theatre award and ran longer that any other production of Follies anywhere, both Sondheim and Goldman decided soon after it closed to go back to the original script and score. The London version is no longer licensed and its songs are seldom performed, making it seem as if it was just one more regrettable folly on the long road to the definitive Follies’ production. Two decades on, my paper will take an in-depth look at the Follies of 1987 and compare it to the 1971 original to determine whether the London production really was such a mistake. What were its errors – and what may have been its achievements?

Friday Morning, April 4

I’ll Say She Is: The Construction of a Star Vehicle
Margaret Farrell
The Graduate Center, CUNY

As a uniquely American form of musical theater emerged out of the minstrel and variety entertainments of the nineteenth century, many shows were constructed to feature the talents of their stars. Signature songs and comedic routines were inserted into what were often fairly flimsy plots. This kind of patchwork construction was still common in the first part of the twentieth century as is evident in a musical comedy designed to feature the talents of a brother act who had been seeking their big Broadway break for years. The Broadway premiere of “I’ll Say She Is,” in May of 1924, has been identified as the single most important event in the careers of The Marx Brothers. A ‘unit show,’ called “Gimme a Thrill,” provided the base for a vehicle tailored to the Marxes’ talents. To this was added new and recycled comic material, songs, and the obligatory parades of beautiful girls. The result was a show that brought the Marxes to the attention of important critics like Alexander Woollcott and agents like Sam Harris, leading to their eventual success in Hollywood. Through analysis of previously unseen journals written by the show’s librettist and lyricist, Will B. Johnstone, along with accounts offered by the Marx family and their biographers, as well as the script and songs of the show, I will follow this show from its source to its success at the Casino Theatre in New York, hopefully shedding some light on the construction of a star vehicle.

Integration in the Revue: Theatrical Functional Music in the Ziegfeld Follies
Ann Ommen
Ohio State University

The integration of music and drama has long served as the primary basis of the musical theatre studies. Scholars have looked to the relationship between song and story not only as a point of interest but as the very justification for their work, the reason why musical theatre merits the same kind of scholarly scrutiny as instrumental music and dramatic plays. The problem, as Margaret Knapp has rightfully argued, is that those forms of musical theatre built on something other than a plot have largely been excluded from the realm of scholarship. Forms such as variety, vaudeville, extravaganza, and revue are often characterized only as an evolutionary pool from which the integrated musical emerged, the inferior ancestors of the more evolved form.

The Ziegfeld Follies exemplify the scholarly neglect of plot-less musical theatre; despite their popularity and historical provenance, they rarely receive more than brief mention in histories of American musical theatre. There are numerous reasons why the Follies merit scholarly attention, but the most surprising may be the manner in which music and song were used to articulate and enhance their topical humor. In several instances, they were “integrated” into the scenes in which they were performed, used to emphasize the target of the comedy in a uniquely musical manner. This paper considers examples of this type of integration, suggesting that the structure of the Ziegfeld Follies may not be as unmusical as previously thought.

Eliza, where the devil are my songs?
Realism and vocality in Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins
Ben Macpherson
University of Winchester, UK

Producer George C. Wolfe; ‘I love the musical theatre form. Even though most of the time I don’t think it accesses the potential of the form. What I love [is] the tension between now I’m singing, now I’m speaking, now I’m dancing. . . It’s the smallness of the human figure reaching for something godlike, mythic and pure… That’s where the power lies.’ The ‘tension’ Wolfe refers to often comes from the dislocation of speech and melody in performance, facilitated by the orchestra. However, when such is not paralleled by an actor’s shift from speech to song the effect is complicated, raising questions of realism, and Wolfe’s own notion of the human agent transcending to a metaphysical plain.

This paper aims to consider the performance of voice in Rex Harrison’s portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady (1956). A classically trained actor, Harrison’s interpretation of Loewe’s score was ‘spoken on pitch’. In this paper I will examine the effect this technique had on the realism of his character, informing this with a psychoanalytical reading of his relationship with Eliza Doolittle, focussing on the process of ‘transformative identification’ (after Freud and Lacan). I will examine two specific moments in Harrison’s portrayal of Henry Higgins, against theories of dramatic structure and performance, in order to comment on the potential and capacity for realism in performance by ‘non-singing’ actors in musical theatre, set against Wolfe’s belief that the form has not yet accessed its full potential.

A Woman’s Touch: Mary Martin and Doris Day and Learning Femininity in the 1950s
John M. Clum
Duke University

The title character in Annie Get Your Gun was one of the most successful creations of Ethel Merman. On the national tour and later on network television, Mary Martin retailored the role and, in doing so, created the persona that would make her a major stage and television star in the 1950s. Film and recording star Doris Day created a version of the same sort of character in her hit film, Calamity Jane. I am interested in two aspects of these and subsequent performances of Annie Oakley: first, what the role and performances say about gender roles and their relationship to professionalism in the postwar period and, second, the relationship of character to star persona and acting in the musical.

“Benevolent Assimilation” on the Great White Way
Jennifer CHJ Wilson
The Graduate Center, CUNY

After Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado (1885), the fascination with the “Orient” sparked a craze on the American musical theater stage of at least twenty productions from 1885 to 1905. The “Orient” on Broadway was a polysemous space that was responding to nineteenth-century events of massive Chinese emigration, Western colonization of Asia, and an on-going “Japonisme.” Asian characters reflected different political and social attitudes held in the West; one, where the Chinese characters were low-class, comic “coolies,” and another, where the Japanese characters, especially women, were portrayed as the ultimate “exotic other.” Anti-Chinese propaganda had flourished in American popular song, minstrel shows, and in the theater since the 1850s. Since Commodore Matthew Perry “opened” Japan to the West in 1852, a growing captivation with Japanese customs was experienced in the United States. The Japanese were often in a more human, like-minded manner, and Westerners were eager to learn and adopt their customs.

In 1902, a new Asian character was represented on the American musical stage. The Sultan of Sulu with lyrics by George Ade and music by Alfred G. Wathall directly addressed the Philippine-American War from 1899 to 1903. In it, Ade brought to light the United States’ contradictions and inconsistencies towards the Philippine people as shaped by President William McKinley’s plan for “benevolent assimilation.” To avoid the label of imperialism, the United States had created a narrative that justified their occupation under the guise of democracy and edification. Although the plot could have been construed as a stereotypical romantic comedy set in a foreign land, this presentation will examine the lyrics and music of The Sultan of Sulu as it offers a satirical understanding of America’s approach towards the “Orient” at the turn of the century.

Orientalism, World War I Propaganda, and the Musical:
The Dual Histories of Katinka and Chu Chin Chow
William Everett
University of Missouri, Kansas City

Two musicals written during World War I, one American and one British, include Orientalist features and possess underlying wartime propagandistic elements. Katinka (1915, New York, music by Rudolf Friml; book and lyrics by Otto Hauerbach [later Otto Harbach]) and Chu Chin Chow (1916, London, book by Oscar Asche, music by Frederic Norton) both endorse Edward W. Said’s basic tenets about Orientalism as an essentially Imperialist discourse. The music for both shows is largely in the mainstream musical theater styles of the time, although Orientalist musical monikers are used sparingly for specific dramatic effects and in character-defining songs such as “Allah’s Holiday” from Katinka and “Entrance of Chu Chin Chow” and “The Scimitar” from Chu Chin Chow.

Although the U.S. had not entered the war when Katinka appeared, its fundamental comic plot about Americans settling international troubles could be interpreted as propaganda for the U.S. to enter the conflict and bring about its quick end, especially when viewed in the context of the Creel Commission’s activities. Chu Chin Chow, based on the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, was augmented with themes of inherently British heroism and an emphasis on the crucial roles of ordinary citizens in achieving victory. Both shows were popular in their day, especially Chu Chin Chow, which played nearly five years in London and lasted longer than the war from which it was supposed to provide distraction.

Friday Afternoon, April 4

Lute Song: Raymond Scott’s Phantasy
George Burrows
University of Portsmouth

Raymond Scott (1908-1994) was a complex and fascinating American musician whose music ranges from evocatively titled “novelty” pieces for his six-man “Quintette” that were appropriated for Warner Brothers’ cartoons to experimental electronic compositions that influenced Motown records. Scott was born into a Jewish family but evidently felt some anxiety towards his Jewishness to the extent that during the 1930s he changed his name (he was originally named Harry Warnow) and underwent rhinoplasy to make himself appear less Jewish. This paper attempts to account for Scott’s treatment of the “exotic” in his 1946 Broadway musical, Lute Song, by considering the show as a representation of the cultural dissonance Scott felt in his own Jewish-American identity. His collaboration with lyricist Bernard Hanighen, ran for 142 performances at the Plymouth Theatre in New York City and starred Mary Martin and Yul Brynner. It is based on a 500-year-old Chinese story and is filled with the sort of fashionable “orientalism” that Yul Brynner was to revisit a few years later in The King and I. Lute Song‘s narrative tells of Tsai-Yong (Yul Brynner), a provincial young student who leaves his wife (Mary Martin) and parents to make his mark in the world. He becomes a famous magistrate, is forced to marry an autocratic prince’s daughter and is forbidden to communicate with his family. His parents die, cursing him, during a famine, but his wife remains staunchly faithful. She is at last reunited with Tsai-Yong by the princess, and remains in the palace as his wife. This narrative clearly has resonances with Scott’s own biography and this paper argues for an understanding of the work from a psychoanalytic perspective in which the show represents a unique phantasy space in which Scott could explore his subjectivity.

“Baghdad! Don’t Underestimate Baghdad!” Kismet and the Orientalist Fantasy
Rena Charnin Mueller
New York University

In 1953, the Russian post-Wagnerian symphonist Alexander Borodin, who had been dead for 66 years, was named as the co-recipient of a Broadway Tony Award for the use of his compositions in the musical Kismet. Two well-known musical-comedy writers, Robert Wright and George Forrest, had reworked movements from Borodin’s oeuvre to construct the score, something they had done before (successfully, in The Song of Norway, to the music of Grieg) and would do again (unsuccessfully, in Anya, music by Rachmaninoff). But the musical and the 1911 play on which Kismet was based are only a part of an intensely fascinating historical matrix, bound up with the saga of 19th-century British Colonial adventurism in Asia Minor, and famous (as well as notorious) writers (Gertrude Bell), explorers (Sir Richard Burton), actors (Otis Skinner) and impresarios (Oscar Ashe, David Belasco)—projects and people informed by early 20th-century European notions of progress and modernization but still hamstrung by the Victorian sexual ethic.

This paper will explore the history of the original English play by Edward Knoblock, taking into consideration concepts of orientalism as defined by Edward Said, discussing subsequent translations into French and Arabic (the latter by the great Egyptian poet Khalil Mutran), and the several movies that predated the musical version. Finally, the motives and methods for using Borodin’s music will be examined.

Roger Imhof (1875-1958): A Vaudeville and Burlesque “Rube” and Irish Comic on Tour
Paul Laird
University of Kansas

Roger Imhof was an actor, sketch writer, and songwriter who toured in vaudeville and burlesque between 1895 and 1930. Working within the stereotypical characters that dominated these types of entertainments, Imhof was a celebrated “rube” and often praised as a fine “Irish” comedian. A collection of his papers and materials survive at the University of Kansas Spencer Research Library, including a scrapbook marked “Season 1912-1913, Robie’s Knickerbockers.” This source offers a vivid picture of Imhof’s work with this burlesque company in a 38-week tour from August to May that ranged through 28 cities from Omaha to Boston, but mostly in the Northeast, including at the Columbia and Olympic Theaters in New York City. The tour included Imhof’s comic sketches Casey the Porter and Surgeon Louder, USA, both extant in the archive and described in this paper. Notable events of the season included excessive heat in Louisville that caused actors to faint, the visit of a “censor committee” in St. Louis, a lay-off in Chicago where Imhof rewrote the show’s second act, ticket scalping in Worcester, a February hotel fire in Providence that the company escaped, and the departure of 43 members of the company during the course of the tour. New cast members were broken in during the many rehearsals that Imhof listed. The paper will conclude with brief consideration of Imhof’s 11 extant songs, including the witty and atmospheric “Old Broadway” (composed 1906).

Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins
Lisa Gennaro
Barnard College

In 1943 Agnes de Mille choreographed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma!, which caused an ideological shift in the function of dance in the Broadway musical. In the early years of her Broadway career, de Mille dominated the musical theater choreographic landscape, and with each successive production moved Broadway further away from the razzle-dazzle chorus lines of 1930’s musicals and revues and closer to the modern dance explorations being presented on ballet and concert stages. She inspired a generation of American choreographers who, taking full advantage of her innovations, made dances for the Broadway stage that enhanced character development; advanced plot lines; and were original in terms of movement invention. However, as the century progressed dance gradually lost its primary status in the book musical and became a mere supporting player to the dominant formative elements of musical theater creation: music, lyrics, and book. Why has dance been abandoned as a narrative tool, and in some cases been entirely deleted from the book musical’s creative formula (as was the case with Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’ 2005 Tony Award winning The Light in the Piazza)? And how did the notion of integrated dance contribute to the end of innovative dance on the Broadway stage? The answers lie in a close analytical inquiry of the form’s ostensible parents, Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins.

In my paper I will explore the aesthetic preferences and dramaturgical proclivities of de Mille and Robbins and examine how Robbins’ ultimate absorption of dance into the fabric of the musical theater libretto (Gypsy [1959], Fiddler on the Roof [1964]) became the standard to which musical theater choreographers aspired, while de Mille’s insertion of dance as an independent, although related entity in the musical theater formula became outdated. I will also consider the reactivated potential of dance as witnessed in Bill T. Jones’ choreography for the 2007 Tony Award winning musical Spring Awakening.

Larson’s “Legacy”: Mis-Reading Rent
Nicole Morton
University of Cincinnati

Jonathan Larson, the librettist, lyricist, and composer of the smash hit Rent (1996), died shortly before the show opened off-Broadway. As a result, criticism of the New York Theatre Workshop and Nederlander Theatre productions has focused on this tragedy. Rent has thus become a tombeau that commemorates Larson’s death, making it difficult to separate the show from this misfortune and influencing the way it has been received. This paper will begin by establishing Larson’s intentions for Rent, in which the tragic ending of the plot is subverted to emphasize community, before turning to critical readings that, instead, focus on the somber elements of the story and the reflexive relationship with Larson’s tragedy. Reviews of the off-Broadway and Broadway openings demonstrate these connections as well as the way in which critics overlooked perceived weaknesses in favor of the show’s merits and impact. This paper will then survey criticism of the motion picture to demonstrate ways in which it parallels theater criticism and the degree to which it was influenced by Larson’s biography. Then several of Rent’s autobiographical elements that resonate in the aftermath of Larson’s death will be examined. This fresh look at the reception of Rent will demonstrate the widespread influence of the creator on the show, which helped it become the hottest show in town, and how it has become impossible to separate the show from the composer’s life.

Saturday Morning, April 5

The Gay and Women’s Liberation Movements as Seen Through the Lens of “Adult” Musicals in New York City During the 1970s
Elizabeth L. Wollman
Baruch College, CUNY

Because the 1960s sexual revolution immediately preceding the gay and women’s liberation movements was largely defined and dominated by straight men, the increased sexual freedom that came with liberation often translated, especially for women, into the substitution of one kind of exploitation for another. The spate of “adult” musicals (musicals relying on frequent full-frontal nudity and simulated sex to attract audiences) that were faddish Off and Off Off Broadway between 1968 and 1978 grappled with the country’s changing sexual mores, and many of them reflected contemporary struggles for gender equality, despite the fact that most were brought to the stage by producers who were more interested in capitalizing on social trends than they were in teaching audiences about sexual parity. Further, because of the strong sexual content of adult musicals, messages of liberation were often lost on audiences who were simply interested in vicariously experiencing reverberations of the sexual revolution. For all the increased sexual expressionism that adult musicals celebrated, many adult musicals occupied a gray area in which sexual freedom and exploitation co-existed. This paper examines the ways that adult musicals translated selective messages championed by the women’s and gay liberation movements, as well as the ways that performers involved in such musicals as Let My People Come and Oh! Calcutta! negotiated the often interconnected messages of sexual freedom and exploitation that adult musicals espoused.

“I’ll Cover You”: Queer Community and Voice in Jonathan Larson’s Rent
Hilary Baker
University of Pennsylvania

Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent was met with tremendous positive critical and audience reception when it opened in 1996. Since then, it has become a mainstay of the contemporary Broadway scene through its continued run and recent film adaptation, as well as through its influence on subsequent shows. This paper combines in-depth theoretical analysis with ethnographic interviews that I have conducted with members of Rent’s original cast and crew in order to examine a fundamental contributing factor to the successful reception of Rent, namely, its depiction of queer characters living in New York City around 1989. While models for Rent’s inclusion of queer individuals were pioneered by musicals such A Chorus Line and La Cage aux Folles, Rent differs from these shows by portraying a sexually diverse queer community which consists of bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender and straight characters. This paper examines the musical relationships of the character’s singing voices in Rent in order to illuminate the larger community dynamic that invigorates the dramatic world of the show. While authors such as Sarah Schulman have claimed that straight individuals are privileged in Rent’s libretto, I reveal that the singing voices of the queer characters play a more significant role than the straight characters in the portrayal of the overall onstage community. In addition to analysis and ethnographic interviews, comparative transcriptions of performances from both the Broadway and film versions of Rent will expose how performances of Larson’s score further construct the complex dynamics, both competitive and collaborative, of the onstage community.

The Legacy and Reclamation of the Mammy in Caroline, or Change
Aaron C. Thomas
Florida State University

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s 2004 musical Caroline, or Change has been hailed as a triumph of musical theatre as well as a shrewd social commentary. Critically ignored, however, has been a crucial component of the musical’s subject matter: an exploration of the legacy of black women working as domestic servants to Southern white families. This paper explores Kushner’s musical in the context of its place in a history of devastatingly harmful representations of black women on the American stage. The value of this historicity, finds Kushner’s heroine to be a fully-formed portrait of black woman; she exhibits the characteristics of the traditional mammy, but emerges as a complicated, multi-dimensional character. Kushner re-imagines the stereotype of the black American mammy and finds new and vibrant life in her story both as a mother figure to the white children she raises and as a profound force for change in her own household.

Viva Laughlin: Dissecting the Latest Failure of the Television Musical
Mary Jo Lodge
Lafayette College

Viva Laughlin, the CBS series picked up and subsequently cancelled after 2 episodes in the fall 2007 season, was billed as a “musical dramedy.” A preview news release by CBS said of the series that, “Occasionally using upbeat contemporary songs to accentuate the drama and humor and advance the story, the series is based on the hit BBC show Viva Blackpool.” While other television shows like Xena Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scrubs and even the animated series The Simpsons have had success with single musical episodes, only the 1968 series That’s Life and the 1990 series Cop Rock were billed, like Viva Laughlin, as musical series. While hardly successes, That’s Life lasted one season (26 episodes) and Cop Rock limped to half a season (11 episodes); Viva Laughlin, however, was a true critical and commercial flop, with only two aired episodes. The question then is what went so wrong with Viva Laughlin?

In this paper, I examine the history and heritage of the television musical series, and the ways in which its recent history has been shaped by developments in new musical films. In addition, I explore why, though the success of television shows which embrace music and musical theatre, like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and You’re the One that I Want, seemed to create a climate more hospitable to a successful television musical series, Viva Laughlin flopped. Also, I explore the unique approach Viva Laughlin took to the television musical series and the ways in which its attempt to navigate the complex relationship between television and the musical may have sown the seeds for its destruction. Finally, I examine if the successful television musical series is indeed an impossible dream.

Two to Tango: Recoding the Discourse of the Tango in the Modern Film Musical
Dana C. Gorzelany-Mostak
McGill University

The tango, a social dance that originated in the Rio del Plata region of Argentina and Uruguay around the turn of the century, has been assimilated into American popular culture over the course of the last eighty years and has maintained a strong presence in dance clubs and competitive dancing circles as well as in film and other media. The foreign origins of the tango, as well as its suggestive and forceful, but also highly graceful and fluid gestures, have made it synonymous with romance, exoticism, and sexuality—an identity that it has retained as it has evolved into a cultural art form. Although vestiges of the visual and aural codes traditionally associated with the tango remain, film musicals that incorporate the popular genre often alter, parody, and subvert these codes and thus imbue the tango with a fresh meaning. In this paper I will focus on two recent film musicals, Chicago (2002) and Rent (2005), and analyze the role of the tango in each film’s narrative and narrative subtext. I will also discuss how each filmmaker renegotiates and recodes the social, political, and cultural associations of the genre by subverting the traditional boundaries of gender and infusing the dance with undercurrents of violence and sexual pathology while still paying homage to the tango’s traditional code.

Saturday Afternoon, April 5

Bye Bye Birdie: Rock ‘n’ Roll Comes to Broadway
Scott Warfield
University of Central Florida

Histories of the American Musical Theater invariably point to 1967 as the time when rock came to Broadway. That year, Hair, the first show ever billed as a “rock musical,” began its run on Broadway, to be followed quickly by a handful of shows in similar idioms. In fact, Hair and its successors were not the first shows to use rock (or similar youth-oriented styles) on Broadway; rather, credit should go to Bye Bye Birdie, the 1961 winner of four “Tony” Awards, including “Best Musical.” Yet despite that show’s inclusion of several songs in various contemporaneous popular styles not previously heard on Broadway (“The Telephone Hour,” “One Boy,” “Honestly Sincere,” “One Last Kiss,” among others), critics virtually ignored the use of “rock ‘n’ roll” and related styles in Bye Bye Birdie, and instead praised chiefly its traditional Broadway elements.

In the era of the ever-widening split between musical theater and popular music that emerged around 1954, the use of musical styles oriented to teenagers in Bye Bye Birdie marks a significant turning point on Broadway. The modest rapprochement found in Bye Bye Birdie was made possible, in large part, by a softening of the sounds of “rock ‘n’ roll” around 1958 that occurred when a number of the genre’s pioneers disappeared from the music business. Bye Bye Birdie is thus noteworthy as the earliest attempt to bridge the gap between Broadway’s roots in Tin Pan Alley songs and contemporaneous pop, a division that persists to the present day.

Performing Authenticity; or, Why the Musical Doesn’t Seem to Count as Popular Music
Raymond Knapp
University of California in Los Angeles

The American musical proved exceptionally fertile ground for generating popular music in twentieth-century America, producing hit songs and jazz standards for several decades, while fostering the song traditions of Tin Pan Alley and, more recently, accommodating other styles. Moreover, the highbrow aspirations of many of its practitioners have achieved some success. Why then has the musical remained on the outskirts of music scholarship, neglected by both sides of the divide between popular and “classical” music?

The standard explanation is that most musicals fall between these two stools. But in truth, musicals don’t fall between, they fall outside. The revolution in music reception generated by German Idealism, whereby music became prized for its expression of intense subjectivity, has spawned within the reception of American popular music the belief that musical value resides in something called “authenticity,” based similarly in expressed subjectivity. While authenticity is at best an elusive category—however central to the reception histories of jazz, blues, and some kinds of rock—what it clearly doesn’t embrace is Broadway, which is above all about performing identities other than one’s own. One doesn’t perform authenticity.

But perhaps one does. Perhaps, indeed, one becomes authentic through performance. Besides demonstrating how the category of authenticity has effectively excluded musicals from popular-music studies (and also undermined their capacity to “cross over” into highbrow status), this paper will argue, using examples from “Golden-Age” Broadway, that achieving authenticity through performance is what many musicals are about, for both their characters and audiences.

Li’l Abner: Cornpone and the Cold War
James Lovensheimer
Vanderbilt University

With its bright score, exuberant energy, and over-the-top stereotypes of Southern dimwits, the 1956 musical version of Al Capp’s comic strip L’il Abner still receives occasional productions. However, it absence from the growing literature on the American musical suggests Ethan Mordden’s assessment of it as the 1950’s “biggest forgotten hit,” at least in terms of works receiving serious critical scrutiny. Yet even a cursory examination of the show and its Cold War and McCarthy Era context reveals some of the mid-century’s most pointed social and political satire. The situation of this barbed criticism within the show’s low comedy and high camp seems to have rendered it all but imperceptible to contemporary audiences. Nonetheless, the show took sure aim at targets as diverse and, for the mid-1950s, risky as the military-industrial complex, nuclear testing, gender constructs, genetic engineering, consumerism, unions, and suburbia. While the style of L’il Abner is conventional musical comedy, with nods to burlesque and revue, the context is as political as nearly any other commercial musical of the decade. This is particularly interesting, and somewhat ironic, in that Al Capp noted that he married off Abner and Daisie Mae in 1952 (in the comic strip) because the rising tide of McCarthyism had made political satire too dangerous. The musical, however, behind its zany mask of non-stop comedy and Michael Kidd’s highly physical staging, appears less intimidated, and it provides a fascinating and telling insight into some of the darker undercurrents of its time. Just because Dogpatch seems oblivious to these undercurrents does not imply that we should do likewise.

The Pleasure of the Musical
David Savran
The Graduate Center, CUNY

Why musical theatre? Why do so many people derive so much pleasure from an art that has long been considered trivial, shoddy, and stupid? Does Chekhov, Chaplin, or Verdi ever inspire the kind of passionate disputes aficionados engage in over Sondheim or Lloyd Webber? Whenever I try to answer these questions, I remember a line from Proust that D.A. Miller cites in his epigraph to Place for Us. “That bad music is played, is sung more often and more passionately than good, is why it has also gradually become more infused with men’s dreams and tears.” Although I am not convinced that songs like “My Ship” or “I Wish I Were in Love Again” are bad music, I would argue that no other musical or dramatic form effects the kind of cathexis, the passionate psychic investment, that musical theatre does. This is in part because it is one of the first kinds of music that many of us learn and so it inspires an unparalleled identification and participatory zeal. But there are many other reasons why the musical produces so much pleasure, reasons that derive from its form: the organization of narrative, disjunction between speech and song, succession of musical numbers, and structure of individual songs.

I propose in this talk to put forward several hypotheses about the sources and dynamics of pleasure, using both psychoanalytical and sociological models. Moreover, I plan to provide a brief analysis of Kurt Weill, Ira Gershwin, and Moss Hart’s Lady in the Dark because it remains, I believe, an exemplary text. Not only do its dream sequences recapitulate the history of the form, but more important, the piece allegorizes the search for that—something—that musical theatre alone can promise, if never actually deliver.

Reception and the “Come On” Gesture in Songs of the American Musical, 1900-1940
Michael Garber
New York

This paper will trace the development of the “come on and sing, dance, attend” trope in songs of the American musical of both stage and screen. Among many examples, famous uses of this convention are found in “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (“Come on and hear,” 1911) and “Forty-Second Street” (“Come and meet those dancing feet,” 1933).

Drawing from a survey of 2,000 songs of the era, I will give statistics of the greater prevalence of this song type and the increasing forcefulness in the imperative mode during the early decades of the twentieth century. Although examples of this trope are found in the nineteenth century, as in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Dance a Cachucha,” the culture of popular music and dance in the ragtime, jazz, and swing eras during the early twentieth century led to an increased use of the verbal beckoning gesture, as in “Everybody Rag with Me” (1915), “Jazz All Your Troubles Away” (1918), and “Everybody Swing” (1937).
With electronic forms of dissemination becoming predominant and leading to more passive forms of experiencing music, there is a counterbalancing trend towards lyrics that urge the listeners to sing, as in “Let’s Sing Again” (1936). I will theorize about what reception process these songs imply, drawing on anecdotal evidence of the period to suggest how they contribute a pivotal element to the aesthetic of the American musical.

The Re-Integrated Musical: Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple
Kathryn Edney
Michigan State University

The history surrounding the source material—novel and film—for the musical stage version of The Color Purple guaranteed that its production would garner substantial media attention. In addition to its prehistory in popular culture, by riding the trend of musicals adapted from films, the question of “what is the future of musical theater?” provided another hook for journalists; once Oprah Winfrey decided to invest in the production, the scrutiny turned into a feeding frenzy. The rhetoric employed by the multiple co-creators of The Color Purple to deal with the skepticism of the press and public is surprising. Everyone involved in the show characterized this musical featuring an all-black cast and focusing on a loving lesbian relationship, as falling squarely within the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein “integrated musical” model. The Color Purple was defined as “universal” and as “old-fashioned” as 1943’s Oklahoma!. This impulse to place The Color Purple within a “universal” genre framework thus removed the show from the problematic relationship African Americans have historically had with Broadway. This paper will explore the critical and promotional rhetoric surrounding the musical before and after it opened on Broadway. Specific attention will be paid to how The Color Purple was rhetorically “normalized” to align it within the genre conventions of the idealized Broadway musical epitomized by the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein. By so doing, the co-creators of The Color Purple not only removed the show from the segregated history of Broadway, they also simultaneously separated the musical from the British megamusical subgenre, thus emphasizing its Americaness.