The Routledge Companion to the Contemporary Musical 1138684619, 9781138684614

The Routledge Companion to the Contemporary Musical is dedicated to the musical’s evolving relationship to American cult

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The Routledge Companion to the Contemporary Musical
 1138684619, 9781138684614

Table of contents :
Introduction • Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman
Part 1: Setting the Stage: An Introduction to Analyzing the Musical Theater
1 Musical Theater Reception Theory, or What Happens When You See a Show? • Katie Welsh and Stacy Wolf
2 “[Title of Chapter]” • Millie Taylor
Part 2: Starting with the ‘70s
3 They’re Playing My Song: The American Musical in the Me-Decade • Bryan M. Vandevender
4 “My Corner of the Sky”: Adolescence and Coming of Age in the Musicals of Stephen Schwartz • Ryan Bunch
5 Style as Star: Bob Fosse and Sixty Seconds That Changed Broadway • Ryan Donovan
6 Recreating the Ephemeral: Broadway Revivals since 1971 • James Lovensheimer
Part 3: Aesthetic Transformations
7 Sing: Musical Theater Voices from Superstar to Hamilton • Ben Macpherson
8 Amplifying Broadway after the Golden Age • Arreanna Rostosky
9 Starlight Expression and Phantom Operatics: Technology, Performance, and the Megamusical’s Aesthetic of the Voice • Dominic Symonds
10 The Sung and the Spoken in Michael John LaChiusa’s Musicals • Alex Bádue
11 The New “Sounds of Broadway”: Orchestrating Electronic Instruments in Contemporary Musicals • Michael M. Kennedy
12 Chart-Toppers to Showstoppers: Pop Artists Scoring the Broadway Stage • Matthew Lockitt
13 Scenographic Aesthetics and Automated Technologies in Broadway Musicals • Christin Essin
Part 4: Reading the Musical through Gender
14 Do-Re-#MeToo: Women, Work, and Representation in the Broadway Musical • Mary Jo Lodge
15 It’s Still Working: Collaborating to Perform the Stories of Everyday Americans, Then and Now • Trudi Wright
16 The Pink Elephant in the Room • Aaron C. Thomas
17 “A Little More Mascara”: Drag and the Broadway Musical from La Cage aux Folles to Kinky Boots • John M. Clum
Part 5: Reading the Musical through Race and Ethnicity
18 The Multiracial Musical Metropolis: Casting and Race after A Chorus Line • Todd Decker
19 “Before the Parade Passes By”: All-Black and All-Asian Hello, Dolly! as Celebration of Difference • Sissi Liu
20 Race and the City: Racial Formation in Avenue Q • Stefanie A. Jones
21 Can We “Leave Behind the World We Know”?: Exploring Race and Ethnicity in the Musicals of Lin-Manuel Miranda • Elizabeth Titrington Craft
22 Falsettos and Indecent in the Shadow of Fiddler on the Roof: Reconsidering Jewish Identity on Broadway in the New Millennium • Raymond Knapp and Zelda Knapp
Part 6: Reading the Musical through Dance
23 What Makes a Musical?: Contact (2000) and Debates about Genre at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century • Joanna Dee Das
24 Dance in Musical Theater Revival and Adaptation: Engaging with the Past While Creating Dances for the Present • Liza Gennaro
25 The Convergence of Dance Styles in Hamilton: An American Musical • Phoebe Rumsey
Part 7: Reading the Musical through Interdisciplinary Lenses
26 Post-Secular Musicals in a Post-Truth World • Jake Johnson
27 Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: Performing Time, Genre, and Spectatorship • Sarah Taylor Ellis
28 The Eye of the Storm: Reading Next to Normal with Psychoanalysis • Aleksei Grinenko
29 Parent/Child Relationships in the Musicals of Stephen Schwartz • Paul R. Laird
30 John Kander: The First Ninety-Two Years • James Leve
31 Unlikely Subjects: The Critical Reception of History Musicals • Elissa Harbert
Part 8: Beyond Broadway: New Media and Fan Studies
32 Worshipping Lin-Manuel Miranda: Fans and Totems in the Digital Age • Jessica Hillman-McCord
33 “Trash Talk and Virtual Protests”: The Musical Genre’s Personal and Political Interactivity in the Age of Social Media • Kelly Kessler
34 The Great Generational Divide: Stage-to-Screen Hollywood Musical Adaptations and the Enactment of Fandom • Holley Replogle-Wong
35 Play It Again (and Again, and Again): The Superfan and Musical Theater • James Deaville
36 Joss Whedon and the Geek Musical • Renée Camus
37 “YouTube! Musicals! YouTubesicals!”: Cultivating Theater Fandom through New Media • Aya Esther Hayashi
38 Dual-Focus Strategy in a Serial Narrative: Smash, Nashville, and the Television Musical Series • Robynn Stilwell
Part 9: Growth and Expansion: Across the Country and Around the World
39 Sharon McQueen and Milwaukee’s Alternative Regional Musical Theater • Amanda McQueen
40 Musicals in the Regional Theater • Jeffrey Ullom
41 Big River: A New Road to Broadway • Steven Adler
42 The Third Biggest Market: Musical Theater in Germany since 1990 • Frédéric Döhl
43 The Korean Self/American Other: Korean Musical Theater in the Context of National Cultural Development • Hyunjung Lee
44 The Lion King: An International History • Susan Bennett
Author Biographies

Citation preview


The Routledge Companion to the Contemporary Musical is dedicated to the musical’s evolving ­relationship to American culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In the past decade-and-a-half, international scholars from an ever-widening number of disciplines and specializations have been actively contributing to the interdisciplinary field of musical theater studies. Musicals have served not only to mirror the sociopolitical, economic, and cultural tenor of the times, but have helped shape and influence it, in America and across the globe: a genre that may seem, at first glance, light-hearted and escapist serves also as a bold commentary on society. Forty-four essays examine the contemporary musical as an ever-shifting product of an ­ever-changing culture. This volume sheds new light on the American musical as a thriving, contemporary performing arts genre, one that could have died out in the post-Tin Pan Alley era but instead has managed to remain culturally viable and influential, in part by newly embracing a series of complex contradictions. At present, the American musical is a live, localized, old-fashioned genre that has simultaneously developed into an increasingly globalized, tech-savvy, intensely mediated mass entertainment form. Similarly, as it has become increasingly international in its scope and appeal, the stage musical has also become more firmly rooted to Broadway—the idea, if not the place—and thus branded as a quintessentially American entertainment. Jessica Sternfeld is Associate Professor of Music and Director of the BA in Music at Chapman University. Elizabeth L. Wollman is Professor of Music at Baruch College, CUNY, and a member of the doctoral faculty in the theater department at the CUNY Graduate Center.


Routledge Music Companions offer thorough, high-quality surveys and assessments of major topics in the study of music. All entries in each companion are specially commissioned and written by leading scholars in the field. Clear, accessible, and cutting-edge, these companions are the ideal resource for advanced undergraduates, postgraduate students, and researchers alike. THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO THE CONTEMPORARY MUSICAL Edited by Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO POPULAR MUSIC AND HUMOR Edited by Thomas M. Kitts and Nick Baxter-Moore THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO MUSIC, MIND, AND WELL-BEING Edited by Penelope Gouk, James Kennaway, Jacomien Prins, and Wiebke Thormählen THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO JAZZ STUDIES Edited by Nicholas Gebhardt, Nichole Rustin-Paschal, and Tony Whyton THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO POPULAR MUSIC ANALYSIS: EXPANDING APPROACHES Edited by Ciro Scotto, Kenneth Smith, and John Brackett THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO THE STUDY OF LOCAL MUSICKING Edited by Suzel A. Reily and Katherine Brucher THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO MUSIC COGNITION Edited by Richard Ashley and Renee Timmers THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO SCREEN MUSIC AND SOUND Edited by Miguel Mera, Ronald Sadoff, and Ben Winters THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO EMBODIED MUSIC INTERACTION Edited by Micheline Lesaffre, Pieter-Jan Maes, and Marc Leman THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO MUSIC, TECHNOLOGY, AND EDUCATION Edited by Andrew King, Evangelos Himonides, and S. Alex Ruthmann For more information about this series, please visit: https://www.routledge​.com


Edited by Jessica Sternfeld chapman university, usa and Elizabeth L. Wollman baruch college, usa

First published 2020 by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 Taylor & Francis The right of Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Sternfeld, Jessica, 1971– editor. | Wollman, Elizabeth L., 1969– editor. Title: The Routledge companion to the contemporary musical / edited by Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman. Description: New York; London: Routledge, 2019. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2019012064 (print) | LCCN 2019014455 (ebook) | ISBN 9781315543703 (ebook) | ISBN 9781138684614 (hardback) Subjects: LCSH: Musicals—History and criticism. Classification: LCC ML2054 (ebook) | LCC ML2054 .R68 2019 (print) | DDC 792.60973—dc23 LC record available at ISBN: 978-1-138-68461-4 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-54370-3 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo by codeMantra


Acknowledgments x Introduction 1 Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman PART 1

Setting the Stage: An Introduction to Analyzing the Musical Theater 5 1 Musical Theater Reception Theory, or What Happens When You See a Show? 6 Katie Welsh and Stacy Wolf 2 “[Title of Chapter]” 17 Millie Taylor PART 2

Starting with the ‘70s 27 3 They’re Playing My Song: The American Musical in the Me-Decade 29 Bryan M. Vandevender 4 “My Corner of the Sky”: Adolescence and Coming of Age in the Musicals of Stephen Schwartz 39 Ryan Bunch 5 Style as Star: Bob Fosse and Sixty Seconds That Changed Broadway 48 Ryan Donovan



6 Recreating the Ephemeral: Broadway Revivals since 1971 58 James Lovensheimer PART 3

Aesthetic Transformations 67 7 Sing: Musical Theater Voices from Superstar to Hamilton Ben Macpherson


8 Amplifying Broadway after the Golden Age 78 Arreanna Rostosky 9 Starlight Expression and Phantom Operatics: Technology, Performance, and the Megamusical’s Aesthetic of the Voice 87 Dominic Symonds 10 The Sung and the Spoken in Michael John LaChiusa’s Musicals 97 Alex Bádue 11 The New “Sounds of Broadway”: Orchestrating Electronic Instruments in Contemporary Musicals 106 Michael M. Kennedy 12 Chart-Toppers to Showstoppers: Pop Artists Scoring the Broadway Stage 120 Matthew Lockitt 13 Scenographic Aesthetics and Automated Technologies in Broadway Musicals 130 Christin Essin PART 4

Reading the Musical through Gender 141 14 Do-Re-#MeToo: Women, Work, and Representation in the Broadway Musical 143 Mary Jo Lodge 15 It’s Still Working: Collaborating to Perform the Stories of Everyday Americans, Then and Now 152 Trudi Wright 16 The Pink Elephant in the Room 163 Aaron C. Thomas



17 “A Little More Mascara”: Drag and the Broadway Musical from La Cage aux Folles to Kinky Boots John M. Clum



Reading the Musical through Race and Ethnicity 183 18 The Multiracial Musical Metropolis: Casting and Race after A Chorus Line Todd Decker


19 “Before the Parade Passes By”: All-Black and All-Asian Hello, Dolly! as Celebration of Difference 196 Sissi Liu 20 Race and the City: Racial Formation in Avenue Q Stefanie A. Jones


21 Can We “Leave Behind the World We Know”?: Exploring Race and Ethnicity in the Musicals of Lin-Manuel Miranda 216 Elizabeth Titrington Craft 22 Falsettos and Indecent in the Shadow of Fiddler on the Roof: Reconsidering Jewish Identity on Broadway in the New Millennium 226 Raymond Knapp and Zelda Knapp PART 6

Reading the Musical through Dance 235 23 What Makes a Musical?: Contact (2000) and Debates about Genre at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century 236 Joanna Dee Das 24 Dance in Musical Theater Revival and Adaptation: Engaging with the Past While Creating Dances for the Present 246 Liza Gennaro 25 The Convergence of Dance Styles in Hamilton: An American Musical 255 Phoebe Rumsey


Contents PART 7

Reading the Musical through Interdisciplinary Lenses 263 26 Post-Secular Musicals in a Post-Truth World 265 Jake Johnson 27 Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: Performing Time, Genre, and Spectatorship 273 Sarah Taylor Ellis 28 The Eye of the Storm: Reading Next to Normal with Psychoanalysis 283 Aleksei Grinenko 29 Parent/Child Relationships in the Musicals of Stephen Schwartz 294 Paul R. Laird 30 John Kander: The First Ninety-Two Years 302 James Leve 31 Unlikely Subjects: The Critical Reception of History Musicals 312 Elissa Harbert PART 8

Beyond Broadway: New Media and Fan Studies 323 32 Worshipping Lin-Manuel Miranda: Fans and Totems in the Digital Age 325 Jessica Hillman-McCord 33 “Trash Talk and Virtual Protests”: The Musical Genre’s Personal and Political Interactivity in the Age of Social Media 335 Kelly Kessler 34 The Great Generational Divide: Stage-to-Screen Hollywood Musical Adaptations and the Enactment of Fandom 345 Holley Replogle-Wong 35 Play It Again (and Again, and Again): The Superfan and Musical Theater 355 James Deaville 36 Joss Whedon and the Geek Musical 364 Renée Camus 37 “YouTube! Musicals! YouTubesicals!”: Cultivating Theater Fandom through New Media 374 Aya Esther Hayashi



38 Dual-Focus Strategy in a Serial Narrative: Smash, Nashville, and the Television Musical Series 384 Robynn Stilwell PART 9

Growth and Expansion: Across the Country and Around the World 395 39 Sharon McQueen And Milwaukee’s Alternative Regional Musical Theater 397 Amanda McQueen 40 Musicals in the Regional Theater 408 Jeffrey Ullom 41 Big River: A New Road to Broadway 418 Steven Adler 42 The Third Biggest Market: Musical Theater in Germany since 1990 427 Frédéric Döhl 43 The Korean Self/American Other: Korean Musical Theater in the Context of National Cultural Development 437 Hyunjung Lee 44 The Lion King: An International History 445 Susan Bennett Author Biographies 455 Index 465



We are grateful to Constance Ditzel and Peter Sheehy at Routledge, not only for giving us the opportunity to put together this collection, but for their support, patience, and good humor throughout the process. Our biggest, most heartfelt, most humble thanks go to the authors in this volume. We are honored that you were willing to join and contribute to this project, and we are grateful for your insights, perspectives, and dedication not only to this collection but also to musical theater ­scholarship in general. We are proud to be the means by which students and scholars get to experience your work, and are honored to be part of such a vibrant, dedicated scholarly community. We’d like to thank our families, friends, and colleagues for their ongoing support and ­w illingness to put up with us. And we’d also like to thank one another for being each other’s dream collaborator, wonder-twin, dear friend, and academic sister. To the next project, and then to the one after that. Jessica Sternfeld Elizabeth L. Wollman


Introduction Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman

It’s a moment that holds everyone’s attention: a friend (or enemy?) shoots another man, and the stage is washed in shadowy spotlights. A female dancer carries the “bullet” in slow motion across the stage. The shooting victim raps, spitting rhymes and crying. Bodies glide in and out of the light, collapsing and stretching. The stage revolves, and the music kicks in—electronic sounds no human can produce. The moment is about early American history, but it’s also about today: it’s about the founding ideals of a country, but also about gun violence and racism in contemporary American culture. It’s about rap music, dance, and narrative. It’s about a historical figure, but also about an extraordinarily famous composer-lyricist-performer who happens to have a particular gift for using Twitter. It’s the climactic moment of Hamilton, and the world went crazy for it in the early twenty-first century. A musical, of all things, dominated popular culture and captured its imagination. All popular entertainment—no matter the genre, style, or medium—can draw from, mirror, comment upon, and even help influence its place and time. Since their inception, for example, American stage musicals—which grew from a huge tangle of earlier entertainments including operetta, British pantomime, blackface minstrelsy, burlesque, and vaudeville at the dawn of the twentieth century—can narrate, educate, frustrate, ameliorate, invigorate, and probably a lot more “ates” we haven’t thought to include here. Like virtually all popular entertainment forms, musicals don’t merely reflect the world; they can help shape it, change it, and make it a happier, more livable place for fans worldwide. A genre that may seem at first glance to be light-hearted, escapist, frivolous, and even embarrassingly corny can in fact serve as bold commentary on aspects of society. It can improve the lives of those who connect with it, or even function as a force for change. Despite its power, vitality, and importance as an influential and (at least initially) uniquely American art form, the musical has been, until fairly recently, dismissed as a genre worthy of scholarly study. For generations, and with a few highbrow exceptions, musicals were summarily dismissed by academics as too frivolous, too middlebrow, too populist, and too commercial to be taken seriously. Yet scholarship has changed in recent decades, we think for the better, and certainly for the more inclusive. Commercial entertainments, after all, help make the world go ‘round; who, then, is to say that they aren’t important? Certainly not the scholars from various disciplines who love musicals and are not afraid to show it by making them a focus for academic inquiry. Following the gradual appearance at around the turn of the twenty-first century of groundbreaking works like 1

Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman

Gerald Mast’s Can’t Help Singin’: The American Musical on Stage and Screen (1987), Allen Woll’s Black Musical Theater from Coontown to Dreamgirls (1989), D.A. Miller’s Place for Us [Essay on the Broadway Musical] (1998), Stacy Wolf ’s A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical (2002), and Andrea Most’s Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical (2004), the American musical has rapidly become a subject of fascination for scholars from a wide range of specializations. These include musicology, ethnomusicology, composition, and music theory; performance, dance, Jewish, gender, film, and American studies; philosophy, anthropology, psychology, economics, and mathematics. In a fairly short period of time, then, international scholars from an ever-widening number of disciplines have been actively contributing to the ever-­g rowing, delightfully interdisciplinary field of musical theater studies. As this field has grown, musical theater scholars have written a lot of books and articles, founded a scholarly journal, formed countless interest groups within larger intellectual societies, and established an annual international conference about musicals so we can all get together to share research, discuss and tend to the field, and eat together at a lot of fair to middling restaurants. The increased focus on the musical as a genre rich in possibilities for academic study has resulted, as well, in a significant growth in interest among young scholars. More classes on the genre are now offered at more colleges and universities, and several textbooks, primers, and handbooks have been published to meet the growing demand. And what with new scholars joining our ranks by expressing their own love for musicals and their desire to study it in increasingly varied and interesting new ways, we are positively giddy to know that the field will grow, prosper, and thrive—we hope for many generations to come. We are incredibly lucky in that we have both worked primarily in musical theater studies for most of our careers; a few generations ago, such a direction would have been frowned upon or actively discouraged in the academy. We’re especially pleased that sometimes we can even team up and work together on projects that will help further develop this field, which we both love so much and are proud to consider ourselves a part of. When we were first given the opportunity to collaborate on this edited volume, we decided that we wanted to accomplish two things: first, we wanted to include as many voices—both established and new—from our field as possible; second, in doing so, we wanted to continue to push the field in new directions. We noticed, when we first started discussing what kind of collection we wanted to co-edit, that there was no volume of essays dedicated in its entirety to the stage musical’s changing, evolving relationship to American culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Because our interests tend to lie in the contemporary realm of musical theater production and performance, we decided that such a handbook, especially if it were to include an array of scholars ranging from deeply established to just starting out in the field, would be an important contribution in a number of ways. As it has developed, the field of musical theater studies has broadened in scope, approach, and ­ merican perspective, but it nevertheless remains deeply rooted in the so-called “golden age” of A stage musicals, even as scholars disagree about when, specifically, this golden age began and ended. A few, including the two of us, find such an age to be so vaguely defined that we’ve even questioned the very idea of it.1 Yet despite its vagueness, the term is frequently applied to a period beginning around the premiere of Show Boat (in 1927) or Oklahoma! (in 1943), and ending with the slow decline of Tin Pan Alley (anywhere between the mid-1950s and the early 1970s). While this long, rich, if somewhat nebulous period is without question important and worthy of scholarly study, we are always quick to argue that the contemporary American musical since the decline of this purported golden age is just as rich and fascinating; after all, who is to say that Rent or Wicked or Hamilton are inherently better or worse than Anything Goes or Oklahoma! or Guys and Dolls? At least at present, however, more contemporary musicals, stylistic trends, and industry adaptations are less represented in the extant literature on the genre. When scholars do turn their 2


attention to the contemporary musical, it is too often only to compare it unfairly, hurriedly, or negatively with earlier works. Much too frequently, in both the scholarly literature and in historical surveys, post-1970s musicals are dismissed as the less artistically exacting, more crassly commercialized, less intelligently conceived stepchildren of comparatively brilliant, inspired works by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Stephen Sondheim. We’re here to tell you, in case you were concerned, that while musicals—along with the theater industry and the whole wide world around it—have changed a great deal since the days of ­Rodgers and ­Hammerstein, they remain alive, well, and thriving: even though doomsday prophets have loudly lamented every purportedly corrupting influence to come along—rock music, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Disney—nothing has yet to destroy Broadway; we can probably safely presume that nothing will, at the very least by the time this book is published. The musical, whether on stage or on television or on your favorite streaming service, is alive, well, and serving the needs of an ever-changing, ever-growing audience base. And we’re thrilled to be documenting the growth and the change as they happen. Since late in the second half of the twentieth century, many aspects of the commercial A ­ merican stage musical have changed rapidly, significantly, and sometimes even drastically. Its visual and sonic aesthetics are certainly not what they once were, nor is its relationship to its audience, to technology, or to the mass media. Its once-central position in American mass entertainment has shifted, as have the commercial theater industry’s approaches to its creation, production, and dissemination on an increasingly international level. But none of this makes musicals any better or worse than they ever were; none of this makes us love them any less. The essays in this handbook mostly focus, then, on ways the stage musical (in the United States and abroad) has changed, adapted, and developed to negotiate the monumental social, cultural, political, technological, and economic shifts of the past 50 or 60 years. Other chapters focus on the musical in new media and new contexts; in the digital era, the musical thrives on screens large and small. Essays herein, we hope, will educate, inform, and shed new light on the American musical as a thriving, contemporary performing arts genre that easily could have died away with the advent of film, or television, or the internet, but instead has managed to remain not only culturally viable, but newly influential and interesting to new generations of fans all over the world. The concept of jazz hands might have been born on a Broadway stage, after all, but it’s hardly uncommon at this point for people the world over to give in to the urge to hunch their shoulders, splay their fingers, and strike poses that once only Bob Fosse could get away with.

What You’ll Find in This Book We have organized the chapters of this collection by theme, putting authors with similar preoccupations, approaches, or methodologies together into subsections. Each section begins with some introductory remarks from us, wherein we point out the chapter’s common threads and central questions, and summarize each chapter’s approaches and goals. The first section, “What It Means To Go To (or Think About) the Musical Theater,” explores the essence of seeing a musical, presenting a kind of meta-view of the genre and the process. The chapters therein are meant to serve as jumping-off points for musical theater initiates, while at the same time providing new insights for more experienced fans, audience members, and musical theater scholars. Subsequent sections gather authors who explore the contemporary musical via lenses such as gender studies, or dance/ bodies, or aesthetic and technical developments, or economics and marketing, and so on, each illuminating a different aspect of this layered, ever-changing field. While the layout of the book is in no way chronological, we conclude with a group of essays on the ways the industry has changed since the 1970s, as the musical has grown from a distinctly American, and localized art form, to one that has spread across the world. 3

Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman

Note 1 This edited collection owes a nod of gratitude to the one Raymond Knapp, Mitchell Morris, and Stacy Wolf put together and released in 2011. The Oxford Handbook of the American Musical, in which we have an article about the so-called golden age. See Web. 16 Nov. 2018.



Setting the Stage An Introduction to Analyzing the Musical Theater

What happens when you go to see a musical? Yes, sure, at least on the surface, it’s pretty obvious: you sit in a seat and watch a bunch of people sing and dance for you, and then you leave the theater when the show ends. But what really happens? What about the thousands upon thousands of small, seemingly obvious actions—cultural rituals, all of them—that one enacts when attending a live performance? What do they all mean, and how do they all work together to create a collective experience? Similarly, what happens when you want to write about a musical? Again, sure, you record your impressions for others to read—but what else is there to it? Both seeing a show and writing about it may seem very straightforward, but they’re a lot more complex and detailed than they first appear. In what we think is the perfect starting point for this collection, we present a small section with only two essays, both of which analyze in detail actions that initially seem simple and mundane enough not to think too deeply about: viewing and writing about the musical theater. Katie Welsh and Stacy Wolf ’s essay takes as its subject for analysis the very act of attending a theatrical production. Theatergoing is a joyful activity, of course, but as Welsh and Wolf remind us, that doesn’t mean it’s not also loaded with meaning. They draw from reception theory, sociology, and anthropology to analyze the many working parts that combine into the experience of seeing a live production. Their lively, descriptive essay makes clear that the seemingly passive act of being a spectator at a theater is in fact enormously complex and detailed. Appropriately enough, their essay itself seems simple and straightforward–but it, too, is much more complex than it initially seems. Millie Taylor’s essay, which focuses on and plays off the title of the 2006 Off-Broadway musical [title of show], is similar in this respect: the essay is friendly, welcoming, and straightforward, but Taylor uses [title of show] as a springboard to introduce readers to several central concepts of postmodernism as they relate to the musical theater in general. In doing so, Taylor describes seemingly mundane actions—reflecting back on a beloved musical, pondering a topic about which to write, sitting down at the keyboard to organize the essay, and so on—that turn out to be far more complex and detailed than they initially might seem. This makes sense, really, and these two essays serve as fitting examples for the rest of this volume: there are as many ways of looking at and writing about musicals as there are musicals themselves.


What is a musical? Is it the script from which the actors learn their lines? Is it the music, notated as an orchestrated score or recorded as a cast album? Is it the production, with the theatrical elements of set, lights, and costumes, plus performers and musicians? Or is it the performance’s interaction with the audience, which varies each night? Yes, and much more: a musical encompasses the spectator’s entire experience with a show, from their first acquaintance until it fades f rom memory. This is a reception theory approach to musical theater. Within that broad framework, we can examine a more circumscribed chunk of the experience, what Performance Studies scholar Richard Schechner calls “the whole performance sequence.”1 In Schechner’s schema, a limited number of people undertake a series of actions in a concentrated area during a scheduled period of time. In this chapter, we walk you through the audience’s performance sequence at a contemporary Broadway musical in New York City.2 We rely on Schechner’s phases of Training, Warm-Up, Performance, Cool-Down, and Aftermath, and add one of our own: Intermission.3 Rather than focus on the “performance” as it is traditionally understood in musical theater— the singing, dancing, and acting that happens between the first and last chords of the show— we examine everything that takes place around it. We’ve organized this experience by way of 11  junctures. At each one, the audience crosses a physical, mental, or emotional threshold and moves from one physical, mental, or emotional state to another. In the end, we hope to answer this question: what really happens when you see a show?

Before the Day of the Show: Training, or Assembling Your Horizon of Expectations Your spectatorial experience begins before you enter the theater, before you purchase a ticket, before you even know the show is happening. Once you learn of a musical’s existence, your decision to see it is dictated by a lifetime of acquired knowledge. You might know, for example, the musical’s title, the story or topic it explores, the production’s cast and creative team, or critics’ or audience reviews. You might have familiarity with other Broadway shows, other music genres, other performance forms like dance or nonmusical theater, or visual arts, literature, radio, film, television, or other media. Your experience is also shaped by your identity: your gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, region, culture, politics, religion, age, education, health, family, friends, and other factors that inform who you are. Together, these influences and experiences make up 6

Musical Theater Reception Theory

your “horizon of expectations,” a term coined by Hans Robert Jauss in Toward an Aesthetic of Reception (1982). Jauss argues that a text (in this case, a musical) is not “a monument that monologically reveals its timeless essence,” but is “like an orchestration that strikes ever new resonances among its readers.”4 In other words, a text’s meaning is fluid, not fixed, because everyone approaches it from a unique perspective. Theater scholars Marvin Carlson and Susan Bennett consider Jauss’ theories about the ­reader-text relationship in their analyses of the audience-show relationship. Carlson argues that the audience “brings to the theater…expectations, assumptions, and strategies which will creatively interact with the stimuli,” and Bennett agrees that the audience’s horizons of expectation “are bound to interact with every aspect of the theatrical event.”5 Musical theater reception is an active process, a negotiation between what the show is doing and what you expect it to do. Producers and creative teams behind Broadway musicals use their understanding of these expectations to market the show.6 A Bronx Tale (2017), for example, was advertised as “a mix of Jersey Boys and West Side Story” to capitalize on the reputation of the two popular titles. Broadway producers and marketers try to strike a balance between meeting expectations (comfort, familiarity) and disrupting them (risk, uncertainty). Many productions, especially revivals, promise to present something audiences know but with a twist, thus blending the familiar with the new. For example, the poster for the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening (2015), which featured Deaf performers in the lead roles, read, “The Tony Award-Winning Musical Returns in a New Production Unlike Anything You’ve Ever Seen Heard Imagined,” overtly marking how the new concept revised what audiences already knew about the show. Audiences not only have access to the show’s officially sanctioned marketing materials but also to independent reviews. The New York Times remains the paper of record and arbiter of taste in the world of Broadway. In fact, before the 1980s, its reviews used to make or break a show. But with the incursion of British-based megamusicals to Broadway, audiences ignored first-string reviewer Frank Rich’s opinions and began flocking to Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, which journalists like him had panned. Audience independence has persisted and even expanded since the late 1990s, when we all gained access to regular spectators’—that is, each other’s—opinions on blogs, chat rooms, and social media. Public access to production excerpts has also increased over time. Since the mid-twentieth century, audiences have been able to see Broadway stars perform on talk shows, news programs, and PBS specials, and these preview segments have served to entice potential ticket buyers. As of the mid-2000s, one can view extensive performance footage on YouTube. Over the years, more opportunities have become available for audiences to judge a show for themselves before they have even bought a ticket. All of these influences comprise the audience’s off-site “training” and become part of their horizon of expectations going into the show. Going forward, think of us as your tour guides. You won’t necessarily experience everything we mention in one trip, but we’ll highlight the many things you can see, hear, smell, taste, and do at a Broadway musical.

Day of the Show: Warm-Up, the Preshow Sidewalk We begin 45 minutes before curtain, in what Schechner calls the “Warm-Up” stage. By this point, you have traveled by car, plane, train, bus, taxi, bicycle, or foot to New York City’s theater district, and traversed Times Square to arrive on the street where your Broadway musical lives— likely somewhere between 43rd and 50th streets.7 You’ll spot the large sign bearing the name of the show and the theater, and maybe the name of the star. As you proceed toward it, your attention zooms in on the show, and your sense of a larger New York City fades.8 Your first juncture is this shift in focus from big city to narrow sidewalk outside the theater. 7

Katie Welsh and Stacy Wolf

When you arrive, you first encounter the building’s façade, which is typically covered in critics’ quotes, award announcements, and production photos. For example, in 1976, A Chorus Line was “Dynamite!” and in 1998, Ragtime boasted “State-of-the-Art Theater Craftsmanship.” Spamalot (2005) was “A Musical of the Highest Excaliber!” The Book of Mormon (2011) is “The Best Musical of This Century!” You may read these statements and get even more excited about the show. Or maybe you usually disagree with the critics and the Tony Awards committee, so nothing here impresses you. The words and images on the façade might confirm what brought you to the theater in the first place, or they might surprise you: Wow, I knew Chita Rivera would display her dancing prowess in Chicago (1975)—look at that picture of her striking a pose! Oh, that picture doesn’t even look like Donna Murphy; she really transformed herself to play Fosca (Passion 1994). Occasionally, shows opt for three-dimensional décor on the façade, which immerses audiences in the world of the show before they enter the building. During Into the Woods (1987), a 75-foot inflatable leg, its foot fitted in a boot, dangled from the roof of the Martin Beck Theatre, which “created the illusion that a giant had crashed through the top of the theater.”9 In preparation for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2017), the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre façade was redesigned to look like a factory, which meant covering it with tubing, lights, interactive buttons, and creative “Restricted Access: Entrance for Oompa-Loompas Only” signs. As you stare at the façade, lines form around you. If you already purchased your ticket, you stand in the ticketholder line. You will also see a Will Call line for those who need to pick up their tickets, a Cancellations line for those who hope to get the seats of people who return their tickets at the last minute, and a Future Performances line for those who want to buy tickets for a different day. All lines begin in the box office lobby, but they usually overflow onto the sidewalk, creating lots of confusion. Your immediate soundscape is a cacophony of questions: “Which line is this?” “Is this the end of the line?” “Where’s the Cancellations line?” If you already attended this show or are a frequent theatergoer, you might easily find your line; sometimes, though, this can be a challenging activity. Your preshow sidewalk experience might begin more than 45 minutes before show time because you might want to enter one of the two special lines that form earlier. The Rush line forms in the morning for people hoping to get $35–$40 unsold seats for the same day’s show. Sometimes, a show offers “student rush” tickets restricted to high school and college students. These go on sale when the box office opens, often around 10:00 a.m. Or you might arrive two-and-a-half hours before curtain to stand in the lottery line in the hope of winning $10–$40 first- or second-row orchestra seats to the same day’s performance. You can’t forget to bring your driver’s license and the ticket price in cash, since you must present both if you win. Both discount and student rush tickets existed before Rent (1996), but that musical pioneered their popularity.10 Twenty years later, rush policies and lotteries had become standard.11 Some lotteries went digital, and as more do, your preshow sidewalk experience might become less crowded. Hamilton (2015) did anything but make the lottery less crowded. Before its lottery went digital in August 2016, creator and then-leading man, Lin-Manuel Miranda, hosted Ham4Ham, a weekly concert that he started to entertain the people in the lottery line. This event broke every rule in the book. As Carlson explains, ordinarily, before the cast and audience meet in the theater, they prepare in separate areas: the actors in “‘backstage’ spaces which surround the actors’ space and which are traditionally unseen by and off-limits to the spectators” and the audience in “various ‘public’ spaces, such as foyers, bars, and lobbies contiguous to the auditorium, where actors traditionally are not to be seen.”12 Miranda and Hamilton’s cast’s decision to perform in a public space before the show started—breaking the fourth wall before it had even been established—was unprecedented. Ultimately, any preshow sidewalk experience, whether it involves reading quotes, looking at photographs, admiring a giant prop, pressing a button on the façade, or watching a mini-concert with your favorite stars, establishes an early, intimate connection between show and audience. 8

Musical Theater Reception Theory

Day of the Show: Warm-Up, Preshow Lobby About 30 minutes before curtain, your line begins to move. You reach the inner doors and present your ticket, engaging in a ritual that ensures you have permission to enter the building. The attendant rips or scans the ticket. Since 2001, a security guard may search your bag. You reach the second juncture when you cross the threshold from sidewalk to lobby, which Christopher Small calls a “transitional space through which we pass in the progression from the outer everyday world to the inner world of the performance.”13 The lobby typically features three main stations of activity: the concession stand, the souvenir kiosk, and the restrooms. The concession stand usually offers snacks and drinks. Beginning in the late 1990s, many shows began customizing their menus, so you could order Trekki’s Porn Star Martini at Avenue Q (2004), Argentinian wine at Evita (2012 revival), or the “Lost Romanov” cocktail at A ­ nastasia (2017).14 Until the early 2000s, you had to consume these concessions outside the auditorium, but then most theaters started permitting drinks in the house, so long as you buy them in ­logo-branded souvenir cups; some shows even sell food in the house. According to Nederlander Vice President Jim Boese, this policy is “a reflection of changing audience habits” and “part of a broader attempt to enhance the audience experience.”15 However, many believe it only disrupts the experience. Patti LuPone broke character to stop a popcorn war in the theater.16 Food on Broadway is a controversial topic. Now it’s time to visit the souvenir kiosk. Producer Cameron Mackintosh and the megamusical— beginning with Cats in 1981—brought about an era of unprecedented Broadway merchandising during which souvenir options expanded from cast albums and glossy programs to logo-covered apparel, key chains, magnets, mugs, buttons, posters, snow globes, beach towels, specialty items (Elphaba’s school bag from Wicked (2003), for example), and more.17 Since the 1980s, Broadway producers have made millions by tapping into the audience’s desire for tangible mementos. At some point, you will likely experience what New York Times’ writer Michael Paulson calls Broadway’s “chronic inconvenience”: the bathroom line, famous for “clogging lobbies and snaking down stairwells.” There’s no denying “Broadway’s Bathroom Problem.”18 The lobby is clearly primarily a functional space, but occasionally musicals have used it to immerse audiences in the world of the show. The Majestic Theatre’s lobby was redecorated “to replicate a Victorian opera house” for The Phantom of the Opera (1987).19 Waitress (2016), set in a diner, scents the lobby with pie smell, highlighting the second juncture by creating a stark contrast between the stinky scent-scape of the city and the sweet-smelling one of the Brooks-Atkinson Theatre. Paulson calls the scent an “olfactory extension to the show’s set.” Some even characterize it as a performer; his headline reads, “Fresh-Baked Pie Has Aromatic Role in ‘Waitress’ ­Musical,”20 and on, “Broadway’s New Big Star: Pie Smell.”21 Just as Into the Woods, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Hamilton made the sidewalk a site of performance, Phantom and Waitress made the lobby a site of performance. Ultimately, the lobby is a highly sensory place where you experience sights, sounds, tastes, and even smells that prepare you for the show. By drinking a cocktail, buying a T-shirt, or powdering your nose, you are transitioning from everything else in the world to this show, this moment.

Day of the Show: Warm-Up, Preshow Auditorium You experience juncture three when you leave the lobby and enter the auditorium, what Small calls the “sacred space.”22 The house lights are usually “up” so you can see where you are going. An usher reads your ticket, hands you a Playbill, and escorts you to your seat. Once there, you might remove your coat, read your Playbill, stand up for people coming into your row, chat with friends, check e-mail, take selfies, or drink your Sprite.23 There’s inevitably the buzz of excitement, an 9

Katie Welsh and Stacy Wolf

electric feeling of anticipation in the room.24 This fairly mundane readiness is usually the extent of your preshow auditorium experience.25 Some musicals, however, invest in interior decorating in an attempt to immerse you in the world of the show before it begins. The auditorium was included in the Victorian opera house design for Phantom, for example, to immediately place the audience in the musical’s actual theater setting. When you enter the Dear Evan Hansen (2016) auditorium, video projections of “live” Facebook and Twitter feeds bombard you from the stage, introducing audiences to the “backdrop or the ninth character” of the show they’re about to see: social media.26 Just as Hamilton played with audience-performer boundaries during the preshow sidewalk experience, some shows play with those boundaries during the preshow auditorium experience. Rock musicals like Hair (1968) found ways to “connect with audiences” in special preshow interactions.27 When the Rent cast walked onstage to take their places, they waved to the audience. Several contemporary shows have pushed the boundaries even further. In Once (2012), actors brought “audiences, and drinks, into the action” by inviting spectators to “go onstage, buy beer and wine, and hang out.”28 At Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (2016), you could drink and interact with the actors, engaging in an experience that highlighted the “non-boundary” between audience and performer.29 Whether you have been drinking with the actors or sitting alone at your seat, you eventually engage in juncture four, the transition from the auditorium experience to Act I. This juncture has up to three phases: the preshow announcement, the overture, and the light cue when the house goes dark and the stage lights come up. This juncture shifts your focus from your Playbill, snacks, and c­ onversations—­everything that characterizes the preshow experience—to what is happening onstage. 30 The New York Times’ Steven McElroy calls the preshow announcement the real “Act I, Scene 1” of a show.31 It is typically prerecorded and played over the loud speakers, and over the years, musicals have put creative twists on it. For example, Hairspray (2002) reminded audiences that the show “takes place in Baltimore in 1962, a time before there were cellular phones and beepers, and we hope that we can travel back to that time where there would be none heard during a performance.”32 As Caroline Heim explains, these announcements are now “ritualized as…standard, pre-­performance discourse;” in fact, as she argues, “The mobile phone announcement has emerged as a performance in itself.”33 If the announcement is funny, laughter may erupt throughout the theater. The chatter dies down. The house lights fade.34 If you are seeing a show written after 1975, you likely won’t hear an overture.35 But if you are seeing a revival or one of a handful of original shows like The Producers (2001), Spamalot (2005), or The Color Purple (2005), you will. Maybe you play the tuba, so you are completely engaged in the overture, carefully watching the conductor and listening to the tuba line. (As Schechner explains, your enjoyment increases when you feel “in” on the “details” of the show.36) Or maybe you find the overture boring—I mean, yes, the accompanying light show on the curtain is nice, thank goodness there’s something to look at—and you just continue whispering to your friend. While the overture is indisputably part of the show, many see it as a continuation of the preshow experience, or at most, a transitional bridge between preshow and show. As the New York Times’ Jesse Green writes of the overture, “Practically, it provide[s] a buffer for latecomers; dramatically, it help[s] to effect a mood transition from the outer world of commerce and cabs to the imaginary world about to be created onstage.”37 The orchestra plays its final chord of the overture. You clap. The conductor bows. The curtain rises. 10

Musical Theater Reception Theory

Day of the Show: Performance Act 1 Lights up onstage. The musical begins. Final chord of Act 1. Lights out onstage. You clap.

Day of the Show: Intermission The house lights come up, and you engage in the fifth juncture, a transition from Act 1 to ­intermission. During this break, you might talk to your friend about the first act, stand and stretch, wait in the bathroom line, or wander out to the lobby for a drink. You might realize how much you love the score and buy the cast album. You might reread the actors’ bios now that you’ve seen them sing and dance. All in all, you participate in activities in your backstage area. And traditionally, the actors follow suit, retreating to their backstage to rest and hydrate, not to be seen until the top of Act 2. But plenty of shows have broken with this tradition over the years. In Godspell (1971), the actors remained in the theater for part of intermission and invited audiences to take “communion.” Here, the intermission was not a parting of ways for the two groups, but rather a time to mingle and participate in a shared ritual. In Cats (1982), Old Deuteronomy sat on his throne during intermission, so audiences often flooded the stage to take pictures and get his autograph. 38 In 2012, another intermission ritual emerged: Saturday Intermission Pics (SIP). Newsies star Andrew Keenan-Bolger invited his colleagues to upload backstage photos to Twitter with the hashtag, #SIP. 39 Broadway actors now regularly participate. They usually upload the pictures immediately, so while you sit in the house or stand in the lobby, you can view, in real time, pictures of the cast striking funny poses backstage and “like” and comment on them. Because the actors are stepping out of character, you shift from a symbolic level of communication, when you suspend disbelief and are lost in the fiction of the show, to the artistic level of communication, when you can perceive a distance between the talented actor and his role.40 Even though the cast and audience still physically retreat to their backstage areas, they can now mingle ­v irtually through #SIP.41 A five-minute warning bell rings, and you participate in the sixth juncture, during which you transition from the intermission to Act 2. You return to your seat with drink in hand. You turn off electronic devices. House lights dim. The entr’acte takes place, if there is one. Again, some spectators treat it as the start of Act 2 and sit silently, while others consider it transitional background noise over which they talk. The orchestra plays the final chord. You clap. The conductor bows. The curtain rises.

Day of the Show: Performance Act 2 Lights up onstage. Act 2 of the musical begins. Final chord of Act 2. Lights out onstage. You clap. 11

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Day of the Show: Curtain Call The last chord is played and sung, the last pose struck. The curtain falls, lights fade to black and, usually, thunderous applause commences as you enter the seventh juncture, the transition from Act 2 to curtain call, a time when you share your opinion of the show.42 This can involve clapping, whistling, cheering, or silence. First, chorus members bow, then featured actors, then leads. ­Finally, the company bows together. Rock and jukebox musical casts often perform an encore during curtain call and invite the audience to sing, dance, and clap with them.43 During Hair, everyone rocked to “Let the Sun Shine In.” In Saturday Night Fever (1999), the cast jived to “Stayin’ Alive,” “Boogie Shoes,” and “Disco Inferno.” At Mamma Mia (2002), everyone partied to “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Waterloo.”44 In Beautiful (2014), everyone grooved to “I Feel the Earth Move.”

Day of the Show: Cool-Down, Postshow Auditorium Once the curtain call ends and the actors exit, audiences enter what Schechner calls the “CoolDown” stage and engage in the eighth juncture, transitioning from curtain call back to the auditorium. When the house lights come up, you are probably still applauding. If you attended the show with others, you’ll likely share opinions with them as you prepare to leave. You grab your purse and bag of souvenirs, pack your Playbill away or leave it on the floor, put on your coat, and down what’s left of the soda in your Lion King (1997) cup. Once you have everything, you begin your journey out of the theater.45 As you file out of your row, the orchestra might play its final chord. You might applaud or you might be too busy talking to notice. Before you leave the auditorium, you might look back at the stage, maybe to comment on the set, maybe to relive your favorite number, or maybe just to soak in this moment one last time.

Day of the Show: Cool-Down, Postshow Lobby You step into the lobby—the ninth juncture. You might go to the restroom or visit the merchandise stand. Items like the “Caption” Fun Home (2015) tee or the “Hell No!” Color Purple shirt, which might not have made sense to you before the show, resonate now that you’ve seen it. You might take pictures in the lobby. You might pass the box office, see people buying tickets, and think about how much they’re going to love it (or not).

Day of the Show: Cool-Down, Postshow Sidewalk You exit the lobby and reenter the sidewalk—your tenth juncture. Sometimes a show highlights this transition. When you leave Wicked, for example, you encounter three signs, “You are now leaving Oz. Reality Straight Ahead. Please Drive (or Fly) Safely,” which reaffirm this turning point from inside to outside, from Oz to NYC, from fiction to reality. If you exit through the front entrance, you will encounter the quotes and photos on the façade again, but now you’ve formed your own opinions of the show, and the images trigger vivid memories of a live experience. Finally, you might take pictures outside to capture the moment of being in this place, with these people, at this time, perhaps even to mark the end of an unforgettable experience. 12

Musical Theater Reception Theory

Day of the Show: Cool-Down, Postshow Sidewalk: Stage Door Ritual For many Broadway fans, filing onto the sidewalk is not the end of the experience. Up next? The stage door ritual.46 Like many subcultural practices, this one is unofficial, unadvertised, and highly regularized.47 You find the stage door, move behind the security barriers, claim a spot in the crowd, and stand at the ready, clutching your Playbill in one hand, your phone in the other hand. As you wait, you might chat with the people around you, some of whom will be superfans who brag about the number of times they have “stage doored” this particular star. Yes, stage door is both a noun and a verb in the Broadway community.48 The stage door is an opportunity for the cast to “continue the performance to some level,” costumed not in glitz and glamor but in comfortable, underwhelming garments; actors perform their everyday selves here.49 At the stage door for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (2012), for example, Audra McDonald sometimes wore a blue bandana in her hair, and at the stage door for If/Then (2014), Idina Menzel wore a hoodie. When the performer participates in this ritual, she crosses a spatial boundary from the actors’ backstage to the audience’s backstage, and her identity is liminal. As Schechner explains, she is “not” her character but also “not not” her character; she is neither herself nor her role.50 When Kelli O’Hara greets you at the stage door after South Pacific (2008), she is no longer Nellie but also “not not” Nellie. Your exchange with this Kelli/Nellie might last 30 seconds. You might congratulate her on the show; she might thank you for coming, autograph your Playbill, take a photo, and walk away. This fleeting moment can mean so much. Why? Because the theater is a space where boundaries are usually honored. Distance is typically maintained; performer and audience occupy separate spheres. A majority of the audience at any performance is too far back or high up to get a clear view of an actor’s face, and on a daily basis, we live under the illusion that actors don’t inhabit public spaces. So this intimate experience is special.

Day of the Show and Beyond: Aftermath, Transformations, and Memories After the stage door experience, you enter the last stage of the performance sequence, what Schechner calls the “Aftermath.” You might walk or take a cab, bus, subway, or train to go home, return to your hotel, or get a meal. Here, you engage in the eleventh and final juncture, a transition in focus and location from the sidewalk to New York City. You leave the theater a changed person and bring your experience with you into the world. On the ride home from seeing Phantom, for instance, you might listen to the album (which you’ve heard dozens of times) and find new pleasure in knowing that the chandelier falls on that particular chord in the “All I Ask of You” reprise, or that the Phantom and Christine cross a smoky stage during the title song. These moments play out in your mind while you listen; what was once a purely aural experience becomes an audiovisual one. Maybe you go home and watch YouTube videos of Elphaba getting “greenified.” Maybe you post on Instagram about the show. Maybe you bring “Memory” to your next voice lesson, in the hopes that you can sing it with as much power as Betty Buckley or Leona Lewis. Maybe you wear your T-shirt to class and tell your friends about the experience. Maybe you re-watch the film or reread the book on which the show was based. Maybe you listen to the original Carole King albums. Maybe you buy tickets to see the show again. 13

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Notes 1 Richard Schechner. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1985. 16. 2 Caroline Heim analyzes the twenty-first century audience’s experience as a performance, using terms typically reserved for describing the actions of the actors onstage, in Audience as Performer. New York: Routledge, 2016. 27–28. Christopher Small walks through the audience experience at symphonic concerts in Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1998. 3 Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology, 16. For more about each sequence stage, see Schechner. Performance Studies: An Introduction. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 225–249. Schechner includes spectators’ preparations in the “deep structures” of performance, including “deciding to attend, dressing, going, settling in, waiting,” in Performance Theory. New York: Routledge, 1988. xviii. 4 Hans Robert Jauss. Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. Translated by Timothy Bahti. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1982. 21. 5 Marvin Carlson. Theatre Semiotics: Signs of Life. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. 24. Susan Bennett. Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production and Reception. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1997. 98. Also see Bennett, pp. 20, 46–52. 6 Broadway producers like Ken Davenport use surveys, focus groups, and new technologies to learn more about the audience. See Campbell Robertson. “Nielson Brings a New Marketing Strategy to Broadway.” New York Times. 1 Aug. 2006. . See also Patrick Healy. “Dialing Up a Hit? Influence over Musical Is in the Crowd’s Hands.” New York Times. 25 June 2013. . 7 The trip to the theater is also part of the “Warm-Up.” For more about travel, locale, and urban space, see Marvin Carlson. Theatre Semiotics and Places of Performance: The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1989. For more on Times Square, see Heim, Audience, 139–143. On the specific site of Broadway, see Carlson, Places of Performance, 123–124. 8 Carlson, Places, 121–125. 9 Brooke Pierce. “Broadhurst Theatre Booted.” Theatermania. 10 June 2002. . 10 Logan Culwell-Block. “From Sleeping on the Streets to Swiping on the Screen: The Evolution of Rush Tickets from Rent to Digital Lotteries.” Playbill. 7 Sept. 2015. . 11 Ruthie Fierberg and Gabriella Steinberg. “Broadway Rush, Lottery, and Standing Room Only Policies.”  Playbill. 16 May 2017. . 12 Carlson, Theatre Semiotics, 44. 13 Small, Musicking, 23. 14 Gordon Cox. “Mixology for Musicals: Broadway Cocktails Raise the Bar.” Variety. 13 Nov. 2014. . 15 Qtd. in Cara Joy David. “Noises Off: Playgoers Sip, Munch, and Crunch.” New York Times. 5 Jan. 2007. . 16 Ibid. Patti LuPone also famously confiscated a cell phone; see Erik Piepenburg. “Hold the Phone, It’s Patti LuPone.” New York Times. 9 July 2015. . 17 See Michael Riedel. “Thanks to ‘Cats,’ Theater Souvenirs are Now and Forever!” New York Post. 2 Aug. 2016. ; Zachary Pincus-Roth. “Ask PLAYBILL.COM: Merchandise.” Playbill. 30 May 2008. ; Peter Marks. “Saw the Show? Buy the Trinket.” New York Times. 4 Dec. 1994. ; and Heim, Audience, 132. Heim also discusses the “branded costumes” for sale (25–27). 18 Michael Paulson. “Broadway’s Bathroom Problem: Have to Go? Hurry Up, or Hold It.” New York Times. 7 Feb. 2017. . 19 Carlson, Places of Performance, 199–200.


Musical Theater Reception Theory 20 Paulson. “Fresh-Baked Pie has Aromatic Role in ‘Waitress’ Musical.” New York Times. 26 Apr. 2016. . 21 Chris Fuhrmeister. “Broadway’s New Big Star: Pie Smell.” 26 Apr. 2016. . 22 Small, Musicking, 24. 23 On the social aspect of theatergoing, see Heim, Audience, 114–116. 24 Ibid., 146–147. 25 See Ibid., 119–120, for more on the ways in which audience behaviors in the auditorium have changed over time. 26 Eric Johnson. “How ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Brought Social Media to Broadway.” Recode. 1 May 2017. . 27 Elizabeth Wollman. The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, from Hair to Hedwig. Ann ­A rbor: U of Michigan P, 2006. 70. 28 See Heim’s description of her bus trip to see Once, Audience, 128–130. 29 Mark Blankenship. “Creating the Wild World of ‘Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.’” TDF Stages. 11 Nov. 2016. . 30 As Heim writes, “Audience members may read their programme or share what they know of the forthcoming production all in preparation for that moment when the lights dim in the auditorium and the illuminated stage becomes a microcosm of soon-to-be-realised imaginings” (Audience, 27). 31 Steven McElroy. “Act I, Scene I: The Cellphone Must Not Go On.” New York Times. 17 Feb. 2010. . 32 Michael Buckley. “The Battle Against Cell Phones.” Playbill. 11 June 2007. . 33 Heim, Audience, 37–38. 34 In Audience as Performer, Heim writes, “The dimming of lights always signals change of some description” (65). In The Theater Will Rock, Wollman writes that the “advent of electric light at the end of the century, which led to the tradition of slowly dimming the houselights to signal the onset of a performance, helped to further suppress the audience” (68). 35 Jesse Green. “Whatever Happened to the Overture?” New York Times. 1 Oct. 2006. . 36 Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology, 143. 37 Green, “Whatever Happened to the Overture?” 38 John Beaufort. “A Broadway Musical Hit Offering Light-and-Sound Pyrotechnics; Concerning ‘Cats,’ There Are Few Moderates.” Christian Science Monitor. 2 Dec. 1982. . 39 “Photo Flash: New Saturday Intermission Pics—How to Succeed, Newsies, Book of Mormon, and More!” Broadway World. 19 May 2012. . 40 Willmar Sauter. The Theatrical Event: Dynamics of Performance and Perception. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2000. 6–9. 41 See more about #SIP in Heim, Audience, 102. 42 Heim writes, “Applause at the conclusion of a contemporary performance is the last bastion of the audience critic. In the past, this percussive gesture spelt the success or demise of productions… Applause credibility is, however, slowly diminishing with the rise of the now obligatory standing ovation practiced after every performance on Broadway” (Audience, 31). 43 Heim explains, “Singing is an almost obligatory audience performance at all juke-box musicals” (Audience, 159). 4 4 Wollman, The Theater Will Rock, 221–222. 45 Or perhaps you attend what the New York Times’ Patrick Healy calls “Broadway’s New Finale”: the postshow talkback. In 2009, Chicago started a “Talkback Tuesday” series. See Patrick Healy. “Broadway’s New Finales: Talk-Backs and More.” New York Times. 9 Oct. 2009. . 46 Heim describes the “matinee girl” who “visit[s] stage doors after performances to chat with her idol, stroke his costume or procure an autograph” as a type that dates back at least to the early nineteenth


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47 48 49 50

century (Audience, 72–73). Heim adds that with the dawn of the Internet, and especially Twitter, “Online access to actors is a virtual stage door” (115). For more on ritual, see Victor Turner. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1967. See also Turner. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction, 1969. For more on Broadway fan culture and the stage door ritual, see Stacy Wolf. “Wicked Divas, Musical Theater, and Internet Girl Fans.” Camera Obscura 65 22.2 (2007): 39–71. Qtd. in Heim, Audience, 94. For more on celebrity personae, see Richard Dyer. Stars. London: BFI Publishing, 1998. See also Dyer. Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology, 121–124.


2 “[TITLE OF CHAPTER]” Millie Taylor

It is great to be asked to write a chapter in this collection; a collection about musical theater that focuses on contemporary developments in New York. And here I sit, a British scholar at home in my English country village thinking back over the last 20 or so years and wondering what I can contribute with the benefit of distance and hindsight. There’s a big, empty computer screen in front of me, and before it a keyboard waiting for fingers to touch keys. What should I write about? Should I reflect on the state of musical theater performances? Perhaps I should discuss the historical development of contemporary musical theater? Or should I say something about recent developments in theorizing musical theater in the United Kingdom and United States? All these topics are possible—and all demonstrate a progress narrative and sense of continuity: there’s a story to be told. But what is my story? The title of this chapter makes a sneaky reference to [title of show], so you know what the case study for the chapter will be, but the fact that I’m speaking to you directly rather than introducing the show might give you a clue that this chapter is about something more than that musical, something thematic that is exemplified in that work. One thing that excites me about contemporary work is the way writers construct relationships with audiences that simultaneously reveal the creative process and empower the reader. Can I do something similar in writing about contemporary musicals? Can I explore that theoretical idea in practice? Now, that’s a crazy thought. I could reveal myself in this writing rather than hiding my identity, so that you have more agency in deciding what this chapter is about. I’m excited by that thought, I hope you are too. A new philosophy for the way we read and understand texts of all sorts emerged in literary theory in the 1960s and 1970s. It allows us to think about musicals in new ways, and led to new styles of writing. These theories allow us, from our vantage point in the future, to look with fresh eyes at earlier works. We can see new lines of progression and disruption in musical theater dramaturgy, and understand the many different ways texts are read by audiences. Instead of perceiving a single plot in a work, we might now propose that audiences playfully interpret the performance as a diverse text, a play of ideas and images, a conglomeration of references. The show might still tell a story, but its plot, its linear narrative, might be composed of songs and dances created from diverse and clashing elements, incorporating awareness of the friction between song and scene that Scott McMillin so ably describes to the extent that chronology becomes less important.1 One of the features of the word “post” is that it simultaneously pulls in two directions: it reacts against its predecessor (conforming to our understanding of the word “post,” meaning “after”) and yet it still contains its predecessor. The “post” in postmodernism, postdramatic and 17

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post-integration signals a past that is simultaneously present; these terms contain the modernist, the dramatic, and the integrated, as well as their liberated twins. A post-integrated musical incorporates intertextual references and explores the playful interactions of continuity and innovation; its signifiers explode from the event in blissful excess outside chronological time while still containing a plot. Just like this chapter in which there is a story for you to discover—but is it the one about the show or the one about postmodernism? Or is it the one about me writing this article— written as though you are here with me now in the past, watching me type? As a result of thinking from this new standpoint, we begin to see that the important task of interpretation is highly individualized—that audiences or members of audiences might be more detached. We can’t assume that a monolithic group, “the audience,” will agree on a single view of a work, or that themes can only be interpreted in one way. As Norman Lebrecht noted in 2005, referring to Urinetown, Bat Boy, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: “The music in each of these shows amplifies this element of separation, licensing us to stand apart from what we are seeing and enter a third dimension where each of us can individually decide whether to take the plot literally or sardonically, whether to take offense or simply collapse in giggles.”2 So now, to develop some of these themes further, I must move on to my example: the messy, playful, excessive [title of show]. [title of show] by Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell (book) contains an overarching narrative about writing a musical that is assembled from many playful, self-referential, reflexive moments.3 Using this show will give me the opportunity to talk about the postmodern and to include my favorite quotation by Roland Barthes—but that’s for later.

The Background Having arrived at a decision, I now need to begin addressing this empty page. What might I include in preparation for a discussion of this work? Perhaps I should describe how Bowen and Bell met as actors in a Virginia Beach production of Good News in 1995, and became firm friends. Years later, they and Susan Blackwell (one of the original performers in [title of show] who contributed to its development) were performing in “crazy, avant-garde theater” where Blackwell was one of a duo called “The New Wondertwins” and Bell was a “Sparklevision dancer.”4 In this context Bowen and Bell wrote a few Broadway-style numbers that were unexpected partly because of the experimental works they sat beside. Their songs were so site-, time- and place-specific that they would incorporate audience members’ names or refer to the lighting, the stage manager, or whatever was happening at the time. They called these works “Ice Sculptures” because they were so dependent on particular audiences, events, and moments that they couldn’t be performed again in the same way. Such self-referential, site-specific work, characteristic of experimental performance art of the time, became the starting point for [title of show], a work often called a postmodern musical. The writers also remarked on the influence of television shows on their work. Both Bowen and Bell grew up in the 1970s and 1980s watching television shows with postmodern elements, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977), The Bob Newhart Show (1972–1978), and Seinfeld (1989–1998). To begin with the earliest, chronologically: Mary Richards isn’t Mary Tyler Moore—Richards is clearly a character but the character appeared to be an extension of the actor herself rather than a differently named “other” persona. Both Newhart and Seinfeld extended the level of overlap between actor and character by performing versions of themselves on their shows. More recently both Adam West and James Woods have appeared as themselves on Family Guy (1999–present). By the time Bowen and Bell were exploring these ideas, they were not new per se. Still, this level of self-reference—the confusion between real and performed, actor and character—was unique in the musical theater. 18

“[Title of Chapter]”

However, there was no concrete plan to create something postmodern or experimental. When Bowen and Bell sat down to create a show, they found themselves incorporating ideas from their shared cultural backgrounds and professional experience: “what we were writing about was us writing, and we were tickled by it.”5 They simply wrote “something that we want[ed] to say” using influences they both loved.6 The questions they were asking were whether the characters could “just have conversations about their lives and their interests in a musical? Can we accept that, or do we need to break out into tap? And does it need to be heightened or super dramatic?” 7 The overarching idea they were exploring was one plumbed in their beloved Seinfeld: of taking the ­mundane—­creating the appearance that the show was about “nothing”—and musicalizing it, a process they later referred to as “autobiofictionography.”8 This term denoted for them the process of mixing their stories and creating characters from biographical and fictional material—a post-­ integrated musical, perhaps? But now I’ve got ahead of myself; I need to explain the plot of the show.

The Story In [title of show], Bowen and Bell play “two struggling writers [who] hear about a new musical theater festival. However, the deadline for submissions is a mere three weeks away. With nothing to lose, the pair decides to try to create something new with the help of their friends, Susan, Heidi, and Larry on lady eighty-eights” (the piano).9 In the idea to document the creation of the show itself (“a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical”)10 lies the seed of a circularity that raises questions about the real and hyperreal, of simulation and ideology. Is this a document of a real process or a simulation of something that never existed? Baudrillard might use that question to explore issues of power and truth, while Barthes might ask about the function of the sign in the explosion of referentiality. All this potential theory, some of which we’ll get to later, arises because two performers chose to put “themselves” into a musical. The plot of [title of show] recounts the process of collaborative creation through which musical theater is produced. As such, it has a linear narrative, from which the musical’s songs certainly flow: at the opening of “Two Nobodies in New York,” the lyrics begin with the question, “What if this dialogue were set to music? / What if what we’re saying could be said in a song? / Hey, that’s not a bad idea. Perhaps we could use it / Music in a musical, how can we go wrong?”11 which, counterintuitively, is sung. The show proceeds in a linear fashion from the idea of writing a show, through the early stages of getting ideas on paper, the addition of two friends to help develop and try out the material, the growing friendships and uncertainties of the participants, and, finally, the successful performance at the festival. Further material that continued to document that show’s own development was added as [title of show] was extended for an Off-Broadway and later a Broadway run. The title of [title of show] is explained as follows: since the deadline for filling in the festival form has arrived and the team can’t think of a title, they leave that line blank, after which [title of show] becomes the default title. As with all the devices in this show, though, the thinking is hardly haphazard. The show’s reflexivity, its reference to the process of its own collaborative creation, demonstrates continuity with musical theater history: it is the twenty-first-century equivalent of the backstage “let’s put on a show” musical, exemplified repeatedly from 42nd Street (1933 film, 1980 stage) and A Chorus Line (1975 stage, 1985 film),12 to Something Rotten (2015) and Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (2016). What’s new, exciting, and disruptive about [title of show] is that rather than simply telling the story of a fictional creative process, the creators deliberately blur the line between fiction and reality by playing “themselves.” Jeff Bowen remarked that “there was an extra added element when the actual people who wrote the show were playing those parts. All it really was was an extra special layer of ‘meta’, but with that layer removed it’s still a meta-musical; it still ends up being a story about four friends who put on a show.”13 So the first layer of reflexivity is the show-within-a-show plotline. 19

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Not only does the show depict the creation of a work of musical theater—reflexive in its own right—but it does so while exploring the borderline between real and fictional by including characters who look and behave like the writers. The show has been performed by many other actors since its original run; even during its early productions, when Bowen and Bell played “themselves,” not all audience members were aware of the conceit. Through this second layer of reflexivity, where the authors appear to use themselves, their stories, and their names, there arises a confusion of fact and fiction, verbatim document, and original creation. One of the themes the show explores is the layering of characters and personae in a way that has become a feature of experimental postmodern forms. All the characters in the original production had the same names as the performers; those involved in the New York performances were involved in the creative process, but not exactly in the ways documented in the performance. Although the writers discussed their lives in the musical, their stories were sometimes fashioned into someone else’s character during the show’s development with director Michael Berresse. In the production, Hunter was the “big dreamer,” Jeff was responsible for “grounding everyone,” Susan was always “pushing envelopes,” and Heidi was the new kid with whom the audience was intended to identify.14 By changing the affiliation of some stories, the writers could keep the structure going “so that no-one was crossing out of their range, like you would with any play, like you would with any character in a play.”15 So, even as the show uses real-life stories and challenges conceptions of what is real, it also has a well-crafted, integrated structure that allows audiences to understand and empathize with characters. However, in a further exploration of this facet of reflexivity, Bowen and Bell persuaded several Broadway stars to lend their voices to a recurring plot device: by the time [title of show] reached Broadway, recorded phone messages had been included, made by stars including Idina Menzel, Christine Ebersole, and Patti LuPone, all rejecting the opportunity to appear in the show. There are many ideas being explored here: the presence of these recognizable voices highlights the absence of their physical presence in the musical; yet their presence as voices subverts the narrative fiction of their unwillingness to be present: clearly, they agreed to their recorded voices as comic additions to the show. The idea that there is such a thing as “reality” or “truth” is challenged by the voices of these “real” people, Broadway stars, refusing to participate in a show they are ultimately taking part in. Through this level of reflexivity, and the reference to the musical theater world itself, attention is drawn to issues of labor, processes of rehearsal and production in creating musical theater, and the relative value of the text when set against the importance of finding “stars.” It raises questions as well about the separation of life and art, and the “business” and materiality of musical theater. Breaking with the idea that an actor should be entirely subsumed within a character in the narrative of a well-made play has long been challenged, especially in the experimental performance arena where Bowen and Bell were working. Hans Thies Lehmann notes, “the actor of postdramatic theater is often no longer the actor of a role but a performer offering his/her presence on stage for contemplation.”16 We have only barely begun thinking about how such ideas might apply to the musical theater, but [title of show] actively explores the presence of actors and performers in layered personas. The processes of production, the labor of writing, rehearsal, and casting, and the notion of celebrity are explored so that the interpretation of this performance has potential resonances for audiences that flow beyond attending to the story. The plot is only one element in the way the show might be perceived. The development of my story of writing this chapter mirrors this practice: like Bowen and Bell, I am encouraging you to think about the act of writing as another performance whose processes involve labor and whose meanings are subject to your interpretation. I hope that by now you can understand why I revealed my presence to you as the writer of this chapter in an academic book. While the chapter may be about [title of show], the argument it contains is not presented in a linear fashion but is composed of asides and deviations, references to myself and my writing, and interruptions to your focus on the musical…A post-linear, postmodern, 20

“[Title of Chapter]”

post-integrated twenty-first-century musical is being documented in a post-linear, postmodern chapter. But before we get carried away, I’ll recall what Little Sally advises in ­Urinetown (another reflexive twenty-first-century musical): “you don’t want to overload them with too much exposition.”17 So before I get too theoretical, I’ll interrupt myself and introduce some examples from [title of show].

The Examples According to Jeff Bowen, the music and lyrics are an amalgam of old-school Broadway styles including “happy music like Jerry Herman shows”18 that have lots of brass, major chords and “70 people onstage screaming high notes,” 1970s musicals like Company, and “80s synthpop.”19 The writers didn’t want to do a satire of musical theater, so the music was “completely legitimate” although some of the lyrics are “spoofy,” with recognizable feeling, tones, chords, and tempos that derive from musical theater idioms.20 This strategy is designed to give the work integrity and heart, but also leads to the creator’s nightmare, described by Susan in the number “Die Vampire, Die!” The Vampires are the voices in one’s head that undermine confidence by telling creators that other people “Did it before you and better than you,” or “Your song is repetitive / Your song makes me tired.”21 Tension is established between the need for continuity with familiar musical genres, styles, and traditions and the urge to innovate. This tension provides material for a character in the narrative (Susan), but also encourages us to think about processes of creation, writing, and communication. In linguistic communication we rely on words, phrases, references, and grammar in well-­ established ways to be understood, and yet each sentence is simultaneously particular, idiosyncratic, and unique. This essay contains sentences constructed from words and phrases you know, which together present new ideas, references to wider reading, and examples from the show. The combination that results, then, is unique. In the same way, the lyrics of “Die Vampire, Die!” rely on conventional words, phrases, and patterns that can be easily understood, but use them to express something original. The lyrics demonstrate the psychological fear of the character as a creative individual; they have narrative content but also raise thematic issues about the writing process. The same is true of the use of recognizable musical styles that are made simultaneously original and unexpected. This pattern occurs throughout the musical, as for example in “Untitled Opening Number,” when the performers sing “we’ll explore the latest trends and avoid them … trying hard not to duplicate what we’ve seen and heard before.”22 The writers seek to maintain continuity with the past while simultaneously making ironic commentary about the state of musical theater and the difficulty of being innovative in the present. Incorporating known forms, styles, and quotations resonates for readers and listeners, resulting in unexpected associations or ironic commentary. In “Monkeys and Playbills,” the writers create a postmodern bricolage as they reference shows—Golden Apple, Golden Rainbow, Golden Boy, and Goldilocks,23 among others—overtly incorporating the referential power of language to resonate playfully in the minds of audiences. But it is not only through direct reference to other productions that the musical theater form is made present in this show. Issues of labor and the work of musical theater resurface in dialogue about the reality of being a performer. Lines about “paychecks” and “unemployment,” “ducking out before the show’s finale,” or wanting to “throw the towel in” but deciding instead to “just start over again” are contained in the song “Part of it All.”24 Heidi comments, “not a chance for my career to advance / and there’s no straight guys here for me to romance, / I guess I’ll swallow my pride and make the best of the rest of this spree…Stuck in a show where I am playing me.”25 Some of the “significant questions”26 this show poses, since the fiction proposes that what is onstage is “real,” are what art is, what is real, and what constitutes performance. 21

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The Theory Over the last 45 years, many musicals have moved away from being predominantly focused on telling a story. We might begin such a trend with Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote Cats and Starlight Express, or earlier with Stephen Sondheim works like Company, Merrily We Roll Along, Assassins, and Follies, or with Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, The Rink, Chicago, or Kiss of the Spiderwoman. All these works engage with structures other than linear narratives (though we can read linear narratives in them), and instead explore formal innovation, reflexivity, and intertextuality. It doesn’t strike me as remotely surprising that this development began at the same time postmodernism was promoting an interest in surface features, formal innovation, and the juxtapositions of high and popular culture in contemporary life. Even the rise of the jukebox musical and film revisical might be explained in part by such an interaction between art forms, which promoted ways of looking and listening that focus less on a continuous story and more on the disruptive interplay between texts and media. Such interactions are referred to as “intertextual” or “intermedial” ones. Intertextual works refer to other texts and incorporate quotations from other sources; intermedial texts create resonances and references between media. Since the 1960s, literary theorists have challenged the idea that texts are stable in theories of intertextuality (Kristeva and Barthes), postmodernism (Lyotard), deconstruction and différance (Derrida). Following such theories, we understand that words are combined within sentences that are understood through their relations with objects, processes, and experiences in the world—not as universal truths. You can understand my writing because you have expectations of this type of academic text, but you might also be aware that it’s slightly unusual in the way it addresses you, though you might anticipate having to negotiate its mélange of examples and quotations, alongside references to musical theater history and philosophy. The discussion of [title of show] relies not just on what I’m telling you but on your knowledge of the history of musical theater and your awareness of that show. In the end, what you make of the ideas in this chapter relies on how you “deconstruct” the materials I’ve gathered here, and interpret them within your own experience and context. “What is she talking about?” you may ask. My response is, “I’m talking about whatever you think I’m talking about.” You might understand the examples from the show or the information about its history immediately, and only later, on rereading this chapter after seminar discussion or when gathering research for your own writing, become aware of the theoretical writings underpinning it. Each time you read the essay or see the show, you might focus on something different. Similarly, each reader or audience member might respond to different parts of the text, relating those issues to their own lives and experiences. Here we are, finally, at my favorite quotation. Barthes wrote, in 1977, “We now know that the text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the ­Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.”27 Isn’t that lovely? I like the idea of a text (or performance) as a multidimensional space containing a morass of images and ideas blending, clashing, and resonating with each other. Once you think of it this way, it’s easy to see that interdisciplinary, ephemeral performance texts containing many disciplines or subtexts—music, dance, voice, body, speech, or design, all of which generate their own blend of clashing imagery—must be among the most unstable of texts. If a written sentence is characterized by a plurality of ideas, how much more unstable is a complex, interdisciplinary performance? It has multiple meanings produced from an explosive, irreducible plethora of images. As we’ve seen in [title of show], there is a clear narrative that is funny and easy to understand, but the references, reflexivity, and resonances to other texts challenge the idea that this show has only one meaning. Instead, it is open to interpretation. Barthes suggests that “the plural of the text depends…not on the ambiguity of its content but on what might be called the stereographic plurality of its weave of signifiers.”28 The individual words


“[Title of Chapter]”

and ideas, musical phrases or genres are not necessarily ambiguous or complicated; the complexity arises from the many references and resonances embedded in the simplest text. When Barthes noted that language is “woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages… which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony,”29 he could have been describing the song “Monkeys and Playbills” with all its musical theater references. How much more explosive, irreducible, or ambiguous is the combination of imagery in this multidisciplinary performance text that includes the writers discussing the ragtime of “I Am Playing Me,” or the choice of a Dixon Ticonderoga for an “Untitled Opening Number”? The performance of [title of show] is playful, and the audience plays twice over in following the plot and exploring the multitude of images and ideas that explode in the mind as it is considered and reconsidered. But in one final step Barthes also suggests that we, the readers or spectators, produce the text in our own mimetic brains, actually creating the joy of the performance and its clashing, disruptive, explosive potential inwardly and outwardly. Rather than focusing only on the story, which is itself comic and playful, the additional requirement that we interpret references, identify sources, and recognize connections energizes our brains. Barthes argues that texts with such potential are “bound to jouissance, that is to a pleasure without separation…the text is that space where no language has a hold over any other, where language circulates.”30 It seems to me that [title of show] gives us pleasure through its referentiality, reflexivity, and the intellectual questions it stimulates for each of us to discover in our own ways. Its explosion of references, associations, and citations allows readers the pleasure of enjoying an overarching continuous narrative and the joy of recognizing deeper, disruptive thematic questions that the work poses. It allows each of us to interpret those aspects of the text we choose. Academic writing about musical theater, like this chapter you’re reading, tends to discuss shows that are already past. As such, reflection and critical writing are often a response to history: referencing, revising, and assuming the form of shows we’ve seen or heard. As Lehmann describes it, “This present is not a reified point of time but, as a perpetual disappearing of this point, it is already a transition and simultaneously a caesura between the past and the future.”31 This piece of writing, like the performance it documents, can be understood as an ever-changing moment linking past performances with future interpretations. But since this essay relies on each of your interpretations, and each reading marks a new transition between the past viewing of a show in an uncertain context and an unknown future, the essay’s meanings are always in the process of development. Each interpretation of the show and the reading might produce a new combination of ideas. This is the moment between the past and the future in which every interpretation is correct. What I might propose, then, is that the idea that a narrative is constructed from clashing, referential symbols can be the basis for understanding how a sentence is constructed, but is also the basis for understanding this chapter, [title of show], other musicals or, indeed, the scholarship contained in this collection. In a similar way, we might combine ideas of history and time, writing and originality, using a musical theater example and the process of writing a chapter about it. Perhaps trying to combine these ideas into what might appear to be a universalizing narrative is simplistic, but such a strategy allows for the simultaneous presence of overarching narratives alongside the disruption of those narratives, continuity with the past and innovation. This paradox allows gaps to appear for interpretation.

Some Other Examples To further exemplify some of these ideas, we might look at the award-winning Easter Bonnet presentation by the cast of Hamilton.32 In the presentation the cast pay homage to Sondheim by narrating the story of Sweeney Todd to the music and in the style of the opening of Hamilton. The parody relies on us recognizing the story of Sweeney Todd, the music and style of Hamilton, and more. Perhaps we


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know something of the history of the story of Sweeney Todd as it developed from a penny dreadful to a Christopher Bond play, further adapted by Hugh Wheeler with music and lyrics by Sondheim. Perhaps we recognize references to “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” “Greenfinch and Linnet Bird,” or the end of “Epiphany” where “the world waits, I’m alive at last, and I’m full of joy.”33 Here are references that invoke memories through verbal associations magnified by musical and visual stimulation. What pleasure there is in recognizing those musical and verbal quotations in new settings! I recognize Sweeney Todd but also note the rap style, reference to other musicals, Miranda’s love of Sondheim, and Miranda himself. Judging by the cheers that greet various entrances, many cast members, too, are known to the audience, but I’m from the United Kingdom and haven’t yet seen Hamilton. I don’t know any of the other performers, and the story of Hamilton isn’t part of my national history. I had to google the show to find out what it’s all about. The Civil War: where UK and US histories diverge. Because scholars and audiences from different countries see and hear things from our own perspectives, we talk about works that “others” may not know, and reflect on the importance of context to our understanding not only of narrative but also of aesthetics, style, and dramaturgy. The way we understand the development of musical theater arises from our own perspectives. So, for example, Showboat via South Pacific to Pacific Overtures perhaps speaks of an American national identity and dramaturgical development. But is an American identity really so unified? Doesn’t it encompass the multiplicity of interactions with other musics and musical theaters that have influenced the form? What about community practices around the country? Off-Broadway and nonprofit developments? Regional styles and differences? Haven’t they influenced the mainstream? What about interactions with the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, and all the different versions of musical theater in different nations and communities, and the identities they reflect or promote? History can thus be seen as both continuous and chaotic, messy, nonlinear with disruptions, eruptions, and tangents that contribute to the development of what can also be framed as a unified progress narrative. And since one of the features of musical theater is reflexivity, or self-referential camp, the diversity of that history becomes important: musical theater in different communities reflects on different pasts. Past, present, and future are linked in an event stream that spawns diverse, unpredictable occurrences: our past is rewritten for the future by the importance given to it in the present. What you have read in this chapter is a series of examples from which your understanding and continuing history will be constructed, but one that contains the excitement and provocation of difference. Or is this too utopian? Perhaps I should argue that musical theater is hopelessly utopian in many of its narratives, but more tellingly in its spectacle, its music and dance, and sense of ­community—that is, in its performance. But that’s never the whole story. Little Sally asks, “What kind of musical is this? The good guys finally take over and then everything starts falling apart?!”34 Let’s hope that isn’t what happens to you reading this chapter. With my utopian hat firmly on, I’ll note that Little Sally continues, “But the music’s so happy.” So let’s enjoy the utopian idea that difference, or the friction between song and scene, produces the excitement, the pearl in the oyster that arises from the continuity of several thoughts, histories, theories, and practices, and that ultimately becomes a disrupted, deconstructed narrative. That was my chapter. While you think about what you’ve read, why not listen to the closing number “A Way Back to Then” from [title of show]? It points back to a simpler time, and perhaps a more “integrated”35 understanding of narrative construction. Happy listening.

Notes 1 Scott McMillin. The Musical as Drama. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006. 2 Scott Miller. Sex, Drugs, Rock’n’roll and Musical Theater, 2006. Web. 13 Jan. 2017. .


“[Title of Chapter]” 3 Full details of all productions—and of the YouTube series of documentary/sitcoms about the process of getting to Broadway—are on Wikipedia. The show was originally presented by Bridge Club Productions at the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival. It had several performances in Connecticut and six Off-Off Broadway performances at Ars Nova. It ran Off Broadway at the Vineyard, for which it won Obie awards for Bowen and Bell. It arrived on Broadway at the Lyceum in 2008; Bell was nominated for a Tony. 4 All this information and subsequent facts and quotations are drawn from an interview with Jeff Bowen on June 25, 2016. I’m grateful for his support in developing this chapter. 5 Interview with Bowen, 2016. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 A term coined by a mentor of Susan Blackwell and Hunter Bell that Bowen spoke about. 9 Hunter Bell. ‘Synopsis’ [title of show] Original cast recording (Ghostlight Records, 2006). 10 Jeff Bowen. 2006. [title of show]. Piano/Vocal Selections. Hal Leonard, 24. 11 Ibid., 13. 12 The creative process that generated material for A Chorus Line has many similarities with this process, though the show itself, self-reflexive though it may be, does not contain the same level of postmodern innovation in its exploration of the real and fictional. However, A Chorus Line could certainly be theorized as a predecessor to [title of show]. 13 Interview with Bowen, 2016. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid. 16 Hans-Thies Lehmann. Postdramatic Theater. London and New York: Routledge, 2006. 135. 17 Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman. Urinetown: The Musical. London: Nick Hern Books, 2003. 18 Interview with Bowen, 2016. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid. 21 Bowen, 2006, 68. 22 Bell, 2006 [Title of Show], n.p. 23 Bowen, 2006, 29. 24 Ibid., [title of show], 41–50. 25 Ibid., 54–55. 26 In ‘Two Nobodies in New York’ (Bowen 2006, [Title of Show]) the phrase is used repeatedly. On pages 14, 16, and 20 Jeff and Hunter’s refrain includes the lines “We could ask significant questions, we could get important points across, like ‘Are we writing for art?’ And ‘Is art a springboard for fame’.” 27 Roland Barthes. “The Death of the Author.” Image Music Text. [Essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath] London: Fontana Press, 1977. 146. 28 Roland Barthes. “From Work to Text.” Image Music Text. [Essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath] London: Fontana Press, 1977. 159. 29 Ibid., 159–160. 30 Ibid., 164. 31 Lehmann 2006, Postdramatic, 144. Barthes “The Death of the Author” also speaks about “the author as the past of his own book” introducing a similar interest in temporality (1977, 145). 32 The Easter Bonnet competition is an annual event that raises money for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights Aids. Performers from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and national touring companies perform original skits, songs, dances, and bonnet designs. Awards are given for the best presentation, best bonnet design, and top fundraisers. The parody that won the award for best presentation in 2016 is available at: . 33 Stephen Sondheim and Wheeler Hugh. Sweeney Todd Vocal Score. New York: Revelation Music Publishing and Rilting Music, 1981. 179. 34 Kotis, Urinetown, 99. 35 The term “integrated” refers suggestively to the golden age musicals in which songs and dances were assumed to progress the plot. This is a term and an idea that has been challenged and debated in recent years by scholars including Stacy Wolf, Raymond Knapp, Dan Rebellato, Dominic Symonds, and myself.



Starting with the ‘70s

The 1970s in America are often dismissed as dark, dirty, and depressing, especially in comparison with the gloried, storied ‘60s. During that earlier decade, people rose up and fought collectively against the Vietnam War overseas, and institutionalized racism, poverty, and inequality at home. Teenagers and young adults experimented with drugs, sex, religion, and domestic life and seemed, especially in retrospect, to have an absolutely wonderful time doing so. But the 1970s saw the national mood grow darker, edgier, and less optimistic. The war plodded on, as did sociocultural injustices on the domestic front. The counterculture dissipated, drugs grew harder, and people who had turned on started tuning out—or at least away from collective action. Unprecedented political crises, economic problems, and rising international tensions gripped the nation, and a collective gloom set in that, we are told, did not lift until the Reagan landslide ushered in the prosperous 1980s. Of course, historiography flattens history, and the countless nuances that occur in each historical decade get lost as the significant eras recede into the past. No one decade is ever entirely joyous or entirely miserable. Just as the 1960s saw its fair share of devastating lows amid as many thrilling highs, the 1970s was hardly relentlessly terrible. Enormous strides continued to be made in the struggle for civil rights; the fight for gender equality took hold as well, as both the women’s and the gay and lesbian liberation movements gained steam and national attention. And popular culture began to reflect these important cultural strides, with entertainments that took shifting societal norms into consideration and helped mainstream American diversity. The musical theater was no exception. In New York City and beyond, musicals reflected the nation’s ideals and concerns, growing more introspective, varied, and nuanced as they did. The four essays that make up this section are not the only ones that touch on musicals in the 1970s—there are plenty that consider at least some aspect of that decade throughout the collection. But the four herein focus specifically on musicals during that time period, or on influential trends that began in that era, and that continue to resonate and shape the musical theater as we understand it today. In the first essay, Bryan Vandevender gives us a brief historical overview of the 1970s and explains why the era in America became known as “the me-decade.” He then examines the way the period influenced the Broadway musical, using a few popular productions as examples. It’s no accident that many 1970s musicals featured characters who were markedly more moody complex than prototypical musical-comedy types; mass entertainment, after all, frequently emulates the

Starting with the ‘70s

world around it. Next, Ryan Bunch examines adolescence in contemporary entertainment as it has influenced the American composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz. Schwartz, who is considered in several essays throughout this book, rose to prominence in musical theater circles in the 1970s with hits like Godspell and Pippin; Bunch points out that while Schwartz’s style and aesthetic have changed a bit with the times, his approach to adolescence has remained comparatively unchanged; his interest in and respect for young people helped Broadway win over and retain young audiences, not just during the 1970s but ever since. While Ryan Donovan also considers Pippin in his essay, he doesn’t focus on Schwartz. Instead, he examines the way a televised advertisement—one of the first for Broadway—not only extended the musical’s run and influenced the commercial theater industry but also cemented the legacy of Pippin’s iconic choreographer and director Bob Fosse. And finally, James Lovensheimer considers the various ways that collective nostalgia for an easier, more innocent past—whether such ease and innocence were real or imagined—has driven Broadway musical revivals since the early 1970s.


3 THEY’RE PLAYING MY SONG The American Musical in the Me-Decade Bryan M. Vandevender

In August 1976, 15 months after the fall of Saigon, journalist Tom Wolfe christened the 1970s “The Me-Decade” in a polemic for New York Magazine. He argued that the communitarian ethic once pervading American culture had given way to a new era of self-regard. By his charge, ­A mericans had abjured the notion of serial mortality—living and working for the future benefit of family, city, or nation—in favor of personal improvement and introspection, resulting in a widespread obsession with egoism and the individual. Wolfe’s description of this cultural phenomenon suggests that Americans had come to view self-scrutiny as an exceedingly worthwhile endeavor, and also believed identity to be malleable and perfectible: “The old alchemical dream was changing base metals into gold. The new alchemical dream is: changing one’s personality—remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self…and observing, studying, and doting on it.”1 Wolfe went on to compare America’s fascination with individualism to the great religious awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and credited the economic prosperity and geopolitical supremacy that the United States had enjoyed since the end of World War II as contributing to ethos of the era. Social critic and historian Christopher Lasch expanded on Wolfe’s claims three years later in his assessment of American self-interest, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. Here, he cited a series of divisive national events occurring just before or at the start of the 1970s—the Vietnam War, the shootings at Kent State University, the Watergate scandal, and the resignation of Richard Nixon—as root causes of Americans’ narcissism.2 Lasch argued that following these events, the American public knowingly abandoned the utilitarian rhetoric that had supported American discourse throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Having lost their faith in the government, trust in institutions of authority and power, and concern for the nation’s well-being, Americans instead turned to their own self-preservation. Throughout the 1970s, the American musical frequently reflected Me-Decade values by dramatizing the lives of inner-directed characters. Some of these characters experienced crises of identity and actively searched for self-actualization. Others demonstrated the need to reveal their personal histories or proclaim their singularity. These figures and the works introducing them stood counter to musicals of previous eras, which more frequently idealized narratives about the creation or transformation of communities, the preservation of biological families, the construction of surrogate families, and heterosexual romantic pairings. By contrast, many 1970s musicals centered on lone figures, and traded in the cynicism that Lasch described and historian ­David Frum claims was endemic to American life throughout the decade.3 Musical theater 29

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scholar Barbara Means Fraser contends that the musical theater’s newfound misanthropy bred a series of works featuring disillusioned characters for whom idealism and dreams—particularly the ­A merican dream—had failed: “The images of the shattered dream are reflected in a world lacking family warmth, security, and societal loyalty. Past American Dreams such as family and marriage and community come under attack while innocence and beauty are raped or disfigured. The individual competes for survival in a selfish world where it is difficult to know whom to trust.”4 The result of this tonal shift was a spate of musicals in which characters freely revealed their anxieties, secrets, fantasies, shame, and painful histories in song. This particular use of music may not have seemed especially novel to 1970s audiences. For much of the twentieth century, the musical rested upon the conceit that song provided characters with a means to express feelings that exceeded language. Many musicals of the Me-Decade, however, exhibited an elevated degree of candor, and broadened the repertoire of subjects about which characters could sing. Several titles broke with the established narrative tradition of previous eras, in which songs emerged naturally from a libretto, and instead advanced new storytelling models that often resulted in new methods of presenting songs. This chapter examines the dramaturgy— particularly the use of song—for the 1970s musicals Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Chorus Line (1975), and I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road (1978), and demonstrates how librettists and composers musicalized the Me-Decade ethos.

Challenging Institutions and Searching for Self-Actualization: Company Preoccupation with the individual is evident in one of the Me-Decade’s first musicals: George Furth and Stephen Sondheim’s Company. A collection of loosely connected scenes and songs set against the backdrop of Manhattan’s Upper East Side circa 1970, Company centers on Robert, a 35-year-old bachelor, and chronicles his interactions with five couples—his “good and crazy friends”—and three paramours. Furth’s book eschews a linear plot and fully developed characters in favor of a fractured narrative and 14 broadly drawn character sketches. Company’s otherwise unrelated episodes are bound together by the notion of marriage, with each couple representing a different view of or approach to the institution. Most scenes depict Robert calling upon a couple and bearing witness to the various bargains, compromises, or sacrifices they have made in the name of married life. During these visits, the couples question Robert’s single status or entreat him to find a woman with whom he can enjoy a sustained relationship. Robert, however, remains single for the duration of the musical. A perennial bachelor, he dates multiple women simultaneously, engages in casual sex, and actively avoids commitment. While most of Company’s characters regard Robert’s playboy behavior with fascination, his bachelorhood reflects a skepticism of cultural institutions that pervaded the Me-Decade. According to historian Stephanie Coontz, the onset of the sexual revolution in the early 1960s gave rise to a pronounced singles culture that undermined postwar imperatives for wedlock and child-rearing.5 Remaining unattached represented a progressive break from tradition, as singles prioritized their personal aspirations or sexual desires over cultural precedent. Robert’s compatriots (with the exception of twice-divorced Joanne) routinely characterize him as a curiosity, and in so doing, traffic in rhetoric from the 1950s—the decade in which they presumably married—that deemed singles of a certain age aberrant, ill, or wanton.6 Their repeated concern over his lack of female partner perhaps accounts for why several critics and scholars have perceived Robert as a closeted gay man.7 Company further challenges marriage as a postwar ideal by presenting couples who express marital dissatisfaction. Sondheim’s songs frequently highlight the fissures within these partnerships. “The Little Things You Do Together” allows the ensemble to purge their frustrations by 30

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offering a Brechtian critique of married life writ large. Amy describes the drawbacks of commitment in the frantic patter song “Getting Married Today.” In “Sorry-Grateful,” Harry confesses that married life is full of regret and self-doubt, if ultimately preferable to solitude. These songs describe marriage as a deterrent to individual desires and ambitions, and their cynicism arguably confirms historian Edward D. Berkowitz’s claim that marriage started losing its cultural clout in the 1970s.8 While Robert serves as Company’s central figure, he does little to propel the musical’s action. He is a passive, bemused observer who watches his friends negotiate the tribulations of wedlock. His detached demeanor, unacknowledged backstory, and unexplained resistance to partnership have prompted several critics to deride the character as a cipher. Further contributing to the character’s lack of development is the shape of Company’s libretto. Critic Martin Gottfried contends that Company “is like a large, revolving sculpture with the character’s life looked at from every angle: one complete rotation.”9 This metaphor is particularly apt as Robert’s journey is circular in nature. He investigates marriage from multiple perspectives at a removed distance. As musical theater scholar Joanne Gordon states, “We are presented with fragments of Robert’s life…the audience can perceive the cumulative effect of his experiences, but never has the sense of inevitable progression and growth that would suggest the gradual enlightenment hero.”10 Company ends in the same place it begins: Robert’s apartment on the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday. Sondheim establishes Company’s protagonist and the shape of its narrative in the opening number, a song in which the five couples sing a dizzy succession of endearments: “Bobby Baby, Bobby Bubi, Robert Darling.” Both mawkish and insistent, the sequence is both a love letter to Robert and a demand for his attention. Sondheim returns to motifs established in the opening number six times before the final curtain, making Company’s infectious theme a haunting refrain that follows Robert on his circular journey.11 Despite its lack of linear causality and dynamic protagonist, Company presents a character ­odyssey. The last moments of the musical, in which Robert articulates his own desires for the first time, suggest that his ethnographic study of marriage has prepared him to construct an individualized model for partnership. He enumerates the features of his ideal relationship in Company’s finale, “Being Alive.” The song’s title and central metaphor allude to the notion of self-actualization—a concept popularized by psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow that refers to an individual’s mastery of needs and realization of their potential.12 Robert professes a vision of partnership that makes him feel alive, and by extension, gives him a sense of purpose. Company’s fragmented libretto then serves as an important dramaturgical tool: each episode moves Robert closer to understanding the type of relationship he needs. The totality of these scenes represents a search for self-actualization; by the musical’s end, Robert has attained self-knowledge that he did not possess previously. Other Me-Decade musicals, including Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson’s Pippin (1972) and William Finn’s In Trousers (1979), similarly present a single character’s search for self-­ actualization and identity. Pippin depicts an idealistic young man’s episodic quest to fulfill his perceived destiny of being extraordinary. A series of unfulfilling experiences with the military, casual sex, and politics leads to profound disillusionment, and he briefly considers suicide in a moment of existential crisis before committing to domestic life with a young widow and her son. By the musical’s end, Pippin begins the process of cultivating an identity, not in relationship to his supposed exceptionalism, but in relationship to his new surrogate family. In contrast, Marvin, the protagonist of In Trousers, abandons his wife and child in an effort to explore his identity as a gay man.13 Having accepted his sexual desire for men, Marvin recalls key moments of his life and reflects on his relationships with women including his wife, high-school sweetheart, and English teacher. This process of introspection also occurs in a series of vignettes and concludes with Marvin (allegedly) having attained greater understanding of his past behavior and various neuroses. 31

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Performing Memory and Interiority: Follies Sondheim further challenges the postwar institution of marriage using a fragmented narrative in Follies, a collaboration with librettist James Goldman. Set in 1971, the plot unfolds in the dilapidated Weismann Theater, former home to the fictional Weismann Follies, where a cadre of onetime Weismann performers reunites prior to the building’s demolition. The main action follows former chorus girls Sally Durant and Phyllis Rogers, and their respective husbands, Buddy ­Plummer and Ben Stone. The couples, friends in the early 1940s, began married life with hopeful idealism. Thirty years later, their partnerships demonstrate significant strain. Sally still pines for Ben, with whom she once had an affair. Aware of her true affections, Buddy keeps a mistress. ­Phyllis resents the material comforts that Ben’s dogged pursuit of career advancement has provided. Ben’s obsession with status results in a spurious persona and emotional distance from Phyllis. Throughout Follies, the characters’ younger selves materialize as ghosts to reenact scenes from the past alongside exchanges in the present. These moments of embodied memory prompt introspection and force reunion attendees to confront the aspirations, compromises, and transgressions of their youth, as well as disappointment over their current circumstances. They also provide somewhat dubious narrative exposition, since the episodes frequently represent an individual’s potentially biased recollection of events. Gordon describes the dramaturgical function of memory in Follies by noting, “Reality and memory are so interwoven and deliberately ambiguous that absolute truth and judgment are emphatically repudiated.”14 As a result, remembrances frequently ensnare characters and hinder their ability to discern the current moment from yesteryear or actuality from fantasy. Memory’s decisive role throughout Follies reflects a societal preoccupation with the past that several historians identify as a defining feature of the Me-Decade. Douglas Miller and Marion Nowak claim the same cultural catastrophes that triggered American narcissism also inspired a collective yearning for the comparative simplicity of previous decades.15 This nostalgia spread throughout American life and, according to Andreas Killen, became the dominant aesthetic force in 1970s American culture.16 Sondheim’s score capitalizes on this preoccupation with the past in representing a pastiche of early twentieth-century musical idioms: many of the songs reflect numbers the characters once performed in the Weismann Follies.17 Throughout Follies, members of the supporting cast interrupt the central narrative to revive their original Weismann routines. In the vaudeville tradition, these diegetic specialty songs—“Beautiful Girls,” “The Rain on the Roof,” “Ah! Paris!,” “Broadway Baby,” “Who’s That Woman?,” “Bolero d’Amour,” and “One More Kiss”—allow the performers to showcase their singular talents. The lighthearted, flirtatious, optimistic, romantic tones of these pastiche numbers contrast the 1970s cynicism undergirding the musical, providing moments of escapism. Continued efforts to restage the past help foreground nostalgia as endemic to the musical’s narrative, particularly when the ghosts appear to perform in tandem with their present-day counterparts. One such moment occurs early in the first act during the song “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs.” This number is an extended musical memory, during which the central couples recount socializing after Weismann performances, and in so doing, recall their former naiveté, idealism, and thrift. Buddy and Ben begin by describing the sights and sounds they encountered backstage at the Weismann Theater; Phyllis and Sally remember preparing for a night on the town. For the first three verses, the characters utilize past tense to mark the span of time between their youth and the present. At the song’s midpoint, however, they recite dialogue from the past using the present tense, suggesting that they are now reliving previous events and performing their memories. This conjugational shift summons the ghosts of their younger selves, who take possession of the song and leave the older characters to watch the rest of the scene (in which they bicker over an evening’s plans) play out like a film. When the ghosts disappear, the original quartet moves beyond the act of


They’re Playing My Song

collective reminiscing and begins to assess the past, claiming that their present circumstances are preferable to the intensity and uncertainty of their youth. “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs” differs from other Follies songs in that it emerges somewhat naturally from the central narrative. Further, the performance of memory that occurs prompts characters to interrogate their lives, thus paving the way for later non-diegetic book songs like “The Road You Didn’t Take,” “The Right Girl,” and “Could I Leave You?” in which the characters vent repressed anger, discontent, regret, and confusion. Sondheim’s dual approaches to songwriting—diegetic pastiche numbers and non-diegetic songs of introspection—combine at Follies’ end with the “Loveland Sequence,” a series of F ­ ollies-style numbers in which the central characters express their emotional states, thereby utilizing past musical idioms to perform current interior pain.18 As Gordon explains, “It is a vaudevillification of their own benighted circumstances.”19 The sequence devolves with Ben’s nervous breakdown, and the couples leave the reunion in various states of affective stability. Goldman’s libretto, however, suggests that these songs grant each character a recognition of their own self-interest and a catharsis that allows them to return to their lives changed for the better. This relatively hopeful ending stands counter to the melancholy typifying the Me-Decade, but attests to the transformative power of performing interiority as the characters seem to evolve after purging their internal angst in song. Other musicals of the decade employed dramaturgical structures and approaches to song that recall Follies. In John Kander and Fred Ebb’s The Act (1977), actress Michelle Craig relives a series of personal and professional trials while performing a nightclub act meant to resurrect her faded film career. Her diegetic songs, performed for a Las Vegas audience, transition to book scenes in which she reenacts significant moments from her past: her first film audition, marriage to a ­Hollywood producer, rise of her celebrity, birth and baptism of her children, an extramarital affair, the dissolution of her marriage, and the decline of her career. Thus, the musical’s production numbers occur in real time while its narrative episodes emerge from song as performed memories. They’re Playing Our Song (1979), a whimsical love story modeled on the partnership of the musical’s composer and lyricist, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, offers a playful model for performing interiority. Throughout the musical, straitlaced composer Vernon Gersch struggles to maintain a professional and romantic relationship with free-spirited lyricist Sonia Walsk, who seeks guidance from voices in her head during moments of uncertainty. These voices take physical form as a female trio who sing alongside the character, providing harmony or backup vocals when they support her choices and stealing the melody when they question them. Sonia’s reliance on the voices as part of her creative process prompts Vernon to access his own interior voices, which manifest as three male singers. Unlike the ghosts of Follies, these materializations of interiority are lighthearted, encouraging, and intent on moving the central couple toward happiness.

Asserting Singularity within the Aggregate: A Chorus Line Three notable musicals of the decade took inspiration from nonfiction sources and lived experience. Grounded in memoir, these works trade in candor and authenticity by presenting real people (or slightly fictionalized surrogates) who profess the significance of their life stories through spoken or sung testimonials. The Me Nobody Knows (1970) began in 1968 as a collection of poetry and prose written by children aged seven to eighteen from New York City’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Edited by Stephen M. Joseph, a public school teacher, the anthology contains autobiographical writing representing fragments of thought related to parents, teachers, money, crime, violence, drugs, sex, faith, and loneliness. The musical’s cast of adolescent characters similarly individuates themselves through anecdote. The musical’s book and lyrics utilize much of the original publication’s language. Furthermore, characters address the audience directly, suggesting


Bryan M. Vandevender

that the musical functions as a means of asserting identity. Desire for recognition is evident in the finale, “Let Me Come In,” when the company unites to articulate feelings of isolation and demand inclusion within the larger society. Working (1978), an adaptation of Studs Terkel’s 1974 oral history of American labor, presents an array of predominately blue-collar laborers, including a steelworker, parking lot a­ ttendant, teacher, postal worker, truck driver, prostitute, waitress, telephone operator, and firefighter. ­Characters relate the joys and challenges of their occupations in a series of direct-address monologues and songs. Numbers like “Lovin’ Al,” “Neat to Be a Newsboy,” “The Mason,” and “It’s an Art” introduce characters who derive a sense of self from their jobs. In other songs, characters express dissatisfaction and fears of irrelevance (“Nobody Tells Me How”), lack of recognition (“Just a Housewife”), and tedium (“Millwork”). The most successful musical of the decade employs personal narratives and shares the objective of illuminating personal history, but presents stories within a slightly fictionalized context that provides the semblance of a narrative. Conceived, directed, and choreographed by Michael Bennett, A Chorus Line depicts 17 veteran Broadway dancers as they audition for a new, unnamed Broadway musical. The setting is a final callback, during which a director/choreographer named Zach seeks to hire four men and four women for his dancing corps. After testing the dancers’ talent and training through rigorous jazz and ballet combinations, Zach positions the gypsies on a line across the stage and asks each one to step forward and introduce themselves. The director’s interest in their personal lives prompts him to inquire about their childhood, adolescence, and the challenges they face as adults. The exchanges that follow constitute most of the musical’s content. Rather than charting the journey of a single protagonist, A Chorus Line presents several characters in pursuit of the same goal: a place in Zach’s ensemble. To this end, the gypsies work to satiate the director’s curiosity by presenting personal narratives of varying lengths. Mike Costa recalls observing and eventually joining his sister’s dance class at age four. Sheila Bryant, Bebe ­Benzenheimer, and Maggie Winslow tell of how ballet training helped them escape the unhappiness of their respective childhoods. Diana Morales describes how her dreams of becoming an actor were challenged by a draconian instructor at New York City’s High School for the P ­ erforming Arts. Valerie Clark reveals how cosmetic surgery revitalized her dance career. During the musical’s longest monologue, Paul San Marco discloses the sexual abuse he endured as a child, and comes to terms with his homosexuality and his parents’ discovery of his secret life as a female impersonator. A Chorus Line’s libretto, a collection of these anecdotes and other reminiscences, is more collage than causal. The action unfolds in real time—two hours sans intermission—and alternates between the world of Zach’s callback and a dreamscape where dancers perform their respective memories, anxieties, and private thoughts for the audience. When the harsh white of the theater’s work lights dim and give way to softer lavender hues, various members of the ensemble share their inner monologues. This frequent interchange between reality and the dancers’ minds further subdivides A Chorus Line’s plot into a series of distinct interludes. Three months prior to the end of A Chorus Line’s 6,137-performance Broadway run, Lloyd Rose of Connoisseur Magazine suggested that its remarkable success resulted from how its staged testimonials aligned with the American zeitgeist: If ever there was a show for the ‘Me-Decade,’ A Chorus Line is it. For fifteen years, it has been packing in audiences and submitting them to confession after confession, as the dancers take their turns in the spotlight and reveal how much they suffer. Playwrights have always satirized the egotism, pettiness, self-pity, and self-importance of show people. A Chorus Line’s stroke of dread genius was to take it all seriously.20


They’re Playing My Song

Rose’s suggestion that A Chorus Line reflected the Me-Decade ethos was astute, as egoism fuels the musical’s monologues and score. Songs like “I Can Do That,” “At the Ballet,” “Sing,” “Nothing,” “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” and “The Music and the Mirror” afford characters the opportunity to distinguish themselves, however temporarily, from the other dancers on Zach’s line. Marvin Hamlisch’s score employs a variety of musical genres that are idiosyncratic to specific characters. Consequently, most of A Chorus Line’s characters receive their own musical themes in the form of solo numbers, individual passages throughout a montage, or personalized underscoring accompanying monologues, making the work’s individualistic bent both dramaturgical and musical. A Chorus Line’s fictional audition further represents a Me-Decade fantasy as most of the musical’s stories are based on the lives of its original cast. Compiled by Bennett and later adapted by book writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante and lyricist Edward Kleban, these narratives were first shared during a mythologized—and recorded—overnight gathering of two dozen professional dancers at Manhattan’s Nickolaus Exercise Center. The tapes became the raw material for A Chorus Line, which was developed over six months of workshops at Joseph Papp’s Public ­Theater.21 The dancers’ personal histories combined with their eventual public presentation follow the 1970s trend of encounter groups—a form of communal sensitivity training in which participants eschew social politeness and articulate their true feelings—and reflect the decade’s imperative to “let it all hang out.” As Frum suggests, “the public display of one’s suffering, one’s wrongs, one’s pitiableness, one’s misfortunes, which would have seemed shameful, ignoble, even disgusting before World War II, became in the 1970s the distinctive American national style.”22 A Chorus Line proved remarkably on trend as the recounting of personal narratives transforms Zach’s audition into group therapy. While A Chorus Line celebrates individualism, it also advocates assimilation and reflects a cultural impulse toward conformity.23 Zach’s audition requires the dancers to establish themselves as special, but their reward is a place in the chorus, where the need for uniformity strips them of individuality. The finale depicts group identification through song, dance, and an undeniable image of assimilation. For the ironically titled “One,” the characters trade their personal dance attire—the most potent visual signifier of their individuality—for matching gold tuxedos. Forming a unified corps and dancing in perfect unison, individual members of the company become virtually indistinguishable. The number represents the apotheosis of Bennett’s primary objective for A Chorus Line, which was to individuate Broadway dancers before erasing their identity and sending them back to the chorus as hardworking unknowns.24 Accordingly, the musical ends not with a traditional curtain call, but with the cast vigorously high-kicking as the lights dim. This final image suggests that the recompense for the dancers’ hard work and frankness was not stardom, but anonymity.

Metatheatrical Autobiography: I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road The Me-Decade’s influence on musical theater reached something of a peak with Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road. The musical vaguely resembles The Act in featuring a female protagonist examining her life through diegetic music during a bid for a career comeback. Its action unfolds in real time as Heather Jones, a 39-year-old soap opera actor and former pop singer, auditions a new collection of original songs and short sketches for her manager and sometime lover, Joe. Heather has composed this material in an attempt to redefine herself for audiences; the songs showcase her point of view and lived experience, particularly the process by which she shed the postwar gender norms of her youth and embraced her raised consciousness. Her songs address topics including her childhood (“Smile”), divorce (“Dear Tom”), male companionship (“Old Friend”), show-business commodification (“Put in a Package and Sold”), and


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feminism (“Strong Woman Number”). While Joe dismisses the new content as maudlin, overly personal, and excessively feminist, Heather defends it and insists on removing all contrivance from her stage persona so that audiences might see her most authentic self. She describes the various ways in which she has suppressed or altered her true identity to win the approval of family, lovers, and the entertainment industry, and professes an urgent need for candor and recognition. Creating the act was an act of self-expression; presenting it will be an act of self-proclamation. The musical concludes with the dissolution of Heather and Joe’s professional relationship, an event that further empowers the protagonist by giving her complete creative freedom. Her final song, “Happy B ­ irthday,” celebrates her agency and independence, lived experience, and bright future. Most of Heather’s songs address landmark moments in her life—significant realizations, decisions, junctures, or transitions. The act in its entirety represents a performative autobiography. Heather’s use of performance to recount her life story gives I’m Getting My Act Together a metatheatrical quality that appears in other 1970s musicals like Follies, Pippin, and The Act. Heather’s chosen performance aesthetics prove ideal for the project of self-declaration. Her creation and presentation of songs recall other female singer-songwriters of the 1970s, like Carole King, Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell, Roberta Flack, and Carly Simon. Musical theater scholar Elizabeth Wollman confirms the efficacy of this musical style: A particularly apt choice for this musical, the singer-songwriter genre focuses on the singer and emphasizes emotionally raw or confessional lyrics. These qualities allowed the style to become one of the few in the rock realm that was associated with both female musicians and authenticity. As early as 1970 singer-songwriters helped to introduce a comparatively ­introspective, intimate quality into rock music.25 Similarly, Cultural Studies scholar Lynda Goldstein identifies the 1970s as a fruitful period for autobiographical solo performances created by women that aimed to politicize personal experience, cultivate empathy, and eliminate boundaries that traditionally separate performers and spectators.26 In using music and performance to assert her identity, Heather can reveal herself to multiple spectators. Joe serves as her primary audience within the context of the musical. Presumably, Heather will present her act to fans after the musical’s close, and in so doing will attempt to alter their false impressions. Her chief observers, however, are the musical’s audiences. The original production of I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road enjoyed a six-month run at the Public Theater, followed by a nearly three-year residency at the Circle in the Square in which theatergoers celebrated Heather and her songs of empowerment for the remainder of the decade. In addition to representing a metatheatrical autobiography, I’m Getting My Act Together utilizes all the other dramaturgical methods outlined in this chapter. Heather’s act recounts her search for identity and self-actualization. It also challenges a patriarchal entertainment industry and its attempts to reify the status quo. Music allows Heather to perform her memories and disclose interior desires, anxieties, and frustrations. It provides her with a means to distinguish herself from other entertainers and demand recognition from the public. Moreover, Cryer and Ford based Heather’s personal history and several of the musical’s exchanges on their own experiences and conversations with show business executives.27 Because the expression of individuality undergirds the musical so significantly, I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road arguably represents the apotheosis of the Me-Decade musical.

Conclusion In providing a range of new approaches to narrative and song, the architects of 1970s musicals developed a dramaturgy that was rich, varied, provocative, and reflective of the prevailing American 36

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zeitgeist. Together, they translated the anger, anxiety, and ennui of the populace into characters who demonstrated a need for recognition, affirmation, and individuation. Most musicals addressed in this chapter featured present-day settings, which meant that the works of this period not only traded in Me-Decade ideology but also mirrored the era’s aesthetics and values. The result of this temporal alignment was a collection of musicals that were strikingly contemporary. Despite their rootedness in 1970s American culture, the dramaturgical advancements of the Me-Decade have continued to influence American and British musicals into the present. A single character’s search for identity and meaning motivates musicals like Nine (1982), Song and Dance (1982), Falsettos (1992), Violet (1997), Legally Blonde (2007), Passing Strange (2007), Hamilton (2015), and Dear Evan Hansen (2016). Reconsideration of the past and the performance of memory or interiority are central to the dramaturgy of Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), Fun Home (2013), and The Visit (2015). The need to differentiate oneself within the aggregate is explored in Cats (1981), Starlight Express (1984), The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2004), and Come from Away (2017). A metatheatrical approach to autobiography provides the conceptual frame for The Will Rogers Follies (1991), Jelly’s Last Jam (1992), The Boy from Oz (2003), Title of Show (2006), Fela! (2008), Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (2014), and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical (2018). The Me-Decade’s continued influence on musical theater suggests that a fascination with egoism remains strong, and that characters will continue to sing songs of the self for years to come.

Notes 1 Tom Wolfe. “The Me-Decade and the Third Great Awakening.” Mauve Gloves and Madmen, Clutter and Vine, and Other Stories, Sketches, and Essays. New York: Viking, 1976. 143. 2 Christopher Lasch. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectation. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979. 34–33. 3 David Frum. How We Got Here: The 70s – The Decade that Brought You Modern Life – For Better or Worse. New York: Basic Books, 2000. 64. 4 Barbara Means Fraser. “The Dream Shattered: America’s Seventies Musicals.” Journal of American Culture 12.2 (1989): 37. 5 Stephanie Coontz. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: Basic Books, 1992. 197. 6 Ibid., 186. 7 See, for example, Bruce Kirle. Unfinished Show Business: Broadway Musicals as Works-in-Process. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. 179–183. 8 Edward D. Berkowitz. Something Happened: A Political and Cultural Overview of the Seventies. New York: Columbia UP, 2006. 232. 9 Martin Gottfried. Sondheim. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1993. 78. 10 Joanne Gordon. Art Isn’t Easy: The Achievement of Stephen Sondheim. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1990. 42. 11 The central melody opens each birthday party and appears in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Have I Got a Girl for You,” and “Poor Baby.” 12 For a more detailed explanation of self-actualization, see Abraham Henry Maslow. Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper, 1954. 13 In Trousers is the first musical in Finn’s Marvin Trilogy. The composer later combined the subsequent works, March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1990), to form Falsettos (1992). 14 Gordon, 82. 15 Douglas T. Miller and Marion Nowak. The Fifties: The Way We Really Were. New York: Doubleday, 1977. 5. 16 Andreas Killen. 1973, Nervous Breakdown: Watergate, Warhol, and the Birth of Post-Sixties America. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006. 177. 17 For a thorough analysis of Sondheim’s musical influences for Follies, see Steve Swayne. How Sondheim Found His Sound. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2005. 18 In the original Broadway production of Follies, the “Loveland Sequence” included “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow,” “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues,” “Losing My Mind,” “The Story of Lucy and


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19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Jessie,” and “Live, Laugh, Love.” This sequence, like much of the book and score, has been revised for subsequent revivals. Gordon, 109. Lloyd Rose. “Connoisseur’s World,” Connoisseur Magazine, Feb. 1990. 30. Robert Viagas, Baayork Lee, and Thommie Walsh. On the Line: The Creation of A Chorus Line. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990. 24–38. Frum, 99. Kirle, 151. Ken Mandelbaum. A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. 170–171. Elizabeth L. Wollman. Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. 124. Lynda Goldstein. “Raging in Tongues: Confession and Performance Art.” Confessional Politics: Women’s Sexual Self-Representations in Life Writing and Popular Media. Ed. Irene Gammel. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999. 105. Kenneth Turan and Joseph Papp. Free for All: The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told. New York: Anchor Books, 2009. 450–451.


4 “MY CORNER OF THE SKY” Adolescence and Coming of Age in the Musicals of Stephen Schwartz Ryan Bunch

In “The Wizard and I,” her first song in the Broadway musical Wicked (2003), Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, sings about her desire to find her place in the world despite the differences that cause her to be the object of ridicule by other students at university—her green skin, her studious personality, her sense of social justice, and her unusual magical powers. Standing at the front of the stage, facing the audience in a posture and theatrical convention that tell us she is sharing her sincerest emotions, she belts passionately about her dream of vindication by becoming apprentice to the Wizard of Oz. This kind of emotionally powerful performance by a young person who is special and misunderstood happens repeatedly in stage and screen musicals about adolescents and young adults. Long the creator of musicals that focus on adolescents and wrestle with coming-of-age stories, Wicked’s composer and lyricist, Stephen Schwartz, is one example of a musical theater writer who has consistently appealed to youth audiences. Musicals often tell stories of youth; yet, while musicals have been studied for their relationships to race, gender, sexuality, and class, scholars have only recently begun to take seriously the relationship between musicals and young people.1 Schwartz is not unique in being tuned in to adolescent stories, but because his musicals span a range of musical styles and epochs, they provide a convenient sampling of youth sensibilities in the musical since the early 1970s. Because of his adaptable style, Schwartz’s musicals show the durability of adolescent themes amid trends and changes in musical theater, from his early shows that embrace the counterculture sensibilities to those of recent decades that form part of a corporate culture. In collaboration with others, Schwartz has tended in his musicals to adhere to certain basic themes and tropes of adolescent stories found in various media from literature to film. Adolescence, a term popularized in the early twentieth century by the psychologist G. Stanley Hall, describes life stage between childhood and adulthood and is often used to refer to a range of ages spanning from tweens to teenagers to young adults.2 It is commonly viewed as a time of emotional and physical turmoil, rebellion, and even dangerous instability in the life of a young person who is emerging into adulthood. Scholars who study stories for and about young adults have identified certain themes that reinforce these associations: typically, stories about young people looking for their place in the world recount details about self-discovery, the restless search for identity, a desire to rebel, experimentation with sexuality, drug and alcohol use, and the first experiences with romantic love. Adolescent stories often take the form of a Bildungsroman, or “novel of education,” which was originally the name for a German genre of literature but which, over time, has come to refer to 39

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a broader range of stories about young people, especially those on journeys of self-discovery. In discussing the Bildungsroman as a basis for much young adult literature, literary scholar Roberta Seelinger Trites describes adolescent stories as negotiations of power by young people with social institutions, parents, and their own maturing bodies.3 Adolescent stories also often involve the struggle for political justice and social redemption, as well as the longing for individual autonomy and independence from adult control. Parents are often the representatives of the existing social order, or an obstacle to romance and independence. Literary critic Michael Minden notes that many Bildungsroman heroes are artists—sensitive and creative types who see the world differently from others.4 Schwartz, a musical prodigy and something of a social outsider in his youth, has noted his attraction to stories about misfit characters.5 Perhaps this relationship between the coming-of-age story and the artist helps to account for how well the American musical seems to fit with stories about adolescents: in the musical, singing is often used as an outlet for characters to express their most intense feelings consciously. Performance practices like bursting into song can also resonate with the feelings and experiences common to adolescence. When characters in musicals begin to sing and dance, after all, they transform. These transformations—the expanding power and expression of the voice as it goes from speaking to singing, and of the body as it moves from rest or pedestrian states to dancing—resemble the changing abilities, desires, and urges of bodies in adolescence. The musical theater song type known as the “I want” song, in which characters sing of their deepest motivating desires, as Elphaba does in “The Wizard and I,” is a primary way in which Schwartz and other musical theater writers give voice to the aspirations of characters whose special power is to be able to sing their way through adversity. The relationship between musicals and adolescence has taken particular forms since the 1960s, with the emergence of subgenres like the rock musical and the megamusical, both of which have proven to have a special resonance with youth audiences. These musical genres, with their intense coming-of-age stories featuring young protagonists with big dreams and a strong sense of self, coincided with a distinct flourishing of youth culture, which, in turn, was sparked by the baby boom following World War II and has since developed into an increasingly fine-tuned and variegated multi-billion-dollar industry.6 The influence of this youth culture began reflecting itself in musical theater with the critically and commercially successful Broadway musical Hair in 1968.7 More musicals about young people and their concerns followed in the 1970s; those on Broadway included Schwartz’s Pippin (1972) and Godspell (1976). By the 1980s, youth content and themes were central to megamusicals like Les Misérables (1985) and Phantom of the Opera (1986), which featured impassioned expressions of young love and sociopolitical idealism. Disney stage and screen productions of the 1990s were, in turn, influenced by megamusicals and other contemporary styles of musical theater. Although Disney films are often associated with preadolescence, their themes typically reflect adolescent concerns about romance, identity, social pressures, and the struggle for autonomy, as exemplified in The Little Mermaid (1989, Broadway 2008), Beauty and the Beast (1991, Broadway 1994), Aladdin (1992, Broadway 2014), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996, German stage production 1999). Through his career, Schwartz has succeeded in developing musicals that connect with young people even if, as in the case of Children of Eden (1991), not always with mass audiences. Arriving on the scene at the same time as the birth of the rock musical, he has managed to stay current through the eras of the megamusical and Disneyfication by developing his style and continuing to collaborate with other writers, composers, and production companies that cater to a youth audience. His attraction to stories about adolescence has become the basis for a repertoire of musicals that address the tastes and social concerns of young audiences even as they change from one historical moment to the next and one generation to the next—from the counterculture vibes of Godspell and Pippin to more contemporary concerns with diversity, difference, and acceptance as expressed in Wicked. 40

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Prodigious Youth and the Early Shows: Godspell and Pippin In Schwartz’s childhood and youth, as recounted by his biographer Carol de Giere, he was often misunderstood by both peers and adults.8 He was academically advanced, starting kindergarten a year early and later skipping a grade to graduate from high school at 16. He showed musical aptitude at an early age, took piano lessons, and began composing songs and creating musical puppet shows at home. He participated in school musicals, and while still in high school, he began studying piano and composition at Juilliard’s Preparatory Division for young musicians. He was sometimes bullied and treated as a misfit, but his musical talent and drive continued into adulthood: as musicologist Paul Laird notes, by the age of 26, he had three successful shows running simultaneously: Pippin (1972) and The Magic Show (1974) on Broadway and Godspell (1971) off-Broadway.9 While Schwartz’s music is often sophisticated in construction, the emotional directness derived from the pop influences in his songs is a fortuitous fit for the intense feelings of the adolescent stories he tends to tell. Before finding success on Broadway, Schwartz worked in the artists and repertoire department at RCA, where he was steeped in the sounds of contemporary popular music. The musical styles he absorbed while doing this work quickly found their way into his songs for the stage, which he began writing just at the time when musical theater was turning to contemporary sounds. When working on the score of his first professional musical, Godspell, for example, he took specific pop songs as models for incorporating a range of styles from vaudeville to gospel and folk rock.10 The recording of “Day by Day” from this show, featuring the off-Broadway cast, reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1972, and Holly Sherwood’s cover version achieved some success the same year, demonstrating the crossover appeal of Schwartz’s songs in the popular music market beyond Broadway.11 Godspell, like Schwartz’s other early show, Pippin, developed against the backdrop of sociocultural turbulence of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The ideals of youth activism circulated on college campuses like Carnegie Mellon University, where Schwartz had been a student, and where both Godspell and Pippin were first conceived, while rock, soul, and urban folk music created the soundtrack for youthful idealism at Woodstock (1969) and other music festivals. Godspell (1971) applies the idealism of youth culture to its retelling of the Parables of Jesus and displays a contemporary sensibility through music and costumes. It was first performed at Carnegie Mellon University as a play with music composed by student Duane Bollick.12 The original script by student John-Michael Tebelak was inspired by his experience of being hassled for his hippie-like appearance by a police officer at the end of a church service he attended.13 He wanted to create something that restored a closer relationship between religion and the people. When the show was subsequently performed off-Broadway with many of the students still in the cast, Schwartz contributed new songs. Dressed in clown makeup and costumes that evoked 1970s youth culture, the characters’ personalities reflected those of the young actors who played them. Schwartz’s score for Godspell draws on folk-rock, gospel, and other music that had by this time become associated with politics of youth. Critic Jeffrey Tallmer of the Post described the musical, appropriately enough, as having “youthjoy.”14 With lyrics combining Schwartz’s words and traditional hymns of the Episcopal church, Godspell emphasizes the democratic aspects of Christianity, in accordance with social justice and artistic movements of its time. In “God Save the People,” for example, the cast pleads with God to save the common people, as opposed to “kings and thrones.” The people are described as flowers, evoking the frequent use of floral motifs and the term “flower children” in the counterculture. Sung by Jesus, the song is accompanied at first by solo guitar in syncopated rhythm, evoking the singer-songwriter and folk-rock trends of the 1960s. The song’s hook, “God save the people,” is emphasized by a pause in the guitar accompaniment with the solo voice punctuated by light chords from the instrument. Shortly after Jesus sings that songs will replace the sound of sighs,


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the singing increases in volume, and the rhythm takes on a harder rocking rhythm with the addition of piano and percussion. The cast joins in an empowered a cappella statement of the chorus, as common people collectively raising their voices in natural, unaccompanied expression. Their plea for justice echoes the protest sounds of politically and artistically engaged young people of the time, who felt that social institutions, parents, and politicians were constraints on individual freedom and the collective good. Themes of youth are even more explicit in Pippin. Schwartz had begun working on Pippin in his college days at Carnegie Mellon University and had been hoping to bring it to Broadway since before he became involved in Godspell. The show finally caught the interest of producer Stuart Ostrow, who was looking for something that would appeal to young audiences and was impressed by the youthful quality of Pippen’s “I want” song, “Corner of the Sky.”15 In Pippin, the title character is a young prince, the son of Charlemagne, who first desires his father’s approval, and later rebels against him. The show is staged as a play within a play, in which a fictional group of performers play the roles of Pippin and other characters in the story. The actor playing Pippin is new to the troupe. Much like many young people who rebel against their parents or the institutions that define their worlds, he keeps deviating from the script. Musicologist Paul Laird explains the enduring appeal of Pippin as a result of its universal theme of “youthful exploration.” Such themes remained fresh despite director Bob Fosse’s cynical staging and choreography, which were meant to stand in ironic juxtaposition to the idealistic songs.16 Pippin sings “Corner of the Sky” near the beginning of the show to express his desire for autonomy and to find his place in the world. Declaring that everything has its season and time, “Corner of the Sky” echoes the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, which reads, “To every thing there is a season, and time to every purpose under heaven; A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted.”17 These words had been adapted by folk singer Pete Seeger for the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” which was covered and made most popular by the folkrock group the Byrds in 1965. It had become a touchstone of the folk-rock movement and peace protests during the late 1960s. The lyrical similarity between this song and “Corner of the Sky” reinforces a connection between Pippin and the counterculture. However, the words take on an individualistic meaning in Pippin’s coming of age story. Pippin’s lyrics make clear his restless sense that everything seems to have its time and place except for him. He longs to fit somewhere, like cats on a windowsill or children in the snow. At the same time, he lacks the freedom to roam. Pippin’s dream of an extraordinary life beyond the constraints of his current situation, where he can both belong and be free, resonates with many baby boomers’ belief that they could achieve something special with the right opportunities and their unique characters.18 The music of “Corner of the Sky” expresses the fervency of Pippin’s desire and the excitement of his anticipation. Pippin’s singing is accompanied at first by solo piano, which conventionally reflects the inner self and individuality. Hints of gospel music point toward the spiritual nature of the song and the heavenly lofts to which it will climb. As the song progresses, strings are added to the piano, then percussion, and a flute solo that floats above the texture as Pippin aspires to new heights. The effect builds in a 1970s pop sound, pleasurable and exhilarating in its sonorities.19 The verse is searching, moving to unexpected chords with a restless, spinning stream of steady eighth notes, evoking the rambling rivers of the lyric and expressing the adolescent desire to leave home, travel, and discover oneself. Paradoxically, however, the river lyric lands on the beginning of the chorus, where the agitated, searching accompaniment turns to rhythmically steady block chords, as Pippin finally succeeds in articulating his core desire: to find his corner of the sky. “Corner of the Sky” evokes the expressive values of popular music in the rock era. As E ­ lizabeth Wollman has noted, rock music, with its folk roots, is constructed as an authentic form of expression, and during the time that the rock musical was emerging, that authenticity’s emphasis was switching from collective to individual modes of expression in conformity with the star 42

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system and marketing culture of the popular music industry. The individual singer-songwriter was believed to offer the listener a deeply personal artistic and emotional expression.20 “Corner of the Sky” might function primarily as a musical theater “I Want” song, but it is also very much in keeping with the singer-songwriter tradition, a synthesis made possible by shared emphasis on heartfelt, “authentic” expression. The performance of the song evokes the kind of self-narration that takes place both when characters in musicals burst into song. In a typical production, “Corner of the Sky” is sung like many “I want” songs are: facing the audience and delivered as an inspired soliloquy expressing the protagonist’s deepest desires. Pippin stands alone, baring his private thoughts, performing only through his own body, voice, and facial expressions. Through a style of self-presentation in the performance, Pippin shows self-awareness in his search for identity and in the narration of his own story. This theatrical presentation is made possible not only by the form of the musical but also, in this case, by the fact that even within the show Pippin is an actor portraying the life of his character. This ambiguity and blurring of the lines between actor and character make the song register as both metacommentary and authentic expression.21 Musicals influenced by rock and pop aesthetics from the time of Pippin to the present continue to emphasize this authenticated individual expression through song, which can be found in shows like A Chorus Line (1975), Rent (1996), Spring Awakening (2006), and Hamilton (2015). Pippin and Godspell both remain popular, alongside these newer shows, with student, community, and youth theater groups.

Megamusicals and Disneyfication: Children of Eden, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame Many musical theater writers and composers lose steam or see their work go out of style with the passage of time, but Schwartz has managed to keep working and keep his work fresh. By the 1990s, Schwartz’s musicals shared qualities and concerns with the megamusical and Disneyfication. The aspirations of young people are at the center of these shows, as are their complex relationships with parents, lovers, and friends. Megamusicals and Disney-style musicals share with rock musicals of the late 1960s and 1970s their sympathies for young people, but with more of a corporatist than countercultural bent. As described by Jessica Sternfeld, megamusicals employ spectacular sets, immersive music, overwhelming technical apparatus, and global marketing strategies to capture the enthusiasm of their audiences.22 It is notable that Schwartz has found himself as comfortable in these more recent styles of musicals as in his early work. Although it never played on Broadway or became quite as commercially successful as Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera, Schwartz’s Children of Eden (1991) shows many influences of the megamusical, with epic themes and a high proportion of singing to dialog. Another musical based on biblical sources, it is adapted from the stories of Adam and Eve and of Noah in the Book of Genesis. Like Godspell, it was originally created for young people, in this case, high school students attending a religious camp called Youth Sing Praise at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Bellevue, Illinois. Schwartz wrote the songs for this production in 1986 and then continued to develop the show for a decade. It ran only briefly on London’s West End in 1991, but Children of Eden has become popular with community theaters and is often performed by youth groups, in part because it can be staged by either a large or small cast, with separate roles in each act that can be played by the same actors. The Old Testament themes also make Children of Eden a popular choice for churches, synagogues, and religious schools.23 The musical portrays humans as the wiser children of an authoritarian father figure. Father (God) creates “children” (Adam and Eve) to fill a void and worship him. He gives them the perfect Garden of Eden as their home but forbids them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. He discourages them from asking questions, insisting that as a parent he knows best. Thus, in keeping with 43

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a common theme in Schwartz’s musicals, Children of Eden is much concerned with the struggles of Father’s children against the constraints He has placed on them. Schwartz has remarked that the show “had themes I’ve always liked: personal freedom versus authority, the quest for self-­ definition in a universe without definition, and parent-child relationships, in particular those between father and son.”24 Eve—who, in a twist from the Bible, becomes the hero of the first act due to her curiosity— feels urges that Father has forbidden, which she sings about in her “I want” song, “The Spark of Creation.” Here, she ruminates on the word “beyond,” which makes her realize there is a world outside the garden. Her desire to know more than her immediate surroundings is manifest in physical sensations in her body as she sings: itching fingertips, a roiling in her brain, and burning hunger. She describes the “spark of creation,” a flame that Father must have left inside her when he created her pulsing veins, which now is flaring up. The same force that created the heavens and earth makes Eve want to climb mountains, explore the world, and invent new things. The music of “The Spark of Creation” is appropriately restless and syncopated, reinforcing Eve’s excited singing with rapid, spinning notes. This is the feeling, expressed in song, which ultimately leads Eve to defy Father and eat the forbidden fruit. Instead of leading to the downfall of humanity as in biblical tradition, however, here Eve’s act ultimately forces Father to recognize the intelligence, creativity, compassion, abilities, and independence of His children. Youthful expectation is also characteristic of Schwartz’s lyrics for animated films, which shows the affinity of his work with the Disney style of musical and the work of his Disney collaborator, composer Alan Menken. In Pocahontas (1995), for example, his empathy with young people’s aspirations is evident in “Just Around the River Bend,” which is reminiscent of both “Corner of the Sky” and “Spark of Creation.” Pocahontas feels confined by the future her father, Chief Powhatan, sees as stable and appropriate to her role in the community: to marry the warrior Kocoum. Like Pippin, Pocahontas dreams of something around the river bend that represents an unknown and exciting future. For her, the river is never steady and unchanging, as her father claims, but always changing and moving, like a person growing into herself. Menken’s music supports Schwartz’s lyric by evoking constant motion and change in both the melody sung by Pocahontas and in the instrumental accompaniment. Schwartz’s next project as a Disney lyricist, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is especially evocative of the political and romantic idealism and the musical style of Les Misérables. In “Out There,” Quasimodo sings longingly in expansive vocal phrases of being free from his oppressive guardian while swinging from the turrets of Notre Dame Cathedral, which literally confines him within its walls. Similarly, Esmeralda’s “God Help the Outcasts” draws connections between youthful feelings of difference and the plea for social justice for oppressed ethnic and minority groups.

The Twenty-First Century Musical: Wicked Schwartz’s most recent hit musical, Wicked is based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West—which retells the story of The Wizard of Oz (the 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum) from the Wicked Witch’s perspective. Schwartz has said he was drawn to musicalizing Maguire’s novel because he immediately recognized it as his “kind of material”: a story about young people who feel different, and who strive to make sense of their world and their place in it.25 While attending Shiz University, Elphaba encounters many of the same problems and pressures one would in high school or college. She is a misfit, both in her family and at school, because of her green complexion, odd personality, and eerie powers. Glinda, the popular girl, unexpectedly becomes her best friend despite their differences, their initial loathing for each other, and their falling in love with the same boy. Wicked combines elements of the megamusical with musical comedy and mixes heightened emotions with self-aware irony in its contemporary 44

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approach to a story of young women and their negotiations of relationships and political power structures.26 Wicked’s reputation as a show that is extraordinarily popular with young musical theater fans is well-established. Its appeal is understood to result partly from the ability of its collaborators to empathize with the concerns of young people, especially girls and young women. Winnie Holzman, the show’s book writer, was known for her realistic and sympathetic depiction of adolescents from her work on the short-lived but highly acclaimed television series My ­S o-Called Life (1994–1995). Working closely with Schwartz, she steered the story in a direction that placed the primary emphasis on the complex friendship between Elphaba and Glinda, helping to assure its popularity with young, especially female, audiences.27 The musical’s appeal to this demographic is confirmed by Stacy Wolf ’s research with girls and young women who discussed their fandom for Wicked in online message boards during the early months of the show’s run.28 Wolf found that these fans identified strongly with both Elphaba and Glinda, as well as the singing actors who have played them, beginning with Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth in the original Broadway cast. Like Pippin and other musical theater protagonists before her, Elphaba’s understanding of herself as different, even special, resonates with adolescent storytelling tropes. Her mysterious powers, green skin, and principled intelligence make her both remarkable and misunderstood. Suggesting the extent to which these feelings are integral to music and theater, Schwartz connects them specifically with the idea of the socially marginalized artist: Anyone who is an artist in our society is going to identify with Elphaba. Anyone who is of an ethnic minority, who is black or Jewish or gay, or a woman feeling she grew up in a man’s world, or anyone who grew up feeling a dissonance between who they are inside and the world around them, will identify with Elphaba. Since that’s so many of us, I think there will be a lot of people who will.29 Here, Schwartz, both as a person telling his own story and as a person writing about adolescents, takes on the role of the Bildungsroman hero described by Minden as an artist with a sensitive, unique personality and an ability to see the world differently.30 Moreover, he makes an explicit link between artistic difference and the marginalization of social groups based on race, gender, and other categories of identity that are the basis of Wicked’s social justice concerns. Elphaba’s “I want” song, “The Wizard and I,” expresses her feelings of marginalization, but also makes it clear that she knows she is special. Elphaba can hardly believe what has happened when the college’s headmistress, Madame Morrible, accepts her as a student in sorcery, which will prepare her to be the assistant of the Wizard of Oz. In the song’s introductory verse, Elphaba sings that her differences may open doors for her to do something good. She imagines meeting the Wizard, who won’t judge her by her appearance as others have, but will see her for who she is and demonstrate confidence in her. She imagines the two of them as a team and hopes that, when she’s with the Wizard, people will no longer treat her as an outcast. Reflecting the emphasis on emotion that is part of the “I want” song tradition, she declares that, on meeting the Wizard, she will experience feelings like she’s never felt before. As she asserts that there are no limits to what she can do, she sings the word unlimited to a melodic phrase that slyly references “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz (the 1939 film adaptation), one of the most famous “I want” songs ever sung by a young female protagonist.31 Although the rhythm is different enough to disguise the reference, the first several notes of the phrase match those at the beginning of “Over the Rainbow.” The musical accompaniment is propulsive, and Elphaba belts the song with an emotional intensity that is all the more effective because it is the first time the audience hears her sing, immediately following a scene in which people have been ridiculing her. In this moment, singing 45

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is the embodied expression of her special powers, and these powers are, in part, in the potency of her singing voice and the “magic” it is capable of producing.32 The feeling of being different expressed in this song reverberates through other adolescent story tropes in Wicked. Elphaba’s outrage at the prejudice against talking Animals in Oz leads her to a commitment to social justice that evokes similar themes to those in Godspell, Pippin, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. When she meets the Wizard and learns that he has been behind these injustices, she becomes “Wicked” in choosing to oppose the Wizard’s discriminatory practices. Elphaba’s difference motivates her political idealism, which leads, dramatically and musically, to her claiming of her own powers, both in the act one finale, “Defying Gravity,” and throughout act two. Elphaba’s friendship with Glinda is the classic story of the outcast and the popular girl. Their friendship is complicated, first by Glinda’s inability to see past Elphaba’s green color, then by their falling for the same boy, and, finally, by Glinda’s inability to join Elphaba in opposing authority, which would jeopardize her social position and political ambitions. Glinda gives Elphaba a makeover during the song “Popular,” which, according to Schwartz, was inspired by makeover scenes in teen movies like Clueless (1995).33 Schwartz again positions himself in empathy with misfits when he is quoted as saying, “I wrote ‘Popular’ for all of us who weren’t the most popular in school. It’s sort of my revenge!”34 The song shows the new friends bonding, and its teen orientation is furthered by its musical influence from 1960s bubblegum pop.35 In the end, despite the different paths they choose, Glinda and Elphaba remain friends. When Schwartz was writing their final duet, sung when they part ways at the end of the musical, he sought inspiration from his daughter by asking her what she would want to say to her childhood best friend if they were never going to see each other again. The result is a song in which Elphaba and Glinda acknowledge that they have changed each other “For Good.”36 While the contexts and types of shows have changed over time, the themes of adolescent storytelling remain recognizable over Schwartz’s career. Schwartz entered the musical theater scene, fortuitously, at a time when Broadway was beginning to embrace the kinds of pop music sounds he was absorbing into his compositional style, but his ability to keep pace with the changes of the next several decades has kept his work relevant and appealing. From do-it-yourself college shows about collectivity and counterculture to the corporate, globalist commodity that is Wicked—a lucratively branded show produced by Universal Pictures and marketed internationally through replica productions—Schwartz’s output provides a window onto the ability of musicals to tell empowering stories of adolescence.

Notes 1 See, for example, Stacy Wolf. “Not Only on Broadway: Disney JR. and Disney KIDS Across the USA.” The Disney Musical on Stage and Screen: Critical Approaches from Snow White to Frozen. Ed. George ­Rodosthenous. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017. 133–153; James Leve and Donelle Ruwe, eds. Children, Childhood and Musical Theater. Abingdon: Routledge, forthcoming; Samuel Baltimore. “‘Do It Again’: Comic Repetition, Participatory Reception and Gendered Identity on Musical Comedy’s ­Margins.” PhD diss., UCLA, 2013. 2 Granville Stanley Hall. Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education, Vols. 1 and 2. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904. In this chapter, I use the terms Adolescents, Young Adults, and Young People more or less interchangeably. 3 Roberta Seelinger Trites. “The Harry Potter Novels as a Test Case for Adolescent Literature.” Style 35.3 (2001): 472–485. See also Michael Cart. Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism. Chicago: American Library Association, 2017; Maria Nikolajeva and Mary Hilton, eds. Contemporary Adolescent Literature and Culture: The Emergent Adult. Abingdon: Routledge, 2016. 4 Michael Minden. The German Bildungsroman: Incest and Inheritance. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. 3–4.


“My Corner of the Sky” 5 Carol de Giere. Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked. New York: Applause Theater & Cinema, 2008. 10–12. 6 Steven Mintz. Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2004 describes the 1960s as a time when “the youth culture flourished as never before,” (309), reflecting the widely held view that, although youth culture existed and was economically influential before the baby boom, its expansion and influence during this time were unprecedented. 7 Elizabeth Wollman. The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, from Hair to Hedwig. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2009. 1, 9. 8 De Giere, 3–13. 9 Paul R. Laird. The Musical Theater of Stephen Schwartz: From Godspell to Wicked and Beyond. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. 6. 10 Laird, The Musical Theater of Stephen Schwartz, 29. 11 “Billboard Hot 100,” Billboard, 29 July 1972, 52. 12 De Giere, 47. 13 Laird, The Musical Theater of Stephen Schwartz, 15. 14 Ibid., 24–25. 15 Ibid., 57–58. 16 Ibid., 55–61. 17 Ecclesiastes 3:1. 18 In the words of Stephen Mintz, youth in the 1960s were “making public their needs and desires …Their parents’ concern for their well-being became translated in to their own search for personal fulfillment,” 312–313. 19 On the pleasures of “cheesy” 1970s popular music, see Mitchell Morris. The Persistence of Sentiment: ­D isplay and Feeling in Popular Music of the 1970s. Berkeley: U of California P, 2013. 20 Wollman, 24–27. 21 On this doubleness of characters in musicals, see Raymond Knapp. The American Musical and the ­Formation of National Identity. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2005. 12–13; Knapp, Personal Identity, 6–7; Scott McMillin. The Musical as Drama. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006. 20–21. 22 Jessica Sternfeld. The Megamusical. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2006. 1–4. 23 Laird, The Musical Theater of Stephen Schwartz, 173. 24 De Giere, 205. 25 David Cote. Wicked: The Grimmerie. New York: Hyperion, 2005. 20; de Giere, 273–275. 26 Sternfeld, 349–350. 27 Cote, 21–23, 35, 71; de Giere, 296; Laird. Wicked: A Musical Biography. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011. 258. 28 Stacy Wolf. Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 219–236. 29 De Giere, 275. 30 Minden, 5–6. 31 De Giere, 304–305. 32 Paul Laird asserts that “‘The Wizard and I’ reaches out to all young women who believe that their dream and popularity are only around the corner, and it might be magically found if they could sing like that and desire something with such intensity” in Wicked, 195. 33 Cote, 78–79; de Giere, 310. 34 De Giere, 309–310. 35 Laird, Wicked, 140; Cote, 78. 36 Cote, 87; De Giere, 326.


5 STYLE AS STAR Bob Fosse and Sixty Seconds That Changed Broadway Ryan Donovan

“Here’s a free minute from Pippin, Broadway’s musical comedy sensation, directed by Bob Fosse.”

An unseen announcer speaks these words as a trio of dancers appears on the television screen. After viewing one minute of a sly, sinister dance, viewers are informed, “You can see the other 119 minutes of Pippin, live, at the Imperial Theater without commercial interruption.”1 This 1973 television commercial for Pippin sparked a sea-change for Broadway musicals: not only did it change the nature of advertising Broadway shows, it also cemented a version of Bob Fosse’s style in 60 seconds. His aesthetic, not the traditional stars of a musical—the actors, was sold as the star of the production. The commercial cannily sold Fosse as auteur at the same time it sold Pippin. Producer Stuart ­Ostrow explains that the commercial “was the first of its kind, and a minute of lightning in a bottle.”2 Pippin’s commercial perfectly captured the economics of Fosse’s choreographic style, inciting a new approach to advertising and marketing for Broadway: repeat viewings of the commercial certainly helped lodge Pippin in the consciousness of potential audience members. It aired every Monday night (traditionally the night Broadway shows do not perform) during the WABC-TV 11:00 p.m. news broadcast in the summer of 1973.3 This commercial is notable because it was the first to use a filmed live performance to market a Broadway musical to television audiences, a practice that would go on to become standard. Prior to Pippin, television commercials for Broadway featured static images, usually of the show’s logo with a voiceover reading of ad-copy. What has come to signify Fosse’s choreographic style is on full display in the ad, from the sensuousness, slinkiness, and unadorned economy of the movement to his frequent use of hats and impish sense of humor. The ad’s success was part of an exceptional year for the auteur: Fosse’s biggest impact on mass culture was made in 1972 and 1973, during which he cemented his choreographic style and directorial vision across film, television, and theater. His use of filmic techniques on television to advertise his theatrical productions sold those productions, but also himself, to the point that Fosse’s name itself came to denote a specific choreographic and visual style. The phrase “Fosse style” is now part of the lexicon; there is even an instructional manual devoted to it (The Fosse Style by Debra McWaters). This essay first examines Fosse’s style before describing how his musicals were advertised pre-Pippin; it concludes with a discussion of Pippin’s commercial.

Fosse: Style and/or Substance? What defines style? Is it like pornography, in that we only know it when we see it? Fosse devised the choreography most synonymous with style in Broadway’s history. Pippin star Ben Vereen 48

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describes how “Fosse” has become “a signature style that is recognized worldwide.”4 The visual hallmarks of Fosse’s style include isolations (moving just one part of the body in isolation from the rest), turned-in legs (as opposed to classical ballet’s emphasis on turned-out legs), jazz hands, and the use of props ranging from bowler hats to canes. Chita Rivera summarizes Fosse’s style in her musical memoir The Dancer’s Life: Bobby’s is probably the most easily recognizable style. A flick of the wrist; a tilt of the pelvis; a gesture with a brim of a hat—pure Fosse. A Fosse move is small, tight, and very, very precise. You’re looking at the human body with a microscope. The Fosse style was very much like Fosse the man. Bobby himself was short, kind of turned in. He didn’t look at all like a dancer. His teachers were the vaudeville houses he hung out in as a kid and his great idol was Bill Bojangles Robinson. Bobby created a most unique style.5 Though his body and lack of ballet training limited his development as a dancer, they ultimately determined his style. However, it is as much his directorial sensibility and emphasis on acting as it is choreography that made his style so striking. Fosse’s choreography depended upon contributions from individual dancers no matter whether they were stars or chorus dancers. In Pippin, Fosse wanted each chorus dancer to have an individual character that he or she played over the course of the musical. This was, if not exactly an innovation at that point, still not common practice among Broadway choreographers ( Jerome Robbins’s approach to West Side Story being the notable exception). His approach here is important to consider in relation to his style because subtext always supports the movement and gives dancers motivation for each phrase, hence the problems of restaging his choreography without his accompanying direction. This combination gives depth to the choreography in a way that merely learning steps by rote cannot. In a handwritten note to the Pippin cast, Fosse asks them to “review what you should be playing under the text…and razzle-dazzle and show biz stuff.”6 Fosse’s style is style as substance, made manifest in the tension between the surface and the interior. Fosse was alternately hailed and criticized throughout his career for prioritizing, as biographer Sam Wasson puts it, “Style over substance.” 7 This line of argument misunderstands the function of style, which Fosse sometimes used as a tool to cover flaws in a musical’s writing, but more often to reveal character and display its own substance through style: the movement was the meaning and vice versa. Indeed, his staging often overshadowed the contributions of his collaborators; this was especially true of Pippin, and critic Douglas Watt’s claim that Pippin is “a musical of enormous style” was typical of its reception.8 The musicals that Fosse worked on have not necessarily been canonized in the same way his choreography for them has; those revived since his death in 1987 have only been critically or commercially successful when they have used his original choreography or offered new dances made “in the style of ” Fosse. For example, the long-running 1996 revival of Chicago credits Ann Reinking with choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse,” which is precisely how Pippin’s 2013 revival billed choreographer Chet Walker. Fosse’s style is so influential, then, that it gets its own Broadway credit. This style, however, was not static over the course of Fosse’s career. Fosse choreographed on Broadway for over 30 years, beginning with The Pajama Game (1954; co-directed by Jerome Robbins and George Abbott) through Big Deal (1986). Though his style evolved, its trademarks were already evident in The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees (1956). One need only view filmed versions of “Steam Heat” or “Whatever Lola Wants” to glimpse Fosse’s distinctiveness. There is a sly sense of humor at the center of these dances, especially in the winking come-on of Yankee’s Lola as embodied by Gwen Verdon, Fosse’s muse. His early works embody an essentially sunny, optimistic worldview even when they were satirical, as in his dances for How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1961). His early film work, like “From This Moment On,” from the film Kiss 49

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Me, Kate (1953), contains many of his recognizable movement signatures (syncopated struts and finger snaps, the contrast between tight and expansive gestures and movements) but is markedly different in tone than his later work. While the humor and playfulness in his early works contrast with the darker worldview evinced in his later period (from Pippin until his death), Sweet Charity (1966) can nevertheless be understood as the musical that bridges the gap between the two periods. Its showstopper, “Big Spender,” is at once one of his funniest, darkest, and most minimal dances, in which the isolated, circular movements of one dancer’s index finger become the most important action on stage for a few seconds, drawing the viewer’s gaze to the dancer’s extremities. Though Fosse’s style is often discussed in terms of the intricacy and smallness of the movements, shows such as Sweet Charity and Dancin’ also feature expansive, space-devouring movements. In dances like Charity’s “I’m a Brass Band” and Dancin’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” the choreography makes full use of the stage space as dancers run, jump, and strut across it. Fosse’s choreography often swells and contracts between large and small movements, even when at its most expansive. Indeed, the contrast between minimal and maximal dances gives them each power; yet the energy required to control the body in Fosse’s choreography is even greater when his style is at its most minimal. No dancer ever embodied the complexities of Fosse’s choreography more vividly than Verdon.

Selling Fosse’s Shows before Pippin: Gwen Verdon as Muse Before Fosse’s name became synonymous with style, it was associated with his then-wife Verdon, who was among Broadway’s biggest dancing stars in the 1950s and 1960s. It was Verdon’s image, not Fosse’s name, that was initially used to sell the productions. Dancing bodies have long been central to selling live performance, from burlesque to The Black Crook (1866) to the “postcard girls” of de Mille’s dream ballet in Oklahoma!, and the Fosse/Verdon musicals continued in this tradition. In Fosse’s first four shows, Verdon was the star attraction, having burst to prominence on Broadway in Can-Can (1953), choreographed by Michael Kidd. Verdon’s image was always used to advertise her collaborations with Fosse, beginning with Damn Yankees (1955) and continuing through New Girl in Town (1957) and Redhead (1959). These last two musicals utilized drawings of Verdon and her famous red hair. Images of her body were typical selling points. Damn Yankees even went so far as to completely revamp its artwork post-opening, from a rather chaste image of Verdon in a baseball uniform to a more provocative photograph of her as Lola in a strapless black bustier, tights held up with a garter belt, hands on hips. Sweet Charity, both on film and onstage, foreshadows the dark worldview of his later works, while its visual identity heralds the use of a Fosse-styled body to market his shows. Charity was Fosse’s last show explicitly in the traditional musical comedy mode, centered on a single leading lady. Four of Broadway’s biggest female dancing stars (Verdon, Chita Rivera, Reinking, and Donna McKechnie) performed the role onstage at one point or another, under Fosse’s direction (Debbie Allen starred in the 1986 Broadway revival also directed by Fosse). The dancer playing the title role is traditionally used to sell the show, and thus each star was prominently featured in the marketing for their respective productions, typically depicted in Charity’s opening pose from the musical: one hand on one hip, one foot flexed, saucily looking back over her shoulder at the camera and thus the audience, daring spectators to look at her and to try to look away. On March 5, 1967, Verdon performed two numbers from Charity on The Ed Sullivan Show: “I’m a Brass Band” and “If They Could See Me Now.” The Tony Awards were not broadcast on national television for the first time until later in 1967, so at the time, The Ed Sullivan Show was one of the few mass media outlets for live Broadway performance. Sunday night was the time and place for Broadway to enter American living rooms. Performances on Ed Sullivan functioned as de facto television commercials for Broadway musicals, much like the Tony Awards do today. 50

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This was Verdon and Fosse’s fourth Broadway musical together, and for a time they were quite a power couple on Broadway. Pippin would test Fosse’s appeal without Verdon’s presence onstage to sell tickets. Would Fosse’s work still work without Verdon?

The Triple Crown Season: Fosse’s 1972–1973 The shrewd use of different media to circulate his choreographic style that is what made Fosse’s style a star in its own right; this is because the filmed versions capture his choreographic and directorial points of view. Dance critic Joan Acocella argues that Fosse’s “imprint is easier to trace in the mass culture [than in theater]—in those music videos and night-club shows, and in dance movies.”9 This imprint has only become more apparent as time has elapsed and, as this essay argues, Fosse must have known that broadcasting his work in different filmed media would capture his work in ways the ephemeral nature of live theater could not, and hence, would ensure his legacy in a more material way. No single year was more important to cementing this visual and aesthetic legacy than 1972. In that year, Fosse’s film adaptation of Cabaret opened on February 13, Liza with a Z was filmed before a live audience at Broadway’s Lyceum Theater on May 31 and broadcast on television on September 10, and Pippin opened on Broadway on October 23. Mass media enabled Fosse to make his style a product used to sell his work, but also to brand himself; indeed, the Fosse name became so synonymous with style precisely because he mastered so many different media. Biographer Martin Gottfried notes that Fosse’s direction of the 1972 television special Liza with a Z succeeds because “Fosse and [Fred] Ebb had agreed to make the Minnelli television show in three mediums so that it would be a theater event as captured cinematically for presentation on television.”10 The following year’s award season saw Fosse winning the so-called “triple crown”: an Emmy for ­d irecting Liza with a Z, an Academy Award for directing Cabaret, and two Tony Awards for ­Pippin’s direction and choreography. This unprecedented feat remains unmatched to date. One would be hard-pressed to name another living director who has made a mark across these different media while also retaining a signature style across all of them. Fosse’s works from 1972 represent the apotheosis of what has come to define his late style. While these dances bear traces of his earlier trademarks, they demonstrate a new authorial presence and autonomy not present in his earlier work, as he was now both director and choreographer. 1972 was also the first year that Fosse truly found success outside of the theater as a director. His prior film, the 1969 film adaptation of Sweet Charity starring Shirley MacLaine, monumentally flopped critically and commercially. Critic Vincent Canby describes it as “a dim imitation of its source material.”11 Despite Charity’s failure, Fosse became the rare director-choreographer of his generation to make a successful leap from stage to film when Cabaret proved a smash. The terrific success of Liza with a Z and Cabaret also individuated Fosse apart from his long association with Verdon. One of Liza with a Z’s biggest achievements was to make theatrical dances “pop” on ­television—it is hard not to imagine that this gave Fosse the notion that a commercial for a musical could apply some of the same techniques.

Selling Broadway on Television Commodifying Fosse’s style, circulating it, and making it stick were exactly what the commercial for Pippin achieved in 1973. Through recurring exposure, advertising worms its way into consumers’ consciousness. In the case of Pippin, the novelty of a one-minute-long spot for a Broadway musical created a sense of anticipation to see the dance featured in the commercial. John ­Rubinstein, Broadway’s first Pippin, recalls, “That made us a hit. That commercial made people go crazy. They said, ‘What is that? We gotta go see that.’”12 The commercial also brought Fosse’s 51

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aesthetic vision (and direction of viewers’ focus via the camera) repeatedly into living rooms in ways that an appearance on Ed Sullivan or even the Tony Awards could not. Pippin was just the second Broadway musical Fosse directed and choreographed that did not star Gwen Verdon (Little Me was the first in 1962, which he co-directed with Cy Feuer). There could thus be no pin-up image of Verdon to sell Pippin, which did not include well-known names in its original cast. Its only nominal star was Irene Ryan, late of Beverly Hillbillies fame, though she would hardly have been a big box office draw. Vereen was fresh from starring as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, but sales of that show were driven by the phenomenal success of the double-LP of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera released in anticipation of its Broadway debut—another notable use of existing technology being used in a new way to sell a Broadway musical. Writing before that show’s opening, Mel Gussow called it “probably… the most presold musical in Broadway history.”13 If record albums could create buzz and sell tickets, then why not a television commercial? There was a certain irony in theater turning to television to help fill seats in a theater, especially given the rapid changes in the consumption of entertainment in the United States over the course of the twentieth century. Legitimate theaters found themselves usurped by the rise of motion pictures through the Depression era; film, in turn, was challenged by the introduction of the television set to the living rooms of American homes in the 1950s. New technology has historically changed the ways culture is consumed and who has access to it. While television was certainly not a new medium in the early 1970s, and though Broadway stars often made appearances on talk and variety shows to perform numbers from their musicals, advertising on it held then-untapped potential for Broadway. Through the 1960s and 1970s, Broadway producers relied on The New York Times’ paid, alphabetical listings of shows playing on and off Broadway, and increasingly on radio advertising. “Broadway producers have in a sense eyed television as a competitor rather than as a possible ally for selling theater,” notes reporter Charlotte Harmon.14 New York magazine advertising columnist Bernice Kanner felt that producers in the 1970s believed that television commercials were too expensive and a waste of resources given their assumptions that television viewers were not interested in live theater.15 By filming a short dance with only three performers in front of a black backdrop, Pippin was able to subvert some of the costs of making a commercial, and its dramatic success in boosting ticket sales disproved the disinterested TV viewer thesis. The 1970s were a time of significant technological advances in the Broadway industry, and “between 1972 and 1978 Broadway had introduced itself to the credit card market, the computerized ticketing system, telephone reservations, modern television advertising and, by way of the ‘I Love New York’ commercial, the rest of the country.”16 These advances paved the way for rapidly rising ticket prices over the next few decades while television helped create more demand for Broadway tickets. As Fred Golden, the executive vice president of advertising agency Blaine-Thompson explains, “Television has opened up a whole new market. It works beautifully with musicals, the results are miraculous.”17 Pippin capitalized on this new market. Pippin, while a box office success, was nevertheless not a bona fide Broadway sensation after its opening. Its television commercial, however, eventually turned it into one. Pippin opened to largely positive reviews in October 1972; yet just after its opening Variety reported that it had “failed to sell out and reportedly has drawn a good but not great mail order volume. It seems a probable hit, though to what extent is not yet indicated.”18 It would be erroneously reported years later that “the producers of Pippin, in near-desperation, hit on the idea” for a commercial and that within “three weeks, Pippin was playing to capacity crowds.”19 Reviewing the production’s reported sales figures, however, tells a different story. According to Variety, between its opening in 1972 and the end of 1973, the grosses dipped below $80,000 only once—but the production was never in serious financial danger. Most weeks the show did fine at the box office, and had even returned a profit of 52

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$100,000 to its investors by May 1973. By the next month—the month the commercial began airing—profits returned to investors had shot up to $450,000. The Tony Awards gave the box office a notable boost from a $96,661 average for the four weeks before the broadcast to a $109,963 average for the five weeks following the cast’s televised performance of “Magic to Do.”20 Clearly, appearing on television provided a demonstrable bump to the show’s bottom line. Pippin’s advertising executive Peter LeDonne came up with the idea to do a television commercial, which he presented to Ostrow and Fosse. They agreed to make the commercial in hopes of extending Pippin’s run. Though the commercial began airing in June 1973, its box office impact truly became clear in the first week of 1974, when there was a truly sizeable jump in sales: from $72,370 during the last week of December 1973 to $112,568 the following week, typically a time of slow sales on Broadway.21 Six months later, Variety anointed Pippin “the most impressive hit of the 1973–1974 season” due to its “potent television spot campaign, using the brilliant staging by Bob Fosse.”22 And yet without Fosse’s direction of the commercial, it likely would not have had the same impact. Variety explains, “Other Broadway musicals have used tv spot coverage, but have had lesser response, presumably because the tele spots themselves are less effective.”23 This commercial’s particular innovation was to film a live performance of a dance from the show from several angles and then cut them together in postproduction. Choosing the right material for the commercial turned out to be a key decision. Pippin dancer Pamela Sousa remembers, “The airing of our commercial took everyone by storm. It was simple, direct, a little sexy […] You didn’t have to hear a big ‘sell,’ you could just watch a terrific dance. There were evenings the audience would clap as we started the dance. It must have been in recognition of the commercial and their excitement of seeing us live.”24

Sixty Seconds of Pippin Pippin’s commercial offered television viewers “a free minute” of the dance known by the company as the “Manson Trio,” which was danced by Vereen, Candy Brown, and Sousa.25 Even more so than in his choreography onstage, Fosse controls the television viewer’s perspective through his direction of the camera. With the camera, he is able to take viewers above, behind, and beside the dancers. Fosse’s visual signifiers are all immediately visible: hats, canes, and the idiosyncratic combination of isolated body movements and fluidity. The dance is performed by a trio—one of Fosse’s favorite combinations, as demonstrated in The Pajama Game’s “Steam Heat,” Liza with a Z’s “I Gotcha,” and Sweet Charity’s “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” among others. The choreography juxtaposes rigid, militaristic movements and more fluid, relaxed ones; each shift in the choreography’s tone is accompanied by a change in the direction of the dancers’ movements. The dancers move as a perfectly synced unit throughout. The dance contracts and expands between small, tight isolated movements and larger, more fluid ones. At times, the dancers stretch their limbs as if moving their bodies through water; at other times, they appear rigid and inflexible. Regardless of its angle, the camera nearly always captures the dancers’ entire bodies in the frame, allowing viewers a complete sense of the choreography. The intricacy and movement economy of Fosse’s choreography make this dance the perfect fit for television (Figure 5.1). The commercial tellingly provides absolutely no context for what Pippin is actually about, and effectively sells the show through a snippet of an essentially plotless dance. Onstage, but not in the commercial, the Manson Trio emerges from the “Glory” sequence, in which the Leading Player is heard in voiceover announcing the number of dead and wounded in wars ranging from the War of the Roses to World War II. In this sense, the Manson Trio is less a narrative dance than one that comments on the narrative, which made it more easily divorced from its narrative context. “You have to understand that the impact this dance had on the audience was that Fosse wanted to show them how in the time of war with horrific killings, slaughters, etc., (which were mimed in the background) at home there was still laughter, smiles, fun. The unawareness or 53

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Figure 5.1  C  andy Brown, Ben Vereen, and Pamela Sousa in a scene from the Broadway musical Pippin (New York). Photo by Martha Swope ©Billy Rose Theater Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

caring of the ‘real’ world events was, hopefully, gut-wrenching,” explains Sousa.26 In the Manson Trio, then, dance becomes a distraction from atrocity. In this vein, especially because the commercial aired during late-night news broadcasts during 1973, the commercial potentially served to distract from the horrors of the Vietnam War for viewers at home. Critics noted the power of this juxtaposition as well. Edwin Wilson calls the Manson Trio “quite possibly the most original and telling anti-war number the American musical has produced,”27 while T.E. Kalem describes how “the sight of the people dancing makes playgoers see the people who are dying with a disconcerting clarity.”28 The dancers wear smiles on their white-painted faces as the killings occur upstage. However, all that viewers at home saw in the commercial was purely dance and pure Fosse. This move is a classic vaudevillian bait and switch, where something is promised but something else is delivered; Pippin’s commercial gave next to nothing away about the musical itself and when spectators recognized the dance from the commercial while seeing the musical at the Imperial, their feelings of recognition were likely unsettled by the killings happening upstage. This paradoxical reaction reflects the social critique embodied in Fosse’s late style: that it is easier to be distracted by surface and/or style than it is to pay attention to what is actually going on behind it. Fosse realized the potential of advertising his shows on television as both an artistic and commercial opportunity—after all, Broadway musicals need to run to be profitable. Though Pippin’s commercial helped the show become a long-running success, Ostrow ultimately had mixed feelings about its impact on the theater industry as a whole. He explains, “it never occurred to me that it would change the way theater was to be produced. From that moment on, hucksters could sell musicals as soap, so long as their spot had glitter and hype.”29 In other words, for Ostrow, Broadway became just another commodity to be sold the same way other products were sold. Yet Fosse elevated the very act of selling into an art of its own. What was a paradigm shift in the Broadway industry quickly became standard practice and continues to this day, albeit arguably without auteurs like Fosse directing their own commercials. Broadway musicals have long existed at the intersection of art and commerce; what made Pippin’s commercial innovative was that it found a new way to capitalize on this relationship and set a rapidly emulated trend.


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Conclusion: Keeping Fosse Commercial Fosse went on to make commercials with LeDonne for all of his subsequent Broadway shows. They produced a second commercial for Pippin in 1975 featuring a shirtless Michael Rupert and two scantily clad female dancers in an excerpt of “With You.” This spot explicitly sold Pippin’s comedic/erotic sexual experimentation with two women. Once again, a threesome was used to sell Pippin on television. In this commercial, the first words the viewer hears are, “Pippin is a musical comedy directed by Bob Fosse.”30 Unlike the first commercial, this one displays the more lyrical side of Fosse’s style by highlighting the sensuality of the dancers’ movements. Unlike the first commercial, this one manages to alert the viewer to the fact that the musical does have a plot via voiceover though choreography that gives little away about it. Most tellingly, it names Fosse as auteur right at its onset, as did the first spot; both commercials fail to mention the musical’s composer and lyricist, Stephen Schwartz. “Bob Fosse” was marketed as much as Pippin. In his commercials for Broadway, Fosse successfully divorced his choreography from its narrative context in order to lure audiences. Wasson notes that by the mid-1970s, “[c]utting his own commercials had become an essential part of Fosse’s promotional outreach. Though his approach to the Pippin spot had been straightforward and theatrical, a single-number amuse-bouche, his concepts [turned into] “short films” that were “expressly cinematic.”31 Here again, Fosse cannily mixed techniques from one medium into another. These spots were intended to tease audiences and pique curiosity about the rest of the show and to seem revealing but actually reveal very little except the dancers’ bodies. Fosse’s commercials eschewed relying on stars to sell the musical even when its stars could have sold them. His Broadway follow-up after Pippin, Chicago (1975), starred big Broadway names—Verdon, Rivera, and Jerry Orbach—yet its commercial featured none of them. Instead, the commercial walks a line between the theatrical and the filmic, as lithe chorines sensuously slither over an arrangement of “All That Jazz” sung not by Rivera, as in the musical, but by the female chorus. In this respect, the commercial further emphasizes the idea that Fosse’s style was the true star and selling point of his musical. The Chicago ad was Fosse’s most explicitly erotic, and this helped solidify the often-misunderstood relationship between style and sex in his later work. In the commercial for Chicago, as well as in Pippin’s second ad, Fosse hints at the comedic side of sensuality as much as its erotic side. Sex is comic and sexy while comedy itself becomes sexy. Fosse understood that sex was a potent force in advertising; it sells, as the saying goes. Fosse’s ad for his all-singing, all-dancing, plotless revue Dancin’ (1978) takes a different tack altogether. It repeats the show’s title five times in the course of 60 seconds to percussive accompaniment, while the bodies of Dancin’s dancers sail through the air in slow motion. The dancers’ bodies are highlighted more than Fosse’s choreography, which is not recognizably his. The movements here are all recognizable as turns, leaps, and jumps—a stark change from the highly stylized dancing in his other commercials. Fosse’s name is not spoken until the very last seconds of the commercial, when the announcer quickly says, “directed by Bob Fosse.” Though the show’s title indicates its content (dance), it is Fosse’s direction named not his choreography. Fosse’s final original Broadway show, Big Deal (1986), was a flop that even a television commercial could not make commercially successful. Though he died in 1987 at age 60, his style lives on, especially in pop music videos spanning decades (e.g. Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted” (1988) and Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” (2008)). The 2019 FX series “Fosse/Verdon” further circulates Fosse’s style by mixing mediums: a television program about the creation of Broadway musicals and films. Fittingly, in 2012 the United States Postal Service immortalized Fosse on a “Forever” stamp issued in honor of National Dance Day, yet another way that his style has been kept in literal circulation. The stamp depicts Fosse’s unique blend of high and low forms: he is dressed casually but wears a top hat and holds cane, ever the showman. The press release announcing the stamp describes Fosse as “one of the 20th century’s great choreographers. As an artist, Fosse was known


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for his thoroughly modern style, a signature one could never mistake for anyone else’s.”32 There is something ironic in Fosse being reduced to stamp size; yet there is also a certain justice in the reduction: as his choreography often directs dancers to move with small, subtle, and precise isolations, Fosse’s style retains its visual economy and impact even on something a small as a postage stamp. Rivera succinctly elucidates this contradiction: “Bob Fosse, who else? A minimalist. Less is more Fosse.”33 Pippin’s first commercial distills his style powerfully in just 60 seconds. Style itself is the substance of his work, expressed in the tension between the appearance and the meaning of a movement. Style was used to lure spectators in so that they could grasp its actual import. Bob Fosse’s work across multiple media embodies how far style can be stretched, how it can be sold, how it was the star, and how it became “Fosse.”

Notes 1 FilmArchivesNYC. “Pippin TV Commercial (stock footage / archival footage),” filmed 1973, YouTube video, 0:59, posted September 2011. . 2 Stuart Ostrow. Letter to the editor, New York Times. 17 Sept. 2006. 3 Blaine Thompson Company Media Schedule Memo, 13 June 1973, Box 25A, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. 4 Ben Vereen. Foreword to The Fosse Style by Debra McWaters. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2008. ix. 5 Lynn Ahrens, Terrence McNally and Stephen Flaherty. Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, unpublished typescript, Billy Rose Theater Division, Theater on Film and Tape Archive, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 2006. ­ ongress, 6 Bob Fosse to Pippin cast, no date, Box 25A, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon collection, Library of C Washington, DC. 7 Sam Wasson. Fosse. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 322. 8 Douglas Watt. Review of Pippin, Daily News (New York). 24 Oct. 1972. 9 Joan Acocella. “Bob Fosse: Dancing and the Dark.” Reading Dance: A Gathering of Memoirs, Reportage, Criticism, Profiles, Interviews, and Some Uncategorizable Extras. Ed. Robert Gottlieb. New York: Pantheon, 2008. 1096. 10 Martin Gottfried. All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse. New York: Bantam, 1990. 228. 11 Vincent Canby. Review of Sweet Charity film, New York Times. 2 Apr. 1969. 12 Andrea Simakis. “John Rubenstein, the original Pippin, remembers Bob Fosse, Broadway’s first TV ad and Irene Ryan bringing down the house.” The Plain Dealer (Cleveland). 30 Jan. 2015. 13 Mel Gussow. “‘Superstar’ a Hit before Opening.” New York Times. 12 Oct. 1971. 14 Charlotte Harmon. “New Sales Methods for Broadway.” Backstage (New York). 16 Aug. 1974. 15 Bernice Kanner. “Selling the Great White Way.” New York. 28 Dec. 1981. 16 Ostrow. New York Times. 17 Sept. 2006. 17 Philip H. Dougherty. “Advertising” column, New York Times. 1 July 1975. 18 “B’Way Ebbs. But ‘Pippin’ Big $93,153.” Variety. 1 Nov. 1972. If a patron did not wish to either go to or call the box office to buy tickets, they could fill out a form requesting tickets and mail it with a check to the box office. Mail order instructions were often in newspaper ads as well as in direct mail pieces received at one’s home. 19 Kanner, New York, 28 Dec. 1981. 20 Variety, 30 May 1973. 21 Variety, 2 Jan. 1974. 22 “Theater is Now a National Invalid.” Variety, 5 June 1974. 23 “TV-Hypoes, ‘Pippin’ Roars On; Profit Payoff Reaches 1,188%.” Variety, 17 Apr. 1974. 24 Pamela Sousa. E-mail message to author, 24 Feb. 2017. 25 The dance’s sinister title refers to in the multiple murders committed by members of the Manson Family in 1969. The staging of the Manson Trio calls attention to the fact that everyday life goes on amid atrocities. The dangerous charisma of Pippin’s Leading Player makes him the Charles Manson-like leader of the cult-like Players, who follow him and do his bidding. 26 Sousa. E-mail. 27 Edwin Wilson. Review of Pippin, Wall Street Journal. 24 Oct. 1972. 28 T.E. Kalem. Review of Pippin, Time. 6 Nov. 1972.


Style as Star 29 Ostrow. New York Times, 17 Sept. 2006. 30 Michael Rupert. “Michael Rupert as Pippin (1975 Commercial),” filmed 1975, YouTube video, 1:00, posted Mar. 2012. . 31 Wasson (2013), 575. 32 United States Postal Service Postal News, 2012, “New Stamps Debut on the National Stage.” United States Postal Service. Web. 19 Feb. 2017. . 33 McNally et al. (2006), 2:8.


6 RECREATING THE EPHEMERAL Broadway Revivals since 1971 James Lovensheimer

Although revivals of Broadway musicals began in the late nineteenth century—The Black Crook (1866) had its first revival in 1870—it was the commercially and critically successful 1946 revival of Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern’s 1927 musical Show Boat that marked the beginning of the current era of revivals. This revival was directed by Hammerstein, as was the original 1927 production and the first revival in 1932. The first revival was virtually a replication of the original production; it even retained much of the original cast, although it contained minor changes, which the original creators thought improved the overall show.1 The 1946 revival of Show Boat, however, came 19 years after the original and thus could not rely on the audience’s familiarity with the original production. As Hammerstein noted, “Our present production had to be built to match the enhanced glamor of the public’s memory of Zieg feld’s original production.”2

Nostalgia Inside and Outside the Theater Hammerstein’s comment reveals an exploitation of nostalgia, which was not a common element in American musical comedies of the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed, musicologist Katherine Axtell wrote of the first revival that “the 1932 Show Boat revival more nearly resembles a final bid for maintenance of the status quo than an exercise in nostalgia.”3 Nostalgia was, however, a quality that had become an important part of the American musical not long before the 1946 revival. In addition to the many other creative breakthroughs Hammerstein, along with Richard Rodgers, made in 1943 with Oklahoma!, that important work manufactured nostalgia for an earlier, less sophisticated, less troubled time in American life—a nostalgia that was particularly relevant in the midst of a devastating world war. Moreover, the creation of this nostalgia in the subsequent revival of Show Boat involved altering the concept of the work itself in order to preserve an imagined quality that the original never really had. For example, what the theater historian Miles Kreuger called the “understated” costumes and sets for the original production were redesigned to create “a more decorative look” that the public had by this point come to expect. The revival, he noted, “was intentionally theatrical and artificial” and dramatically softened to de-emphasize the racial aspects of the story.4 In his book on Show Boat, musicologist Todd Decker called this production “the first Broadway revisal [a combination of a revival and a revision of the original]” and noted that it was also the first example of a revival in which a classic show was reconceived in accordance with contemporary Broadway standards, while retaining enough older sensibilities to satisfy the nostalgic tendency.5 58

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Hammerstein’s balancing of these old sensibilities with up-to-date audience expectations was perpetuated in subsequent revivals of other musicals like those that became popular at New York’s City Center in the mid-twentieth century.6 At the same time, and although the nostalgia effect was certainly at work with these productions, they tended to be more faithful to their sources than the Show Boat revival—perhaps because many of them were of more recent vintage. The next influential revival did not appear for several decades. In 1971, tapping into a powerful resurgence of nostalgia in the socially and politically turbulent 1970s, the director Burt Shevelove, along with his musical staff and set and costume designer Raoul Pène du Bois, created a revival of the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette that became the biggest Broadway hit of the season. This production marked the beginning of a new era of commercially important, often highly reenvisioned revivals that were frequently characterized by their exploitation of the kind of nostalgia first put forth by Hammerstein in 1946. Several aspects of the 1971 No, No, Nanette production had built-in nostalgic appeal. For instance, it starred the 60-year-old movie musical star Ruby Keeler, who had not worked professionally in almost 40 years. It was originally to have been directed and choreographed by the long-retired Busby Berkeley, a director of classic 1930s Hollywood musicals. However, the lasting effects of Berkeley’s ongoing drinking problem and his overall poor health forced the producers to reconsider his active involvement in the production; he retained consultant status, mostly to keep his name and past glories connected to the production. Finally, the score contained the classic songs “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy,” among other evocative period songs. But the opulent sets and costumes beautifully evoked an imaginary 1920s, and the lush orchestrations were decidedly more 1971 than 1925— the original orchestrations, had they still existed, would have sounded thin to ears already used to amplification. Nevertheless, the production stayed fairly close to the original score in content, and while the book was somewhat rewritten, it was “all innocence and warmth, the way most people remember the Twenties to have been.” 7 Or at least how they thought they remembered them. In his book about the revival of No, No, Nanette, Don Dunn describes this phenomenon as it occurred at the production’s first preview in Boston. During Ruby Keeler’s tap dance in the number “I Want to Be Happy,” the audience, mostly made up of “aging Boston matrons…might as well have closed their eyes while they watched Ruby dance, for they did not see what was on the stage. They saw what their memories and minds and hearts wanted them to see. They saw their own youth, alive once more.”8 The musical theater historian Ethan Mordden aptly described the revival as “a fresh antique”: an up-to-date production that did not want to be taken seriously as a contemporary musical but as “something of the 1920s for the 1970s.” Mordden added that “No, No, Nanette reinstituted the kind of musical one meant by the word ‘musical.’”9 That “reinstitution,” in turn, satisfied an increased nostalgia for a lighthearted kind of musical and the imagined insouciant attitude of its era. As the 1970s grew increasingly dark and troubled due to the ongoing war in Vietnam, ­Watergate, inflation, and other social, political, and economic calamities, the taste for nostalgic revivals increased. By the end of the decade, more than 30 older musicals had been revived on Broadway. Revivals of carefree musical comedies from the 1920s, like Whoopee and Irene, were popular, although the contemporaneous social and political humor of those shows demanded various amounts of rewriting to make them accessible to later audiences. In some cases, as with Irene, entire scripts, if not always storylines, were jettisoned and new ones were created. Other Broadway revivals, which became increasingly prominent in the 1970s and have continued to appear regularly on Broadway through the turn of the century, were integrated shows from the more recent past, like Oklahoma! and The King and I. These, like the earlier City Center revivals, were generally unchanged beyond small cuts and slightly reimagined staging.10 By the end of the 1993–1994 Broadway season, revivals outnumbered new musicals seven to six.11 That same season, a separate Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical was first awarded, and in 1994, 59

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New  York City Center launched Encores!, its series of semi-staged, lesser-known revivals with limited runs. Several of these productions transferred to Broadway; one of them, Chicago, is to date the ­longest-running revival in Broadway history.12 By the second decade of the twenty-first century, revivals had become an established, often highly anticipated and, in some cases, highly lucrative factor of each new season. The sources for revivals continue to be far-reaching, from 1921s Shuffle Along to the 1980s Cats and Les Misérables, among others. Not all these revivals exploit nostalgia. Some seek to create entirely different experiences of the works being revived. Nonetheless, new versions of earlier shows tend to offer familiar, safe experiences for audiences, as the writer Gerald Clarke observed in his 1971 Time article on nostalgia, which appeared five months after the revival of No, No, Nanette opened. Nostalgia, he wrote, “selects only what is agreeable, and even that it distorts or turns into myth.”13 Nostalgia is nearly always for something ephemeral, which is subsequently remembered but intangible. Performances of earlier musicals fall into this category. How revivals of ephemeral works exploit and manipulate audiences’ connection to, and enjoyment of, nostalgia for them is the principal focus of what follows.

Revivals Up Close To better understand how revivals relate to or exploit nostalgia, we should explore each type in more detail. The first kind of revival is a new production of a show that is as literal a reproduction of the original as possible, sometimes even replicating the original sets, costumes, and staging. Changes to script and score are minimal in these revivals. In the second type, the score and the book are unaltered while the sets, staging, and directorial concept are altered, sometimes drastically, as we shall see. The third type is the revisal, mentioned earlier: the balance between old and new material changes the original while retaining enough of it to be identifiable to the audience. The fourth type uses the original work more as a springboard for something new than a work to be revived. New books are written, numbers from other shows are interpolated, and plots are sometimes reconstructed. Some examples of this type, noted later, even change the original show’s title. Further, an increasing number of new shows are now based on collections of nonmusical theater songs that already have a quality of nostalgia to them. This last kind of musical marks the emergence of a fifth type, which can achieve the effect of a revival without actually being one. This may well be one of the most interesting recent developments in the American musical, and in how we think about revivals and the purposes they serve. Before its fifth definition of the word—“a new production of an old play or motion picture”— Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language defines the word “revival” as either (definition three) a “restoration to life, consciousness, vigor, strength, etc.” or (definition four) “restoration to use, acceptance or currency.”14 Definitions three and four imply that what is revived is something that has died, either literally or figuratively, from lack of current use. Regarding musicals of the 1920s and 1930s, this is appropriate: shows like No, No, Nanette and Girl Crazy (revised and revived in 1992 as Crazy for You) were dead to theater audiences and were indeed restored to “acceptance” and “currency” in long-running revivals. Then again, when they were revived, or brought back to life, their physically identifying characteristics were changed. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett notes that the contemporary idea of revival “speaks to a rupture of cultural transmission in postwar America,”15 suggesting that the temporal rift of World War II—in our terms, the pre-Oklahoma! musical and the post-Oklahoma! musical—is a very real consideration when it comes to what shows from what part of the past are revived and how. Since older shows were ephemeral creations meant to be enjoyed specifically in their own time and then forgotten, any solid sense of historical textual authenticity is difficult, if not impossible to recreate. Among other reasons, the dramatic, or written, texts from 1920s and 60

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1930s musicals are often incomplete, orchestrations and, less often, the written music itself were sometimes not saved, copies of original scripts are hard to find, and humor was usually topical and contemporaneous. Due to the increased availability of dramatic texts from postwar musicals, however, revivals of those shows are more apt to be minimally altered. While important exceptions abound, this nevertheless allows for more far-ranging explorations of extant performance texts to be realized in production. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s observations suggest further that the actual revival of a pre-World War II musical in its original form is rendered impossible by ruptured cultural transmission. The best we can expect, in other words, is an example of what she calls “heritage music,” the word “heritage” here implying “a mode of cultural production that gives the disappearing and gone a second life as an exhibit of itself.”16 Thus Crazy for You becomes an “exhibit” of Girl Crazy, or at least of what we think it might have been; revivals of No, No, Nanette become exhibits of what we think, or want to think, 1920s musicals were like, because exact replications are impossible. This observation, in turn, leads to another one: the revival of an ephemeral genre such as the 1920s musical is itself, by nature of its being a live performance, ephemeral. In 1927, the year the original production of Show Boat premiered, the folklorist Benjamin Botkin wrote almost presciently of future revivals of that and other prewar works: “Every revival contains within itself the seed not only of its own destruction…but also of the new revivals.”17 The ongoing revivals of Show Boat, as well as the ongoing restaging of classic works by Rodgers and Hammerstein, suggest the validity of this observation.

Type One Revivals such as director William Hammerstein’s 1979 Broadway production of Oklahoma!— or, especially, one at North Carolina School for the Arts, which in 2011 attempted to recreate every detail of that show’s original production—demonstrate this type. The latter, while not a Broadway revival, is notable for the exactness of its details.18 Perhaps most revelatory was the bold brightness of the original costumes, which recall Kreuger’s comments about the decorative look of the post-Oklahoma! revival of Show Boat. Director Bartlett Sher’s recent revivals of South Pacific (2008) and The King and I (2015) at ­Lincoln Center also exemplify this first type, although the revival of South Pacific restored dialogue and one song cut from the original production. Still, as New York Times critic Ben Brantley commented, Sher “is no strong-armed revisionist. He works from within vintage material, coaxing strong emotional depths to churn up a surface that might otherwise seem shiny and sleek.”19 In other words, the nostalgia of Sher’s revival was not always completely comfortable. Although younger audiences may have found the length of these classics off-putting—ushers at the revival of South Pacific, in particular, were known to warn audiences about the length of the first act—many older audience members surely experienced the sense of returning to a familiar place.

Type Two Revivals of the second type consist of virtually unchanged dramatic texts that are reinterpreted through new staging concepts and directorial approaches. An excellent example was the 1993 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. This production, which came to Broadway by way of a successful run in London, was directed by British director Nicholas Hytner as a complete rethinking of an American classic. Even writers critical of the musical praised Hytner’s vision of the work. The critic Robert Brustein, no fan of Oscar Hammerstein’s, referred to ­Carousel as “American skimmed milk of the postwar variety,” but allowed that “Nicholas Hytner’s p­ roduction serves up the pabulum with extraordinary energy and verve and even some edge to an obviously delighted audience.”20 61

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Hytner’s fresh vision of the show can perhaps in part be explained by his having come to it from outside the Broadway tradition. Although Carousel is set in nineteenth-century New England, the director used nontraditional and color-blind casting for characters who, since the original 1945 production, had always been played by white actors. He encouraged grittier, more complex portrayals of the principal characters, and created an almost surreal visual concept that suggested the work itself had grown beyond the realistic theatrical conventions of the 1940s. The opening number, for example, was completely reconceived. Instead of taking place entirely within the single set of a carnival, as described in the script, Hytner opened the sequence up to begin in a textile mill where the principal female characters worked. When work was over, the set turned as the women left to meet male companions, who escorted them to the carnival. This set change sequence was imaginatively cinematic.21 Hytner succeeded in conceptually contemporizing Carousel without changing its nineteenthcentury setting. His production was an example of a subtextually reconceived but virtually unaltered dramatic text, which defamiliarized the original material and reinvested it with new meanings. Revivals of this stripe provide a new frame of experience for the already-known. ­Nevertheless, it is often the nostalgia for whatever is already known that draws audiences to these types of revivals in the first place; if that nostalgia is disrupted too much by new production concepts, popular reception can be problematic. Two other examples of this kind of revival are worth noting, in part because they resulted in such different theatrical experiences. Diane Paulus’s 2013 revival of Pippin reconceived ­d irector-choreographer Bob Fosse’s rather dark original production. Fosse used exaggerated makeup for the ensemble, which recalled commedia dell’arte; the costumes and sets, too, often suggested the story’s setting in the middle ages. Fosse’s distinctive choreography informed all the staging.22 ­Paulus instead used a bright circus motif and appropriately acrobatic choreography.23 Audiences who remembered Fosse’s pizazz more than his cynicism were delighted; those eager to see a replication of his cynicism—and his chorography—were not pleased at all. Eight years earlier, John Doyle took Sweeney Todd, one of the darkest musicals in the repertory, to an even darker place with his revival. This musical tells the harrowing story of a barber’s search for revenge, which involves many slashed throats and victims who are then ground up and baked into meat pies by the barber’s female accomplice. Embedded within that story, which oddly enough is often quite amusing, is a powerful criticism of class and power. Stripped of the original huge set and lush orchestrations, and using a greatly reduced cast—the members of which played the sparse accompaniment on various instruments, often while singing—Doyle’s revival was played on a single, small set that created a disturbing sense of claustrophobia. It also stuck close to the source material—cuts were minimal—yet managed to create a stunning minimalist intensification of it. In his review in The New York Times, Brantley suggested, “Surely no previous production of ‘Sweeney Todd’ has had such a high quotient of truly unsettling horror or such a low quotient of conventional stage spectacle.”24

Type Three The third type of revival—the “revisal”—retains varying amounts of the original text but also incorporates substantial textual and conceptual changes, often by the original creators or a new director. The startlingly dark 1998 revival of Cabaret exemplified this approach. The fundamental idea of the show remained the same: the linear story about cabaret singer Sally Bowles and writer Cliff Bradshaw in Berlin during the rise of Nazism is juxtaposed with increasingly decadent musical numbers performed by a depraved emcee and the ensemble in the Kit Kat Klub. Both elements crash into each other with Sally’s performance of the title number late in the show. The revival was undertaken with the full cooperation of the original creators. Composer John Kander noted, 62

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“What Fred [Ebb, the lyricist] and I have learned…is that if you’re going to revive a piece, you need to reinvent it. To just do it the same way doesn’t often work.”25 (A little-noticed first-type revival of the show in 1986 seems to have proven his point.) The book for Cabaret was rewritten by original author Joe Masteroff and British director Sam Mendes. Rewrites involved interpolations of musical numbers from the film version and reinsertions of numbers cut from the original production. Instead of a big production like the original one, the revival was small. It opened at the intimate Henry Miller Theater, which had been refashioned as a nightclub, and then moved to Studio 54, where, musicologist Jessica Sternfeld noted, it mixed “its mood of sleazy debauchery with that space’s own lurid past.”26 Both spaces were carefully designed to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. The choreographer Rob Marshall remarked, “There’s a No Exit atmosphere…At the beginning it’s very seductive. Then, halfway through, you kind of feel the doors lock…”27 Indeed, the production allowed the audience to ­experience how seductive Nazism was by more intimately surrounding them with it. While the original production of Cabaret also represented Germany’s moral decay through increasingly perverse cabaret entertainments, it was big and shiny, and the title number became an irony-free popular song in the mid-1960s. All this was completely subverted by the 1998 revival, in which even the title song was recast as dark, angry, and ironic. A comparative viewing of the original opening number and that of the Mendes production provides an effective demonstration of their differences.28 “I don’t think of this as a 30-year-old musical that’s getting a revival,” Kander observed. “It’s more like a work in progress.”29 Mendes’ staging supported Kander’s observation. The 2015 revival of the musical The Color Purple, directed by John Doyle, also demonstrated this approach. Based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name, the musical tells the story of Celie, one of the most downtrodden characters ever represented in a musical. Her story contains multiple incidents of male violence to women, including rape, incest, and accounts of female genital mutilation. While the original 2005 production was commercially successful, it was not well received by many critics, most of whom found it overproduced and too heavy-handed in its sentimentality of a story that, despite a somewhat upbeat ending, was not at all sentimental. Doyle drastically trimmed 30 minutes from the show and greatly simplified the production concept. The overall result was a completely reimagined musical that aimed to strip away any sense of sentimentality in exchange for raw emotion.

Type Four In revivals of the fourth type, works are mostly or even completely rewritten, songs are interpolated from other shows and, sometimes, even the title is changed. The 1992 production Crazy for You was a highly successful example of this type. Outfitted with a new book by the playwright Ken Ludwig, Crazy for You bores only a vague relation to the original Girl Crazy by Guy Bolton, John McGowan, and George and Ira Gershwin, but was nonetheless a beautifully crafted farce that used only six of the twenty-three numbers from the original show. Discarded numbers were replaced with other, more lasting and still-recognizable songs by the Gershwins, and Crazy for You was billed as “the new Gershwin musical comedy.” Most of the interpolated numbers were standards from various sources, inserted for nostalgic, dramatic, or comic effect. This approach has repeatedly proven successful in revivals, and shows with scores by George and Ira Gershwin have been especially popular for the treatment. In 2012, Nice Work if You Can Get It, a 1920s Prohibition musical that bore a distant relation to the earlier hit Oh, Kay (1926), again reframed a collection of Gershwin tunes. Although some critics thought the show lacked the carefree ambience of the original, it was a modest hit due in most part to the popularity of its stars, the successful staging, and the continued allure of the Gershwin songs. 63

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Type Five The fifth and most recently developed type is not literally a revival, but is nonetheless essential to any discussion of the genre. This type is most often demonstrated by so-called “jukebox musicals,” shows that assume a familiarity with, and often nostalgia for, songs that did not originate in the musical theater but that are turned into scores for new book shows. These shows often feel like revivals of shows that never existed, even when nostalgia is not a key element. Although not technically revivals, jukebox musicals, like the four types of revivals mentioned earlier, suggest a complex interweaving of nostalgia, intertextuality, and popular music. The overall effects of this fifth type clearly relate to the effects of the other four types, especially in terms of the nostalgia they can and often do generate; all five types thus belong in any consideration of revivals. The highly successful Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (2014) is a jukebox musical that operates as both a bittersweet biography of King and a nostalgic replication of the original performances of her songs by well-known artists. The appearances of the songs within the biography work as plot devices; the musical demonstrates how the well-known songs were created, and the personal and emotional connections they had to the characters. But at the same time, they often turn into recreations of performances by the artists who recorded the songs. For instance, when songwriter Barry Mann is struggling with sight-reading his writing partner Cynthia Weil’s song “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” the stage is taken over by actors playing the Righteous Brothers, who sing their famous version of the song. This technique lifts many of the songs in the show out of the realm of biography and into the realm of the audience’s previous experiences with them. The performance re-creations within the biographical musical are sentimental and often highly entertaining revivals of pop music performances, but they are nonetheless only slightly related to the book. Most of the performers—the Drifters, the Shirelles, the Righteous Brothers, and so on—have no identity or established relationship to the characters in the musical, apart from performing their songs. So although Beautiful is not literally a revival, the nostalgia evoked by its many inserted performances makes it feel like one, as does the audience’s familiarity with King’s and other Brill Building songs. This two-tiered use of songs both within and outside the book is typical of jukebox musicals, whether the result has audiences dancing in the aisles to decades-old ABBA hits at performances of Mama Mia!—in which the original contexts and meanings of the songs are incidental to the newly created plot—or singing along to hits by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at performances of Jersey Boys—which, like Beautiful, is as much nostalgic performance of the songs as it is biography of the characters who created and sang them. In all such shows, then, some kind of performance or memory of performance is being revived via replications that satisfy audiences’ craving for nostalgia, even if the vehicle for doing so is not a revival of a preexistent musical.

Hybrids In 2016, a curious musical came along that challenged categorization within any of the types already mentioned. Early in his review of Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, the drama critic Ben Brantley noted that the show had been “suffering from an identity crisis.” He explained, “It shares its name and most of its song list with a landmark ­musical from 1921, which means this production should qualify as a revival, right?” Not necessarily: the show was also a newly written backstage musical about the creation of Shuffle Along, and what happened to its creative team and cast after its initial legendary success. Most of the critics agreed that the “revival” sections drawn directly from the original production were far more successful than the newly created material. The producers of Shuffle Along wanted it to be nominated for a 2016 Tony Award as a revival, probably to avoid competing with the megahit Hamilton for the Best Musical award. Nonetheless, it was nominated as an original musical—and lost to Hamilton.


Recreating the Ephemeral

Shuffle Along worked in some respects like a jukebox musical. Many songs were retained from the actual musical, a few scenes of which were reconstructed within the new show, which focused on the making of the original production. Additional songs by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake were also incorporated. In terms of typology, then, the contemporary version of Shuffle Along was rather dizzying. But the combination of genres, along with a feeling of nostalgia for the original Shuffle Along and its songs that the revival somehow generated despite its having been virtually forgotten by nearly everyone except theater historians, is perhaps indicative of where some future revivals might go. The 2017–2018 Broadway season demonstrated other hybrid possibilities. The 1937 London hit Me and My Girl was revived virtually unchanged in the West End in 1954. In 1984, with a revised book and some additional music, it was again revived in London and subsequently on Broadway, where it was again highly successful. In his New York Times review, Mel Gussow called the 1984 revival “a nosegay of nostalgia, reminding one of the salad days of more innocent musicals.”30 And in May of 2018, it was again revived in New York as part of the Encores! series with cuts and revisions characteristic of many Encores! productions. The old show seems to still be a work in progress. In the same season, Escape to Margaritaville, developed at the La Jolla Playhouse, combined several characteristics mentioned earlier. This was, ostensibly, a jukebox musical featuring classic tunes by songwriter and performer Jimmy Buffett, as well as a few songs expressly by Buffett for the new book. Further, at least one review suggested another aspect of the work: James Herbert of the San Diego Tribune wrote that the book’s “sly wit and…disarming way of winking at musical theater conventions help the whole thing go down.”31 The easy nature of the classic songs encouraged ample nostalgia, and the new material padded the score. The show received negative reviews, however, and Buffett’s fans could only keep it alive for 124 performances.

Conclusion The tradition of revivals, in all their current forms and probably some new ones to come, remains a strong element of the contemporary musical theater. This tradition began in the immediate post-World War II years in which Americans experienced their lives moving faster and increasingly beyond their control, and it is reflective of the importance of nostalgia to each subsequent generation. Reviving and resuscitating something ephemeral that has been lost in time gives power to the memory of experiences long since past, and that memory reinforces beliefs that are often challenged by the complexities of American life in and since the postwar era. Revivals can be comforting and empowering, since nostalgia suggests that what is intangible or lost might still be expressible, and even those too young to feel nostalgia for certain eras and their music can still enjoy the product of that nostalgia. It is highly unlikely that anyone who was not at least in their twenties in the 1970s could be nostalgic for ABBA’s songs, for example, but that does not render audiences incapable of experiencing the irresistible exuberant expression of nostalgia created by Mama Mia. Shuffle Along achieved a similar effect. Revivals live comfortably and often profitably alongside new works, and both continue to stimulate audiences. And today’s new shows provide experiences soon lost, only to be regained and reframed by their future revivals.

Notes 1 The principal cast change was that of Paul Robeson as Joe, originally played by Jules Bledsoe. Robeson, for whom the role was written, had triumphed in the 1928 London production and was a formidable box office draw. Dennis King also took over the role of Gaylord Ravenal, the romantic lead, previously played by Howard Marsh. The most obvious alteration to the book was the moving of the final scene from 1927 to 1932. This allowed Norma Terris (Magnolia) to keep her impersonations, which were featured in the show, up to date. Todd Decker. Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical. New York: Oxford UP, 2013. 140.


James Lovensheimer 2 Oscar Hammerstein II, liner notes, Show Boat, 1946 Broadway revival recording, Columbia Records ML/OL 4958. Emphasis added. It should be noted that composer Jerome Kern had nothing to do with this revival as he died in November of 1945. 3 Katherine Axtell. “Maiden Voyage: The Genesis and Reception of Show Boat, 1926–1932.” PhD diss., U of Rochester, 2009. 317. 4 Miles Kreuger. Show Boat: The History of a Classic American Musical. New York: Oxford UP, 1977. 158. 5 Todd Decker, Show Boat, 169. Decker discusses the 1946 revival at length. 169–179. 6 These mid-century revivals at City Center should not be confused with the Encores! series of semi-staged revivals at City Center that began in the 1990s. 7 Don Dunn. The Making of No, No, Nanette. Citadel: Secaucus, 1972. 13. 8 Dunn, Nanette, 275, 280–281. 9 Ethan Mordden. One More Kiss: The Broadway Musical in the 1970s. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 141, 142. 10 Julian Mates. America’s Musical Stage: Two Hundred Years of Musical Theatre. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985. 197. 11 Paula Span. “Another Openin’, Another ‘Show Boat’: How to Update a Classic for the ‘90s!” The Washington Post. Sunday Show Section. 2 Oct. 1994, final edition, G1. 12 Seven other Encores! productions besides Chicago reached Broadway: Wonderful Town (2003); The Apple Tree (2006); Gypsy (2008); Finian’s Rainbow (2009); On the Town (2014); Violet (2014); and Sunday in the Park with George (2017). Web. 17 July 2018. . 13 Gerald Clarke. “The Meaning of Nostalgia.” Time. 3 May 1971, 77. 14 “Revival.” Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Gramercy Books, 1994. 1227. 15 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. “Sounds of Sensibility.” Judaism 7.1 (1998): 51. 16 Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Sounds,” 52. 17 Benjamin Botkin. “The Folksong Revival: Cult or Culture.” The American Folk Scene: Dimensions of the Folksong Revival. Ed. David A. DeTurk and A. Poulin, JR. New York: Dell, 1927, 99. 18 The entire North Carolina School of the Arts revival is available on YouTube. Act 1 is at . Act 2 is at . 19 Ben Brantley, “The ‘King and I’ Is Back on Broadway.” The New York Times. 17 Apr. 2015. . 20 Robert Brustein, “Theater Review.” The New Republic vol. 208 (March 1, 1993): 27. 21 The contrast between the two concepts of the opening is easily observed by comparing the film version which is a fairly literal, if somewhat cut down, reproduction of the original ( watch?v=oyEOm0RIcWo&t=95s) and a video of the opening of Hytner’s London production (www. 22 For a replication of the original production, see 23 For a slightly shortened version of Paulus’s opening number, see . 24 Ben Brantley. “Grand Guignol, Spare and Stark.” The New York Times. 4 Nov. 2005. . To compare the opening numbers of each production, see, for the original Broadway production, com/watch?v=KmAIB-Kf_Ew&list=PL4SuB4V-60xEJeuW8DAeptf TB1L-wtqYr&index=1,  and, for the Doyle revival, 25 Quoted in Everett Evans. “‘Chicago’ Seemed Locked Away for Good, but a Simple Sexy Revival Changed All That.” The Houston Chronicle. Zest section, 2 Aug. 1998. 8. 26 Jessica Sternfeld. “Revisiting Classic Musicals: Revivals, Films, Television and Recordings.” The ­Cambridge Companion to the Musical, 2nd ed., Ed. William A. Everett and Paul R. Laird. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 2008. 326. 27 Quoted in Hilary Ostlere. “Dancetheater: Wilkommen.” Dance Magazine, vol. 72 (March 1998): 102, 103. 28 For the original staging of the opening number, see , see . 29 In Gerard Raymond, “Weimar Wonderland.” American Theater. Feb. 1998: 4. 30 Mel Gussow. “‘Me and My Girl’ Is a Nosegay of Nostalgia.” New York Times. 17 Aug. 1986. . 31 James Herbert. “Broadway-Bound Escape to Margaritaville at La Jolla Playhouse.” 6/8/2017. Quoted at .



Aesthetic Transformations

If an entertainment form doesn’t change with the times, it becomes just like the proverbial shark that stops moving: dead in the water. Just like movies, television shows, music, and websites, the live musical needs to be in a state of constant transformation, or audiences will take their ­interest—and their ticket-buying dollars—elsewhere. Music and dance styles, fashion trends, vocal techniques, and technology all change and develop with time, so the theater industry must adapt accordingly. Otherwise, musicals won’t be interesting or appealing to new audiences. Stage musicals must constantly negotiate tensions between tradition and change: enough of the ingredients that make live musicals continue to feel like live musicals need to be blended with trends that make them seem contemporary and exciting and fresh—not old-fashioned or stale. When it comes to viewing the increasingly distant past, such adaptations seem comparatively obvious. For example, early-twentieth-century advances in lighting lent themselves very well to the theater, and it make perfect sense that theaters across the world would quickly swap candles for oil lamps, gas for oil, and electricity for gas as quickly as they possibly could. Each option, after all, was cleaner, more efficient, more practical, less smelly and, most importantly, much safer than the one that came before it. More recent adaptations, however, are not always quite as clear-cut or advantageous, and have not always been immediately embraced. This is especially the case since technology has developed in the second half of the twentieth century at such a dizzying rate that audiences can barely get used to one new trend before two or three others come along to compete with or replace it. New technologies are not only hard to keep up with, they are also often deemed counter to the sense of liveness that is so central to the theater experience in the first place. Nevertheless, despite complaints from purists who resist modernization at every step, the stage musical as a genre has, for the most part, managed to retain its liveness, its traditions, and its connections to its past, all the while embracing new styles, trends, approaches, and technologies. The number of essays in this section is perhaps indicative of just how important technology has been to the changing aesthetics of the contemporary stage musical, whether in terms of its aural and visual components or its approaches to casting and to appealing to increasingly tech-savvy audiences. You’ll get no protesting purists here: the contributors in this section, all clear-eyed scholars, present a collectively well-balanced take on what can often be a hotbed of debate. There are no opinion pieces on whether or not stage microphones have destroyed the stage musical, or how awful it is that scenery is no longer made the way it was in 1954. The contributors to this section are thus here to explain various ways the musical theater has developed and adapted in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Aesthetic Transformations

To start, three different scholars focus in on contemporary vocal styles and their relationship to technology. The human voice is, after all, central to the stage musical’s very survival, and the ways amplification has influenced it are thus of enormous importance. Ben Macpherson considers the birth of several vocal styles that stem from the advent of microphones, and that have become increasingly recognizable in contemporary productions. The development of microphones themselves is the subject of Arreanna Rostosky’s essay, while Dominic Symonds focuses in on one of the more influential—and amplified—contemporary trends to take place on Broadway in his essay about megamusicals, the overall aesthetics of which continue to influence ever-larger and more amplified productions to date. In his article about musicals by the composer Michael John LaChiusa, Alex Bádue doesn’t discuss changing technology so much as he does LaChiusa’s signature style. Nevertheless, his profile of the composer considers the same kind of balance theater artisans must strike in working with technological advances: LaChiusa, it is clear, has forged an aesthetic that is simultaneously uniquely contemporary and inspired by cherished musical theater creators of generations past. Michael Kennedy’s study also focuses on innovations in sound. His article offers case studies that together reflect challenges contemporary musicals face when incorporating new kinds of sounds and new kinds of instruments into the live theater. Matthew Lockitt’s piece focuses on broader changes in the theater industry, with emphasis on the increasingly close relationship between Broadway and more mass-mediated entertainment forms. This results in large part from the stage musical’s need to work with more powerful entertainment conglomerates in order to survive, in large part by inviting film, television, and pop stars—often with enormous international reach—to take part in musical theater development and thus to help sell tickets to new productions. Finally, Christin Essin looks at the ways stagecraft has changed with the tech boom, in an essay devoted to detailing the various kinds of labor performed behind the scenes of live musical productions. Taken as a whole, these essays offer a few ways that Broadway has evolved from the days when candle chandeliers dripped hot grease on spectators below, beefy stagehands threw their weight against manual turntables, and belters strained their voices to reach the rear balconies.


7 SING Musical Theater Voices from Superstar to Hamilton Ben Macpherson

In 1995, the New York Times arts journalist Laurence O’Toole published an article entitled “­Musical Theater Is Discovering a New Voice.” The article charted the rise of throat and head microphones for musical theater performers, and contained the following quote from composer John Kander: “My memory is that when I did the dance music for ‘Gypsy’ on the road, one day Jule Styne turned on the foot mikes without telling Ethel Merman. I say it’s been downhill all the way from that moment.”1 There are those, like Kander, who believe the introduction of microphone amplification was a descent downhill, and those who see the use of technology as an inevitable progression of cultural spaces like the musical stage. Both sides offer logical arguments. For example, Philip Auslander has suggested that technology in live performance is now necessary because audiences are used to watching things on a screen, offering actors a much greater range of expressive possibilities.2 Conversely, Jill Dolan provides a more visceral perspective, arguing that live performance is always an intensely human experience offering a glimpse of the utopian. In this case, technology takes away from the very real intimacy of the “liveness,” distancing spectators, and even devaluing the skills and vocal training of the performers themselves.3 Journalist Ellen Gamerman succinctly concludes that “the theater world is divided.”4 While this debate offers context, it is not the basis for this chapter, which takes as a truism that over the last half-century the musical stage has embraced the use of technology, influenced by the need to keep pace with changing audience expectations as recorded sound and televisual media became ubiquitous in popular culture. Taking this shift as a given, this chapter considers the ways in which audience-driven production values have impacted the aesthetic of the contemporary musical. The performance aesthetic of the contemporary musical has, in turn, impacted and challenged audiences themselves. In A History of Singing, John Potter and Neil Sorrell note that technology had a “liberating effect” on Broadway, extending its sonic and aural palette beyond the traditional “legit” sound that tends toward either a more operatic vocal quality or the nasal belt of stars such as Ethel Merman.5 Principal characters no longer had to “present” their songs across an orchestra and up into the balcony; rather, “it became possible to sing in an intimate, conversational manner and still be heard by the largest audiences,” which was “genuinely revolutionary.”6 Yet, this liberating effect was not a one-off shift in style or technique. Between 1970 and the present day we might identify four emergent voices in the performance aesthetic of musical theater. First, the Rock Voice, which began in the late 1960s with Hair (1967), continuing with Jesus Christ Superstar (1971), and still heard 69

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in musicals like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (2010) and School of Rock: The Musical (2015). Second, the Poperetta Voice, which began in the mid-1980s and is embodied in the sounds of productions like Les Misérables (1986). Third, the New Broadway Voice, which encompasses the bright twang of musicals spanning A Chorus Line (1975) through works like The Book of Mormon (2011). Finally, the Verismo Voice, which relates to realism and includes the complicated character-led performance style of much of Stephen Sondheim’s work, but may also include the folk-pop of Next to Normal (2009) or Once (2011). Starting with the Rock Voice, this chapter will consider each, in turn, focusing on the performance aesthetic in context, the production values, and, importantly, audience expectations of what a musical theater voice is, can, or could be.

The Rock Voice Often associated with “urban rebellion and a working class aesthetic,” the Rock Voice departs from the legit vocal sound of Broadway’s Golden Age. It is “rougher, less controlled, and less practised,” embodying a raw, direct, and expressive sound that might contain rasps, “gravelly” textures, or “catches and sobs or broken sounds to represent deep emotion.” 7 When this Rock Voice began to feature in Broadway musicals, it fundamentally reimagined what musical theater could sound like. One of the musicals that pioneered the Rock Voice was the 1971 musical Jesus Christ Superstar; focusing briefly on the Rock Voice in this show will offer a framework for the rest of the chapter. Jesus Christ Superstar gave rise to two specific developments that helped shape the Rock Voice in musical theater. Both developments are related to rock music’s primal, rebellious, emotional quality—“the rock sound” that popular music theorists have considered with regard to the idea of “authenticity” in performance.8 Because of its urban, raw quality, rock music is often thought of as sounding “real,” “original,” and “of undisputed origin, genuine.”9 This connection between the rebellious and raspy aesthetic of the Rock Voice and ideas of authenticity can be understood with reference to the work of musicologist Peter Kivy. In Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance, Kivy considers two types of authenticity. Sonic authenticity is the “genuine” and “real” sound of the performance, while sensible authenticity refers to the way audience members may understand a performance to be real or authentic.10 Using these two terms, we can map the pioneering developments seen in Jesus Christ Superstar to better understand the Rock Voice and the other voices in this discussion. When Jesus Christ Superstar first opened on Broadway on October 12, 1971, it came via a concept album released as an LP and marketed by a record company. The recording was a litmus test used to help sell the idea of the work as a musical. After all, even in the increasingly secularized 1970s, a musical that chronicled events in the last few days of Jesus Christ’s life on earth, told from the human perspective of his betrayer, Judas Iscariot, was a hard sell to many commercial theatrical producers. Superstar has often been described as a “rock opera,” a term that suggests it juxtaposes two competing modes: the grand, high-art and virtuosic qualities of opera, and the raw, rebellious low form of rock music. Indeed, scholars have explored the ways Lloyd Webber draws upon operatic structures in his writing.11 While in reality the musical draws on a range of styles, using rock as a frame for the performance in its orchestrations and vocal palette, Superstar explicitly used a rock sound, departing from traditional boundaries of sonic authenticity in musical theater.12 Conventionally, male leads (tenors) would sing in their chest voices in order to sound “masculine,” while romantic heroines would usually be cast with sopranos to sound particularly “feminine.” This is not the case in ­Superstar. Mary Magdalene, the closest thing to a romantic heroine, is a mezzo-soprano who belts from her chest voice. Jesus and Judas are both tenors, who at times use high rock tenor voices and access their falsetto, for example in “Gethsemane” ( Jesus) and “Damned for All Time” ( Judas). 70


To hear Jesus singing with a full-throated falsetto, and for his betrayer Judas to employ a vocal cry when he commits suicide or a gravelly rasp when he decorates the melody of the mocking title song, marked a foundational shift in the vocal landscape of musical theater.13 Yet how does this relate to ideas of sonic authenticity? At the time Superstar opened, rock music—a more mature outgrowth of 1950s rock’n’roll—was already established as a countercultural alternative, and then a mainstream contrast, to the pop of the 1960s. As noted earlier, it sold itself as the music of “urban rebellion” for a new generation.14 This youthful sound expressed emotion through distorted guitars, pulsating rhythms, and earthy vocal properties. Taken together, these aesthetics are seen by cultural theorist Simon Frith and music historian Richard Middleton to indicate the primary idea in the rock music sound: authenticity.15 In fact, Middleton observes that the myth of authenticity dominates rock vocality, where voices sound like they are sincere and etched with “real experience.”16 For a subject as emotive, contentious, and universally engrained in Western culture as the death of Jesus Christ, the Rock Voice as a contemporary, emotional, raw, urban sound shot through with “real experience” was a fitting aesthetic to convey the sonic authenticity of both the era and subject matter. How, then, does this relate to the sensible authenticity of the Rock Voice as experienced by audience members in Superstar? As Peter Wicke and Rachel Fogg note in their book Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics and Sociology, the primal drive of the Rock Voice implied that technology had become an important part of the process, seen in the use of handheld microphones on stage in Superstar.17 The Rock Voice was of the time, and the use of microphones and amplification enabled musical theater to emulate the sonic properties of the concept album on stage, meaning that for audience members familiar with the LP or title song (released as a single in the United States in 1969 and then again in 1971), the musical would sound like the record (even if this was more of an ideal than a reality).18 In this sense, the attribution of authenticity in Superstar as “real,” “genuine,” and “original” in its sonic aesthetic could also be applied to the sensible authenticity, as audience members may have been preconditioned to the technologically amplified sounds of the musical before seeing the production.19 Likewise, for those who attended the musical without first hearing the recording, this new sonic palette would have pushed their sense of what of musical theater production could sound like beyond their prior experience. Since the Rock Voice enabled the tribe in Hair to sing about free love, and gave Jesus and Judas contemporary voices in the 1970s, it has featured in numerous musicals—either as the dominant sound, or as part of the palette of voices, including Godspell (1970), Grease (1971), The Rocky Horror Show (1973), Starlight Express (1984), Rent (1996), Spring Awakening (2008), Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (2008), and Spider Man: Turn off the Dark (2011). Aspects of the vocal setup that is used to achieve the Rock Voice, through crying or sobbing sounds, feature as part of many megamusicals as well.

The Poperetta Voice While other discussions of musical theater tend to focus on differences between a pop/rock sound and a “traditional” musical theater voice,20 few studies separate the vocal style associated with the megamusicals of the 1980s and 1990s. With regard to both sonic and sensible authenticity, however, there is something to be said here. As a subset of the musical theater form, the “megamusical” is associated with the productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, and Disney. As its name suggests, everything in the megamusical is on a grand scale, from the sets, costumes, and performances to the hugely iconic marketing campaigns for Cats (1980), Les Misérables (1985), The Phantom of the Opera (1986), Miss Saigon (1989), The Lion King (1997), and even Wicked (2003). As Jessica Sternfeld has noted, “the plots of megamusicals are big in scope: they are epic, sweeping 71

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tales of romance, war, religion, redemption, life and death […] and other lofty sentiments.” In this they share common thematic concerns and a sense of musical grandeur in their use of recitative, choruses and arias with traditions of grand opera, allied closely to their commercial appeal and product placement.21 Within this epic scope, megamusicals tend to envelop the audience in sweeping, cinematic, often through-sung sound worlds, which has led to the colloquial term “poperettas.”22 This portmanteau of “pop” and “operetta” echoes the competing imperatives of “rock” and “opera,” and certain operatic and popular vocal sounds can therefore be heard in the Poperetta Voice in a way that is also culturally significant. Notwithstanding moments of operatic parody in The Phantom of the Opera, the Poperetta Voice employs a range of voice qualities that might be best explained using methods popularized by American voice trainer Jo Estill.23 While a full explanation is not possible in a chapter of this length, the Estill Method (as applied to musical theater) categorizes voice production into six “qualities” for performance, all present in some form in the Poperetta Voice. The first is speech quality, seen in the recitative passages in through-sung megamusicals like Les Misérables, wherein a breathy, conversational tone replaces spoken dialogue. The second is falsetto—already noted in Jesus Christ Superstar, and heard in “The Music of the Night” (Phantom) and “Bring Him Home” (Les Misérables). The third quality is sob, a crying setup heard in the Rock Voice, but also employed frequently by Valjean in Act One of Les Misérables, and in songs including “Why God Why?” (Miss Saigon). The fourth and fifth voice qualities drawn from Estill are twang (often misunderstood as purely a nasal setup, producing a bright, clear sound) and belt, which, when mixed together, produce a brilliant, bright sound, akin to Ethel Merman’s de facto performance style mentioned earlier. In the megamusical, twang can be heard as a stylized sound in characterizing the Thénardiers in Les Misérables, or in lending the precocity to Glinda in “Popular” (Wicked). The final quality, opera quality, can be heard in the Priest’s song in Les Misérables, in “Stars” (also in Les Misérables), and perhaps most specifically on the original cast recording of Sunset Boulevard (1993) in Judy Kuhn’s performance of Betty Shafer or George Hearn’s performance of Max Von Meyerling. When mixed with twang and belt, the Poperetta Voice therefore evokes operatic sensibilities of full-throated, serious vocal production, combined with “more of a ‘pop’ or commercial sound.”24 It is this combination that typifies the Poperetta Voice, even though a brief consideration here suggests that in its breadth of stylistic features and sounds, it offers what might be seen as a universalizing effect; these musicals can be, or can sound, all things to everyone in their vocal evocation of “sweeping tales” and “lofty sentiments.”25 Perhaps this all-encompassing expectation is one reason why the Poperetta Voice has not yet received sustained scholarly attention, even though, as vocal coach Mary Hammond states, singers now “need to be able to sing in many different styles.”26 Developing in London, the combination of bombast and pretension in the Poperetta sound is explicitly not Broadway; yet in the broad combination of vocal qualities forged together, its sonic authenticity sounds like the time period in which these productions were first successful: during the heyday of global capitalism, typified by free-market economics and the grand narratives of aspiration espoused by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and Ronald Reagan’s administration, and catalyzed by the early boom years of computing and technology.27 Combining pop-culture, speech quality, and opera quality (along with many character-specific variations from show to show), the Poperetta Voice drew from mass culture and high-culture in a manner that might have fulfilled the aspirations of a newly monied, suburban, middle-class couple who felt The Phantom of the Opera was “highbrow” (operatic) enough to impress, but “middlebrow” (commercially accessible) enough to enjoy. This combination is seen in the megamusical’s production values and storylines, but importantly, it lies also in the sonic authenticity of the characters. In tandem with the social product-placement of these musicals, the excess of the 1980s is seen in the scale of these works. With the all-encompassing cats’ junkyard, falling chandelier, ­helicopter on stage and barricades, technological wizardry made these musicals ever-more cinematic in their 72


sweep. Vocal delivery had to match the grandeur of the production values, and this was achieved with a strong, brilliant belt quality underpinned with stylistic nods to the operatic, even despite the fact that the works themselves are not operas. In other words, the sonic authenticity—of grand vocal gestures, in a mixture of speech quality and legato, vibrato and coloratura that nodded to the operatic—was an aural representation of the sensible authenticity of its audience. As Dan Rebellato and Susan Russell have noted, the production techniques popularized (if not pioneered) by Cameron Mackintosh were also typical of the age: each production would look and sound the same in a phenomenon mockingly called “McTheater” (after the franchise nature of the McDonald’s fast food chain), which saw productions in London, New York, Tokyo, Berlin, and elsewhere attempt to evoke a uniform sonic authenticity in a performance of cultural globalization.28 Yet, alongside this Identikit sonic aesthetic of grandeur and social aspiration, other types of voice have also emerged since the 1970s in contemporary musical theater.29 While microphone amplification has become standard on Broadway and in the West End, the New Broadway Voice and the Verismo Voice both focus on something other than technological wizardry in their performance aesthetic.

The New Broadway Voice If John Kander’s memory of the moment Ethel Merman sang with amplification was a turning point in musical theater, this moment laid the foundations for the development of what might be called the New Broadway Voice. This has neither the pretension of the Poperetta Voice nor the raw sonic authenticity of the Rock Voice (associated with a particular sensible authenticity in and of itself ). Rather, it might be understood as a tamer version of Merman’s muscular, direct twang—a slight retreating behind the orchestra that nevertheless remains confident in its ability to reach an audience via amplification. This voice tends to be less florid than the Poperetta Voice, with Tracey Moore and Allison Bergman noting it “has less melisma than contemporary pop” (meaning it does not overly decorate the melody with vocal gymnastics), and relies on solid technique that does not produce a “breathy voice” also often found in pop music.30 In other words (and at the risk of oversimplification) the New Broadway Voice might be Merman with the volume turned down. Examples of the New Broadway Voice can be found in a whole range of Broadway musicals, from the bright and bitter energy of “I Hope I Get It” in A Chorus Line (1975) or the throaty brashness of Chita Rivera or Liza Minnelli in The Rink (1984), to the Gershwin musical Crazy for You (1992), the bright exuberance of “Jimmy” in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002), the nasality of “It Sucks to Be Me” (Avenue Q, 2003) or “Hello” from The Book of Mormon (2011). While the vocal setup for these may differ, the direct confidence of this New Broadway Voice contrasts with the Poperetta Voice in its clean, crisp attack, amplified by microphones but with a sonic authenticity that is culturally specific to New York. It is not ponderous or indulgent in its performance style, and exudes a confidence and brilliance in its sound that accords with the sensible authenticity of its existence on Broadway. Indeed, it is so culturally specific that it struggles to transfer or transpose into other contexts or places. Yet while the New Broadway Voice might be seen as an outgrowth of Merman—on a continuum of sonic authenticity that is inextricably linked to a place and an art form—Moore and Bergman have noted that the increasing number of theatergoers “more familiar with MTV [or YouTube] than Rodgers and Hammerstein” has led to the New Broadway Voice making “technical and artistic adjustments,” embracing pop sounds in a way the Rock Voice and the Poperetta Voice do not.31 For example, there is no influence of African-American music on the Poperetta Voice, and yet the New Broadway Voice includes soul and gospel idioms in its sonic authenticity, 73

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from the vocal slides heard in “I Am Changing” (Dreamgirls, 1981) and “The Schuyler Sisters” (Hamilton, 2015) to the “riffing” in “Seasons of Love” (Rent, 1996). Importantly, musicals such as Parade (1998) employ a range of vocal setups, from opera quality, belt and twang, to the influence of blues and gospel in its vocal colors, as voice increasingly plays a key part in the aesthetic of musicals and in the genre’s ability to characterize time, place, and people. Indeed, this ability to draw on a range of styles is perhaps what most typifies the New Broadway Voice in a way it did not when Merman was at the height of her fame. Voice coach Penny Harvey-Piper points to the need for musical theater performers to “make different quality sounds,” while Elizabeth Howard sees musical theater as “heading back towards specialization” in its vocal demands.32 In this case, the sonic authenticity is no longer about making a voice heard across an orchestra, but rather making a character authentic in telling a story. Once more, the impact of technology is clear as singers “no longer needed to call upon a generic singing technique to project into large spaces.”33 This is not to imply that more traditional Broadway styles in any way suffered because of a sense of the “generic” (some might even argue that the influence of pop music on Broadway’s vocal styles has led to an increased sense of a generic aesthetic), but simply that the palette from which a singer may now create sounds is much the greater for amplification, from which two primary changes have occurred.34 First, musical theater now draws from a range of sounds in its vocal arsenal. Second, musical theater performers can use what might be called the Verismo Voice.

The Verismo Voice “Verismo” is a term that relates to realism, and might be understood with reference to naturalness. In this respect, the Verismo Voice is peculiar in musical theater. While the Rock Voice might draw attention to its means of amplification in order to perform a sense of authenticity, and the Poperetta Voice needs amplification to be heard across the mass of synthesizers, strings, and sets, the Verismo Voice uses electronic amplification by pretending that it is not there. It is a voice that asks the audience to come closer, to forget that they are in a theater watching someone act, sing and (possibly) dance in a stylized, fantastical medium. It is a voice in which performers “sing in an intimate, conversational manner” and, understood in this way, the Verismo Voice is the closest thing to speech in musical theater singing.35 Because of this, the Verismo Voice has a sonic authenticity that may be altogether more complex. Gillyanne Kayes suggests that the Verismo Voice is present in Les Misérables as a characteristic of the recitative, enabling the sonic textures of a through-sung musical to shift from “heightened speech” to full-throated song, a sonic dynamic seen again in other megamusicals that tend toward the operatic.36 Yet the overriding sonic authenticity of the megamusical is not one of verismo but rather grand gesture; the use of Verismo Voice simply allowed for a dynamic shape in the sound world of these musicals. However, in other cases the Verismo Voice indicates a character’s emotional or psychological state in a way that fundamentally differs from that of the other voices considered here. With its airy quality created by a breathy onset, the Verismo Voice allows for a sonic authenticity that is prosodic, intimate, sincere, or vulnerable, often combining these in intense or emotionally ambiguous moments. It allows for conversational address that moves beyond the standard book (or “integrated”) musical aesthetic. If Scott McMillin is correct to suggest that songs stop the action of a traditional musical to enlarge moments of emotion in singing—what he sees as performative “spaces of vulnerability”37—then the Verismo Voice challenges such a distinction by blurring the boundaries between speech and song, suggesting a sonic aesthetic that does not overtly enlarge, but pushes the sonic authenticity of musical theater toward that of straight plays. If this is the case—and received wisdom suggests that singing in musical theater is often seen to give voice to “the subtext 74


of our lives” through heightened emotional expression—then the sonic authenticity of the Verismo Voice might suggest more than just the use of technology to support “singing quietly.”38 Rather, this voice is seen in musicals whose characters do not express clearly defined emotions or attitudes. It can be heard in conversational songs that grow out of dialogue, or that directly seek to mimic talking in a manner that transcends the speech-to-song aesthetic. For example, in Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’s Floyd Collins (1994), Homer and Floyd’s “The Riddle Song” uses the Verismo Voice extensively in its verses, and the surviving townsfolk of Into the Woods (1984) argue with the Witch in “Your Fault” using a breathy, staccato delivery to accentuate the conflict of the moment. In both cases, no characters are willing to admit their true emotions: Homer is keeping Floyd distracted from the fact that he is stuck down a cave; the Baker, Jack, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella are displacing their sense of loss, hopelessness, and anger by directing it at each other. It is precisely because these characters do not give full-throated voice to their situation that the sensible authenticity is experienced as ambiguous, complicated, real. Notably, this sense of emotional disconnect or denial is given voice routinely in the canon of Stephen Sondheim musicals: Glynis Johns’s performance of “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music (1973) depicts Desiree Armfeldt as regretful, embarrassed, and frustrated, while Elaine Stritch’s performance of “Ladies Who Lunch” from Company (1971) draws upon the Verismo sound because the subtext of embittered disillusion would not be possible if they sounded any other way. Importantly, in each of the cases mentioned earlier, these characters all share one specific emotion: vulnerability, the very emotion McMillin suggests songs contain.39 Perhaps the Verismo Voice would be better called the Vulnerable Voice, as the sonic authenticity it offers also allows for George to be alone and “miss a lot” as Mandy Patinkin sits softly in his falsetto during “Lesson #8” in the final scene of Sunday in the Park with George (1986), or when Molly sings “With You” to Sam in Ghost (2011). If the Verismo Voice gives space to the complex ambiguities of vulnerable emotions, this must have a particular consequence on the sensible authenticity of audience members.40 As Scott ­McMillin notes, rather than the universal or utopian emotional ideals often (if not always) present in Golden Age musical theater, creative teams in the second half of the twentieth century—­ including Stephen Sondheim and his collaborators, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse—created dramas of “difference,” that dealt with irony and anger in works that are “complex” and “multiple” in their ideas and ideals.41 Irony, anger, complexity, and ambivalence are all present in the Verismo Voice—a contradictory, psychological sonic aesthetic that offers audiences a sound that they are familiar with: their own. The Verismo Voice does not sing at us, but rather of us, for us, and even with us. Provocatively, McMillin concludes his consideration of musical theater by suggesting that when “African-American and Latino-American composers, writers, and performers” join the pantheon of musical theater giants, then musical theater will have truly reached its goal, as a form whose overriding sensibility is to mirror the ideals of everyone: “a social life worth aiming for.”42 A little under a decade after McMillin wrote this, Hamilton premiered Off-Broadway at the Public Theater on January 20, 2015. Perhaps it is telling that the sonic aesthetic of this musical is one almost entirely dependent on the Verismo Voice, through its use of rap and hip-hop as primary musical languages. As with In the Heights (2008), the composer, writer, and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda led a multiracial company in a musical that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Generation through the lens of race and immigration. In this case, Hamilton performs the complex range of emotions felt by minority and immigrant communities as they try to integrate or wrestle with their identities in the political turbulence of contemporary America. This use of a contemporary sonic authenticity bears no little parallel with Jesus Christ Superstar and its use of the Rock Voice four decades earlier. For a younger musical theater audience, ­Hamilton likewise offers a contemporary sonic authenticity that may be new to musical theater, but which reflects the sensibility of the era, and, in turn, extends what musical theater can do. 75

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Conclusion Since the 1970s, musical theater voice has developed and progressed beyond a traditional Broadway style, even though this is still seen in numerous revivals and in some more recent works as well. However, in each case—whether it is the Rock Voice, with its raw and emotional sense of sonic authenticity; the Poperetta Voice, with its bombast and aesthetic that draws upon operatic styles in a popular context; the New Broadway Voice, as a bold and assertive development of “the Broadway sound”43 whose sensible authenticity is inextricably linked to Broadway and New York; or the Verismo Voice, with its breathy sincerity, vulnerability, or performance of emotional ­d isconnect—every voice type has developed through an explicit connection to the technologies of amplification, and in response to changes in audience expectation and sensibilities. These voices can lay claim to an authenticity that transcends their performance, and that can sing of particular times, places, and cultural conditions. Voice, therefore, is responsive, animate, and dynamic; a “junction point for multiple encodings of experience to be negotiated and understood.”44 Given the continuing advances in technology and audio-visual design, and the possibilities on offer in using contemporary performance styles to tell historical narratives, it is reasonable to conclude that musical theater will continue to develop, and, in its negotiation of sensible and sonic authenticities, that musical theater will continue to discover new and exciting voices.

Notes 1 Lawrence O’Toole. “Musical Theater Is Discovering a New Voice.” The New York Times. 22 Jan. 1995. Web. 3 Jan. 2017. . 2 Philip Auslander. Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. 2nd ed. New York and Oxford: ­Routledge, 2008. 3 Jill Dolan. Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2005. 4 Ellen Gamerman. “Broadway Turns Up the Volume.” Wall Street Journal. 23 Oct. 2009. Web. 14 Jan. 2017. . 5 John Potter and Neil Sorrell. A History of Singing. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 2012. 252. 6 Potter and Sorrell, A History, 245. 7 Millie Taylor. Musical Theater, Realism and Entertainment. Basingstoke: Ashgate, 2012. 50, 51. 8 Richard Middleton. “Rock Singing.” The Cambridge Companion to Singing. Ed. John Potter. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001; Simon Frith. The Sociology of Rock. Edinburgh: Constable, 1978. 9 Peter Kivy. Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance. Cornell: Cornell UP, 1995. 3. 10 Ibid., 3. 11 Joseph P. Swain. The Broadway Musical: A Critical and Musical Survey. 2nd ed. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2002. 315–332. 12 Andrew Lloyd Webber cited in Stephen Citron. Sondheim and Lloyd Webber: The New Musical. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 148. 13 See Taylor, Realism and Entertainment. 14 Ibid., 51. 15 Middleton, “Rock Singing”; Frith, Sociology of Rock. 16 Middleton, “Rock Singing,” 38. 17 Peter Wicke and Rachel Fogg. Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics and Sociology. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 1990. 4–23. 18 The complications of microphone usage and the problems of a sonic shift from recorded album to the stage are referenced by Jessica Sternfeld in relation to the original production of Superstar. See Sternfeld. The Megamusical. Indiana: Indiana UP, 2006. 25. 19 It is, of course, also worth acknowledging that the moment electronic guitars featured in a pit band for a musical, electronic amplification of voice became an aesthetic feature borne of necessity. 20 See Kathryn Green et al., “Trends in Musical Theatre Voice: An Analysis of Audition Requirements for Singers.” Journal of Voice 28:3 (2014): 324–327. 21 Sternfeld, Megamusical, 2.


Sing 22 Ben Brantley. “A Tutor, a Triangle and Hearts that Sing.” The New York Times. 18 Nov. 2005. Web. 21 Dec. 2016. . 23 See . 24 Joan Melton. Singing in Musical Theatre: The Training of Singers and Actors. New York: Allworth, 2007. 99–100. 25 Sternfeld, Megamusical, 2. 26 Melton, Singing, 76. 27 Dan Rebellato. Theatre and Globalisation. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009. 41. 28 Rebellato, Globalisation, 39; Susan Russell. “The Performance of Discipline on Broadway,” Studies in Musical Theatre 1:1 (2007): 97–108. 29 The idea of voices or sonic sound worlds being “Identikit” is a fallacy; each voice is, of course, individual and unique to the person speaking or singing. Yet, the intention to unify and standardize the productions of megamusicals may well have stretched to “standardizing” voices, through technology. 30 Tracey Moore and Allison Bergman. Acting the Song: Performance Skills for the Musical Theatre. New York: Allworth, 2008. 7. 31 Ibid., 6. 32 Melton, Singing, 84, 6. 33 Potter and Sorrell, A History, 245. 34 Ibid., 252. 35 Potter and Sorrell, A History, 245. 36 Melton, Singing, 99. 37 Scott McMillin. The Musical as Drama. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2007. 39. 38 John Mortimer in David Henson and Kenneth Pickering. Musical Theatre: A Workbook. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013. 50. 39 McMillin, Musical as Drama, 39. 40 In several studies, the use of non-singing actors in musical theater has been linked to the performance of characters who are closed, insecure, arrogant, or unwilling to let themselves be fully emotionally open, including Rex Harrison’s performance of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (1956). See Ben ­Macpherson. “Eliza, Where the Devil Are My Songs? Negotiating Voice, Text and Performance Analysis in Rex ­Harrison’s Henry Higgins.” Studies in Musical Theatre 2.3 (2008): 235–244. The Verismo Voice is ­d ifferent—and it is a halfway point between this and full-throated song. 41 McMillin, Musical as Drama, 210. 42 Ibid., 211. 43 See Green et al., “Trends”; Robert Edwin. “A Broader Broadway.” Journal of Singing 59:5 (2003): 431–432. 4 4 Konstantinos Thomaidis and Ben Macpherson. “Introduction: Voice(s) as a Method and an In-between.” Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience. Ed. Konstantinos Thomaidis and Ben Macpherson. London and New York: Routledge, 2015. 4.



Sound designers and Broadway have a complicated relationship. Although electronic amplification has been in use on Broadway in some capacity since at least the late 1930s, the Tony Awards did not recognize sound design as a competitive category until 2008.1 The field’s acknowledgment was short-lived. In June 2014, the Tony Awards Administration Committee shocked the theater community with their announcement that sound design would no longer be a competitive category. News outlets reported that the decision was made because Tony voters felt they did not know enough about the field to appropriately assess the quality of a production’s sound design. Subsequently, the Tony Committee withdrew sound design as an award category, though it reserved the right to recognize outstanding work with a special Tony.2 The announcement drew the ire of sound designers frustrated by the continued disregard the Tony committee apparently held for their field. On the decision, Tony Award-winning sound designer Brian Ronan surmised, “It’s the lack of tangibility in sound that led to the Tony’s decision to eliminate us from the ceremony. Our craft is at its highest when the audience is unaware of our presence, when the sound complements and moves the audience without drawing attention to itself.”3 Only a few years later, however, the committee reversed its decision and reinstated the category for best sound design in April 2017, following a period of reevaluation regarding voting practices.4 The sudden elimination and subsequent restoration of the categories for “Best Sound Design of a Play” and “Best Sound Design of a Musical” reignited debates about the value of sound design: what is it? Is it really a creative art? Does it even matter? Of course it does! Sound design has been an integral part of the Broadway soundscape since its introduction several decades ago. Advancements in the field have had enormous ramifications for how musicals are designed, directed, and heard. Electronic amplification has allowed a more diverse range of voice types to be heard over an orchestra. New musical styles and electric instruments can be featured more regularly on Broadway. Staging practices have changed, as the use of wireless microphones grant performers greater flexibility in moving about the stage while still being audible. And more recent advances in sound technology have brought better sound quality and the finely tuned mixing capabilities of Hollywood films to Broadway houses. This chapter offers a brief historical overview of the introduction of amplification on ­Broadway in the Golden Age (often defined as 1943–1964), followed by a more in-depth discussion of the numerous changes amplification brought to the sound of Broadway after 1970. I outline how amplification changed the sound of Broadway by bringing different vocal and musical styles to the stage, how the process of amplifying the Broadway stage has developed dramatically since the 78

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1970s, and the aesthetic changes amplification has had on productions in the new millennium. I then conclude the chapter with a series of case studies of recent Broadway musicals and their sound designs, offering “close listenings” of musical numbers to reveal the kind of information contemporary sound design is now capable of conveying. These examples demonstrate just how much sound design shapes our experience of musical theater—mirroring a character’s emotional state or enveloping us in the soundscape of a show’s environment—sometimes without our being consciously aware of it.

Early Days of Electronic Amplification on Broadway Electronic amplification (also called sound reinforcement) in Broadway houses during the Golden Age was limited. Although radio and film both relied on the same basic sound technology as was available for use on Broadway, using microphones (mics) to capture sound and then relay it through speakers to an audience was more complicated for live theater. The biggest problem plaguing early sound designers was the issue of directionality. With unamplified performances, such as opera, the sound produced onstage is directional. In other words, if a performer moves from one side of the stage to the other, or turns away from the audience, spectators hear the sound travel and change accordingly. The physical reality of how sound travels from an unamplified performer means that certain staging and performance practices are employed to ensure that singers can always be heard clearly. “Cheating out” is one of the most basic examples of how performers cope with the need to direct their voices toward the audience. When performers are cheating out, their characters may be interacting with each other onstage, as in a love duet, but their bodies are turned slightly outward toward the audience, rather than facing each other. Early amplification technology similarly required performers to direct their voices toward the microphones onstage. Foot mics—microphones placed along the front, or apron, of the stage near the footlights—were initially used to provide basic sound reinforcement, particularly for ensembles. The mics were useful for large group settings, but ineffective as a reliable way to transmit spoken dialogue or solo singing, since the sound was lost whenever performers turned away from them. Although using microphones onstage was meant to alleviate issues of unclear dialogue and singing while providing more freedom in terms of staging, the earliest uses of the technology were bound to the same limitations of directionality as unamplified performances. Most criticism of early sound reinforcement centered on issues of volume and lack of clarity.5 Reviewers found little purpose for amplification in musicals, except perhaps as a sign that audiences had grown lazy in their listening skills thanks to radio and, even more to blame, the cinema. Press interviews with composers and producers about the use of sound reinforcement in their shows reveal that the general opinion about the transition from non-amplified to amplified performance was to blame for the theatergoers’ worsening listening habits. Richard Rodgers, in discussing the use of amplification in The Sound of Music (1959), remarked that audiences a decade and a half earlier at the non-amplified Carousel (1945) could hear everything “in the last row of the balcony because [they] listened, really listened. Today, we’d get killed if we went into the Majestic [Theatre] without amplification. The movies have gotten people accustomed to a big screen and a big sound.”6 Creative teams and producers eventually attributed the demand for amplification on ­Broadway to changes in audience taste and the rise in popularity of rock music. Through the mid-1960s, theater sound systems remained spotty, and many reviews for shows using amplification mention unintelligible lyrics or dialogue due to distorted sound or blasting speakers. By the end of the decade, a greater number of shows featured amplified instruments and pop or rock scores, necessitating the need for mic’d actors. The sound design for Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Promises, Promises (1968), created by recording engineer Phil Ramone, was notable 79

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for its attempt to replicate the quality of a studio album in real time for a live performance. ­R amone, longtime engineer for Bacharach and David, used common studio recording practices when configuring the musicians, arranging microphones, and installing soundproofing in the pit, all with the goal of approximating the quality of a pop music recording.7 His approach for mic’ing and mixing the show anticipated later generations of sound design on Broadway, which similarly sought to reproduce the aural experience of carefully mixed studio albums and films in shows like Mamma Mia! (2001), Rock of Ages (2006), American Idiot (2010), Newsies (2011), Once (2011), Aladdin (2014), Holler If Ya Hear Me (2014), and On Your Feet! (2015), among many others.

Changes to Musical and Performance Styles in the Age of the Microphone Technology was changing the sound of popular music well before the microphone reached ­Broadway. “Crooning” was a style of singing that gained popularity in the 1920s and 1930s with singers such as Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallée. The vocal style was characterized by soft, low singing that, in an unamplified setting, could never have been heard over a full orchestra. The use of microphones permanently changed the relationship between the vocal performer and orchestra: the orchestra no longer had to take into consideration the need for an unamplified performer to be heard, while crooners could enjoy regular employment with minimal vocal strain.8 Prior to the use of microphones on Broadway, performers ideally needed to have voices that could carry to the last seats of the theater. Because of the vocal stamina required to sing in eight shows a week over an orchestra, many Broadway performers were either classically trained, like Julie Andrews, or “belters,” like Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, with naturally resonant, brassy, resilient voices. Beyond a singer’s own physical ability, her or his voice was supported, to some extent, by the acoustic design of Broadway theaters. Preferably, a musical’s orchestrations also reinforced the unamplified voice without overpowering it. A solo number for a soprano, for ­example, might avoid any doubling of the vocal line with instruments that sound in a similar range, like upper strings and winds, and instead feature lower-sounding instruments so the singer’s voice could cut through the texture more easily. To ensure the clear audibility of dialogue, the use of any substantial orchestral underscoring during spoken (book) scenes in Golden Age musicals was uncommon. Much in the way microphones transformed the popular music scene, the introduction of microphones on Broadway made it possible for more unconventional vocal types, along with new musical styles (crooning, folk, pop, rock), to be heard onstage. The wider range of vocal styles now feasible in the theater provided creative teams with a more diverse musical palette from which to draw. Following the Golden Age, many new musicals featured scores influenced by folk music, like Pippin (1972) and Godspell (1976), and rock, like Hair (1968), Jesus Christ Superstar (1971), Grease (1972), Rent (1996), Rock of Ages, Passing Strange (2008), and American Idiot. In recent years, hip-hop and rap have also come to Broadway in shows like In the Heights (2008), Holler If Ya Hear Me, and Hamilton (2015). Amplification was especially important for megamusicals like Cats (1982), Les Misérables (1987), and The Phantom of the Opera (1988), whose scores often feature a mix of rock and operatic styles. The sung-through, recitative-like construction of the vocal lines is accompanied by a range of electric instruments, including synthesizers, guitars, and bass, making it imperative that performers be mic’d to be heard. Orchestration practices also changed for these shows. Instrument-voice doublings that were previously imprudent, such as the strings/winds/soprano example given earlier, were newly possible (and quickly became ubiquitous) in numbers like “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables and “Think of Me” from The Phantom of the Opera. 80

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Issues in Sound Design Post-1970 Not everyone was pleased about the fact that microphones and other amplification technology fundamentally changed the sound of Broadway musicals. By the 1970s, speaker systems were becoming more reliable and most lead performers began wearing radio mics (small microphones worn on the body), which helped address complaints about spotty audio quality. Critics of the newly amplified Broadway began targeting shows’ increased volume levels and lack of nuanced, nondirectional sound. Some performers even questioned whether mics helped or harmed the emotionality they put into their performances.9 Such criticism persisted through the late 1990s, as sound designers waited for technology to catch up to their aesthetic desires for more control over a show’s aural experience.10 Early on, sound designers and sound board operators were able to mimic the directionality of unamplified performances in a rudimentary way by manually adjusting volume levels from the sound board (“riding the faders”) to compensate for the otherwise “flat” sound coming through the speakers. Sound designers came to rely on the Haas Effect (sometimes called the precedence effect) to determine where they should place speakers and how they should adjust the audio input from the mics before the sound is sent back through those speakers.11 The general guiding principle behind the Haas Effect involves adjusting volume levels and signal delays among different speakers around the theater. The result is an artificial recreation of directional sound, with an amplification system otherwise incapable of replicating that signature characteristic of unamplified performance. The Haas Effect only got sound designers so far, however; mixing in real time at the sound board remained an unpredictable venture that was not easily repeated night after night. The quest was on for technology that could assist in automating the mixing process for live performances. Imagining the future of sound design on Broadway in 1995, sound designer Tony Meola predicted, “One day we’ll be able to tell a computer to make a voice a certain number of decibels. It will revolutionize sound and take it out of the operator’s hands. Mikes [sic] will get even smaller.”12 Twenty years later, Meola’s vision was becoming reality.

The “Sound” of Broadway in the Post-Millennium (I): The Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas and Aladdin on Broadway By the start of the new millennium, sound designers were working toward creating an even more “naturalized” sound on Broadway stages. Of course, one must keep in mind that electronic amplification is not natural in a traditional sense. Rather, in this context, a “naturalized” soundscape relates to the ways in which contemporary theatrical sound design emulates the typical audio mixing style of film and television, where the sonic space is artificially generated but often grounded in realistic sound. “The ideal of theatrical sound,” sound designer John Sibley explains, “is a totally transparent design where one can hear everything but can’t tell that the material is amplified.”13 The act of amplifying the performers, instrumentalists, and sound effects ensures that each element can first be heard. But creating a more realistic directionality to the sound is what effectively “hides” the musical’s amplified state from the audience. Technology that was both more reliable and cheaper made it easier and more feasible for sound designers to create the directional, “cinematic” sound many Broadway theaters now employ every night. This specific style of mixing, made possible by faster computer processing speeds, is called source-oriented reinforcement (SOR). Like sound design created using the Haas Effect, SOR provides the audience with a sense of directional sound by adjusting signal delays to the speaker arrays. The process is now accomplished and managed through specific software. SOR as implemented by the TiMax tracking system automates the mixing process by establishing specific “zones” on the stage through virtual imaging. The software then adjusts the decibel and panning 81

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levels for a performer’s mic as she moves around the stage between different zones. A radar tag worn by the performer tracks her movement onstage and relays her position to the mixing console. The aesthetic effect of SOR more closely replicates the directionality of an unamplified performance as the software regulates volume levels in real time. The granular level of control allows sound designers to turn the sound design in Broadway shows into a tool that is as dramatic as it is practical. Reporting on the sound technology for Broadway’s Aladdin, Alan Hardiman wrote, “Hooray for the design that conveys a full range of dynamics and can take the audience on a ­journey from a sly whisper to an excited triple-forte climax.”14 The flexibility and dramatic range afforded by these new tracking systems are especially useful for shows like The Phantom of the Opera (Las Vegas, 2006–2012) and Aladdin (2014), which feature plots and music that are epic in scale. Both mega shows boast sprawling casts, large orchestras, and elaborate set changes that move quickly and fluidly between intimate moments and large production numbers. High-powered mixing consoles make it possible for the sound team to achieve seamless transitions between different scenes and spaces with minimal modification during a performance. So what does it mean for a show to feature cinematic mixing styles? Take, for example, the Las Vegas production of Phantom. Sound designer Mick Potter was tasked with enhancing the sonic world created in the original productions on Broadway and in the West End. In practice, this meant that Potter had to determine how best to navigate the transitions between lush, heavily orchestrated moments and book scenes without the sound ever being too jarring for the audience.15 The number “Think of Me” poses this exact problem of needing to move deftly between several distinct aural spaces. In the musical, the show’s protagonist, Christine Daaé, steps in to perform in the place of the Opéra Populaire’s resident diva, Carlotta. We first see Christine rehearse the number in front of the cast, accompanied simply by piano. She is nervous and unable to support her singing properly, which translates into a meek vocal performance. The sound design is accordingly small and emanates from Christine’s location on stage, featuring a dry mix free of reverb for both Christine and the piano in the pit. As Christine gains confidence and the number transitions into the evening’s performance, the small sound of the piano grows until the full orchestra takes over. The sound design concurrently changes from the location-specific sound of the rehearsal to a lush, sweeping sound for the fully orchestrated portion of the number. The shift to the surround-sound mix is masked by the orchestration change, which, in turn, helps naturalize the suddenly full quality of the orchestral mix. The sophistication of Potter’s design does not end there. Later in “Think of Me,” we hear briefly from Christine’s childhood friend, Raoul, who is seated in a box located stage left where he watches her performance.16 His singing in the scene is not performative (in other words, his singing is not diegetic, while Christine’s is) and is mixed accordingly to represent his singing as internal commentary. No reverb is applied, and his voice originates from the stage left speakers where he is located. The smaller, drier sound from Raoul contrasts greatly with Christine’s when the audio focus returns to her once more. For her finale, the orchestra’s sound fully immerses the audience and heavy reverb is added to her vocals, giving the illusion that Christine’s performance is in a much larger space than the Las Vegas Venetian Theatre. The continual “zooming in and out” from the performers to the full orchestra throughout Phantom points to how modern sound design can bridge the gap between the aesthetic desire for the “unamplified” sound and the practical need for amplification. Contemporary mixing practices imitate the Golden Age method of balancing voice and orchestra, in which the sung voice takes priority despite contemporary orchestrations and vocal writing not adhering to such rules. The attempt to create directional, “natural” sound for Phantom is supported by the immersive set design for the Las Vegas production. The interior design of the Venetian Theatre was fashioned to look like the interior of the Palais Garnier opera house,17 which necessitated hiding the 82

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production’s speaker stacks from view. Camouflaging the speaker system removed one of the two most obvious markers of electric amplification (the second being forehead mounted mics) and further created the illusion that the show was taking place inside an actual opera house, perhaps encouraging the audience to accept the audio as non-amplified.18 Turning back to Broadway, Disney Theatrical Group’s production of Aladdin uses one of the most sophisticated contemporary sound designs of the new millennium. The musical is a staged adaptation of the 1992 animated film of the same name. Because the source material was the filmed musical, the cinematic-style mixing capabilities made possible by a system like the TiMax tracking software proved to be a useful tool to evoke the aural dynamism of film. Ken Travis’s sound design for the stage musical relies on the TiMax tracking software to track and adjust the performers’ vocal levels in real time.19 Using the software system on its own produces a basic degree of SOR, but Aladdin’s cinematic sound also owes its nuanced quality to the special speaker arrays installed in the New Amsterdam Theatre. The main issue with mixing using the Haas Effect, or even more basic SOR practices, is that only a select range of seats—typically, those in the center of the orchestra section—ever hear the “ideal” mix of the show, where the sound seems to originate appropriately from the performer’s location on stage. The mezzanine and balcony sections typically experience more distorted sound, with less robust audio systems that provide few if any specific speakers for the patrons in those locations. Travis solved the issue of uneven distribution of sound by having several series of redundant speakers installed throughout the theater to unify the mix for the entire orchestra section. He similarly had full speaker arrays installed for the mezzanine and balcony sections of the theater, so audience members sitting in those levels would have the same sonic experience as those in the orchestra seats.20 Such a complex sound system might imply that the experience of watching Aladdin would be overwhelming, but in fact the higher number of speakers ends up displacing the amplification “load,” so loud moments in the show sound powerful without being physically painful to the ear. Like the system developed for Phantom in Las Vegas, the extensive amount of gear used for Aladdin provided Travis with enormous flexibility to create complex sonic worlds, ranging from water-logged dungeons to the bustling streets of Agrabah. Beyond being able to produce and manage the expansive aural demands of such ensemble-centric showstoppers as “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” the intricacies of Aladdin’s sound design also create delicate, intimate ambiance for the musical’s smaller moments. These include Aladdin’s Act One monologue, “Proud of Your Boy,” and the show’s famous love duet in Act Two, “A Whole New World.” In “A Whole New World,” lead characters Aladdin and Princess Jasmine tour the world on a flying carpet. The song features prominently in the film and is one of the most anticipated moments in the stage show, as many audience members are eager to see how Disney is going to make the carpet “fly.” The number is staged relatively simply with Aladdin and Jasmine on the carpet, which moves gracefully through the night sky with the couple illuminated by the full moon as they travel. Travis’s design for the sequence complements the simple staging, the actors’ voices moving in the soundscape as they fly about the stage. Such tracking is not just about their voices moving from speakers on stage right or left; the amplification technology creates the illusion of distance and depth, too. As the couple flies toward the audience, their voices sound closer and are moved forward in the audio mix. Likewise, as the carpet moves Aladdin and Jasmine upstage away from the audience, their voices become more obscured in the mix. Like the decision to “hide” the speakers for Phantom in Las Vegas, Travis insists that the actors’ mics not be visible to the audience. Redundant mics are sewn into costumes and headwear while performers are responsible for ensuring their mics are well-hidden by their hair lines. Because the Genie is bald in the show, his mic is hidden in a prosthetic beard piece. While Travis’s requests for invisible mic’ing might seem unwieldy to some, the effect contributes to the overall “magical” 83

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atmosphere of the production, where obvious stage mechanics would be out of place. Hiding the mics so carefully helps keep the focus of the world onstage on the genies and magic carpets, not on the mechanism behind the magic.

The “Sound” of Broadway in the Post-Millennium (II): Once on Broadway Most discussions that address sound design on Broadway (this chapter included) focus on the aesthetic and technological accomplishments of sound design that manages the herculean task of balancing the demands of electrified scores while masking noisy stage technology. Less frequently discussed are the Broadway shows whose sound designs go virtually unnoticed, as though no electronic amplification is even used. The more intimate quality of these types of shows—most often singer-songwriter musicals—provides a very different listening experience for the audience when compared with the sound designs for mega shows. The musical Once (2012) is a useful case study of the “barely there” sound design. Musicals, by the very nature of their construction, consist of a series of musical performances, but rarely is our attention drawn to them as actual performances where the actual process of ­music-making is the focus, save in jukebox or backstage musicals that feature diegetic numbers. With Once, the story focuses on the budding relationship between two individuals, Guy and Girl, and their shared love of music. Music-making features prominently throughout the show in the form of jam sessions that serve as scene transitions, and performances set in pubs and recording studios. The cast doubles as the orchestra, which keeps the typically hidden process of music-making fully visible throughout the show. Unlike many Broadway musicals where the overture or an opening scene of some kind signals the start of the show, Once begins with a brief jam session featuring the entire cast (except the two leads) playing a mix of Irish drinking songs and Czech folk songs; the audience is invited to come up onstage for a drink and to watch the performances up close. The atmosphere is akin to a cèilidh, a rousing social gathering common in many Gaelic regions that features music and dancing. From the very beginning, the audience is invited to observe, even participate in, the show’s communal music-making experience, an ideal that is reflected in both Clive Goodwin’s sound design and Bob Crowley’s set design. It is no coincidence that Crowley’s simple set is of a beautifully grimy, well-loved pub, its large mirrored walls reflecting the cast and the audience simultaneously throughout the show. The instrumentation in Once also accentuates the intensely intimate nature of the production. Plucked and bowed string instruments and piano are the dominant instrument groups we hear throughout the musical, while accordion and harmonica are brought in to provide additional musical texture. The production lacks what Goodwin calls “the instruments of war – drum and horns;” however, the show still packs quite a percussive punch with the tambourine, cajon, stomping, and clapping.21 Acoustic guitar and piano are the instruments of choice for Guy and Girl, respectively, and are featured regularly throughout the show. Without amplification, acoustic guitar and an upright piano stand little chance of carrying very far in a Broadway house, so ­Goodwin’s sound design focused on supporting the delicate sound profile of plucked guitar strings, for instance, without distorting it. The relatively acoustic quality of the orchestral ensemble immediately set Once apart from other shows on Broadway that season, including the more traditional scoring found in Newsies (2012) and the heavily rock inspired score of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (2011). Goodwin creates the illusion of a non-amplified performance through a combination of adjusting speaker arrangements and sound delays, carefully equalizing outputs, and counteracting the theater’s resonating frequency to create a flatter sound overall.22 Flattening the sound space of 84

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the theater might seem counterintuitive, but remember that sound design in recent years focuses as much attention on creating nontheatrical soundscapes as it does on amplifying the performers. As noted with The Phantom of the Opera and Aladdin, the shows themselves are huge musically and technologically, but the sound design for each production focuses on emulating a range of locations from the intimate to the cavernous. The process of flattening the theater’s acoustics provided Goodwin with a blank canvas on which to build and develop the sound of a small pub gathering. A key technique in achieving the dry quality of a pub performance was the manner in which the performers and their instruments were mic’d. Each performer and their instruments had separate mics, but Goodwin was selective about when to use one or both mics. While larger musical numbers required that both individual and instrumental mics be used, thus allowing greater clarity of vocal and instrumental timbres to come out of the texture as needed, Goodwin chose to use only the performer’s mic to pick up their voice and instrument during more intimate moments. The result is a distinct aural experience, where the voice comes across as more prominent in the mix while the instrument sounds more distant. The effect imitates the experience of sitting in a small performance venue just a few feet from a performer where the speakers pipe out the vocals faster than our ears might hear the accompanying instrument. Using this technique repeatedly throughout the show not only reinforces the intimate soundscape Goodwin wanted to create, but it demonstrates the diverse capabilities of contemporary sound design. While Once might at first appear to be a rather unremarkable show technologically, it is in fact the careful ministrations of Goodwin, his team, and the technology at their disposal that effectively transformed the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre into a local Irish pub.

The State of the (Amplified) Art Contemporary sound design on Broadway in the new millennium represents the culmination of the past several decades of experiments and implementation of electronic amplification onstage. There is a wide range of performance styles now available on Broadway, ranging from ­singer-songwriter musicals like Beautiful: The Carole King Story (2014) and Waitress (2016) to ­operettas like A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2014) to more traditional Broadway fare like revivals of South Pacific (2009), Anything Goes (2011), and The King and I (2015). Advances in amplification technology continue to push the boundaries of how “natural” a show can sound if the material calls for it while, on the other hand, shows like Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2014) or American Idiot can play up the rock aesthetic. Heavily athletic shows like Cats and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which require performers to be especially mobile while singing over a rock orchestra, are now possible. Ultimately, sound design is as much an artistic endeavor as a technical feat. It helps tell a story along with the dozens of other elements that come together in each show. The past several decades have shown just how important a dramatic tool sound design can be; one can only imagine what the future will bring.

Notes 1 The UK-equivalent to the Tony Awards, the Olivier Awards, first awarded an Olivier for sound design in 2004. 2 Patrick Healy. “Tony Committee Decision to Drop Sound Design Awards Prompts Noisy Outcry.” The New York Times. 12 June 2014. 3 Quoted in Healy, “Tony Committee Decision to Drop Design Awards.” 4 “Tony Awards to Reinstate Sound Design Categories.” American Theater. 24 Apr. 2017. . 5 The reviewer of Let Freedom Sing (1942) remarked, “[The a]mplification system used was so loud everybody seemed to shout for the first half hour or so.” “Plays on Broadway – Let Freedom Sing.” Daily Variety. 7 Oct. 1942, 82.


Arreanna Rostosky 6 Rodgers quoted in John S. Wilson. “Sound of Sound.” The New York Times. 18 Nov. 1962. 7 John S. Wilson. “The New Sound Of Promises.” The New York Times. 16 Feb. 1969. 8 For more on crooning, see Allison McCraken. Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture. Durham: Duke UP, 2015. 9 Lawrence O’Toole. “Music Theater Is Discovering a New Voice.” The New York Times. 22 Jan. 1995. 10 For an argument against amplification, see Harold C. Schonberg’s article on the 1980–1981 Broadway season, “The Surrender of Broadway to Amplified Sound.” The New York Times. 15 Mar. 1981, D1. For an argument in favor of amplification, see John Sibley, “Hooray for Amplification: An Opinionated ­Diatribe on Augmentation as Advancement to the Art of Musical Theater.” Entertainment Design: The Art and Technology of Show Business 37.8 (Sept. 2003): 28. 11 For more on how the Haas Effect is achieved, see R. Craig Wolf and Dick Block. Scene Design and Stage Lighting. 10th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Publishing, 2013. 570. 12 Quoted in O’Toole, “Music Theater Is Discovering a New Voice.” 13 Sibley, “Hooray for Amplification,” 28. 14 Ibid. 15 Potter explains, “It’s a very dynamic show, which is how Andrew [Lloyd Webber] likes to work […N]ew technology is allowing us to get closer to what we want to hear.” Quoted in David Barbour, “Phantom Lighting and Sound.” Lighting & Sound America, Oct. 2006. 69. 16 Stage left is the right side of the stage from the audience’s perspective. 17 The musical’s setting in the fictional Opéra Populaire is based loosely on the Palais Garnier in Paris. 18 The success of Potter’s updated design led to the complete overhaul of the sound systems in 2008 for both the West End and Broadway productions of Phantom. Kenneth Jones. “Broadway’s Phantom to Shut Down Aug. 24–27 for Installation of New Sound System.” 16 July 2008. . 19 “When performers travel from extreme right to extreme left, there’s about a 3dB [decibel] difference, but the time shifts 14ms [milliseconds].” Ken Travis quoted in Alan Hardiman, “A Whole New Audio World: Sound Design for Disney’s Aladdin.” Lighting & Sound America, Aug. 2014. 69. 20 Hardiman, “A Whole New Audio World,” 69–70. 21 Clive Goodwin quoted in Halliday. “Theater: Once.” Lighting & Sound International, June 2013. 61. 22 Halliday, “Theater: Once,” 60–61.


9 STARLIGHT EXPRESSION AND PHANTOM OPERATICS Technology, Performance, and the Megamusical’s Aesthetic of the Voice Dominic Symonds It’s a striking acoustic opening, not in terms of music, but in terms of affect. From silence, the crack of a gavel hitting its block, and the assertive announcement of an auctioneer: “Sold!,” the voice cries into the void. It’s a voice audibly enhanced by technology—reverb and amplification— far too much for the scenario (the empty stage of an opera house), and certainly for the period setting (1911). Yet the acoustic magnification of this opening to The Phantom of the Opera is important: it tells the audience that the affect of sound—sound’s visceral impact on our performance experience—has special significance in the show. In this chapter I explore this significance. I will consider the affect of sound, the way developing technologies have enabled increasingly versatile uses of sound in the theater, and the way the megamusical form derived a particular acoustic ­aesthetic from dramaturgically exploiting sound possibilities. My approach to this topic, 30 years after the megamusical’s heyday, turns to recent perspectives on performance through which we can understand the megamusical in a new light. Specifically, I’ll use the work of Jonathan Burston on sound technology,1 and David Roesner on musicality2 as a creative concept for “scoring” performance. I’ll consider Jesus Christ Superstar (1971), Starlight Express (1984), and The Phantom of the Opera (1986) as case studies, and will inform my analysis through a discussion with Sir Richard Stilgoe, lyricist-librettist for Starlight and Phantom, whom I interviewed in February 2017. The megamusical aesthetic significantly developed the sophistication with which sound could be used dramaturgically in the theater. I counter accusations that megamusicals are simply poor imitations of opera that have reduced musical theater to a commodity—claims that are often ­a ssumed,3 and that are perpetuated by the common description of megamusicals as “McTheater.”4 I also counter the derogatory associations that the appellation “McTheater” conveys. Instead, I suggest that megamusicals have contributed important aesthetic innovations to the stage.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) To understand the genesis of the megamusical, the contribution of Lloyd Webber, and the significance of sound design in its aesthetic, it’s worth returning to 1971 to consider Jesus Christ Superstar.5 This show reflected a major change on Broadway as one of the most successful early examples to embrace the sound of late-60s rock.


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Superstar’s score differs from the standard Broadway sound of just a few years previously. Gone was the orchestral or jazz sound of the golden age. Instead, the screeching of guitars, pounding of drums, and gymnastics of rock vocals were thrust into the acoustic space, bombarding audiences with a sound quality new to the stage. Three clear devices in Superstar use the affect of that sound for dramatic purposes. First, extreme emotional highpoints—guilt, pain, transcendence—are expressed through extreme vocals whose materiality performs the emotion of the drama (consider “Heaven on their Minds” or “Gethsemane”). Second, stylistic musical quirks such as surprising pitches or pastiche create shorthand codes for audiences to side with or against characters on the basis of the authenticity of the voice; for example, the extremely low and high vocal ranges of Caiaphas and Annas, respectively, characterize them as scheming and untrustworthy. Third, quieter moments allow a close engagement with characters aided by amplification through which singers can use more intimate expression, as with “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” In short, Rice and Lloyd Webber’s understanding of the rock aesthetic, together with a savvy handling of their product, was supported by a dramaturgical ability to characterize through the shorthand of acoustic effect. Burston picks up on the performative power of that effect. “The megamusical’s aural aesthetics,” he writes, “are comprised of the genre’s specifically musical texts on the one hand, and its sonic or acoustic texts on the other.”6 This is an interesting observation, reflecting the late-90s attention of scholars to performance dynamics (the impact of the theater experience in live performance) as much as dramatic dynamics (the power of a storyline and characters). Burston’s focus is the acoustic materiality of the event—the texture of sound as it is heard by our experiencing bodies. Other scholars focus on different elements such as energy, nostalgia, or intertextuality,7 or structural concerns like the “crackle of difference”8 that emphasize the performance encounter independently of the musical text. Burston continues, “We need to consider how technological means of sonic production and reproduction affect the in-theater acoustic environments where we watch and listen to these shows. We need to examine how sound has changed therein over the past decade and a half, not only in the music-textual realm, but in the acoustic realm as well.”9 In other words, Burston invites us to explore how the audience experience has changed as technologies like radio mics and surround sound have developed. Let’s do this, then, beginning with the innovations that emerged with Jesus Christ Superstar. Superstar was first released as a studio album, a promotional strategy to generate momentum for developing the piece on stage. As it was prepared, the press reported that Superstar was “ready for production in substantially the same form in which it was recorded.”10 This comment suggests it was possible and desirable to create an analogue to studio sound on the stage. In the end, transferring that aesthetic to the theater was not straightforward. The original production was so dogged by sound problems that producer Robert Stigwood was forced to cancel its first three previews. It was only when Abe Jacob, the sound designer of Hair, was brought in at the eleventh hour that the theater was transformed into a space capable of emulating the sound of the recording. Although the performers could replicate the recording’s music, amplification in the live acoustic space proved challenging for three reasons. First, since wireless technology was primitive, singers had to use handheld mics with trailing cables, restricting their movement. Second, because speakers were located at a distance, the sound seemed not to originate from the performers, causing confusion. Third, people in the first few rows were deafened while those in the gods could barely hear11; with rows of seating underneath balconies, sound was harder still to amplify around the house. Bringing in Jacob, with his awareness of new sound technologies, was instrumental. Using a principle known as the “Haas Effect,” Jacob patched in secondary speakers to amplify the sound more consistently around the space. To avoid the echo effect caused by sound from the speakers 88

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reaching listeners before sound from the stage, he programmed a split-second delay into the amplified sound to “preserve the illusion that the sound was emanating from the source.”12 By the fourth preview, audiences could experience the effect of the album on stage. But that was it: absorbed by the challenges of technology, early megamusical aesthetics were driven by “assisted resonance”13 —an attempt to augment what already existed but not to use sound for its dramaturgical potential. The possibilities of making something bespoke to the theatrical milieu would have to wait. Lloyd Webber’s origins in the recording domain proved vital in developing a new aesthetic. As technologies became more versatile, he could realize more creative ideas. Working with sound designers like Jacob, and later Andrew Bruce and Martin Levan, Lloyd Webber effectively turned the theater environment into a live mixing space. Placing the sound desk in its now ubiquitous position at the back of the house was a visible manifestation of this shift. The ramifications in the development of megamusical sound design were also aesthetically creative, artistically innovative, and rather political.14 Burston makes a number of points in his article, but the reason it is most often cited is for establishing the term “McTheater”: the idea that the megamusical has commodified musical theater by packaging each show as a standardized product. Burston is critical of the megamusical, though he points out some important nuances. One focus of his discussion, and a key standardizing feature of the megamusical, is its appropriation of a vocal style he calls the “FM-sound”: “a kind of hyper-real sound, closely and indeed often deliberately linked to the aesthetics of the compact disc.” He continues: “Qualities of head voice and of crooning take on a greater prominence as those of Broadway’s belting cantorial traditions diminish,” a new aural aesthetic which he argues “embraces a globally recognised ‘commercial’ music sound,” and reflects a move away from the “vigorous ‘rock ‘n roll’ sound of the rock musical of the 1970s.”15 Notwithstanding Burston’s reading of this characteristic aesthetic as “significantly political”16 —and endemic of the homogenizing shift toward McTheater—I’d suggest that the development of the FM vocal sound is a symptom of a more interesting innovative shift17: the move by creatives like Lloyd Webber to bring the aesthetics of the studio into the theater. The megamusical creates a distinctive dramaturgical encounter for the spectator, and thus deserves closer attention for its artistry than the dismissive term McTheater implies.

Starlight Express (1984) The breakthrough came with Starlight Express, whose combination of technology, musicality, and spectacle tapped into an aesthetic unique to the megamusical, at least in its original London production. Starlight Express tells of a community of trains vying to compete in a series of races. Diesel, electric, and steam are all represented; it is assumed that the most modern locomotive will win. Not everyone plays fair, so there are attempts to win by misadventure; above all, the diesel and electric trains don’t want the indignity of losing to steam. When they sabotage Rusty the steam engine’s chances, it seems that one of the modern engines will triumph. Yet the power of steam turns out not just to be its locomotion: Rusty consults the aging engine Poppa who tells him of a mysterious force, the Starlight Express, which will guide the worthy to achieve their dreams. Rusty perseveres, and in an epiphany realizes that the Starlight Express is simply the drive within him. Armed with new confidence and the value of goodness, Rusty races in the final and wins. The other trains concede defeat while Rusty celebrates the triumph of the common train. The show’s dramaturgical and emotional climax is the discovery and “appearance” of the ­ Starlight Express, the realization by Rusty that its spirit resides within him, and the confidence this gives him to find romance with the carriage Pearl. During the sequence from “Starlight 89

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Express” at the end of act one through “I Am the Starlight” in act two, to “Only He” and “Only You” at the denouement, Lloyd Webber and lyricist-librettist Richard Stilgoe create theatrical magic (literally: a magical character) by conjuring the presence of the Starlight Express through sound.18 As the lyrical West End pop voice of Ray Shell croons the homogenized FM sound ­Burston identifies, a second voice enters the mix: “the operatic bass playing Poppa,” explains Stilgoe, “who doesn’t unleash his potential until that moment.”19 This is the voice of the Starlight Express, a godlike presence who uses biblical expressions to suggest superhuman power (“the sea will part before you; stop the rain, turn the tide”). We’ve heard Poppa throughout the show—­ notably in “Poppa’s Blues,” which uses a bluesy vocal style that traditionally underplays a pure vocal tone in favor of emotional expression. In “I Am the Starlight,” however, the same performer Lon Satton’s classically trained voice soars over the voice of Rusty, pitching two distinct vocal qualities against one another and filling the acoustic space with sounds that have different relationships with amplification. Poppa’s voice is weighty and deep in tone, its thicker sound caused by the low position of the larynx and a wide pharyngeal space. This is a voice-type more common to a legit sound: resonant, well supported, and powerful. By contrast, Rusty uses a contemporary pop falsetto, aspirant, with a thin sound pitched high to resonate in the nasal cavities. The two different-sounding voices take intrinsically different approaches to singing. Where Poppa’s is born from the technique of live, unamplified performance, Rusty’s reflects a voice that exploits close microphone technology, “a kind of electrified sotto voce.”20 As Stilgoe reveals, bringing in Satton’s voice on top of Shell’s at this point was a deliberate effect built into the affect of the show: “­Hearing mezzo voce all the way through,” he suggests, “is like waiting for ‘Nessun Dorma’ in Turandot. Holding that moment back is part of the writer’s fun.”21 The power of this moment, which exploits different vocal qualities and knowingly combines the different idioms from which they emerge, is only fully possible in the theatrical encounter of a megamusical, which benefits from sound technologies that can be independently controlled. The FM quality—with the intimacy Burston, Soto-Morettini, and Stilgoe observe—is only possible when the voice is independently miked. “It’s really useful for most members of the cast to be able to work at domestic levels and be audible,” Stilgoe comments. A production team “can use the sound system in a completely different way,” he suggests; “you can now whisper loudly on stage.” Thus, against the “operatic bass” can be matched the “whisper” of the contemporary FM-sound singer.22 If this was the big step in exploiting sound technology, there is no surprise that it emerged in work by Lloyd Webber. “Because Andrew Lloyd Webber came from a world where he made the record first, he was the first to embrace that sort of sound technology in the theater,” observes Stilgoe. In his next show, The Phantom of the Opera, the sophistication with which Lloyd Webber exploits that new aesthetic is more advanced, though even from the start of Phantom’s overture, the dimension of sound is knowingly manipulated. “It’s exactly the same thing a minute or two into the overture of Phantom when the strings come in,” comments Stilgoe. “Up to then, it’s as if we have been listening on a transistor, and suddenly the hi-fi kicks in, or in modern terms, the surround sound.”23

Musicality and Spectacle The possibilities of technology alone cannot be understood without considering the creative impetus that exploits them dramaturgically, and acknowledging the experience of the audience. Let’s now discuss the musicality of the creative composition, and the spectacle of the megamusical experience. Together with technological developments, these afford the full potential of the megamusical’s aesthetic innovation. These elements provide rather more quality cuisine than a McTheater Happy Meal. 90

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I’ve touched on contemporary ideas enabling us to understand theater’s encounter with performance. By way of a prism for my discussion, I could turn to theories about liveness,24 performativity,25 the postdramatic26 or the aurality of theater.27 However, since he explicitly embraces music terminology, I’ll bring in the work of David Roesner, who writes about “musicality” not just as an element of musical craft, but as an “intrinsic quality” of theater.28 He sees theater in its widest sense (i.e. dramatic, not just musical theater) characterized by a musical dispositif, and refers to practitioners “composing with the stage,” “assembling and organizing material and adjusting parameters such as volume, timbre or tempo.” To him, they are “conscious of the associative potential of the music, rhythm, gestures, set design, etc.”29 Musicality to Roesner is not simply a musical skill; it’s “a general expressive capacity of all human beings”30 and “a way of thinking and understanding.”31 He seeks to disentangle the term “from its more common use as a descriptor of individual musical ability.”32 Instead, he adopts it metaphorically, a conceptual term to encapsulate heuristically some of the multi-layered affective qualities of theater: the rhythms of stage movement, the sound of language, dynamic design elements like lighting and color, and even communicative expressions of the body.33 Musicality “creatively connects all contributors of the final production,”34 he continues, and for some “the sonic becomes an important dramaturgical and creative driver.”35 Like Burston’s distinction between musical and acoustic texts, Roesner notes an “assumed separation” in musical theater (to be precise, opera) between the text and its performance. He argues that the dispositif of musicality “offers one opportunity to question this separation and to highlight instead the multi-layered interweaving of music and theater.”36 In other words, megamusicals are not just stories linked through song, nor simply dramas whose narrative and dramaturgical material is song; they are compositions whose structure, performative trajectory, embodied presence, affectual material, and phenomenological experience capture the dynamics of musicality. The role of voice in this music-making has always been a characteristic focus of the musical stage’s affect, both materially and symbolically37; with the megamusical’s overt repurposing of vocal potential through advancing technology, savvy composition, and diverse performance approaches, the capacity of the voice to characterize, dramatize, and thrill reached a new level. At the same time, megamusicals have become infamous for their spectacle,38 which is often seen to triumph over substance.39 Starlight Express, for example, is frequently derided as superficial, but it is worth reflecting on what this show did, at least in the West End, and therefore what the spectacular can offer to the megamusical aesthetic. Structurally, the producers rebuilt the inside of its theater to create a performing space encircling the auditorium on two tiers.40 This became the racetrack, and with the cast on roller skates, races featured performers whizzing round the audience’s heads, behind the seating and on different levels across the stage. Complex scenery swung into place as trains rushed across bridges, and up and down ramps as the races progressed. The effect was exhilarating and spectacular. It was fast, dangerous, thrilling, and accompanied by a soundtrack of driving pop-rock. “Starlight Express was part sport, part rock-concert,” suggests Stilgoe41; the power of its spectacle caused its particular dramaturgical use of sound. The technological challenges of creating the sound for Starlight were considerable. With the extreme physicality of the performances, extensive use of space, and competition against loud music, there was a clear need to amplify voices; yet with this fast-moving, immersive show, there was no option of shackling performers with microphone cables. The cast used radio mics, while booth singers provided additional singing from offstage. But aside from technical innovation, the theatrical assumptions of the production meant that the composition, arrangement, and dramaturgy of the sound palette also became highly innovative, requiring, for instance, the immersive experience to be supported acoustically by a sound system siting the spectators within it, just as they were within the action. 91

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To consider the megamusical critically as a performance encounter, we must not simply consider it as a musical text, but also as an acoustic one, structured through complex collaborative composition involving technology, musicality, and spectacle. Lloyd Webber’s next work, The Phantom of the Opera (1986), is a resounding example of this composite, and the performance encounter of the audience is—thanks to the site-specificity of its story—uniquely immersive.

The Phantom of the Opera (1986) Phantom opened in the West End on September 27, 1986. Based on Gaston Leroux’s serialized novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (1909–1911), it tells of the operatic ingénue Christine Daaé, who becomes muse to the dreaded Phantom of Paris’s Opéra Populaire. Blessed with the voice of an angel by the disfigured Phantom, Christine is plucked from the chorus to usurp the prima donna’s place. Yet the Phantom exerts deadly pressure on the opera’s managers, forcing them to stage his own avant-garde compositions and demanding stiff payments from the profits. As the Phantom becomes more murderous, Christine’s lover Raoul seeks to end his tyrannous regime and ventures down to the Phantom’s lair. Christine is rescued, and she and Raoul reunited, but—in the musical—the Phantom escapes in a magical disappearing act, leaving the conclusion unresolved. Le Fantôme is set in 1881, a time of rapid technological progress. The first microphones were invented in 1876 by Emile Berliner. In 1877 Thomas Edison invented the phonograph; in 1880 he invented the electric lamp, and electric lighting was installed in theaters to replace gas throughout the 1880s. By the 1890s the Lumière brothers were using projections and opening the first movie theaters. In 1901, Marconi sent radio waves across the Atlantic, and in 1904 the United States granted the first patent for radio. By 1906, shortly before Le Fantôme was serialized, the first music was broadcast by Amalgamated Wireless in Australasia. Against this backdrop, it’s not difficult to see Leroux’s fascination with technology. The seemingly magical ability for sound, lighting, and images to be created and sent over distances offered new tricks for the theater, and the opportunity to explain such magic with gothic stories of the supernatural. Leroux sets both these ideas up as he creates in his opera house an environment of magical voices, visions, and phantasmagoria that is explained through nervous rumors about a ghost. Le Fantôme explores a dramaturgical world inspired by the marvels of technology, and imagines the possibilities of the acoustic space in which it is set. As a megamusical—and using the technology, musicality, and spectacle of the form—Phantom enables that dramaturgical world to become a reality. There are two distinctive magical voices in Le Fantôme: those of the Phantom and his muse, Christine Daaé. The Phantom’s is “a divine voice,” we learn, with “celestial harmonies”42; that are “as beautiful as the voice of an angel.”43 The “very soft, very captivating” voice is “heroically sweet… gloriously suggestive… delicate… powerful… irresistibly triumphant.”44 All these descriptions point toward its affect: “it seemed to command me,” says Christine, “to stand up and come to it. It retreated and I followed.”45 If this is the Phantom’s magical voice, Christine’s own sound is just as impressive: following her first performance under the Phantom’s spell, her voice is “seraphic,” managing to reach “superhuman notes.”46 Her own recollection is equally compelling: “I sang with a rapture I had never felt before and I felt for a moment as if my soul were leaving my body.” She reports the Phantom describing her voice as “a little of the music of Heaven.”47 The two voices, then, are clearly remarkable, and are given a mystical dimension in the novel. Not only are they distinctive in their quality and the effect they have on listeners, but also in the way they magically appear. Raoul perceives the Phantom’s voice to be one “without a body” that seems to inhabit the building: “it was as though the walls themselves were singing!” Then, “It came through the wall… it approached… and now the voice was in the room…”48 92

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In transferring the phantasmagoria of these voices and their affect into theatrical performance, Lloyd Webber and his collaborators use similar imagery. The Phantom and Christine are referred to as the “Angel of Music,” as if they inhabit the same spectral presence when influenced by the muse. The sound of that music—the “Music of the Night”—seems, as in the novel, to have a spirit of its own, to magically appear and be everywhere. Music “shall caress you,” we are told, and “possess you.” At the same time, the Phantom sings of his song “tak[ing] flight”; in the stage directions, the trajectory of this flight is detailed: Christine “begins to vocalize strangely, her song becoming more and more extravagant […] Her voice climbing higher and higher in pitch.”49 These descriptions of the voices and music are no more than the (musical) text; in order to turn these into affective qualities of the material encounter they must find their way into the “acoustic text” of the event. And this—thanks to the technological developments of the 1980s, the dispositif of the creative team’s musicality and the spectacle of the show—is achieved through innovations in staging, technical setup, and the acoustic possibilities of the megamusical. The title song brings exactly that into play, as Christine sings higher and higher while the Phantom urges her to “Sing, my Angel of Music!” In the megamusical, for the first time, it is technologically possible to make a voice not only sound “very beautiful … very soft … absolutely and heroically sweet … gloriously suggestive … delicate … powerful … irresistibly triumphant,”50 but also to make those qualities audible to spectators wherever they are seated. The Phantom can move freely around the space: onstage, in the wings, above the audience’s heads. The technology was constructed accordingly: “This was an era when a lot of invention was required to move theater sound forward,” reports sound designer Martin Levan.51 “Very few manufacturers were actually developing products specifically for theater, so we had to grab a bit from broadcasting, some more from recording and some from the live concert sectors.” The innovation worked, thanks in part to concealed speakers placed around the auditorium: “We used them to create the surround sound for a few special effects including the Phantom’s reverb/ambience at different points in the show. This […] put him right into the walls of the theater, giving him a real sense of the Phantom’s omnipresence.”52 Stilgoe makes the same point: “the Phantom’s voice could be the whole building speaking rather than an individual.”53 In the course of a single song (“The Music of the Night”) the timbre, tone, and volume run the gamut from “very soft” (“softly, deftly”) to “irresistibly triumphant” (“Let your soul take you where you long to be”). Paradoxically, and in contrast to Burston’s vocal model, Crawford’s performance works as a riposte to the compression of the “FM sound.” The FM sound becomes just one performative choice of the megamusical actor who can exploit the versatility of the amplification system to use his voice both intimately and with full projection. As much as it became a commodified, homogenized aesthetic (McTheater), the acoustic potential enabled by technology, musicality, and spectacle created in the megamusical’s sonic world a multidimensional art form whose fusion of “musical text” and “acoustic text” achieves new levels of affect. Reconsider Stilgoe’s comments about how he and Lloyd Webber used Satton’s operatic bass thoughtfully in Starlight Express; comparable moments are equally crafted in Phantom. The early “Think of Me” sequence, for example, showcases three distinct voices: first, Carlotta sings the opening of the number, ostensibly an aria being rehearsed. Her voice, which Leroux describes as “rather too splendidly massive,”54 deliberately sounds excessive, not only in its tessitura and accented Italianness but also in the way amplification effects such as reverb give further body to the sound. Next, Christine sings a longer passage at a slightly lower pitch to make it more grounded, with clearer, flatter English vowels to sound more familiar to the audience, and with less reverb, to complete the impression that Christine is a less trained singer. In the novel, we hear repeatedly how Christine’s “ordinary” voice is distinguished from the “seraphic” and “superhuman” voice trained by the Angel: Christine reports that “I sang with my ordinary, every-day voice and nobody noticed anything.”55 Hers is a “fresh, top of the mountain voice and not the mannered singing that Carlotta does,” as Stilgoe puts it.56 93

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Whatever the “musical text” qualities of her voice, the tweaking of the acoustic text makes her voice better (i.e. more accessible) to a contemporary audience: “Ironically,” observes Derek B. Scott, “the audience will no doubt prefer Christine’s less operatic voice to that of the diva Carlotta.”57 In other words, the sound of these voices is deliberately crafted. Finally, in response to “Think of Me,” Meg sings an extract from the melody of “Angel of Music,” and her sound is markedly different from either Carlotta’s or Christine’s. In Meg’s line, “Where in the world have you been hiding?,” we hear none of the tone, training or finish of Carlotta or Christine, and the technological modeling of her voice is less applied: this, we are being told, is a common voice, with neither the pretensions of the diva nor the raw appeal of the ingénue.

Past the Point of No Return What is read in these examples can be detected in numerous other megamusicals, from Les Misérables (1995) to Wicked (2003). But the development of acoustic dramaturgy within the megamusical was a feature of a particular period. As technologies have digitalized to become cheaper and more versatile, innovations have shifted away from the spectacular and found their home in small-scale encounters, performance walks, binaural technologies, and immersive installations, as Lynne Kendrick’s book Theatre Aurality explores. Perhaps the triangulation of technology, musicality, and spectacle that characterized the sound innovation of the megamusical in the 1980s and 1990s is a product of that era. Despite those innovations, musical theater sound design still focuses on “assisted resonance,” though new technological innovations such as tracker systems (Aladdin, 2017) have been warmly received by the industry. If there have been dynamic sound experiments in mainstream productions, these have often been in shows classified as plays (Peter and the Starcatcher, 2012; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, 2013). In more recent large-scale productions, the triangulation of technology, musicality, and spectacle moved toward structural design or video projection, toying with aerial display (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 2002; Mary Poppins, 2004; Spiderman: Turn off the Dark, 2012), 3-D scenography (The Woman in White, 2004; The Little Mermaid, 2008), hologram technology (Sinatra: The Man and His Music, 2015), and virtual reality (The Lion King, 201558; School of Rock, 2015). Meanwhile the acoustic dimension of the musical stage has embraced alternative genre sounds from hip-hop (In the Heights, 2012; Hamilton, 2015) and rock (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 2000; Spring Awakening, 2006; American Idiot, 2010) to acoustic folk (Once, 2011; Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, 2016) and even dance (Here Lies Love, 2013).59 Elsewhere, a fascinating approach by directors like John Doyle and Craig Revel Horwood has been to restage classic musicals using actor-musicians (Sweeney Todd, 2005; Company, 2006; Sunset Boulevard, 2008). This creates new dramaturgical dynamics between characters, their singing voices, and the instrument with which they also “speak.” Results have been varied, and the production format (aside from “dead rock-star shows”) is still a niche aesthetic. But perhaps this reflects the most exciting possibilities for musical theater to appropriate the legacy of the megamusical’s acoustic innovations.

Notes 1 Jonathan Burston. “Enter, Stage Right: Neoconservatism, English Canada and the Megamusical.” Soundings 5 (1997): 179–190; Jonathan Burston. “Theatre Space as Virtual Place: Audio Technology, the Reconfigured Singing Body, and the Megamusical.” Popular Music 17.2 (May 1998): 205–218. 2 David Roesner. Musicality in Theatre: Music as Model, Method and Metaphor in Theater-Making. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2014. 3 See Anthony Tommasini. “Opera? Musical? Please Respect the Difference.” New York Times. 7 July 2011; Bryan Appleyard. “The Mormons and Liberty Valance.” 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 14


Starlight Expression and Phantom Operatics Mar. 2017 ; Derek B. Scott. “Musical Theater(s).” The Oxford Handbook of Opera. Ed. Helen M. Greenwald. New York: Oxford UP, 2014. 52–72. 4 See Burston, “Enter”; Burston, “Theatre Space”; Dan Rebellato. Theater & Globalization. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009; Dan Rebellato. “Does the Mega-musical Boom Mean Theater’s Bust?” The Guardian. 18 Jan. 2011. 5 As Jessica Sternfeld does in her book The Megamusical. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2006. 6 Burston, “Theatre Space,” 206. 7 Millie Taylor. Musical Theater, Realism and Entertainment. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2011. 8 Scott McMillin. The Musical as Drama. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006. 9 Burston, “Theater Space,” 206. 10 Van Ness in Michael Braun et al (ed.). Jesus Christ Superstar: The Authorised Version. London: Pan Books Ltd, 1970. 11 “The gods” is theatrical slang in the United Kingdom for the uppermost balconies in the auditorium, named because many Victorian theater ceilings are painted with murals of the sky, angels, or mythological figures. 12 Timothy Tracey. “The Forging of Modern Broadway Sound Design Techniques amid the Fires of the Rock Musicals in the Late 1960s and 1970s.” Electronic Theses and Dissertations, Paper 1186 (2015): 50. 13 Burston, “Theatre Space,” 208. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid., 208–209. 16 See also Burston, “Enter.” 17 Burston does acknowledge “that contemporary audio designs can enhance performance practice as much as they might delimit it” (Burston, “Theatre Space,” 214), recognizing opportunities for “performance innovation”, “a wide range of dramatic possibilities,” and an “expansion of innovative possibility” through new technology (211). 18 This analysis refers to the original West End version of Starlight. The show changed significantly in subsequent productions. The Original Cast Recording is available, and the tracks can be heard on YouTube, especially “Starlight Express”. ; and “I am the Starlight” Web. 26 Mar. 2017. . 19 Richard Stilgoe, personal interview with author. 21 Feb. 2017. 20 Burston, “Theatre Space,” 211; see also Donna Soto-Morettini. Popular Singing and Style. London and New York: Bloomsbury Methuen, 2014. 48. 21 Stilgoe, 2017. 22 Ibid. Even so, both this singing style and the demands of Lloyd Webber’s writing have been criticized for relying on technology at the expense of technique (see Elizabeth L. Wollman. The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical from Hair to Hedwig. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2006. 126). 23 Stilgoe, 2017. 24 See Philip Auslander. Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1999; Carolyn Abbate. In Search of Opera. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2001; Peggy Phelan. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 2003. 25 See Taylor, Musical Theater. 26 See Hans-Thies Lehmann. Postdramatic Theatre. New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2006. 27 See Pieter Verstraete. The Frequency of Imagination: Auditory Distress and Aurality in Contemporary Music Theatre. Enschede: Ipskamp Drukkers bv, 2009; Lynne Kendrick and David Roesner (eds.). Theater Noise: The Sound of Performance. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011; Lynne Kendrick. Theater Aurality. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 28 Roesner, Musicality, 9. 29 Ibid., 251. 30 Ibid., 8. 31 Ibid., 17. 32 Ibid., 8. 33 Ibid., 13–15. 34 Ibid., 254. 35 Ibid., 252. 36 Ibid., 260. 37 See Michel Poizat. The Angel’s Cry: Beyond the Pleasure Principle in Opera. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1992; Abbate, In Search of Opera; Wayne Koestenbaum. The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality


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38 39 40

41 42 43 4 4 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59

and the Mystery of Desire. New York: Da Capo Press, 2009; Millie Taylor. “Experiencing Live Musical Theatre Performance: La Cage aux Folles and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” Popular Entertainment Studies 1.1 (2010): 44–58. Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman. “After the ‘Golden Age’.” The Oxford Handbook of the ­American Musical. Ed. Raymond Knapp, Stacy Wolf, and Mitchell Morris. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 111–124. Oscar G. Brockett, Robert J. Ball, John Fleming, and Andrew Carlson. The Essential Theater. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2015. 290; Vagelis Siropoulos. “Evita, the Society of the Spectacle and the Advent of the Megamusical.” Image & Narrative 11.2 (2010): 165–176, 165. The show ran in London for 18 years. When it transferred to Broadway, it was staged without any structural changes to the theater. As a result, a crucial audience experience was lost, and perhaps for this reason the production ran for just two years, failing to recoup its investment. Elsewhere—in Germany in particular—the show has fared better. Opening in 1988 in the purpose-built “Starlight Express Theater,” it has been performed continuously ever since. Stilgoe, 2017. Gaston Leroux. The Phantom of the Opera. Ware: Wordsworth Classics, 1995. 36. Ibid., 86. Ibid., 71–72. Ibid., 89. Ibid., 9. Ibid., 87. Ibid., 71–72. Richard Stilgoe, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Charles Hart (1986). The Phantom of the Opera, libretto, Web. 31 March 2017. , 24. Leroux, Phantom, 71–72. Sarah Rushton-Read. “The Phantom of the Opera Is Still Here.” Lighting and Sound International (Oct. 2017): 44–52, 49. Ibid., 49–50. Stilgoe, 2017. Leroux, Phantom, 10. Ibid., 86. Stilgoe, 2017. Scott, “Musical Theater(s),” 64. Tim Moynihan. “The Lion King Musical in VR Is an Incredible Experience.” Wired. 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 18 May 2018. . Dating musicals is tricky, given their lengthy gestations regionally or off-Broadway. These dates refer to the original productions either on Broadway or the West End—some shows gained success in other spheres prior to these incarnations.



American musical theater composer Michael John LaChiusa (b. 1962) came to prominence in 1993, after the Off-Broadway opening of his musical First Lady Suite. His works continue to be staged Off-Broadway, where shows like Hello Again (1994), Little Fish (2003), See What I Wanna See (2005), Bernalda Alba (2006), Queen of the Mist (2011), Giant (2012), and First Daughter Suite (2015) find homes and fans. In the 1999–2000 season, LaChiusa had two musicals on Broadway, Marie Christine (1999) and The Wild Party (2000). Despite his presence in New York theater and a steady output, LaChiusa remains somewhat of an outsider. He has never had what show business might consider a hit, and although he has been applauded for composing intricate scores, crafting complex plots, and exploring the psyche, emotions, and intimate desires of his characters, these have also been source of some harsh criticism. He has also been a vehement critic of the state and trends of the American stage musical in the twenty-first century.1 As a result, he remains distant from mainstream musical theater and has developed both ardent devotees and detractors of his musicals. LaChiusa himself has acknowledged, “I don’t begin a musical thinking about how I can write a hit song for the score…I want to know I am reaching as many people as I can with a song. But I want to do it without pandering. And I can’t worry about being popular.”2 In the musicals for which he wrote music, lyrics, and book, LaChiusa frequently develops dramatic action by creating scenes that alternate between sung and spoken words, refraining from clearly demarcating the boundaries between dialogue and song. Not only do his songs frequently interrupt spoken dialogue in his musicals, but they also become underscoring, which become recitative, which become new songs. In other instances, he intersperses spoken dialogue with sung lines until the scene in question erupts into a full-blown song. The close relationship he has forged between sung and spoken words marks a hallmark of his compositional style, and grants his musicals the distinction of being nearly sung through. He has explained that, “I like to keep an audience guessing. A character might sing a line, speak the next, sing the next five, then deliver a spoken monologue and then the number.”3 This chapter discusses examples from five musicals by LaChiusa in which he combines the sung and the spoken in this manner, and examines how this technique results in subtext and symbolism that enhance the dramatic action of his plots. LaChiusa believes that blurring the boundaries between the sung and the spoken raises the emotional stakes for how audiences experience musical theater. The technique, he argues, “causes great anxiety in the audience so that you have a long stretch of music or long, long stretch of ­d ialogue. It tricks the ear, tricks the emotional template, subconsciously, for the audience.” On the other hand, he believes that the technique pays off in the end, since it helps his audiences “feel 97

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[the musical] as a living thing.”4 Playing with his audience’s expectations actually helps him shape musicals. “You have to be choosy about what’s sung, what’s not sung,” he explains. “It might not be clear, but there is definitely a reason why something sounds [like] something. And it’s not always a matter of importance, [but] it’s a matter of emotion. Sometimes if a character lies, I may have them sing in pastiche, then speaking the truth.”5 The technique of effacing the boundaries between the sung and the spoken is not entirely unique to LaChiusa, nor is he strictly its pioneer. Think, for example, of the bench scene that takes place between Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel (1945), when the two perform the number “If I Loved You.” Other examples include the number “Politics and Poker” from Bock and Harnick’s Fiorello! (1959), “Tradition” from the same team’s Fiddler on the Roof (1964), “Simple” from Stephen Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle (1964), and the prologue of his Into the Woods (1987), among many others. Still other musicals, like Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella (1956) and Sondheim’s Passion (1994), consist of so much music that they create the impression of through composition that unevenly blends spoken and sung lines; both, however, present straightforward dialogue in some pivotal scenes that clearly contrasts with the act of breaking into song. Finally, other musical theater composers have mastered the technique of developing dramatic action from song to accompaniment to underscoring to recitative to new song, avoiding spoken dialogue altogether. Examples of completely sung-through musicals include Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) and The Phantom of the Opera (1988), Schönberg and Boublil’s Les Misérables (1987) and Miss Saigon (1991), and William Finn’s Falsettos (1992) and A New Brain (1998). LaChiusa’s approach, however, differs from all of the above-mentioned examples. He does not limit the blurring between dialogue and singing to just within the limits of musical numbers, like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Harnick and Bock, and Sondheim. Nor are his musicals completely sung-through. Rather, both the sung and the spoken occur at times between musical numbers, across entire scenes, and sometimes throughout an entire work, thereby more dramatically and consistently effacing the difference between them. The same music acquires the function of underscoring spoken lines and accompanying sung ones. After a character stops singing a song, the music often continues, momentarily underscoring spoken dialogue, then again becoming accompaniment for a new line sung by a different character, which then morphs into a completely new song. Conversations move between the sung and the spoken with a flow that is often lacking when lyricists press words into poetic meter and music.

First Lady Suite This technique deepens characterization and plot development in the first musical for which ­LaChiusa wrote music, lyrics, and book. First Lady Suite dramatizes in four self-contained ­v ignettes the power dynamics between a First Lady ( Jacqueline Kennedy, Mamie Eisenhower, ­Margaret Truman, and Eleanor Roosevelt) and the women surrounding them and their roles in the White House. The first of four segments in this “chamber musical,” titled “Over Texas,” takes place on Air Force One’s flight to Dallas on November 22, 1963. The focus of this scene is not on ­Jacqueline Kennedy, but on the conflicts of her exhausted and underpaid personal secretary, Mary Gallagher. Mary is uncertain about her job’s purpose and expresses her frustration and unhappiness to Evelyn Lincoln, John F. Kennedy’s secretary. Later, Jacqueline Kennedy appears to Mary in a dream and explains that she, too, is unsure about her purpose as the First Lady of the United States. If Mary sees her life suffocated by the demands posed by the First Lady, Jacqueline sees a similar dynamic between herself and the President. A mix of sung and spoken lines circumscribing two songs, “The Smallest Thing” and “This Is What We Are,” develops the climax of the scene, when Mary realizes the parallels between her life and that of the First Lady. 98

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After Mary lies down for a nap, the First Lady enters, marking the beginning of the dream. In the dialogue that follows between the two women, Mary initially speaks her lines, while ­Jacqueline sings hers. Mary is initially not very respectful of the First Lady; she gives only clipped, spoken replies to Jacqueline’s questions. The First Lady, in an attempt at cordial professionalism, sings requests for her coat, hat, and gloves. Mary quickly begins to lose her patience with the First Lady’s questions, and starts revealing her true feelings and discontentment about her job. The growth in intensity causes her to start singing her clipped responses. Musical accompaniment gets more prominent and underscores both sung and spoken words such as “I don’t care,” “I want vacation,” “I want to never hear your voice again,” and “I never thought my life would be like this.” These lines seem to shape the scene to develop into a duet, but Jacqueline, understanding her secretary’s frustrations, speaks a line that prevents Mary from breaking into song. Instead, the First Lady begins her own number, “The Smallest Thing,” during which she explains to Mary that she, too, dislikes her job and struggles with its limitations. She sings that her life has been reduced to just smiling and waving, and exemplifies that fact by describing a ride in the presidential limousine that foreshadows the President’s assassination. Mary wakes up at the end of the song, and resumes her dialogue with Evelyn. Mary is confused by what she has just seen in her dream, and unsure if she is supposed to learn from Jacqueline’s words or the prediction of the President’s death. Evelyn can see that Mary is even more anxious than she was before the nap, and as she tries to soothe Mary, musical accompaniment underscores both spoken words (such as Evelyn’s “Things’ll go just fine. Where’s the campaign spirit?”) and sung lines (as Mary’s “I don’t know”). In doing so, LaChiusa disorients the audience and fulfills his idea of creating anxiety: it is not clear when or if the sung lines will turn into a song. Only when Mary asks Evelyn to assure her of the importance of their jobs does the underscoring become the intro to a song. In “This Is What We Are,” Evelyn convinces Mary that although they may not be as influential as the President and the First Lady, they can nonetheless do good things and have an impact on history. By effacing the boundaries of song and speech in the structure and content of “Over Texas,” LaChiusa blurs the distinctions between the characters’ reality and desires.

Hello Again LaChiusa’s next musical, Hello Again, consists of ten characters pairing up in ten different scenes of sexual encounters. One character from each scene moves on to the next, seemingly breaking up with an old partner in favor of a new one. As LaChiusa explains it, in “ten scenes, A meets B, B meets C, C meets D, and so on.”6 In the tenth and last scene, a character from the ninth scene meets a character from the first one, completing the cycle. Hello Again is based on Arthur ­Schnitzler’s 1897 play La Ronde, which features a similar structure, but LaChiusa updates the piece by setting each scene in a different decade of the twentieth century.7 Further, he employs his technique of mixing sung and spoken lines to differentiate the seducer from the seduced. In scene three, for example, a Nurse seduces a College Boy sometime in the 1960s. The main song in the scene is the Nurse’s solo, “In Some Other Life.” The scene opens with underscoring that alternates between the song’s main theme and solo bongos. Both characters speak their lines at first, but as the Nurse seduces the College Boy, she begins to sing her lines of dialogue. The College Boy continues to speak his, but as he gradually falls for her seduction, he begins to sing some of his lines in recitative, using repeated pitches within a small range. The Nurse culminates the seduction with “In Some Other Life.” While she does not make room for the College Boy to break into song, he occasionally interjects some hesitant, spoken lines during the Nurse’s number. After the song, the solo bongos underscore some spoken lines by both characters. The College Boy finally sings a line, asserting that he no longer needs a nurse. His tuneful melody contrasts with the recitatives from before the song, indicating that her seduction of him was successful. 99

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Having attained what she desired, the Nurse no longer sings. As she prepares to leave, she speaks her lines. The main theme of “In Some Other Life” reappears as underscoring at the scene’s end, but now in a fragmented texture as the College Boy shouts out for the Nurse to come back. Similarly, scene seven of Hello Again, set in the 1970s, dramatizes the encounter between the Writer and the Young Thing. It features three songs: “Montage,” “Safe,” and “The One I Love.” Sung and spoken lines interspersed through the songs identify the seducer and the seduced. The scene opens with the disco-themed “Montage,” in which the Writer sings of envisioning his newest project. Once he sees the Young Thing on the dance floor, disco music underscores a dialogue in which the Writer tries to seduce him, but the Young Thing does not seem very impressed. The Writer sometimes speaks and sometimes sings his lines, while the Young Thing only speaks his. The seduction then moves to the Writer’s bedroom, where the Young Thing, annoyed by the Writer’s endless questions, becomes the seducer. He sings a line for the first time in the scene, seguing into his song, “Safe,” which silences the Writer’s sung and spoken lines. After the song ends, the Writer fantasizes that this one-night encounter may develop into him finding the love of his life. Now, sung and spoken lines begin to differentiate reality from fantasy. An eighth-note chord arpeggiation underscores a dialogue in which the Writer sings about this fantasy, which the Young Thing repeatedly interrupts with spoken lines. When the Writer begins to imagine that the Young Thing shares his fantasy, the two sing the duet “The One I Love.” Music reminiscent of “Montage” brings the fantasy to an end and underscores the scene’s final dialogue. Here, both initially speak their lines, but soon start singing as they agree to go out to eat together. LaChiusa has stated that his main point with the plot of Hello Again was “to say it doesn’t matter where you are, when you are, who you are, this thing of us trying to find the lover of our lives in that person that also wants to be gratified sexually…is such a struggle over and over…We will keep looking for that thing that gives us pleasure and that we get our pleasure from…And the music in the piece sort of confuses that issue.”8 Indeed, music pervades the scenes, and singing becomes a subtext for the need to connect with someone else. Such connection may be seduction (as in “In Some Other Life” and “Safe”), fantasy of falling in love (as in “The One I Love”), or simply getting to know another person (as in “Montage”). Speaking portrays characters either about to be seduced, or who have successfully seduced their target. They do not have, or need, a connection with their scene partner. If singing means searching and establishing a connection, be it love or sex, or both, then the song “The Bed Was Not My Own,” sung by the Senator in the last scene of Hello Again, culminates and conceptualizes the idea. It is the only full-blown song in the scene, following a spoken dialogue between the Senator and the woman with whom he spent the night. The Senator tries to be objective about the difference between love and sex and sings that his search for connection has included several different people that have crossed this path. LaChiusa has explained how the Senator’s song dramatizes this and ties all of the ten scenes of the musical together: Because each character meets a new character, and this new character meets another new character, the one thing about the play was [to show] that each person that you meet in your life…you take a little bit of something from them, and they take a little bit from you, so [in the musical] everybody builds on a piece of music from the other. So that by the end when the Senator sings “The Bed Was Not My Own,” it’s actually an amalgam of all the other characters’ songs. Each musical phrase derives from a previous song.9 Thus, the ambivalence between singing and speaking in Hello Again turns carnal desire and seduction into what one critic characterized as “psychological and philosophical components and implications of human sexuality” in the search for a lover.10 100

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Little Fish The musical Little Fish explores how the protagonist, the aspiring writer Charlotte, struggles to connect with her ex-boyfriend, her roommate, her friends, and her acquaintances in her chosen city, New York City in the years immediately following the September 11 attacks. She sees her life entwined with that of other New Yorkers, but prefers to run away from people and problems, which is exacerbated by the fact that she has recently quit smoking. LaChiusa uses Charlotte’s new habits of running and swimming as metaphors for the way she behaves in life. She attempts these activities to improve her mood, well-being, and relationships, but still finds it difficult to gather strength and joy in a shattered city. As a critic puts it, LaChiusa dramatizes “the tale of someone for whom actual running represents metaphorical standing still.”11 The mix of sung and spoken lines interspersed among four songs (“The Track,” the reprise of “Flotsam,” “Simple Creature,” and “Days”) depicts the protagonist’s tormented mind and signals the ways she gradually understands that friends and fun are crucial for surviving in the time and place in which she lives. Charlotte’s breakdown begins during “The Track.” Here, she talks with an executive who runs alongside her. He points out that she must be used to running and not getting tired, but she interprets the comment to mean that she is used to running away from her problems and is not interested in breaking the habit. LaChiusa has the rest of the company chant excerpts from the previous song, “Poor Charlotte,” to underscore the dialogue. Tormented by nicotine deprivation and her inability to make a change, Charlotte explodes, and delivers a brief, unaccompanied monologue in which she confesses that she is, in fact, too tired to continue running. The scene changes to depict Charlotte buying cigarettes at a bodega. When she opens the pack, she sings the reprise of “Flotsam,” a song previously sung by her childhood heroine, Anne Frank, who had warned her to be careful with repressed feelings. This reprise does not find a closing cadence. Instead, Charlotte tosses the cigarette pack without lighting one and utters the same line that she spoke at the very beginning of the musical, confessing that she has gotten to know herself better since she quit smoking. This spoken line links the reprise of “Flotsam” to Charlotte’s new song, “Simple Creature,” in which she takes the message of the previous song to heart and realizes that she has the ability and resources to make herself happy. After “Simple Creature,” Charlotte speaks again, and reveals her desire to change. This prompts the next song, “Days,” during which Charlotte sings about clearing away the noise in her head, observing instead a better life, closer and healthier relationships, and a better city to live in. Her ultimate realization—that as a little fish, she must swim with the tide and not against it—is voiced in a single, spoken line in the middle of “Days.” In moving from the track to the bodega, and then to a restaurant and a gallery (in “Days”), this scene gradually reveals the ways Charlotte has become aware of her anxiety, and more sensitive to the life and the city around her. Graciela Daniele, who directed the original Off-Broadway production of Little Fish, has observed that “those quick cuts are hard to do onstage, but I like the challenge because it’s a very contemporary way of representing urban life today.”12 Mixing the sung and the spoken reflects and spotlights the anxieties of urban life; the uncertainty of when one musical number ends and another begins allows this scene to develop from one locale to another, and intensifies the drama of Charlotte’s self-understanding.

See What I Wanna See Based on three short stories by Japanese writer Ry ū nosuke Akutagawa (1892–1927), See What I Wanna See consists of three different stories organized in two acts. The first story, “Kesa and Morito,” occurs as the opening of both acts, and “R shomon” constitutes the rest of Act I, while the third story, “Gloryday,” forms the rest of Act II. In all three stories, different characters provide 101

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contrasting, occasionally even contradictory, perspectives on the same situation, and the audience never learns exactly who is telling the truth and who is lying. LaChiusa uses the technique of blending the sung and the spoken to fulfill this dramatic agenda in “Gloryday,” through which the protagonist sings his lies and speaks the truth. “Gloryday” dramatizes a priest who, doubtful of his beliefs and purpose, announces that Christ will rise from a Central Park pond on a Tuesday at 1 p.m. The story focuses on how different people—a CPA, an actress, the priest’s aunt, and a reporter—react to the announcement of this miracle. The priest purposefully fabricates it to prove that humans will believe anything without questioning. He sings his announcement—a lie—in the song “First Message.” Later, in a dialogue with his aunt during which he admits to having lied, he speaks, arguing that humans believe in lies because they are afraid of the truth. On the day of the event, in the park, the priest sings about souvenirs, celebrities, and different religious groups that he has gathered for what he believes to be as a great joke. But the CPA, the actress, and the priest’s aunt all find him to share that his announcement and faith in the miracle have moved them and made a positive impact on their life choices. Having a change of heart, especially after his atheist aunt sings the ballad “There Will Be a Miracle,” the priest becomes desperate to avoid chaos and hurting these people. As the other characters sing for forgiveness in “Prayer,” the priest simultaneously speaks his lines, trying to convince them to listen to him, and to believe that he lied about the miracle. But then, a violent storm hits the park and forces everybody to flee looking for shelter. The priest, alone onstage, sings in “Rising Up” that he was the only one who looked back and saw what nobody else saw: something ascending from the pond, which he concludes was “glory.” In the final moments of the musical, the priest delivers a spoken monologue during which he acknowledges to still question his faith since his lie, which was for everyone, became the truth, but only for himself, and he does not know what to do with the fact. LaChiusa’s decision to make the priest sing when he lies and speak when he tells the truth leaves the sung explanation of the miracle open to interpretation. The priest sees something moving out of the pond and into the sky, but the other characters claim to have seen nothing—just a storm. Is the priest really telling—or more appropriately—singing the truth? Or is he singing another lie? The blending of spoken and sung lines by the same character reflects ambiguities in his behavior and his questioning about what to believe; the audience can see only what the priest wants to see. The idea of singing a lie and thereby belying a character’s true intentions has parallels in other musicals. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice purposefully wanted a soaring melody for “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” in Evita (1978) to disguise Eva Peron’s real purpose of gaining the people’s acceptance. She sings the beautiful melody because the “point was that Eva was being deliberately insincere, seducing the audience with more style than content.”13 Similarly, in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (1979), Toby means the words he sings in “Not While I’m Around.” He wants to protect Mrs. Lovett from evil actions that he suspects Sweeney Todd has been doing. Mrs. Lovett, however, uses the same music and lyrics to deceive Toby. She sings that she will protect him, too, but she lies: she wants him to feel safe next to her, so that she can eventually kill him and secure his silence about her and Sweeney Todd’s murky business. Out of their dramatic context, both “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “Not While I’m Around” work as ballads of comfort and sincerity. LaChiusa’s “First Message” and “Rising Up,” on the other hand, do not. Performances of these songs will always concern both an intention and a miracle whose truthfulness is too ambiguous to be proved.

First Daughter Suite Continuing his exploration of female power and powerlessness in the White House, LaChiusa’s First Daughter Suite expands the dramatization of its predecessor, First Lady Suite. Both musicals 102

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consist of four scenes that fantasize the history and personal conflicts of women who have lived in the White House. Despite the title, First Daughter Suite also focuses on the First Ladies dramatized in each scene (Patricia Nixon, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush). In fact, the scenes reveal that the first daughters’ conflicts are just some of the many tribulations that the First Lady has to handle. In the third scene of First Daughter Suite, “Patti By the Pool,” mixing the sung and the spoken highlights subtext during a disagreement between Nancy Reagan and her daughter, Patti Davis. The scene is introduced with music, but the two characters do not sing initially. Instead, they speak their dialogue with no musical accompaniment once the introductory music stops. Patti visits her mother at the home of socialite Betsy Bloomingdale in California. As the dialogue unfolds, Patti begins to reveal her discontentment regarding her mother’s values and prejudices. Percussive sounds punctuate her lines; these gradually morph into sung lines accompanied by chords on the piano. Patti sings to confront her mother and accuse her of knowing the truth behind the Iran-Contra affair. As Patti’s state of mind alters throughout the scene, the music that accompanies her grows in intensity, and her vocal lines expand in range. But Patti does not find a song. Instead, she continues to alternate between spoken and sung portions, criticizing her mother for her narcissistic behavior and President Reagan’s actions vis-à-vis a political scandal. Nancy, on the other hand, only speaks her lines, which are occasionally accompanied by chords on the piano, or maracas when the maid Anita is on the scene. Not only do Nancy’s spoken lines prevent Patti from concluding her sung portions, they also show that Nancy is not affected by the unpleasant reality that Patti wants her to face. Nancy prefers to maintain a façade to protect her and her husband’s names and legacy. She even tells Patti that she and President Reagan never knew anything about the Iran-Contra affair, and this is what Patti ought to “say” to the press as well. Singing in this scene implies a desire to vocalize problematic issues concerning both the Reagan family and the Reagan administration. Speaking implies the will to deny them. At the climax of the scene, Nancy has Anita prepare a drink with a tranquilizer that makes Patti fall asleep, silencing not just her opinions on the Reagan presidency and Nancy’s personal choices, but the first daughter’s singing, too. Nancy then delivers a spoken monologue in which she confirms her vain values. She sings just one unaccompanied line, when she concludes that the people at the Bloomingdale mansion—presumably aware but dismissive of the flaws of Reagan’s presidency—are her friends. This is the only sung portion that Nancy has in the entire scene. This brief sung passage suggests that Nancy is actually conscious of the criticism that Patti raised throughout the scene. But it is just one line, and like Patti’s singing, the acknowledgment cannot go any further in order to keep the Reagans’ feigned composure. The maracas that underscore great part of the spoken dialogue and Nancy’s final monologue morph into musical accompaniment for “Anita’s Song,” during which the maid comments on mother-daughter relationships by comparing them with how a bird and its offspring interact in the wild to survive. Anita’s singing invites the audience to consider and question the power dynamics between mother and daughter, which, incidentally, is applicable to all scenes of First Daughter Suite. “Patti By the Pool” exemplifies LaChiusa’s claim that effacing the line between the sung and the spoken tricks the audience’s emotional template. It is never exactly clear when Patti will break into song, or if Nancy will ever resort to singing. It is not until “Anita’s Song” and the end of the scene that the audience can deduct that Patti’s singing is a subtext for turning private issues of their family into public affairs, and Nancy’s speaking was an attempt to keep public affairs as private as possible.14 Thus, with the technique of not clearly demarcating the sung and the spoken, LaChiusa dramatizes what audiences see, hear, and read about women at the White House living on public display, next to the most powerful man in the United States, but without much power themselves. Over the course of his career, Michael John LaChiusa has expanded the conventions of the book musical, which conventionally relies on alternation between spoken dialogue and songs, 103

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or between book and score. Breaking into song in a book musical furthers characterization and changes the mode of expression presented initially by the book. Scott McMillan argues that in musical theater, when a song starts, the book is typically discontinued; musical numbers repeat in song what the book has already established.15 LaChiusa repeatedly challenges this notion with his musicals by setting ambiguous boundaries between book and musical numbers. As seen in the musicals discussed earlier, he does not differentiate between song and dialogue, but the sung and the spoken. As his characters transit between sung and spoken lines without clearly demarcating when one ends and the other begins, the contrast not only deepens some aspects of plot and character that had been introduced before but also reveals subtext that the audience cannot get from anywhere else in the musical. Such depth of plot and character does not come free; it requires close listening and careful consideration of the characters’ intentions, states of mind, and feelings. LaChiusa has stated that, “Musicals have to have spontaneity. When you hear it, sitting there in the audience, it has to catch you, as if it’s being created in that moment.”16 As composer, lyricist, and book writer of his own musicals, LaChiusa weaves music into his scripts in ways that not only tighten the integration of songs (or score) and spoken dialogue (or book) but also blur the distinctions between them. LaChiusa has long advocated for an American stage musical that does not just subscribe continuously to conventions that make the genre mechanical or routine; because “for expectations to be met,” he argues, “there can be no room for risk, derring-do or innovation.”17 Indeed, while his musicals do contain aspects of the conventional components of musical theater, they are combined and arranged unconventionally. LaChiusa has acknowledged that breaking the mold may be one reason why his musicals are not widely acclaimed. “The unconventional is harder to pay for, play for, to act and to build,”18 he notes. But still, he credits Oklahoma! (1943), Company (1970), A Chorus Line (1976), and Evita (1978) as revolutionary musicals in their own time because of their unconventionalities.19 Then again, and despite his low profile, LaChiusa’s innovations find parallels in the works of other musical theater composers, both his contemporaries and those who have followed him. The technique of mixing and blurring the sung and the spoken—or the score and the book—occurs in musicals like Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, or Change (2003) and Fun Home (2013), Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (2012), Juliana Nash’s Murder Ballad (2013), Lin-­ Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (2015), and Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown (2016). LaChiusa’s approach marks a craftsmanship that characterizes musicals from the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries without completely dismissing the elements that define musical theater aesthetics. His musicals fulfill his own agenda of creating musical theater that “nods to the past and leans to the future.”20

Notes 1 As an example, see Michael John LaChiusa. “The Great Gray Way.” Opera News 70.2 (Aug. 2005): 30–35. 2 Michael John LaChiusa. “I Sing of America’s Mongrel Culture.” The New York Times. 14 Nov. 1999. 3 Ibid. 4 Michael John LaChiusa, interview by author, New York, 22 June 2015. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 In the 2017 film version of Hello Again, LaChiusa updated once again, bringing one scene to the ­t wenty-first century. 8 Michael John LaChiusa, interview by author, New York, 22 June 2015. 9 Ibid. 10 John Simon. “Defacing a Masterpiece.” The New York Magazine. 14 Feb. 1994.


Michael John LaChiusa’s Musicals 11 David Finkle. Review of Little Fish, TheaterMania, 14 Feb. 2003. Web. 6 June 2015. . 12 Don Shewey. Quoted in “She Sings the Body Desperate for a Smoke.” The New York Times. 9 Feb. 2003. 13 Michael Coveney. Cats on a Chandelier: The Andrew Lloyd Webber Story. London: Hutchinson, 1999. 72. For more on Lloyd Webber’s mix of melody, recitative, and spoken lines in Evita, see Stephen Citron. Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber: The New Musical. New York: Oxford UP. 226–229. 14 Patti Davis actually made many issues of the Reagan family public in her book The Way I See It: An Autobiography, published in 1992. 15 Scott McMillin. The Musical as Drama. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006. 1–10. 16 Quoted in Barry Singer. Ever After: The Last Years of Musical Theater and Beyond. New York: Applause, 2004. 90. 17 LaChiusa, “The Great Gray Way,” 33. 18 LaChiusa, “I Sing of America’s Mongrel Culture.” 19 Ibid. 20 LaChiusa, “The Great Gray Way,” 32.


11 THE NEW “SOUNDS OF BROADWAY” Orchestrating Electronic Instruments in Contemporary Musicals Michael M. Kennedy In American musical theater, the orchestra serves as an essential indicator of style. Broadway musicals of the mid-twentieth-century’s so-called Golden Age had particular sonic traits, informed by accomplished orchestrators. Among the most celebrated was Robert Russell Bennett (1894–1981), who orchestrated all or part of over 300 musicals. The two most comprehensive texts on musical theater orchestrations, Bennett’s autobiographic The Broadway Sound (1999) and Steven Suskin’s The Sound of Broadway Music (2009), describe how this acoustic age became standardized, ­incorporating either string-dominant European traditions (like Bennett’s), or American jazz-band approaches (like with the equally prolific Don Walker).1 By equating Golden Age orchestrations with the Broadway sound, these monographs’ titles connote the idea that musical theater’s aural signature may be predominantly defined with conformity. Since the late 1960s, however, Broadway has undergone numerous aesthetic shifts and become a heterogeneous soundscape, with new orchestral methods developing alongside the continuation of earlier styles and resulting in a melting pot of “Broadway sounds.” An abrupt shift occurred with the 1968 Broadway opening of Hair, which subverted Golden Age orchestrations by utilizing an all-rock score, and a rock band augmented with winds and auxiliary percussion. Following Hair and during the growth of the megamusical, the overt amplification of voices and instruments became a desired theatrical attribute. This progression in the artistry of sound design paralleled the onset of musical theater pits that utilized diverse, wholly electronic musical instruments. 2 Electronic instruments have been used on Broadway since the 1940s. Kurt Weill, who commonly orchestrated his own compositions, sometimes wrote for prototypes of electronic keyboards, as with his use of a Hammond organ in Lady in the Dark (1941).3 Musicals in the 1960s and 1970s occasionally employed early analog synthesizers, which possessed unique but limited onboard sounds and restricted programming capabilities. Breakthroughs in music technology came in the late 1970s with commercially available, programmable polyphonic synthesizers, and in the early 1980s with synth manufacturers’ adoption of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), which enabled sound mapping and memory storage among instruments.4 These and other innovations have expanded orchestrators’ sonic palettes through various electronic music techniques, including digital synthesis, sampling, sequencing, voice layering, and editing, all of which allow a single musician to perform a vast array of sounds.


The New “Sounds of Broadway”

This chapter identifies the aesthetic and sometimes ideological ramifications of implementing electronic music in Broadway productions, using case studies from the orchestrations of Michael Starobin for Sunday in the Park with George (1984), William David Brohn for Miss Saigon (1991), and Alex Lacamoire for Hamilton (2015).5 While these musicals differ greatly in compositional style, their orchestrations demonstrate a similar postmodern strategy of situating historical subjects, period settings, or indigenous cultures in eclectic sonic environments that merge acoustic and electronic instruments. The dexterous use of synthesizers and sequencers in both Sunday and Hamilton enhances the musicals’ diverse expressions, while also showcasing state-of-the-art music technologies for their respective eras. In contrast, the sampling and synthesis of East Asian instruments in Miss Saigon seemingly provide authenticity, but they are actually endemic of the musical’s widespread exoticism and cultural approximations, which pander to Western audiences. Thus, whereas the orchestrations for Sunday and Hamilton can be seen as progressive for their anachronistic accompaniment of period elements, Miss Saigon’s score is perhaps regressive in terms of its rampant cultural misrepresentations.

Exploring Colors with Michael and George Michael Starobin’s (1956–) orchestrations are known for generating lavish sounds with relatively small ensembles, as in Assassins (1990 Off-Broadway, 2004 Broadway), Falsettos (1992), and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2005). Starobin has pioneered Broadway’s integration of synthesizers since the 1980s, while distinguishing himself for his meticulous synth programming. His orchestrations for any given production utilize many unique electronic sounds, including approximately two- to three-hundred patch changes per show. Using synths for artistic reasons, he derides relying on technology as a cost-saving replacement for acoustic instruments: The goal is not to fool someone into thinking there is a bigger orchestra. The goal is to make something theatrical and to tell a story…. Many musicals have shifted stylistically towards chamber music, …and as an orchestrator, I have always worked a lot with synthesizers and counterpoint as ways of creating complexity and texture.6 Beginning his career during the dawn of programmable MIDI-based polysynths, Starobin demonstrated his prowess with electronic music when he made his Broadway debut orchestrating Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. Prior to its May 1984 Broadway opening, Sunday workshopped in July 1983 at Playwrights Horizons, an Off-Broadway nonprofit theater known for experimentation. With music and lyrics by Sondheim and book and direction by James Lapine, Sunday offers a meditation on art’s creation and functionality. It comprises two interconnected stories in two acts, which are related through actor doublings, structural parallels, and musical reiterations. Act 1 presents fictionalized vignettes of the French Neo-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat (referred to as George). As George works on Un dimanche après-midi sur l’île de la Grande Jatte from 1884 to 1886, he cultivates his pointillist style and struggles with personal and professional relationships. In the Act 1 finale, he assembles the cast to fashion a tableau vivant of the completed painting—a metaphor of creating order from chaos. Set in 1984, Act 2 depicts Georges Seurat’s fictional great-grandson, also referred to as George, an American artist-inventor of light machine-sculptures called Chromolumes that have been inspired by Seurat’s work. At the musical’s conclusion, George has become disillusioned by the stagnant directions of his life and art. He encounters the subjects from Seurat’s painting when visiting La Grande Jatte, and the experience encourages him to realize his passions and the future’s innumerable possibilities. Starobin, having been a resident musician and orchestrator at Playwrights Horizons in the early 1980s, performed in Sunday’s workshop improvising a synth part alongside piano, percussion,


Michael M. Kennedy

and trumpet. For the task of orchestrating the full musical’s Broadway production, Lapine recommended Starobin, who had collaborated with Lapine on William Finn’s March of the Falsettos (1981). Because Sondheim’s usual orchestrator, Jonathan Tunick, was not available, Sondheim agreed to audition Starobin by having him orchestrate the numbers “Color and Light” and “Beautiful.” After Starobin received constructive criticism and adjusted his style accordingly, Sondheim lauded the orchestrator’s work as “brilliant”; because Sondheim composes only with piano in mind, he relied on Starobin to craft the musical’s instrumental soundscape.7 Sunday often forgoes conventional musical theater styles and utilizes minimalism. It emphasizes the repetition of rhythmic, fragmented motives, which sonically manifest Seurat’s pointillist brushstrokes.8 Correspondingly, Starobin drew upon his formal training by recalling Steve Reich’s minimalist works. He listened to chamber pieces by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Elliott Carter, which motivated him with innovative colors, complicated textures, and intricate keyboard writing. Starobin’s original orchestrations for Sunday comprised an 11-member ensemble using string quartet, two reed doublers, French horn, percussion, harp, acoustic piano, and synthesizers.9 In the musical’s original Broadway production, Starobin featured the Prophet T8—a programmable analog polysynth with digital processing. Released by Sequential Circuits in 1983, the Prophet T8 was novel for its MIDI capacity, 76 weighted keys, real-time sequencer, and ability to perform one sound with eight voices, or two sounds of four voices each. The production’s pianist occasionally doubled on the Prophet 5, an older model that provided synthetic harpsichord and clavinet sounds. For the diegetic accompaniment of younger George’s Chromolume #7, Starobin’s arrangements deployed the Prophets along with pre-programmed loops triggered on a Roland MSQ-700 sequencer that drove a Korg Poly-800 synthesizer.10 The synths, with their expansive electronic sounds, enhance Sunday’s technological aesthetic. This logically relates to Act 2’s contemporary setting, as well as its depiction of the Chromolume, which is regarded for its advanced engineering and artistic innovation. Perhaps more surprising, however, is that electronic music saturates Act 1, which Starobin explains as his way of depicting the elder George exploring the park and its colors through his own fantasy.11 During Sunday’s “Opening Prelude,” George recites his catechism of artistic fundamentals, including “order, design, composition, balance, light, and harmony.” Interspersing this text, piano and synth respond in unison with variations of arpeggiated major chords, punctuated by crotales, harp, and strings (see Figure 11.1). Starobin decorates these initial motives with the Prophet T8’s “bright ping” sound in order to produce an unexpected effect: It is an unusual opening, …but it needs to be thrilling with its theatrical gestures. And trying to make a bright bell-like sound that is otherworldly tells me that this is not simply bucolic park music, but rather that this is a man who is seeing something quite remarkable in this place.12 After George concludes his artistic catechism, the once-barren stage gradually assembles the park while George introduces Dot, his fictional muse and mistress. Concurrently, the score dramatically shifts to feature a majestic French horn melody, accompanied by the continuing five-note piano motive, undulating flutes and strings, a suspended cymbal roll, and a sustained bass drone in the cello and synth. The predominance of the French horn links this opening music to the painting la Grande Jatte, which includes a brass player in the background. The horn’s melody also prefigures the “Sunday” theme that is sung by the full ensemble during Act 1’s finale as the painting’s tableau vivant is completed.13 The warmth of the horn solo denotes a hot Sunday morning, and Starobin arranged its accompaniment to have a fluid texture with freely moving flutes and strings that reflect the shimmering water surrounding the park.14 While launching the narrative, this 108

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Figure 11.1  “ Opening Prelude,” m. 1, music by Stephen Sondheim, orchestration by Michael Starobin, Sunday in the Park with George.15 Source: Music Theatre International, New York, 1984.

musical introduction establishes a precedent for acoustic instruments often underscoring moments inspired by live subjects and real settings. In contrast, electronic music often correlates with George’s process of creation and technique. Later in Act 1, “Color and Light” provides the first display of Seurat’s actual la Grande Jatte, projected with light onto a scrim, which simulates George’s canvas. Frequently when George paints or sketches, Sondheim mimics the rhythmic movement with a rapid, eighth-note pointillism motive, comprising shortened articulation and alternating leaps.16 After the scene’s transition, the onset of the first refrain in “Color and Light” coincides with the inaugural presentation of Seurat’s masterpiece in progress. At this pivotal moment, the pointillism motive becomes a harmonized ostinato in the Prophet T8, performing a “bright electric piano” patch as George’s fragmented melody alternates with percussive attacks from harp, piano, vibes, and pizzicato strings. An avoidance of winds induces a lack of warmth (see Figure 11.2). The prominence of a synthetic accompaniment connects to the biological rationale of Seurat’s pointillist experimentations: the eye’s ability to blend separate color spots into a wide spectrum of colors with heightened luminosity, which is similar to the ear perceiving distinct aural effects as unnaturally coalesced musical sounds. Through the remainder of the number and scene, the orchestra explores various instrumental combinations, both electronic and acoustic, resembling George’s exploration of color combinations. Starobin’s orchestrations for Sunday in the Park with George, especially the use of synths, enrich the musical’s self-referential way of examining modes of creation and innovating artistic elements. The musical’s acoustic-dominant passages tend to signal both Georges’ passions for real-life subjects, whereas electronic musical moments typically signify their passions for innovating their 109

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Figure 11.2  “Color and Light,” mm. 54–57, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, orchestration by ­M ichael Starobin, Sunday in the Park with George. Source: Music Theatre International, New York, 1984.

work through scientific methodologies. The score’s application of processed sounds highlights art’s artificiality, particularly relating to the exploration of color, and parallels the musical’s intersection of art, science, and technology.

Sounding Exoticism in Saigon Associated with big-budget musicals including Ragtime (1998), Wicked (2003), and Mary Poppins (2006), William David Brohn (1933–2017) garnered renown for grandiose orchestrations that employed symphonic traditions, blended with popular and electronic music influences. His symphonic style drew inspiration from Bennett, with whom Brohn collaborated late in Bennett’s career. Brohn had little background with pop and electronic music, but learned techniques from these genres through various colleagues. His unique approach—orchestrating numbers while observing them in rehearsal—immersed his work in the collaborative process. He first gained international acclaim with his orchestrations of Miss Saigon, which premiered in 1989 in London’s West End prior to its 1991 Broadway opening.17 The pit for Saigon’s original Broadway production boasted a 25-member ensemble that was traditional in terms of size. Brohn’s orchestrations, however, are distinct for integrating East Asian instrumental sounds, created mostly through the aid of synths, within a larger orchestral framework. Miss Saigon came at the zenith of the megamusical genre, following such predecessors as Cats, Les Misérables, and The Phantom of the Opera. Jessica Sternfeld considers Saigon to be a “quintessential 110

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megamusical” in that it incorporates all of the genre’s features, including an epic plot with strong emotions, a sung-through operatic-pop (or “popera”) score, highly commercialized productions with wide marketing hype, and extravagant production elements, including most famously a helicopter that lands and takes off from the stage.18 Written by the French lyricist-composer team of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg (who also wrote Les Mis), Saigon combines its authors’ opulent popera style with East Asian cultural allusions. Loosely borrowing plot points from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that are reset at the end of the Vietnam War, Saigon depicts the doomed relationship between a US marine named Chris and a Vietnamese bar girl named Kim, with meddling from the Engineer, a greedy pimp.19 The musical’s Vietnam War-era setting prompted its creative team to engage in some historical and cultural research, but not so deeply that they were lauded for their production’s realism or authenticity.20 Rooted in many stereotypes, Saigon accords with a long tradition of musicals and operas exhibiting Orientalist tendencies, which exploit (even while sometimes admiring) other cultures in order to define one’s own identity through differentiation.21 Cultural approximations and a general disregard for Asian sensibilities resulted in the musical’s frequent use of exoticisms that were often criticized as misrepresentative at best and exploitative at worst. Controversy surrounded the original Broadway production before it opened, due especially to its portrayal of certain Asian characters by white actors, notably Jonathan Pryce, who originated the role of the half-Asian Engineer in both London and New York. Moreover, Saigon’s content marginalizes Asian characters concerning both ethnicity and gender. Aside from Ellen, Chris’s American wife, the female characters are scantily clad prostitutes used for erotic exhibitionism. While the only two featured Asian male roles are despotic (Thuy) and sleazy (the Engineer), the Asian male ensemble characters are either impoverished rabble or mindless soldiers.22 Miss Saigon’s score participates in Orientalism through its approximation of Asian music, beginning with Schönberg’s folk-like melodies, typified by their simplicity, repetitiveness, and frequent pentatonicism. The introduction of US marines early in Act 1 establishes rock as a musical foundation, denoting American culture’s infiltration of Saigon, which allows indigenous styles to be “othered.” By deliberately avoiding direct references to any specific 1970s pop or Asian music, Schönberg expresses his own contemporary popera language infused with exoticism, while intending to broadly sound “a clash between two cultures.”23 Corresponding to Schönberg’s composition, Saigon’s orchestrations inflate the musical’s ­Orientalism. Producer Cameron Mackintosh asked for suggestions about suitable orchestrators from Tunick, who recommended Brohn for his symphonic approach. The creative team became convinced of Brohn’s ability to sound the musical’s cultural allusions after hearing his orchestrations for a concert suite of dances from Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures. Brohn, however, had little knowledge of East Asian music. Capitalizing on the uncommonly long pre-production and rehearsal schedules, he researched indigenous instruments from various Asian cultures by listening to recordings, receiving assistance from specialists in New York, and seeing performances of gamelan ensembles in London’s South Bank. Schönberg and Brohn then selected Saigon’s exotic sounds based solely on instruments’ evocative timbres and sonic variety, while giving no consideration to cultural significance. Consequently, the orchestrations present a blend of heritages, including Japanese (the shakuhachi, shamisen, koto, and taiko drums), Chinese (cymbals, gongs, tam-tam, mokugyo, and tao-ku), Thai (bells, ching, and kyeezee), Indonesian (gamelan and gambang), and Vietnamese (đàn tranh). Since many of these instruments were unfeasible for an orchestra pit due to size and availability, the production team had recordings and samples made to be programmed into various modules and synths.24 The musical’s initial deployment of electronic instruments was practical for their contemporary and exotic colorings, and ambitious for their amount and disposition. The original West End production used a complicated setup of several different modules, samplers, and synths to achieve the 111

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sonic diversity desired. To simplify the layout for the musical’s Broadway opening, the production hired Brett Sommer, one of the earliest synth programming specialists in musical theater. Creating new samples and retaining others from the previous production, Sommer configured keyboard, guitar, and percussion controllers to each trigger their own Roland S-770—a newly released sampler with greater efficiency and capacity than earlier models. The lead keyboard player utilized an E-mu Proteus piano module for supplemental sounds. The entire network connected to Yamaha DMP-7 digital mixers, adding more sonic effects.25 An overt fusion of acoustic and electronic instrumentation is apparent in the music of the Engineer, which is often marked by bright, eccentric-sounding synth patches, including clavinet and jauntily written plucked strings on koto and shamisen. These are frequently accompanied by pointed attacks from metallic and wooden Asian percussion. Reflecting the character’s Eurasian cultural hybridity, his songs are a mix of musical influences. The result was a hybrid that Brohn offensively called “Bamboo rock” when referring to the number “If You Want to Die in Bed,” but applicable as well to “What a Waste” and “The American Dream.” This objectionable label refers to Brohn’s combination of “Oriental,” American, and French instrumental sounds with lavish wind and brass writing set against an aggressive pop style, which he considered “beautiful” for its “funny, trashy rock beat.”26 A subtler but integral example of Orientalism through instrumentation occurs in the Act 1 wedding of Chris and Kim, during which Kim and her fellow bar girls, conservatively dressed for the first time, sing what appears to be Vietnamese ceremonial music. Boublil admits that this wedding blessing is not authentic, but instead is based on French texts that he found in readings about Vietnam, which he translated after soliciting suggestions from several Vietnamese waitresses and selecting the version that sounded best to him.27 The wedding’s orchestral accompaniment exposes numerous musical exoticisms (see Figure 11.3). The orchestration features the shakuhachi (labeled “Asian flute” in the score), a traditional ­Japanese bamboo flute. The shakuhachi was one of the few indigenous instruments performed acoustically in Saigon’s pit, because its delicate sound made it difficult to sample. Schönberg and Brohn only use the shakuhachi to accompany or reference Kim; Brohn explains, “The wailing of the Oriental flute comes to represent the sacrifice of the Oriental woman.”28 Other East Asian sonic allusions include the strings’ harmonics and pizzicato emulating Chinese string effects, as well as the improvised, sparse use of wooden and metallic percussion. Establishing modal harmonic shifts, the synthesizers’ pentatonic figures play in unison with “new age piano” and “gamelan” patches, providing a contemporary flavor to seemingly traditional music. The use of samplers and synthesizers here and throughout Saigon provides a conduit for the musical’s cultural approximations by alluding to certain East Asian instrumental sounds without the specificity of borrowing actual indigenous music. This scene’s various generalizations—its nonsensical text, clichéd plaintive accompaniment of femininity, and uncomfortable hodgepodge of musical identities—are indicative of Saigon’s racist, misogynist depictions. While the musical problematizes notions of the “American dream” and the US involvement in Vietnam, it simultaneously engages in the same cultural exploitation it attempts to critique. Its Asian references and allusions—created by an all-male, European-American production team for European-American audiences—are projected through a white patriarchal perspective, which filters indigenous and period elements through a tragic narrative with universal themes while avoiding genuine issues concerning the West’s culpability for the war and its devastation of Vietnam and its people.29 Despite (or perhaps because of ) its generalizations and stereotypes, Miss Saigon resonated with Broadway patrons, earning $37 million in advance ticket sales (a record in 1991), enjoying 4092 performances during its ten-year run, and becoming the thirteenth-longest running production


The New “Sounds of Broadway”

Figure 11.3  “ The Wedding,” mm. 60–66, lyrics by Alain Boublil, music by Claude-Michel Schoenberg, orchestration by William David Brohn, Miss Saigon. Source: Music Theatre International, New York, n.d.

in Broadway’s history to date. Subsequently, the musical has reaped great commercial success, especially throughout the United States and United Kingdom. Western audiences have identified with the musical’s promotion of dominant Western ideologies, or have been enticed by its Orientalist marginalizations of East Asian music and culture through vague yet approachable representations. David Schlossman qualifies the musical’s reception: It is important to recognize that audience members may critique a performance even as they derive pleasure from it. Spectators … mediate critique and pleasure, suggesting on the one hand that one cannot draw a direct line between Miss Saigon’s support for dominant ideologies and the audience’s experience of the musical, but also revealing that spectators may subordinate critical urges to pleasure.30


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Among Saigon’s most “pleasing” attractions is its pageantry, including its immense sets, special effects, imposing score, and melodrama. And Brohn’s sumptuous orchestrations amplify the musical’s spectacle, particularly with the prominence of electronic music, which helps bridge Miss Saigon’s stylistic gap between contemporary popera and East Asian exoticism.

Turning the Theater World Upside Down Alex Lacamoire (b. 1975) is the latest star among Broadway orchestrators, having recently tied the record by winning three Tony Awards for Best Orchestrations for In the Heights (2008), Hamilton (2015), and Dear Evan Hansen (2016).31 His wielding of electronic instruments in a rhythmically intense pop style is intrinsic to his background in classic rock and pop, the sounds and textures of which are part of his “blood and hearing of music.”32 After his breakthrough working under Brohn as assistant music director and arranger for Wicked (2003), Lacamoire first became associated with Lin-Manuel Miranda on In the Heights. Following that show’s successes, Miranda retained its creative team for Hamilton.33 Whereas this chapter’s previous case studies set fictional narratives against period settings, ­Hamilton constitutes what Elissa Harbert labels a “history musical,” portraying real people and events from the past with a reasonable amount of historical accuracy.34 Adapted from Ron ­Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, the musical depicts the founding father’s rise from poverty in the Caribbean to his exceptional military and political careers, which included serving in the Revolutionary War as George Washington’s aide, framing the US Constitution, and helping establish the new nation’s financial system as the first Treasury Secretary. Eschewing conventional period representations, Hamilton adopts a hip-hop aesthetic, including rap-style numbers and the multiracial casting of white historical figures. Promoting immigrant cultures’ influences and relating America’s founding fathers to contemporary diversity, Miranda describes how, “For all of its variety of style and subject, rap is, at bottom, the music of ambition, the soundtrack of defiance, whether the force that must be defied is poverty, cops, racism, rival rappers, or all of the above.”35 Further contextualizing this approach, Loren Kajikawa suggests, “Miranda’s assertion that Hamilton embodies hip hop illuminates how heroic individualism, rugged masculinity, and poetic self-invention underwrite narratives of the nation’s birth as well as the musical personas of numerous hip hop stars.”36 Hamilton effectively deploys hip-hop’s essential characteristic—the musical borrowing, through allusion and quotation, of various songs from different genres.37 Miranda borrows extensively from classic rap artists including Grandmaster Flash, the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, Mobb Deep, DMX, Eminem, Jay-Z, and especially The Notorious B.I.G. Hamilton also contains sonic and lyrical allusions to representatives of styles ranging from R&B (Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige), pop (the ­Beatles), and musical theater (Gilbert and Sullivan, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jason Robert Brown). ­Lacamoire engaged with the various genres’ and artists’ distinctive sounds, while finding additional inspiration in the styles of other artists, including D’Angelo, Destiny’s Child, and The Roots.38 Lacamoire began collaborating with Miranda on Hamilton in 2009, which allowed the team a remarkably long time to develop the work prior to its February 2015 premiere Off-Broadway and its move to Broadway that August. Lacamoire describes the extensive collaboration period as “liberating”; his imprint permeates the score, since he served as co-arranger, music director, conductor, and lead keyboard player in addition to orchestrator.39 Technological innovations aided not only Hamilton’s sonic design but also its composition. Atypical for musical theater at that time, Miranda made song demos with Logic Pro, recording his own vocals and adding basic harmonies and accompaniment with keyboard, drumbeats, and other sampled instruments. Lacamoire or his assistants then transcribed the music into piano-vocal scores, while Lacamoire provided additional arrangements before finalizing the full orchestrations.40 114

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Rap depends on vocal flow and lyricism; Lacamoire thus balanced acoustic and electronic instrumentation so the latter would not be overwhelming. By 2013, he conceived of the show’s 10-member ensemble, comprising a string quartet and a pop band, including two keyboards, guitar, bass, drum set, and percussion. The string quartet sometimes provides eighteenth-century period elements, and supplies warmth and lyricism; in other instances, the strings adapt to rapstyle passages by adding to the rhythmic grooves. Further strengthening the musico-narrative content, Lacamoire associates specific characters with certain instruments. For example, the cello conveys knowledge and wisdom, symbolizing Hamilton’s two primary narrators, Aaron Burr and Angelica Schuyler—but with a dark, sinister timbre for the former and a nobler expression for the latter. Harp samples also signify Angelica because of the instrument’s suitability to perform her accompanying motive, with its high ascending-descending arpeggiation first heard in “Satisfied.” Lacamoire complements Hamilton and his wife, Eliza, through instrumentation: Hamilton’s rapping alongside digital, percussive grooves denotes his intense energy, while Eliza’s music, rooted in acoustic strings, guitar, and piano, evokes calmness. George Washington’s songs often utilize a Wurlitzer piano effect, with its vintage, sage feel. And the British and loyalists correlate with the harpsichord’s brittle, antiquated sound.41

Figure 11.4  “ Yorktown,” mm. 54–62, music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, orchestration by Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton. Source: Alex Lacamoire’s personal files, n.d.


Michael M. Kennedy

Figure 11.4  (Continued).

Regarding the show’s diverse electronic instruments, the keyboardists play Yamaha S-90s controlling MainStage and Galaxy sample libraries, which have become standard in musical theater. The bassist doubles on electric, upright, and an Arturia bass synth keyboard. In addition to playing drum pads and auxiliary acoustic instruments, the percussionist performs a Yamaha Motif keyboard for celeste, vibes, and a mixed celeste-Rhodes keyboard sound. Supplementing this assortment of synths, the orchestrations’ most innovative component is Ableton Live, a software music sequencer and digital audio workstation capable of composing, arranging, recording, mixing, and sounding various turntablist effects. Triggered by the percussionist, Ableton serves two functions in Hamilton: it supplies a click-track for the musicians, which keeps tempos consistent and syncs with certain light cues; and it sounds digital effects that cannot be performed by musicians, providing a sense of authenticity in terms of rap’s processed aesthetic.42 ­Ableton’s numerous turntablist effects in Hamilton include distortions, record scratches, sirens, sound loops, digital delays, arpeggiations, and other instrumental alterations. These have characterized rap since the genre’s origins in the 1970s, when early DJs transformed turntables into musical instruments through sound manipulating innovations.43 Ableton also provides vocal delays with actors’ voices being recorded and sampled as loops, which Lacamoire uses occasionally for Burr, Hamilton, and Angelica to indicate how their voices echo through history while also reflecting a hip-hop studio effect.44 116

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The orchestrations’ hip-hop style is on full display during the dance break of “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down).” This number portrays the decisive Battle of Yorktown, with the dance break depicting a week-long fight before the British surrender (see Figure 11.4). The orchestration’s “noisy” affect here lends to the scene’s suggestion of a climactic battle and to a distinctive hip-hop quality. As heavy percussion, keyboards, guitar, and bass lay down driving, syncopated beats, the string quartet demonstrates its versatility by contributing to the groove while also outlining the phrase’s melodic contour. Ableton (labeled “Loops/SFX” in the score) occasionally sounds explosions and bells to depict period elements, and also features record scratches, which add intricate rhythmic counterpoint and further connect the moment to hiphop’s studio sound and DJ origins. Fully embracing the anachronism of historical figures rapping and singing pop, Hamilton incorporates sung- and danced-through structures while being self-aware of its theatricality and hip-hop aesthetic. This presentational style situates the past in the present both emotionally and historiographically, by placing the audience in the role of historian.45 Hamilton is paradigm-­ shifting in many ways, including how it redefines modes of genre, casting, and storytelling. But it also has reimagined Broadway’s sound, with Lacamoire’s orchestrations enhancing the work’s contemporary pop-music style and exemplifying hip-hop’s live performativity with musicians playing alongside diverse, elaborate digital effects with precision and vitality.

Concluding Thoughts: The Age of Electronic Storytelling Unconventionally juxtaposed against a wide range of narrative and thematic elements, electronically processed sounds in these case studies effectively negotiate various issues of distance, whether in time, among cultures, or between spectator and subjects. This, in turn, strengthens the accessibility of the musicals for contemporary audiences. Coloring period and modern representations, Starobin’s use of synthesizers for Sunday in the Park with George helps connect the narrative arcs of two characters separated by a century, and highlights parallels between one’s artistic vision and the reality in which one exists. Decorating Brohn’s overarching symphonic style, the synthetic treatment of rock and exoticism in Miss Saigon functions as a musical mediator, both geographically and culturally. And Lacamoire’s deployment of electronic music in Hamilton provides a foundation for the work’s hip-hop sound, while also accentuating US history’s current social relevance. Synthesizers, samplers, and sequencers have become significant components of musical theater’s lexicon. The technologies mentioned herein represent a small fraction of the makes and models of electronic instruments used on and off Broadway in recent decades. Such diversity necessitates consideration of how a musical’s aural design depends upon the collaboration of a network of artists and technicians—not solely composers, but also orchestrators, music directors, contractors, synth programmers, and performing musicians. Illustrating the manner in which orchestrations infuse their works’ narratives through the integration of acoustic and electronic instruments contributes to an understanding of the ways technological advancements have engendered the stylistic pluralism of contemporary American musical theater and the innumerable possibilities for its future.

Notes 1 George J. Ferencz, ed. “The Broadway Sound”: The Autobiography and Selected Essays of Robert Russell Bennett. Rochester: U of Rochester P, 1999; Steven Suskin. The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of ­O rchestrators and Orchestrations. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. 2 Elizabeth Wollman. The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, from Hair to Hedwig. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2006. 124; Larry Stempel. Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. 620–621. 3 bruce d. mcclung. Lady in the Dark: Biography of a Musical. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. 77–78.


Michael M. Kennedy 4 For a history of electronic instruments, see Mark Vail. The Synthesizer: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Programming, Playing, and Recording the Ultimate Electronic Music Instrument. New York: Oxford UP, 2014. 5 Parenthetical dates refer to original Broadway productions unless otherwise indicated. Case study ­descriptions only refer to these musicals’ original Broadway stagings and orchestrations. 6 Michael Starobin, interview by author via Skype, 28 Dec. 2015. 7 Mark Eden Horowitz. Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions, 2nd ed. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2010. 228–229; Michael Starobin, interview by author via phone, 3 May 2017. For Sunday in the Park with George, Starobin won the 1984 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestrations. The American Theater Wing did not establish the Tony Award category of Best Orchestrations until 1997. 8 Stempel, 547. 9 Starobin, 2017. Sondheim initially wrote Sunday’s fanfares to be performed by trumpet for the Playwrights Horizons workshop. When expanding the instrumentation for the Broadway production, ­Starobin replaced the trumpet with a French horn after informing Sondheim that that instrument was more suitable for a chamber setting in terms of blending and versatility. 10 For each production of Sunday in the Park with George that Starobin has worked, he has rearranged the Chromolume’s music in accordance with visual effects and timing. 11 Starobin, 2017. 12 Ibid. 13 Steve Swayne. How Sondheim Found His Sound. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2005. 232–233. 14 Starobin, 2017. 15 All score examples present instruments in concert pitch, except for bass, which sounds an octave below its written notation. 16 Horowitz, 91–93. 17 William David Brohn, interview by author via phone, 5 Apr. 2017. Brohn’s work for Miss Saigon and The Secret Garden jointly won him the 1991 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestrations. 18 Jessica Sternfeld. The Megamusical. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2006. 293–295. 19 Edward Behr and Mark Steyn. The Story of Miss Saigon. New York: Arcade, 1991. 26–27. 20 Ibid., 50. 21 Raymond Knapp. The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2005. 249. 22 David A. Schlossman. Actors and Activists: Politics, Performance, and Exchange among Social Worlds. New York: Routledge, 2002, 149–152. 23 Behr and Steyn, 50–55. 24 Ibid., 42–43 and 51–54; Brohn, 2017; Margaret Vermette. The Musical World of Boublil and Schönberg: The Creators of Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre, and The Pirate Queen. New York: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2007. 302. 25 Jim Harp, interview by author via written correspondence, 9 May 2017. Harp worked for Brett ­Sommer’s Music Arts Technologies and assisted with updating Miss Saigon’s synths midway through its original Broadway run, which mostly comprised replacing Roland A-80 keyboard controllers with Kurzweil K2500 models and updating the samplers’ formats accordingly. 26 Behr and Steyn, 54. 27 Ibid., 63. 28 Ibid., 52–53; Vermette, 303. 29 Schlossman, 145–147. 30 Ibid., 153. 31 Doug Besterman was the first to win three Tony Awards for Best Orchestrations for Fosse (1999), The Producers (2001), and Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002). 32 Alex Lacamoire, interview by author via Skype, 1 Dec. 2016. 33 Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. Hamilton: The Revolution; Being the Complete Libretto of the Broadway Musical, with a True Account of Its Creation, and Concise Remarks on Hip-Hop, the Power of Stories, and the New America. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016. 53. 34 Elissa Harbert. “Hamilton and History Musicals.” American Music 36, no. 4 (2018): 413. 35 Miranda and McCarter, 21. 36 Loren Kajikawa. “‘Young, Scrappy, and Hungry’: Hamilton, Hip Hop, and Race.” American Music 36, no. 4 (2018): 472. 37 Ibid., 470. 38 Lacamoire, 2016.


The New “Sounds of Broadway” 39 40 41 42 43 4 4

Ibid. Miranda and McCarter, 52. Lacamoire, 2016. Ibid. Mark Katz. Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 43–69. Lacamoire, 2016. When Hamilton’s Broadway cast changes or for the musical’s regional and touring productions, programmers make new vocal recordings and sampled loops for Ableton Live. 45 Harbert, 417.


12 CHART-TOPPERS TO SHOWSTOPPERS Pop Artists Scoring the Broadway Stage Matthew Lockitt Just over a month before the March 12, 2015 Broadway premiere of the musical Finding Neverland, Gary Barlow discussed his transition from pop artist to Broadway composer in an interview with The New York Times. Barlow, frontman of the ’90s British boy band Take That, writer of numerous number-one hits, and former head judge of The X Factor UK, acknowledged that the “one thing I didn’t want to try to be was a Broadway songwriter […] There are great ones out there who are having success every night, so there’s no need for me to do that. I needed to do what I do.”1 Journalist Rob Weinert-Kendt, paraphrasing Barlow, follows this quote by reassuring “America’s musical-theater composers and lyricists: He’s not after your jobs.”2 Considering the way Barlow scored the gig as the composer of a Broadway show, this seems a curious statement to make: why the need for overt placation of the American musical theater writing community in defense of a British pop and reality-TV star? It is even more striking since, a few weeks prior to the Times interview, reported that Barlow was working on the score for a new musical adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Collaborating again with his Neverland co-writer, music producer, and songwriter Eliot Kennedy, Around the World was initially to be produced by Harvey Weinstein, lead-producer of Finding Neverland.3 Meanwhile, Calendar Girls—a musical written in collaboration with Tim Firth, based on Firth’s 2003 screenplay and subsequent 2008 play—premiered in Leeds in November 2015 before opening in London’s West End.4 Clearly, Calendar Girls was at an advanced stage of development in order to premiere in the same year as Finding Neverland. What, then, would prompt a mainstream songwriter of Barlow’s stature to suggest that he is not aiming to take opportunities away from Broadway musical theater writers, even as he makes a career transition that will likely result in his doing just that? Is it guilt or, perhaps in this case, a performance of placation after he was hired by Weinstein to replace Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, Neverland’s original composer and lyricist?5 This chapter uses Barlow’s comments as impetus to explore the various reasons why artists from the popular music sphere may be attracted to writing for the Broadway stage, thereby embracing an art form largely dismissed as “uncool” earlier in their careers. Pop artists cross over for a variety of reasons, motivated by either commercial or artistic interests. Producers might approach mainstream artists with an existing fan base to provide a commercially accessible musical score as a means of broadening a show’s potential audience and appeal, while simultaneously hoping to alleviate some of the financial risk. The artists themselves may be seeking career longevity or alternative forms of income within an evolving popular music 120

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industry. Or, perhaps they desire the creative challenge of working within an alternative medium that allows them to explore telling story through song. This chapter considers such reasons. It also addresses the difficulties pop artists face when venturing into an unfamiliar genre: typically, an extended narrative form with dramaturgical concerns they may not have previously encountered, including scoring the evocation of period and place, and the sonic explication of character and plot. Ultimately, artists who make the transition from the pop charts to the boards do so with varying degrees of success: for every Cyndi Lauper (Kinky Boots, 2013) there is a Paul Simon (The Capeman, 1998). Various factors impact on the success of any given musical, but as this chapter ­explores, nontraditional writers also confront the tension between maintaining their own distinctive voice and meeting the demands and aesthetics of the new form.

From Billboard to Broadway Dramaturg and producer Jack Viertel suggests that it was Elton John’s string of successful contributions to Broadway, beginning with Disney’s The Lion King and Aida in the late 1990s and culminating with Billy Elliot (West End, 2005; Broadway, 2008), which paved the way for other recording artists to follow.6 While it may appear a growing number of scores are being written by nontraditional musical theater practitioners migrating from the charts to the boards, the phenomenon is not entirely new. In 1968, producer David Merrick hired pop songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David to write the score for Promises, Promises, in collaboration with playwright Neil Simon. That production utilized microphones to amplify the orchestra and backing vocalists in an attempt to effectively capture the show’s pop music aesthetic.7 Even earlier, of course, pop music and Broadway fare were interchangeable: the 32-bar song form was pioneered and perfected by artists like George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin, who wrote popular songs for Broadway, as well as plenty intended for other kinds of mass consumption, both in the United States and abroad. Broadway music supervisor Joseph Church proposes that Berlin represents “the archetypal pop stage songwriter”—the first in a long line of pop composers to write as well for the musical theater, which now includes contemporary pop and rock musicians like Paul Simon, Harry Connick Jr., Jake Shears, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, and Sheryl Crow, among others.8 Viertel observes: We’ve come full circle. For the first half of the twentieth century, theater writers supplied the most potent popular hits. For the second half, rock and rollers supplanted them on the hit parade, while Broadway scores maintained their integrity but rarely visited the record charts. And in the twenty-first century, the pop writers have invaded Broadway, and the lines have become blurred beyond recognition.9 Yet true crossover is, at least in some respects, still elusive: more artists are crossing over from the pop charts to write for the stage, but it is still rare for songs from the contemporary musical theater to reach the pop charts. This might be changing: in 2015, the original Broadway cast recording of Lin-Manuel M ­ iranda’s Hamilton (2015) reached number one on the Billboard rap charts,10 and peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 following the 2016 Tony Awards.11 In that same year, What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, the solo concept album from Waitress composer and lyricist Sara Bareilles, debuted at number ten on the Billboard 200, while the original Broadway cast recording of Waitress debuted at number 82.12 In February 2017, the original Broadway cast album of Dear Evan Hansen debuted at number eight, the highest debut of a cast recording since 1961.13 The score of Hansen, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, has a contemporary pop sensibility filtered through the lens of well-crafted musical theater dramaturgy and construction. Billboard journalist Rebecca Milzoff writes that the 121

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songs in the score “come as close as I’ve heard to sounding like pop songs I could have heard on the radio.”14 Yet the fact that Dear Evan Hansen is only the fourth cast album in the past 50 years to rise to the top ten of the Billboard 200 indicates that the lines between Broadway and Billboard aren’t quite as “blurred” as Viertel suggests; Broadway still doesn’t cross over to the pop charts as regularly as pop artists cross over to the Broadway stage. Although Bareilles’ single, “She Used to Be Mine,” from the second act of Waitress, received international radio airplay, it remains unusual that a song from a Broadway musical, no matter how popular, is heard on commercial radio. Why are pop artists attracted to writing for the musical theater? Elizabeth L. Wollman identifies two reasons why nontraditional artists may transition from chart-topper to showstopper: either their original career has lost momentum, or they are so well established that the shift will have little effect on their reputation.15 In both cases, these transitions generally occur later in an artist’s career, as in the case of Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, and Barlow, all of whom wrote musicals after their careers were firmly established and crossing over wouldn’t impair their credibility. Film director Barry Levinson has an alternative theory. Levinson, who is working on the musical adaption of his 1982 film Diner,16 featuring an original score by Sheryl Crow, recognizes that the popular music “landscape has radically changed,” and that the “storytelling songs” Crow and others built their careers on are no longer in vogue. He believes there is a gravitational pull for writers like Crow toward storytelling; it is thus natural to invite them to cross over to a storytelling art form, because “in a musical you can get to storytelling again.”17 Indeed, many of the artists who have made the move to writing musicals appear to be attracted to a storytelling aesthetic. Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears, who co-wrote the score for ­Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City (2011),18 suggests that his inclination to write songs “from a particular [but fictional] point of view” reflects a musical’s sense of character and is, perhaps, why book writer Jeff Whitty approached Shears and John Garden to collaborate on the project in the first place.19 Similarly, Paul Simon, Elton John, Dolly Parton, and Burt Bacharach all exhibit storytelling sensibilities in their work. The transition to musical theater may thus be a natural progression for some writers, the result of a maturation of style and aesthetic. New York Times journalist Lorne Manly, writing about Sara Bareilles’ Waitress, notes how the popular music industry has changed. He cites the impact the Internet has had on reshaping the music industry, resulting in substantial reductions in album sales and song writing royalties, and creating a pool of musicians “eager for new opportunities.”20 According to producer Scott ­Sanders, there is space for outsiders to write for the theater, noting that as “an industry, we producers are finding that the talent pool of the traditional theater writers—librettists and composers and l­yricists—has not really expanded.”21 As Broadway hopefuls graduate from a growing number of musical theater writing courses like those at Berklee College of Music and New York University, however, there is more trained talent working toward writing for the stage. Emerging talent can also perfect the craft of writing for the musical theater through developmental programs like the ASCAP workshops led by Stephen Schwartz, and the landmark BMI Musical Theatre Workshop founded by Broadway conductor and educator Lehman Engel in 1961. Engel’s vision was to “create a place where the fundamentals of musical theater craft could be conveyed to a new generation of theater songwriters.”22 Similarly, in the United Kingdom, emerging writers can hone their craft via the Book, Music, and Lyrics Workshop, or through master classes held by Mercury Musical Developments. With new writers emerging from various programs in hopes of entering the theater industry, it seems curious that Sanders perceives a lack of growth in musical theater writing talent. The website, established to promote and provide a repository for new writing, represents the work of 50 American songwriters. These writers, who have experienced various levels of success, include Pasek and Paul, Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen (Tuck Everlasting), Adam Gwon (Ordinary Days), 122

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Ryan Scott Oliver (35mm), and Georgia Stitt (Snow Child). If the pool of writers is expanding, why are producers providing opportunities to artists who are well-established in other entertainment industries, rather than working with and supporting the next generation of musical theater composers and lyricists? The most obvious answer is that successful artists from other genres come with preexisting audiences. Further, the artist’s fan base may be foreign to the musical theater, thereby broadening the production’s potential audience through a form of cross-genre tourism, in which the fan crosses over with the artist to visit the new art form. Some nontraditional writers experience c­ areer rejuvenation and become more permanent residents of the musical theater realm: for example, the multifaceted David Byrne wrote scores for Here Lies Love (2013) and Joan of Arc: Into the Fire (2017), both of which ran at New York’s Public Theater. Burt Bacharach is providing songs for Some ­L overs,23 his first original score since Promises, Promises. Elton John is collaborating on an adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada,24 while Cyndi Lauper is attached to a forthcoming adaptation of the ’80s film Working Girl.25 However, a preexisting fan base does not guarantee box office success as Harry Connick Jr. (Thou Shalt Not), Paul Simon and Dolly Parton, can attest. Considering the financial benefits, musical theater producers will no doubt continue to invite established songwriters to explore writing for the musical theater. This overtly commercial approach to creating musicals is not dissimilar to the practice of “stunt casting” a recognizable name in a principal role as a box office drawcard. Discussing the trend of casting alumni of American Idol or The Voice in musicals, educator and former Broadway performer Andre Garner argues, “Broadway is sacrificing its artistic prestige by appealing to the lowest common box office denominator, and the Broadway actor gets hamstrung, since these reality programs advocate a singing style that applauds vocal theatrics while rejecting commitment to the story.”26 Just as many celebrity actors need to negotiate singing, dancing, and even stage presence in making a career move to musicals,27 pop writers often must confront the demands of writing for specific dramatic circumstances, and the art of revealing character through song. Whether or not “Broadway is sacrificing its artistic prestige,”—its sense of aesthetic authenticity, as Garner suggests—by employing nontraditional theater composers is a larger question.

The Challenges of Dramaturgy The skills an artist develops as a singer-songwriter are not necessarily immediately transferrable to the task of contributing to the score of a musical. Structurally, songs are inherently built on lyrical, melodic, and rhythmic repetitions.28 However, a primary aesthetic difference between a standalone song and one for the musical stage is that the latter needs to serve the dramatic needs of the larger work: the book, the characters, the situation. Composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown argues that popular “songs by their nature are about establishing a mood, sustaining it, and finishing with it. Theater songs are about the opposite; good theater songs go from one end of an idea to a different place.”29 British director Adam Lenson suggests that musical theater songs tend to be of a “higher voltage”: they transmit more information through music and lyrics than their pop counterparts. “Low voltage” songs, then, are, perhaps, not as well-suited for telling stories.30 To explore these ideas, let’s take a moment to compare two contemporary songs, one from the pop charts and one from the boards. For fun, on the day of writing this, I decided to consider Drake’s “Nice for What” (2018) which held the number-one position at the time. Stylistically, this suggested “Wait for It” from Hamilton (2015) as a case for comparison. “Nice for What” (2018) quickly establishes its mood musically and lyrically. It sustains that mood through numerous repetitions of the female voice sample, which functions as the sung refrain and the underlying accompaniment to the male rap voice; the song doesn’t feature a key change or much else in the way of musical development.31 Conversely, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Wait for It” depicts Aaron Burr wrestling with his own 123

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confidence and insecurities. The lyric shifts from the irresponsibility of loving another man’s wife to the responsibility of living and honoring the family name, to wondering what it would be like to stand in his rival’s shoes. The song allows Burr to declare his defiance and his patience. Musically, Miranda and music director Alex Lacamoire manipulate the musical textures of the accompaniment, layering in backing vocals, cellos, and keyboard effects, giving the piece a sense of propulsion. The song doesn’t feature a traditional musical theater key modulation, which might dramaturgically represent Burr waiting patiently in the wings. However, as he contemplates Hamilton’s success, the accompaniment almost completely vanishes, leaving Burr vocally exposed and vulnerable over subtle piano chords, before the orchestra and chorus rebound, echoing Burr’s new determination to be patient.32 While the high-voltage “Nice for What” contains an overwhelming amount of verbal information, it lacks the narrative and musical trajectory of “Wait For It.” Of course, not all theater songs aim to achieve this active quality. For example, during “Time Heals Everything” (Mack and Mabel, 1974), Jerry Herman allows Mabel—and the audience—a moment to wallow, to be caught up in a mood: to be inactive. Although it could be argued that Mabel is attempting to convince herself she will recover from her heartbreak, the character is essentially in the same emotional and intellectual place at the song’s conclusion. Either way, “­Everything” doesn’t move through an idea as Brown suggests. In many ways, it operates much like a conventional pop song enabling it to effectively standalone outside of its dramatic context. Similarly, contemporary musical theater songs may focus on mood rather than action; consider “Waving Through a ­Window,” Evan Hansen’s declaration of his inability to actively participate in life. Nevertheless, dramaturgical considerations are required of writers working in an extended narrative form when they cross over to musical theater. Sara Bareilles, who, like Barlow on N ­ everland, was brought in to replace writers already working on the adaptation of Waitress,33 recalls, “It actually took me a long time to say that I love this project. It was very hard; it was confusing; it was foreign.”34 As a solo artist, Bareilles had to overcome her tendency to not share her work until she felt that it was “completely finished, fleshed out,” because “that is less helpful in this process, because this show depends on the music serving the book, the book serving the music, the music serving the actors.”35 During the early stages of scoring Tales of the City with Scissor Sisters’ collaborator John Garden, Jake Shears recalls a similar disorientation: “…you don’t really know what you’re doing.”36 Garden notes that it was during the show’s first read-through that it became apparent “when a song just stopped the action completely. […] I think that was when we went away and started thinking more about how to get from A to B by the end of songs.”37 Because it takes longer to sing an idea than it does to speak it, there isn’t any, as Shears articulates, “real estate or breaks where you can just throw in a brainless pop song”; everything should contribute to developing character or plot.38 Sheryl Crow refers to the challenge of negotiating what she identifies as the basic principles of musical theater style while attempting to maintain an individual voice: “The way you end songs to make sure the audience knows when to applaud, things that I naturally would say, ‘I would never do that’. Modulate a song? Never.”39 These comments demonstrate an awareness of the needs of a foreign genre. A musical theater song cannot fade out the way most pop songs do, since a fadeout could leave a character unresolved, suspended, stuck in the moment. Modulation, too, is a technique employed to create the sensation of dramatic movement and development, helping to move a character from A to B through song, a form which is effectively based on repetition. Not all artists, however, are as facile in their attempts to cross from the charts to the stage. Paul Simon’s The Capeman, for example, suffered due to its composer’s unwillingness to play by the rules of the stage musical. Both Linda Winer and Greg Evans, in their respective reviews of this production, acknowledge the quality of Simon’s songs, but question the dramatic integrity of the work overall.40 The material, many theater critics ultimately suggested, would work better as a song cycle in a concert setting, with any attempt at narrative and dramatic flow discarded. 124

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Considering the challenges nontraditional musical theater composers encounter working in a dramatic idiom for the first time, it is, perhaps, informative to consider the differences Gary Barlow observes between his creative processes on Finding Neverland and on Calendar Girls. In a promotional video for the West End premiere of the latter, Barlow admits to setting lyrics for the musical without necessarily being aware of the dramatic circumstances in which the songs occurred.41 He suggests that he didn’t find himself “scratching [his] head and thinking, ‘Oh God, right, we’re in the park; I’ve got to write a lyric that fits.’”42 We can infer from this statement, especially since Neverland features numerous sequences in Kensington Gardens, that Barlow and Kennedy, under the astute dramaturgical eye of Paulus, grappled with crafting songs to suit specific dramatic situations. In contrast, he equates his collaboration with Tim Firth on Calendar Girls to writing a pop album: Barlow wrote numerous settings of a lyric, from which Firth would take “a verse from track one and a chorus from track five” to construct the song.43 Barlow claims this process allowed him to approach Calendar Girls “as an artist.”44 The term “artist” is intriguing in this context: it implies a distinction between the artistry of pop in its allusion to creative freedom and self-expression, and the craft of writing for the stage, which requires honing a piece within the tight limitations of dramatic context. The artistic freedom Barlow experienced was no doubt founded in the trust that Firth, who was adapting his own play and screenplay, implicitly understood the characters and story. The tension Barlow expresses between the two processes points to a central concern that can be explored through the concept of authenticity.

Notions of Authenticity Near the end of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George (1984), the spirit of Dot appears to the modern George and tells him that if he can be true to himself, the art he creates will be original.45 Gary Barlow, in this chapter’s inciting quote, articulates this sentiment when he notes that on Finding Neverland he needed to do what he does, rather than try to imitate what Broadway writers do.46 He had to find a way of writing in the dramatic medium that remained true to his own voice while still meeting the dramaturgical needs of the story and its director, Diane Paulus. For Paulus, the pop aesthetic juxtaposed against the Edwardian dramaturgically positions the protagonist J. M. Barrie as out-of-step with the world around him.47 While Paulus embraced these aesthetic tensions, they underscore the point raised earlier concerning authenticity. While there are numerous authenticities,48 two forms are particularly relevant to this discussion: aesthetic and personal authenticity. Aesthetic authenticity accounts for musical theater as a form. What is it that makes a musical a musical? Is there such a thing as an authentic musical? Are musical theater aficionados able to read a musical theater score as somehow authentic or inauthentic to the form? If so, in an art form that appropriates and embraces numerous styles aesthetically, what might be key indicators of authenticity for someone in the know? The central indicator seems to be craft. Does a song reveal character and plot? Is a song ­primarily oriented toward mood, or does it evoke action? Does it possess the conversational tone that composer and lyricist William Finn proposes makes “theater [songs] theater”?49 Or is there an adherence to the craft of perfect rhymes, one of the hallmarks of musical theater lyric writing, which differentiates it from pop writing?50 These are formal concerns that pop writers negotiate in crossing over to musical theater. Sheryl Crow articulates such concerns when she refers to the basic principles of the musical theater score, including things like key changes, which compete with her instincts as a pop writer.51 Similarly, when Jake Shears observes that a musical theater song has limited “real estate” to achieve what it needs to, he is acknowledging the dramaturgical imperatives of the form the writer is required to satisfy.52 125

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To take the discussion of authenticity in the musical theater a step further, why does the hip-hoperatic style of Hamilton strike many as “authentic” while the pop sensibility of Finding ­Neverland made less of an impact? The obvious answer to this question is that Lin-Manuel ­M iranda, growing up loving both musicals and rap, intrinsically understands musical theater dramaturgy and form, whereas Barlow and many of his pop peers may not be as aware of the form’s complexities. Miranda is what we might call an “authoritative” creator of musicals, which is why Hamilton, while drawing on various musical styles—rap, rhythm, and blues, ‘60s Brit pop—feels comparatively authentic.53 Paul Simon’s The Capeman appears to work as a cycle of songs but fails dramatically, a fundamental aspect of what defines a musical. Perhaps musicals by nontraditional authors that achieve greatest success are ably guided by authoritative co-creatives toward a degree of aesthetic authenticity. Diane Paulus shepherded both Finding Neverland and Waitress to Broadway; Cyndi Lauper benefited from the expertise of playwright Harvey Fierstein and director/ choreographer Jerry Mitchell with Kinky Boots. However, this level of expertise doesn’t guarantee success, so there are likely other factors that contribute to the mix. Musicals are a risky business, even for authoritative creators. While grappling with the challenges of writing for a dramatic and narrative medium, pop writers also contend with personal authenticity: maintaining a sense of their own distinctive style and voice within the new form. Peter Kivy proposes that an artwork “can be personally authentic in the sense of truly emanating from the artist […], rather than a derivative imitation of some other artist’s work.”54 Barlow, for example, wanted to maintain what was “Barlow” about his work even while writing in a new medium. Over time, musical theater creators such as Sondheim, Miranda, and Pasek and Paul develop distinctive personal styles, through which they articulate and navigate the aesthetics of the form. However, pop writers tend to be carefully selected by producers for specific projects, based on their existing style. There is a reason why Cyndi Lauper was hired to score Kinky Boots, or the Scissor Sisters’ sound was deemed appropriate for the musical world of Tales of the City. The distinctive musical styles of these artists, harnessed to meet the dramatic needs of the musical, help to ensure that the writers maintain a degree of personal authenticity while working to create a piece that can be identified by fans as being authentic to the musical theater form.

Conclusion The commercial musical theater will no doubt continue to be a destination for nontraditional artists. Producers often look to employ brands or names—performers, writers, source material—to make their product a viable commodity. Moreover, popular musicians will continue to seek new avenues to develop creatively and artistically, and the opportunity to work within an extended narrative form poses an exciting challenge. This does not mean, however, that they are prepared to meet the challenges of working within a dramatic form. To some extent these issues can be mitigated through the support of authoritative musical theater collaborators: a dramaturgically inclined director willing to help the writer achieve new levels of specificity; a music team able to supply sections of music between and beyond the songs, thereby constructing a score from the building blocks supplied by the pop writer. Further areas of inquiry might include studies of the creative development of specific projects, or dramaturgical analyses of various musicals to ascertain the degree to which writers, new to the genre, are successful in meeting theatrical demands. It is probably also prudent to consider the positive and negative implications pop writers may have on the form. While they may raise the profile of a musical, thereby generating ongoing work for the performers and crew, they don’t always prove successful at generating box office receipts: for every Waitress there is a Tales of the City. And as the presence of a chart-topping name doesn’t necessarily alleviate the risk, why not invest in the many writers who may not be as recognizable to the general public but are schooled 126

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in the craft of creating musical theater? Is the work by crossover writers less authentic than that of their authoritative counterparts? It is clear that musicals by nontraditional creatives are not going to disappear from the commercial stage; in fact, as the economics of Broadway become more complex, they may become more prevalent. Only time will tell, however, what impact these crossover artists might score into the form itself.55

Notes 1 Cited in Rob Weinert-Kendt. “Finding Neverland and the Pop Heart Inside J. M. Barrie.” The New York Times. 2015. Web. 16 Sept. 2016. . 2 Ibid. 3 Ryan McPhee. “Gary Barlow Will Fly from Neverland to Around the World in 80 Days in New Musical Adaptation.” 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2016. . 4 Calendar Girls: The Musical, opened at the Phoenix Theater, London, under the original title The Girls. Directed by Tim Firth, the musical began previews on January 28, 2017, before officially opening on February 21 and closing on July 15. The rebranded Calendar Girls commenced a UK tour on August 16, 2018 in Leeds. 5 The Tony Award nominated team Korie and Frankel wrote scores for Grey Gardens (2006), Happiness (2009), Far From Heaven (2013), and most recently War Paint (2016), among others. 6 Jack Viertel. The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built. New York: Sarah Creighton Books, 2016. 268. 7 Elizabeth L. Wollman. The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, from Hair to Hedwig. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2006. 124. 8 Joseph Church. Music Direction for the Stage: A View from the Podium. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. 83. 9 Viertel, The Secret Life, 268. 10 Marjua Estevez. “Hamilton Broadway Album Tops Rap Chart.” Vibe. 2015. Web. 6 Mar. 2017. . 11 Keith Caulfield. “Hamilton Cast Album Races to No. 3 on Billboard 200 Chart after Tony Awards.” Billboard. 2016. Web. 7 Mar. 2017. . 12 Keith Caulfield. “Billboard 200 Chart Moves: Waitress Cast Album Debuts, The Lonely Island & Rebellion Make Waves.” Billboard. 2016. Web. 6 Mar. 2017. . 13 Dear Evan Hansen is the fourth cast recording to reach the top 10 of the Billboard 200 in the last 50 years; the others are Hamilton and The Book of Mormon, which debuted at number three in 2016 and 2011, ­respectively, and Hair, which occupied the top slot for 13 weeks in 1969; see Keith Caulfield. “Billboard 200 Chart Moves: Dear Evan Hansen & Hamilton Give Broadway Two Albums in Top 20 for First Time in More Than 50 Years.” Billboard. 2017. Web. 6 Mar. 2017. . If/Then (2014), RENT (1996), and Dreamgirls (1982) all debuted within the top 20; see Keith Caulfield. “Hamilton’s Historic Chart Debut: By the Numbers.” Billboard. 2015. Web. 6 Mar. 2017. . 14 Rebecca Milzoff. “Music Supervisor Alex Lacamoire on Life after Hamilton, Recording New Hit Musical Dear Evan Hansen.” Billboard. 2017. Web. 7 Mar. 2017. . 15 Wollman, The Theater will Rock, 34. 16 Diner: The musical premiered at Virginia’s Signature Theater on December 9, 2014, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Delaware Theater Company staged the musical in December 2015. It is yet to make its Broadway premiere. 17 Peter Marks. “Sheryl Crow and Others Discuss Diner the Musical.” Washington Post. 2014. Web. 6 Oct. 2016. . 18 Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, premiered in an out of town tryout at the American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco. The musical—book by Jeff Whitty, music and lyrics by Jake Shears and John Garden, and directed by Jason Moore—began previews on May 18, 2011, before officially opening on May 31 for an extended run which closed on July 10. While the musical has not yet transferred to


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19 20 21 22 23

24 25 26 27


29 30 31 32 33

34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 4 4

Broadway, the original cast reunited for a one night only concert presentation of the work at Broadway’s Box Theater, March 27, 2017. Elizabeth Broderson. “Finding Atlantis: An Interview with Creators of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical.” Words on Plays: Insight into the Play, the Playwright, and the Production Elizabeth Broderson, Publications Editor 27.6 (San Francisco: American Conservatory Theater, 2011). 11. Lorne Manly. “Sara Bareilles Takes Her Slice of Broadway with Waitress.” New York Times. 2016. Web. 6 Oct. 2016. . Cited in Ibid. “History of the Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop.” BMI. Web. 3 Mar. 2017. . Some Lovers, written with book writer and lyricist, Steven Sater (Spring Awakening), premiered at the Old Globe in San Diego in 2011. It received an industry reading in February 2017 at Southwark Playhouse, London, by Aria Entertainment, who subsequently produced a staged workshop during their 2017 Page to Stage festival at London’s The Other Palace. Guardian Staff. “Elton John to Write Devil Wears Prada Musical for Broadway.” The Guardian. 2017. Web. 6 Mar. 2017. . Gordon Cox. “Working Girl Musical in Development with Songs by Cyndi Lauper.” Variety. 2017. Web. 7 Sept. 2017. . Andre Garner. “Reality TV singing competitions take Broadway down a discordant path.” Voice and Speech Review 9.2–3 (2015): 186–201. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. 80/23268263.2016.1189061 For reviews of film actors Jennifer Jason Leigh (Cabaret) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (Chicago), respectively, crossing over to musical theater: See Charles Isherwood. “Cabaret.” Variety. 1998. Web. 19 Apr. 2018. ; and Fergus Morgan. “Review Round-up: Chicago Starring Cuba Gooding Jnr at Phoenix Theater, London.” The Stage. 2018. For a discussion on the inherent repetition of song form, see Scott McMillin. The Musical as Drama. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006. 31–53. For an alternative view on repetition see, Matthew Lockitt. “‘Love, Let Me Sing You’: The Liminality of Song and Dance in LaChiusa’s Bernarda Alba.” Gestures of Music Theater. Eds. Dominic Symonds and Millie Taylor. New York: Oxford UP, 2014. 91–108. Jonathan Frank. “Spotlight on Jason Robert Brown.” 2000. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. . Adam Lenson. “Soapbox #2: Danger, High Voltage!” Dischord: Figuring Out Music and Theater. iTunes. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2017. . “Nice for What” debuted on the Billboard: The Hot 100 chart at Number One, the week of April 28, 2018. Web. 30 Apr. 2018. . Interestingly, Miranda drops the chorus about Hamilton from The Hamilton Mix Tape version of “Wait for It.” The deletion of this section limits the dramatic arc of the song for commercial airplay. Waitress producer Barry Weissler indicates that they “tried other writers, and they couldn’t tell the simple, heartfelt story”; see Rebecca Milzoff. “Sara Bareilles on Her Broadway Move: ‘I Have an Odd Relationship with My Contemporaries’.” Billboard. 2015. Web. Mar. 6, 2017. . Cited in Manly. “Sara Bareilles Takes Her Slice.” Ibid. Broderson, “Finding Atlantis.” 2. Ibid., 8. Ibid., 7. Marks, “Sheryl Crow and Others.” See J. Wynn Rousuck. “Capeman Blanketed with Murderous Reviews Theater: Paul Simon’s Long-awaited Broadway Musical Has Not Been a Hit with Critics.” The Baltimore Sun. 1998. Web. 30 Mar. 2017. . “In Rehearsal with Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s The Girls.” What’s on Stage. 2016. Web. 11 Nov. 2016. . Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.


Chart-Toppers to Showstoppers 45 Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. “Move On.” Sunday in the Park with George. New York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1991. 171. 46 Weinert-Kendt, “Finding Neverland and the Pop Heart.” 47 Ibid. 48 For an explication of the complexity surrounding the issue of authenticity, see Peter Kivy. Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995. 49 Thomas Cott. “A Conversation with William Finn.” Lincoln Center Theater: Platform Series. 22 July 1998. Web. 8 Feb. 2017. . 50 Stephen Sondheim. “Rhyme and Its Reasons.” Finishing the Hat. London: Virgin Books, 2010. xxv–xxvii. For a counterargument against perfect rhyming, see Michael Friedman. “The Song Makes a Space: Michael Friedman at TEDxEast.” TEDx Talks. 3 Aug. 2012. Web. 12 Jan. 2018. . 51 Marks, “Sheryl Crow and others.” 52 Broderson, “Finding Atlantis.” 8. 53 Kivy, Authenticities, 3. 54 Ibid., 122. 55 Thank you to the editors of this collection, and to my colleagues Millie Taylor and Adam Rush, for their patience and valuable feedback on this chapter.


13 SCENOGRAPHIC AESTHETICS AND AUTOMATED TECHNOLOGIES IN BROADWAY MUSICALS Christin Essin Hudson Scenic Studios in Yonkers, New York, does not appear to the casual onlooker like a vital hub in the increasingly global marketplace of Broadway musicals. Train commuters heading to Manhattan on the Metro-North see nothing but a drab collection of industrial buildings between them and the Hudson River, remaining heedless to the glittering spectacle hidden behind cinderblock walls. In 2015, I visited Hudson Scenic, disembarking at the Ludlow ­Station with a group of carpenters and following them over the bridge to the shop. Our journey had begun 30 minutes before in Grand Central Station, itself only a few blocks from many of the Broadway theaters, like the Nederlander, Shubert, and Minskoff, that housed Hudson’s scenic products.1 Since 1917, when the Ziegfeld Follies designer Joseph Urban established his scenic shop in ­Yonkers, the town has served as an important outpost for constructing Broadway musicals. At Hudson, scenic painters still use the same techniques Urban pioneered, but practices then considered revolutionary—like applying multiple layers of color on stretched canvas anchored to the floor—are now conventional. During my visit, I watched Midge Lucus kneel on the canvas to blend colors on a backdrop for the soon-to-open Broadway musical Something Rotten, designed by Scott Pask. In another room, Jane Snow demonstrated Hudson’s integration of new painting technologies: scenic artists on ladders had touched up a vertically hung scenic portal for the national tour of Matilda that the shop previously subcontracted out for digital printing. They had saved significant time by starting with this base, but still needed to blend out the digital print’s mechanical precision so the portal matched the color and textures of other hand-painted pieces. Every corner of Hudson’s massive shop showed evidence of this fusion between old- and new-school techniques—a merging of fundamental but highly refined manual skills with advanced computer technologies. Dominic Godfrey, the department head for carpentry, showed me the scenic deck his crew manually constructed for the Matilda tour, and the room housing the CNC (computer numerical control) wood router used to digitally cut intricate patterns into lumber. ­Automation specialist Dani Wolber demonstrated a control system she was building for the ­Mexico City production of The Lion King; Hudson constructed Richard Hudson’s original Broadway design, and the shop continues to adapt it for each new venue. A successful Broadway musical can provide years of employment for Hudson’s large workforce, and its trucks regularly travel farther than midtown Manhattan to deliver products. The robust health of the Broadway musical as a globally marketed and distributed brand of live entertainment


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is evident in Hudson’s success. A view of the musical industry from this shop floor provides insight into the ways scenographic technologies have shaped the Broadway brand as an international commodity.2 Since the late 1960s, Broadway musicals have integrated advanced electronic and computer technologies into commercial theater practices, raising spectators’ expectations for splashy spectacle, seamless transitions, majestic elevations, and harmonious auditory experiences blending vocal, instrumental, and machine-engineered sounds. Drawing from a variety of sources, including ethnographic research into Broadway’s extensive pool of backstage employees, this chapter examines the visual and sonic impact of computer-controlled and automated lighting, motorized and automated scenery, and amplified sound on a selection of contemporary musical productions. These technological and aesthetic shifts have altered practices of backstage labor on Broadway, particularly among the members of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage ­Employees (IATSE). When examined, these typically hidden technologies, mechanics, and backstage personnel increase understanding of a production’s artistry and the refinement of skills practiced by its full panoply of craftspeople, thereby providing a broader historical understanding of contemporary Broadway culture. Those nostalgic for the handcrafted artistry of a mystical musical theater past typically are wary of this new age of automation and amplification. Before advanced technologies “aesthetically homogenized” Broadway,3 the story goes, a leading lady needed only to “park and bark” from a single spotlight center stage; a curtain hiding a scenic shift was the only device needed to move a show from one scene to the next. Nowhere is this nostalgia more evident than in debates around sound amplification through the use of wireless microphones and audio mixing technologies. Purists argue that amplification produces an inauthentic, dishonest, poor sonic experience that dilutes a performer’s voice and gives a free pass to lesser performers.4 With each technological shift that has produced louder, brighter, faster musicals, purists insist, the industry has “tricked” audiences into accepting spectacle over artistry while simultaneously bloating costs beyond financial sustainability. Certainly, for those persistently predicting the death of Broadway, expensive technology upgrades and increased labor costs are easy targets. Yet today’s globally marketed Broadway brand depends on scenographic artistry that requires advanced computer technologies, and craftspeople trained in their execution. Beginning with Tharon Musser’s use of computer-aided control for her lighting design of A Chorus Line (1975), this chapter selects key musical productions and shifts in the genre as sites to mine crucial intersections between artistry, technology, and production labor. A study of Broadway from behind the curtain—one that accesses rarely told stories of backstage personnel—highlights moments when industry leaders break with convention and take economic risks. The lighting, scenic, and sound technologies examined here have substantively altered the Broadway musical. Each new application of technology, whether welcomed or disdained, began as an experiment on a shop floor or a backstage wing. Economic and artistic objectives motivated the subsequent standardization of these technologies; an investigation into these choices by designers, directors, and producers provides insight into the cultural economy of Broadway and the expansion of its brand into global markets.

Lighting Technologies The chairman of Hudson Scenic Studios, Neil Mazzella, began his career as a theater technician in the early 1970s and, as a result, has witnessed some key technology shifts during his tenure.5 The many books in his office speak to his interest in theater design and production, and during our discussion, he reflected on productions that ushered in new practices, starting with A Chorus Line. “That was all Tharon,” said Mazzella, describing Musser’s influence on Broadway’s


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transition to computerized lighting control systems. Her career followed that of pioneer designer Jean ­Rosenthal, who had insisted the industry accept “lighting design” as an artistic practice distinct from “scenic design.” Musser further defined the discipline through her implementation of computer technologies, which helped designers gain more control over theatrical light. Through the 1970s, Musser worked in regional theaters that used electronic, preset memory control boards that could store the levels of upcoming cues, allowing for more complex lighting sequences than possible on manually operated resistance dimmers. She was eager to implement existing electronic and emerging computer technologies in New York, but Broadway venues still used earlier-generation manual dimmers, which limited cuing and the number of instruments in the plot. “It used to be that a musical couldn’t have any more than about 300 lights,” said designer Beverly Emmons, because the operation of resistance dimmers was labor-intensive and their wattage capacity was limited.6 Only 12–14 resistance dimmers could be packed into a “piano board” (the colloquialism for dimmer crates, which resembled upright pianos), and a 3,000-watt-rated dimmer could only operate the fades for six instruments with 500-watt bulbs. Each electrician stood between two boards, performing an elaborate choreography of manual fades, and producers would only agree to “three sets of boards and three salaries.” 7 The implementation of electronic boards and dimmers solved this dilemma; memory stored on circuits was more consistent than the kinesthetic memory of electricians counting fades with manual levers. But more importantly, argued designers, they would gain the power to operate more instruments, thus having more tools to realize their artistic vision. While the benefits of advanced lighting technologies were clear to designers, the Broadway industry initially hesitated. Local 1 electricians were justifiably worried about the elimination of jobs, since new control systems would replace three board operators with one. Most theater owners feared the expense of rewiring their electricity from direct to alternating current. Mazzella remember that “no one wanted to invest in new technology.”8 Unlike regional theaters that buy and maintain their own equipment, Broadway producers rent instruments and control systems on a show-by-show basis; companies like Four Star Lighting, which supplied the New York area, owned “basement[s] full of piano boards” and weren’t eager to replace their stock.9 Enter Tharon Musser, the Shuberts, and A Chorus Line, the soon-to-be iconic musical that was enormously popular with audiences, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the recipient of nine Tony Awards. The musical had begun with director/choreographer Michael Bennett and a group of professional dancers sharing personal stories, progressed through workshops funded by producer Joseph Papp, and culminated in a highly successful Off-Broadway production that opened at Papp’s Public Theater in April 1975. Bernard Jacobs, president of the Shubert Organization, knew A Chorus Line was a surefire hit and promised the creative team anything they wanted when it transferred to Broadway’s Shubert Theater. At the Public’s Newman Theater, Musser had cued the musical on a five-scene preset memory board; this electronic technology allowed the operator to set cues in advance and Musser the freedom to include more complex timing sequences, including many long fades and some cues that bumped out instantly.10 Her design couldn’t be replicated on piano boards, so with Jacobs’ blank check, Musser upgraded to next-generation technology, ordering a computer control console designed by Gordon Pearlman of Electronics Diversified Incorporated and hiring Gershon “Gary” Shevett to operate it as the production’s head electrician. The alignment of these industry leaders brought computer-aided lighting control to Broadway, but it was Musser’s Tony Award-winning design that secured the new era of lighting technology.11 Certainly Theoni Aldridge’s costumes and Robin Wagner’s scenery were essential to establishing the characters—auditioning dancers standing in rehearsal clothing on a white line on a bare stage with a mirrored backdrop—but Musser’s design took center stage. Her lighting was the primary scenographic vehicle for telling the characters’ stories and moving the musical from one number to the next. The brightly lit opening number was intentionally unflattering; Bennett wanted to 132

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see the dancers working and sweating for the audition.12 But as the characters began reflecting on their lives during the musical numbers, Musser’s lights faded to a more “mottled, colorful world of emotional expression.”13 With the large inventory of instruments accommodated by electronic dimmers and the computer control system, Musser plotted a series of what she called “thought lights” and focused one on each dancer’s position on the white line. During moments of character reflection, Musser singled out individuals, bathing them in a deep purple hue. Bennett made sure each actor knew their exact position; when alterations were needed, he trusted Musser so implicitly that he changed the actor’s blocking rather ask her to refocus the light.14 Another series of top lights mixed lavender, pink, and blue with geometric, Mondrian-inspired patterns to add more vibrancy and texture to the dream-like atmosphere of the songs and dances.15 Red and green side lights mixed as white on the dancers’ bodies, but cast “interesting colored shadows” as they moved around the stage.16 In Cassie’s solo “The Music and the Mirror,” for example, Musser mixed different colors with three follow spots, so multihued shadows followed each movement.17 Musser’s design was a watershed on Broadway: computer control enlarged and expanded her capacity as a visual storyteller and made the lighting part of the musical’s dramaturgy. Bennett’s biographer Ken Mandelbaum describes Musser’s “contribution [as] equal to that of the writers and even that of Bennett himself.”18 Not as celebrated are the contributions of Pearlman and ­Shevett, who designed and operated the control system that reproduced Musser’s design each night. ­Musser’s lighting made a persuasive artistic argument for embracing computer control, but their ingenuity and skill demonstrated its reliability and sustainability. By the early 1980s, Broadway’s transformation to computer control in lighting was complete, particularly once producers realized the cost-saving benefits of a one-man board crew and lower electricity costs. Electricians, too, realized that the decreased labor hours running piano boards were offset by more hours mounting productions with much more instrumentation. Production electricians like Shevett, who built skills around computer technologies, became specialists, with higher salaries and more industry status, who worked in close collaboration with lighting designers. Broadway’s lighting technicians became even more specialized with the introduction of automated instrumentation, which uses computer controls to remotely refocus and change the colors of individual instruments as part of a production’s cuing. A company called Showco introduced the first generation of automated instruments, called Vari-Lites, for the 1981 concert tour by the band Genesis. As first conceived, these instruments gave designers the freedom to refocus specials “in the dark to get from point A to point B,” according to Vari-Lite operator and engineer Tom Littrell.19 But designers soon realized the potential of illuminated choreography—series of instruments moving in synchronization with music and performers. Linda Essig’s interview with designer Natasha Katz documents her use of automated fixtures in EFX (1995), a musical spectacle featuring Phantom of the Opera star Michael Crawford at Las Vegas’s MGM Grand Casino. Katz emphasized her use of Vari-Lites for flashy effects and to isolate performers amidst the lavish production, and later she did the same on Broadway. With next-generation improvements in noise reduction, color fading, and light shaping, many designers began to integrate automated fixtures with conventional instrumentation.20 In 2006, Katz used automated instrumentation when she adapted Musser’s design for the revival of A Chorus Line, directed by Bob Avian (Bennett’s co-choreographer) and Baayork Lee (the original dance captain). Katz studied Musser’s design “forensically” and realized alterations would be necessary; using the same technology Musser had was neither possible nor desirable.21 The original Roscolene “gel” colors and the “leko” ellipsoidal reflector spotlights were now obsolete. The new industry-standard ETC Source Four instruments used by Katz had brighter intensities and cooler color temperatures, thus requiring adjustments for light levels.22 She replicated much 133

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of Musser’s instrument placement, and added Vari-Lites to supplement the follow spots’ illumination of faces and create more options for the “multi-colored, Mondrian-like squares around the dancers.”23 The result was the seamless execution of Musser’s design as translated through Katz’s artistic eye, with technology 30 years in the making. While the lighting remained “absolutely in Tharon’s world,” Katz said, advances in control systems and automation specialization gave her more freedom to manipulate individual fixtures, adjust colors, and coordinate with the show’s choreography.24 Although engineers crafted automated lighting systems for the more spectacular effects of concert stages, Broadway designers have demonstrated its successful application to theatrical lighting, to increase a plot’s flexibility and reactiveness to live performance. For the musical stage in particular, automated lighting offers a range of effects, from a flamboyant sweep of multicolored patterns for flashy production numbers to the austere isolation of a soloist. Automated lighting is now stock equipment, and specialists trained in its operation are significant additions to Broadway’s labor force. Automation programmers work in collaboration with designers to maximize the instruments’ capabilities; they are “artistic partners,” according to Littrell, who translate designers’ described effects into a numeric language.25 While some bemoan the high costs of technology and specialized labor, new industry standards and aesthetic expectations have been set, and designers, paid by producers, continue to replicate them. Audiences may not walk into Broadway theaters demanding excellence in illumination, but they have come to expect stage artistry that exhibits glitz, glamour, and radiance with the signature imprint of these new technologies.

Scenic Technologies “Okay, so when did scenery start to catch up?” Mazzella asked rhetorically as we sat in his office at Hudson Scenic. Before the scenic application of computer technologies, Broadway’s carpenters used winches—motorized drums that wind steel cables connected to counterweight systems to fly scenery—“but we had to set limits manually and run it 20 times to get it right. We were doing that forever.”26 Initial forays into computerized automation—digitally controlling scenic movement with precise timing and consistency—occurred in the early 1980s, but the impulse toward fully implementing and standardizing the technology came with the arrival of megamusicals from L ­ ondon’s West End.27 The 1987 Broadway transfer of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel ­Schönberg’s Les Misérables provided New York shops with the challenge of automating its sizable turntable, but Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, with its massive set and multiple effects, demanded a fully integrated automation system when it transferred the following year. East Coast Theater Supply, little known at the time, implemented this system with a computer console that controlled all the motion effects powered by winches, motors, rotators, or other mechanical elements. The company’s Phantom success set the standard for scenic automation on Broadway. Fred Gallo started East Coast Theater Supply in a rented space with “a table saw, a radial arm saw, and some hand tools. . . we didn’t have anything, but we had chutzpah.”28 I spoke with Gallo while he took a break from loading in Doctor Zhivago at the Broadway Theater on West 52nd Street. His father and uncles worked as stagehands, and after attending school for architectural engineering, Gallo returned to Broadway. His success story reveals a level of showmanship not typically attributed to backstage technicians. He and his partner Jerry Harris had implemented some automation technology in previous productions, but Phantom offered a next-level challenge: “here was the largest automated show in the history of theater, and by hook or by crook,” he said, “we were getting that contract.” Gallo set the stage for his meeting with producer Cameron Mackintosh’s representatives, renting additional space and borrowing some scenery from a nearby shop. “I took out all the mechanical stuff and put it on workbenches. Then all of my stagehand friends came in and made believe they were working. So when [the producers] came in, there 134

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were maybe fifteen guys all looking like they were working on mechanics. What did they know, you know?”29 Gallo won the automation contract; he worked with Mazella at Hudson Scenic, who won the scenic construction contract, to implement a complete automation system to control Phantom’s multiple scenic elements, from rising candelabras to the falling chandelier. To install the complete scenic rig, the Majestic Theater required a $2 million renovation, including steel reinforcements, an expanded basement, and a new stage floor.30 When Phantom opened, critics spilled significant ink describing Maria Björnson’s design, detailing its lavish settings and various moving parts. The New York Times’ Frank Rich expressed discomfort with the “histrionic” extravagance of Phantom’s spectacle, but his scenographic descriptions recognized the design as “a victory of dynamic stagecraft” that “constantly shuffles” between onstage and backstage perspectives.31 The Times’ Walter Kerr also devoted paragraphs to the moving dynamism of Björnson’s design, especially the “old-encrusted, multi-tiered, peachtinted” chandelier that amazed audiences with its elegant ascent and later shocked them with its sudden (intentional) collapse.32 Both Rich and Kerr disparaged Phantom’s seeming reliance on stagecraft to hide faults in the libretto, following suit with many Broadway critics “unwilling or unable,” as Jessica Sternfeld notes in The Megamusical, to see spectacle as anything other than “visual trickery.”33 But it is clear from their abundant descriptions of automated scenic elements that Phantom set a new benchmark for a dynamic Broadway scenery that only automated technology could produce. In Changed for Good, Stacy Wolf observes that the scenic dynamism of megamusicals like Phantom competed with performers onstage to such an extent that “the set itself became a performer” by distracting the audience “away from actors’ bodies and the labor of performance and toward fog, flashing lights, and smoothly moving set pieces.”34 Automated scenery’s ability to coordinate precisely with the sung-through scores of megamusicals gives it an appearance of innate belonging: like a character, it is a seemingly inevitable part of the production text. Following the popularity and economic success of megamusicals, automated scenery became desired by many producers and expected as part of the Broadway experience. Gallo won subsequent contracts for Mackintosh’s transfers to Broadway, including Miss Saigon (1991), and his Stage Command motion control system became the go-to technology for automating scenery.35 What began as a small shop is now the Scenic Technologies arm of Production Resource Group, or PRG, a global leader in entertainment technology. Hudson Scenic also integrated automation into its scenic services, but it was not until 1997 with The Lion King that the shop “got into it in a big way,” according to Mazzella. Richard Hudson’s scenic design featured a turntable drum that elevated from below the stage to 20 feet above, producing a spiraling Pride Rock that dramatically crowns the stirring opening number, “Circle of Life.” In different configurations, the same turntable represents other locations. According to Drew Siccardi, house carpenter at the New Amsterdam Theater, the crew removed the entire stage floor and rebuilt it around the automation mechanics. When The Lion King moved to the Minskoff Theater in 2006, “there was still a hole forty foot by forty foot,” which required that Siccardi’s crew build a new deck before installing the scenery for Disney Theatrical’s next production, Mary Poppins. 36 As indicated by these significant alterations, the integration of scenic automation has had a dramatic impact on Broadway’s production budgets and schedules. Most musicals now require a specially built deck and rigging system in addition to newly constructed scenery. As with the implementation of advanced lighting technology, scenic load-ins now require more labor hours. “If you look at some of the largest hit musicals from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, you’ll see that they loaded shows in over three days. Now, it takes a month,” said Gallo. Regardless, “everyone wants automation,” Mazzella concluded. Even smaller musicals like Fun Home (2013), staged in the round at Circle in the Square, featured automated lifts to raise platforms from below the stage. 135

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The growth of automated technology has run parallel with shifting tastes and demographics of Broadway audiences that increasingly include more tourists, both national and international, eager to consume megamusicals like Phantom and spectacles like The Lion King. With the standardization of automation, commercial scenery now moves with quiet, easy precision. Ideally undetectable to audiences, the technology subtly contributes to an aesthetic that distinguishes the Broadway musical as a quality brand.

Sound Technologies Musical theater scholars and journalists have written more about the integration of electronic and digital technologies in sound than about other design areas. Criticism of amplification—the magnifying and balancing of performers’ voices and the orchestra with microphones, speakers, and control consoles—centers on a perceived disconnect between performers and their voices (or instruments and the sounds they make) and a more “homogenized” (or “artificial”) auditory environment that sacrifices the dynamism of live performance for a purer “studio sound.”37 More pointedly, many argue, amplification has diminished the talent of Broadway performers, or at least contributed to a “decline of the traditional ‘belter’ and the proliferation of singers best equipped not for the stage but for the recording studio.”38 Or, as remembered by composer John Kander, “one day Jule Styne turned on the foot mikes without telling Ethel Merman. I say it’s been downhill all the way from that moment.”39 Broadway theaters had used basic sound equipment—amplified cues played from vinyl records or reel-to-reel decks and floor microphones—since the 1930s. But the introduction of rock musicals like Hair (1968) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) took sound amplification to the next level, including more microphones to amplify specific voices and instruments and implementing control consoles to blend audio levels. Designer Abe Jacob, known to industry insiders as the “godfather” of theatrical sound, began his career touring with musicians like Jimi Hendrix and the Mamas and the Papas. In 1970, he brought an electronic concert sound with him to Broadway when Michael Butler asked him to come to New York to “fix” the sound for Hair.40 Because the production’s band sat onstage instead of in the Biltmore Theater’s orchestra pit, the floor microphones commonly used for musicals were not mixing well.41 Jacob’s alterations included the addition of ­m icrophones—stationary for instruments, handheld for performers—with a console that could adjust sound quality and volume; the console also helped Jacob boost instruments with softer sounds so they could compete with the electric guitars, a significant addition to the composition of rock musicals. He implemented the same strategy with Jesus Christ Superstar. Jacob’s alterations, however, required the training of sound engineers—technicians who could both master the equipment and respond like musicians, actively listening and adjusting the mix throughout the performance. Before the advent of sound specialists, microphones and speakers were the responsibility of electrics crews. “You were never called a sound man,” said retired technician Bobby Miner, “you were always an assistant electrician.”42 Michael O’Keefe was an electrician at the Metropolitan Opera before joining the sound crew for Superstar, but he quickly learned the skills he needed. “It was my first experience with a sound console; it had sixteen faders. I couldn’t believe they miked the whole orchestra and could accentuate each instrument. It was amazing.”43 Jacob developed a relationship with John Shearing at Masque Sound to supply the needed equipment for his productions; Shearing had a solid standing with New York’s Local 1 stagehands, and he helped identify those eager to learn the new audio technology.44 Jacob trained sound mixers to reproduce his design by listening and responding to what they heard, from the modulations of performers’ voices to the particularities of musicians. “A singer’s voice may be a bit weak one night or a trumpet player might be blowing slightly off mike,” explains Patrick Maloney, who reviewed Jacob’s design for Beatlemania (1977).45 Jacob had placed 136

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Beatlemania’s mixer, Jesse Heimlich, with the sound console in the auditorium of the Winter Garden Theater: “part of the set was seeing the mixing position in the middle of the theater like you do at a rock concert.”46 Having Heimlich in the auditorium hearing what audiences heard proved beneficial to the mixing process, and with Beatlemania’s success, more productions sought to move sound engineers out from their backstage posts. Producers resisted, however, because the elimination of seats translated into lost revenue. “You can’t believe the fights we had!” said Miner. But with the support of powerful directors like Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett, who wanted the highest quality production value, sound mixers gradually moved into Broadway houses. While rock musicals launched Jacob’s Broadway career, productions like Pippin and A ­Chorus Line solidified it. Jacob worked closely with his collaborators on A Chorus Line, and Bennett blocked the actors to maximize sound levels for certain monologues and songs. “The innovation of A Chorus Line was just being real,” Jacob said.47 While his designs for Hair and Superstar were noticeably amplified, here he demonstrated how musicals could use the same tools to achieve a more natural sound. Jacob’s continued success established sound as a distinct category of design artistry; similar to the evolution of lighting design, the addition advanced technologies gave specialists more tools to express their artistry. When included within the creative team, sound designers can collaborate with other designers to place microphones strategically, establishing an auditory environment that reinforces a production’s aesthetic. When wireless body microphones (or “body mikes”) became more prominent in the 1980s, sound designers worked closely with costumers to conceal their transmitters and power supplies while maintaining the performers’ range of movement. As demand for body mikes increased, sound designers also collaborated with audio engineers to minimize the artificiality of amplified voices, including the implementation of distributed sound systems with digital delays. Voices on stage captured by microphones can be sent to any number of speakers, but delaying the amplified sound by a few milliseconds allows the audience to first hear the voices onstage and thus to place the sound with the performer “psychoacoustically.” In the 1970s at Masque, Shearing began using Lexicon digital delay equipment, and distributed sound quickly became standard.48 In 2014, I interviewed sound engineer Earnest Mitchell during preview performances of the musical Aladdin, and he described the same locational effect produced by his digital delay equipment. His completely automated console for Aladdin shows significant advancements from the equipment first implemented by Shearing. But sound mixers still have “ultimate control,” Mitchell reassured me, and the ability to adjust each night to performers’ and musicians’ variations.49 What an audience hears may be filtered through an electronic source, but the operational controls are still in the hands of specialists who develop solid relationships with the onstage artists and understand the dynamics of live performance. Mixers also develop relationships with conductors, but one outcome from the proliferation of sound amplification is the separation of performers and orchestras. With microphones on each instrument, musicians no longer need to occupy an orchestra pit or be in audible proximity to performers or spectators. Today, musicians can occupy a variety of backstage spaces, perhaps playing in separate rooms while watching the conductor on a video monitor. In 2003, producers dangled the threat of amplification technology and the possibility of a “virtual orchestra” before members of Local 802 of the Association of Musicians of Greater New York, who fought a decrease in minimum salaries.50 The resulting four day strike made national news, and the musicians were ultimately successful with the support of other unions like IATSE and Actors’ Equity. The resulting public dialogue convinced producers that audiences expected music from a live orchestra—even one with unseen musicians playing into microphones—when they purchase the Broadway brand.51 The contentious debates around sound amplification will surely continue, but in practice, today’s Broadway musicals are wedded to amplification, producing sounds that audiences have 137

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come to expect, despite continued criticism from stalwarts of a bygone era. One of the rarely mentioned advantages of amplified sound is the way it expands patronage for musicals. For example, Sound Associates now equips every Broadway theater with assisted listening devices for spectators with diminished hearing. Spectators with impaired vision can also take advantage of live audio descriptions through the same system.52 Sound Associates maintains this equipment in their Manhattan office, but their larger shop is in Yonkers, about four miles from Mazzella at Hudson Scenic. While many in the industry remain unconvinced that their contributions have improved Broadway musicals, IATSE Local 1 has awarded both Mazzella and Fitzgerald its highest distinction, gold card memberships, for their career contributions. As the Broadway market continues to expand, reaching a wide variety of international venues with larger seating capacities, advanced scenographic technologies have become a crucial strategy for reproducing, as best as possible, an original Broadway experience. As a result, Sound Associates and Hudson Scenic will surely continue to serve as important if unassuming industry outposts, supplying technologies to sustain today’s Broadway brand.

Notes 1 My interviews and observations at Hudson Scenic Studios occurred on April 4, 2014, January 29, 2015, and February 23, 2015. The Lion King still runs at the Minskoff; Newsies closed at the Nederlander in 2015 and Matilda closed at the Shubert in 2017. 2 Elizabeth Wollman notes in The Theater Will Rock that the emergence of multinational corporations as theater producers has produced a “significant boost in employment” across Broadway. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2006. 147. 3 Jonathan Burston. “Theatre Space as Virtual Space: Audio Technology, the Reconfigured Singing Body, and the Megamusical.” Popular Music 17.2 (1998): 206. 4 Burston, 210–211. Also see Harold Schonberg. “Stage View: The Surrender of Broadway to Amplified Sound.” New York Times. 15 Mar. 1981. ; Lawrence O’Toole. “Musical Theater Is Discovering a New Voice.” New York Times. 22 Jan. 1995. ; Vincent Canby. “Look Who’s Talking, Microphones.” New York Times. 22 Jan. 1995. . For more recent coverage, see Ellen Gamerman. “Broadway Turns Up the Volume.” Wall Street Journal Online. 23 Oct. 2009. . 5 Neil Mazzella, interview with the author, 4 Apr. 2014. 6 Beverly Emmons, interview with the author, 20 June 2013. 7 Ibid. For a more complete description of this choreographed labor and that of A Chorus Line’s followspot operators, see my article “Unseen Labor and Backstage Choreographies” (2015). My thanks to Theatre Journal for allowing me to include some of the writing from the article in this chapter. 8 Mazzella. 9 Robert Bell. Let There Be Light: Entertainment Lighting Software Pioneers in Conversation. Cambridge: ­Entertainment Technology Press, 2004. 44–45. 10 Gershon (Gary) Shevett, interview with the author, 10 Mar. 2014. The console of a five-scene preset light board includes five separate lines of channel faders. With one scene live, the board operator can manually set the levels of upcoming cues on the remaining lines. A master fader triggers the fade from one cue to the next. 11 In The Speed of Light, lighting designer Linda Essig writes that 1975 is “immortalized forever in lighting history” with the arrival of A Chorus Line. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2002. 5. 12 Rob Halliday. “A Chorus Line.” Lighting and Sound International. Apr. 2013: 67. . 13 Christin Essin. “Unseen Labor and Backstage Choreographies: A Materialist Production History of A Chorus Line.” Theatre Journal 67.2 (2015): 203. 14 “One Singular Sensation: The Design Team of the Original A Chorus Line.” Live Design Online. 1 Mar. 1999. . Sound mixer Otts Munderloh remembers a technical rehearsal when Bennett noticed an actor out of their light.


Scenographic Aesthetics

15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 4 4 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52

“Tharon would say, ‘Move the person!’ Then Michael would go up on stage and say, ‘Where’s the light coming from, Tharon?’ And she would say ‘The left!’ And he’d move the person.” Ken Mandelbaum. A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. 135. Ellen Lampert-Gréaux. “The Ultimate Line Dance.” Studio Live Design. 1 Dec. 2006. . Essin, 204. Mandelbaum, 118. Essig, 48–49. Ibid., 72. Natasha Katz, Telephone interview with the author, 11 Dec. 2013. Source Fours were first introduced in 1992 by Electronic Theater Controls (ETC). Lampert-Gréaux. Katz. Quoted in Essig, 68; 51. Matthew Hudson worked as the automation specialist for Katz on A Chorus Line, with Jimmy Fedigan as the production electrician and Eric Norris as the lead electrician. Mazzella. Mazzella’s example of early implementation was Pete Feller’s work on The Tap Dance Kid (1983). Automation technician Bobby Valli noted the two automated turntables on Chapter Two (1978), run by the electrics rather than the carpentry department. With the increase in scenic automation, this responsibility shifted. Bobby Valli, Personal interview with the author, 29 Jan. 2015. Fred Gallo, Personal interview with the author, 11 Feb. 2015. Ibid. Carol Ilson. Harold Prince: A Director’s Journey. New York: Limelight Editions, 2000. 353–354; Stacy Wolf. Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. 151. Frank Rich. “Stage: ‘Phantom of the Opera,’” New York Times. 27 Jan. 1988. . Walter Kerr. “Now, About That Chandelier That Goes Crashing.” New York Times. 14 Feb. 1988. . Jessica Sternfeld. The Megamusical. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2006. 80–81. Wolf, 139. EFX, the same Las Vegas spectacle featuring Natasha Katz’s addition of Vari-Lites, also featured Gallo’s Stage Command system. Gallo. Drew Siccardi, Personal interview with the author, 4 Mar. 2014. Burston, 207; Canaby. Wollman, 126; Gamerman. O’Toole. Richard Thomas. The Designs of Abe Jacob. Syracuse: United States Institute of Theatre Technology, 2008. 19. Thomas, 25. Jacob designed the sound for the Boston production of Hair, and afterward implemented a similar design in New York (29). Bobby Miner, interview with the author, 31 Jan. 2015. Michael O’Keefe, interview with the author, 18 Mar. 2013. Miner. Masque also pioneered the use of wireless microphones on Broadway. Patrick Maloney. “Live Performance Sound Reinforcement: Beatlemania.” Recording Engineer/Producer 10.2 (1979): 89–103. . Thomas, 43. Ibid., 51. John ( Jack) Shearing, Personal interview with the author, 22 May 2014. Earnest Mitchell, Personal interview with the author, 4 Mar. 2014. Leonard Leibowitz. “Broadway Epilogue.” Allegro 103. 7–8, 2003. . Steven Greenhouse. “The Theater Walkout.” New York Times. 9 Mar. 2003. . Mark Annunziato, Personal interview with the author, 24 Feb. 2015. Also Richard Fitzgerald, Personal interview with the author, 3 Apr. 2014.



Reading the Musical through Gender

Gender theory lends itself beautifully to musical theater and allows interested scholars to investigate just how musicals navigate issues like gender roles and stereotypes, our culture’s pervasive tendency toward heteronormativity, and the impact of musicals that attempt to move beyond depictions of heterosexual characters and male-female romantic plot lines. Looking at musicals through the lens of gender, broadly defined, reveals that while some musicals break with typical narratives and portrayals, many—even those that seem bold or edgy on the surface—rest on an expected and even conservative foundation of storytelling. How can Broadway do better to thwart gender-based expectations in its narratives, characters, and music? Does telling less familiar stories risk losing the interest of ticket buyers? Women are overwhelmingly outnumbered by men behind the scenes of professional theater making; how can this be addressed? And how, in a genre so often created and patronized by gay men, is there still such a lack of non-stereotypical stories about them on stage? It’s certainly still common for plots of musicals (or films, TV shows, or any popular narrative) to revolve around men wooing women while facing and overcoming obstacles (whether the couple survives or not) to become part of a happy and unified community. Heterosexual romantic plots are sometimes central to the action (Rent, The Phantom of the Opera, Once, Pretty Woman) and sometimes secondary to it (Dear Evan Hansen, The Lion King, Hamilton, Wicked), but the expectation of a boy-meets-girl plotline remains high. In the #MeToo era, unfolding as we finalize the manuscript of this book, long-awaited awareness has risen about the roles women play on stage, both as performers and in the parts they present. Must female performers always be romantic objects, foils to male leads, divas with great songs but second billing in the show? What does a truly feminist musical look like? Recent musicals have both met and thwarted the typical narrative expectations in various ways. Waitress (2016), for example, was created by an all-female team and largely concerns a seemingly feminist story about a woman breaking out of an abusive relationship. Yet it also rests squarely on not one but three heterosexual couplings, all of them traditional or even backward-looking in the way they portray the women’s (lack of ) autonomy. ­ omosexuality— The topic of gender and the role of women weave together with the topic of h and the performance of gender writ large—as portrayed on stage, and as regards performers themselves. What stakes get changed when characters on stage are gay, perhaps still depicting heterosexual will-they-or-won’t-they plots? Does it matter to a show’s success or reception if the actors in the pairings—straight or gay—are straight or gay themselves? What becomes of notions

Reading the Musical through Gender

of masculinity and femininity when characters or performers present as gender-fluid, or as trans, or as drag queens? Performing gender becomes part of performing a role, both on stage and off. This section includes two essays that focus on the role of women, and two that focus on issues of homosexuality and drag performance. Mary Jo Lodge tackles the topic of women and jobs, applying the Bechdel test, among other criteria, to successful musicals that ran on Broadway over the last 75 years. She traces how many musicals can pass the test—that is, how many involve two named female characters discussing anything other than a man for a decent length of time—and discovers results both inspiring and not. Lodge also applies the criterion of work: how many female characters have a job (and thus are defined at least partly by that and not solely by serving as a love interest)? How has this number changed over the years? And what might that imply? Trudi Wright also explores women at work in her discussion of the collaborative musical Working, a show that depicts a series of characters doing their jobs. Wright focuses particularly on one song performed by a housewife. In her analysis of “Just a Housewife,” Wright sheds light on the character’s mixed feelings about her job, and what the song says about her character, about working women, and about the 1970s context of the show. Aaron Thomas addresses a recent Broadway controversy when the gay actor Sean Hayes played a straight character and got criticized for his lack of believability by a member of the press. In closely considering and unpacking the incident, Thomas explores broader themes of contemporary gender and performativity. Finally, in his essay on drag in Broadway musicals, John Clum traces shifting cultural constructions of gender through three musicals that use costume to explore gender performance and presentation in various ways, thereby considering how Broadway has understood drag, homosexuality, and the performance of masculinity over the last few decades.


14 DO-RE-#METOO Women, Work, and Representation in the Broadway Musical Mary Jo Lodge

Even more importantly, the way we are represented in entertainment matters. When a girl sees herself as a scientist, or a boy sees someone with his skin color as a law student, it plants a seed that this is possible. -Actress Eva Longoria, founding member of the Time’s Up movement1

At the conclusion of her speech accepting the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2018, Frances McDormand said, “I have two words for you: inclusion rider.” The remark refers to the clause first championed by Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, which “an actor can insist be inserted in their contract that requires cast and crew on a film to meet a certain level of diversity.”2 McDormand’s speech was just one of many ways that the 2018 Oscars highlighted the methods that the film industry, and the female creators and actors within it, are using to fight back against the apparently widespread sexual harassment committed by men in the business (most notably the now disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein), as well as against the lack of gender parity in film that has fostered a climate in which predators like Weinstein thrived. The #MeToo hashtag went viral on Twitter in October 2017, and the movement began to snowball thereafter.3 A film-centric movement, Time’s Up, was founded by a group of female film celebrities on January 1, 2018, to address and prosecute sexual misconduct in the film industry and to encourage gender parity among staff and creative teams on film productions. Actress Eva Longoria, one of the Time’s Up founders, noted in the essay excerpted earlier that gender parity behind the scenes is not the only goal of the movement; on-screen representation also matters, since the kinds and numbers of roles afforded to women and minority actors shape the views of audiences. Longoria echoes scores of other critics of the film industry, all of whom reiterate that representation matters; researchers, too, have noted that media portrayals “can serve as a proxy for experiences audience members haven’t actually lived, shaping their views on people of color and women ― and shaping the way those people view themselves.”4 This newfound focus on representation and activism for gender parity among film and television stars has not, thus far, shown particular influence on the much smaller theater industry, though organizations like the League of Professional Theatre Women are attempting to address the lack of women working behind the scenes. They have commissioned a series of studies called “Women Count,” which track data underscoring that women hold few positions as playwrights, directors, designers, and crew members in the Off-Broadway realm. The League also launched an


Mary Jo Lodge

initiative in 2018 called #OneMoreConversation, described as “a call to directors, artistic directors, producers, boards, and other decision-makers to have just one more conversation with a woman theater artist or professional before making a hiring decision.”5 Representation on stage in musicals is a different matter. On the amateur level of ­t heater-making across the country, women and girls tend to overwhelmingly outnumber men and boys in their participation in musicals. But things are very different at the professional level: Actors’ Equity Association, the professional stage actors’ union, commissioned a recent hiring bias study that found that while “membership is evenly divided between women and men,” gender parity did not follow.6 Instead, “across all the on-stage contracts examined in this study, men were offered close to 60 percent of the on-stage contracts.” 7 Clearly, more roles are given to men than women on Broadway stages. Further, the Actors’ Equity data only reveal information about the quantity of roles for women—it says nothing about the quality of the roles women play on Broadway, let alone specifically in Broadway musicals. Even large roles for women can involve problematic representations on stage. Prominent industry composer and musical director Georgia Stitt raised concerns about this very issue in November 2017 when she Tweeted, “With respect to the creatives who will be employed by these projects, I will say I’m concerned about a Broadway season that includes PRETTY WOMAN, CAROUSEL and MY FAIR LADY all at the same time. In 2017 is the correct message really ‘women are there to be rescued’?” Stitt’s tweet, which Michael Paulson of The New York Times described as sounding “an alarm on social media,” inspired Paulson’s Times article, which noted in its headline that revivals of Broadway musicals “Revive Gender Stereotypes, Too.”8 It’s not only revivals, however, that present problematic portrayals of women on Broadway: Pretty Woman, which Stitt referenced, is a new stage musical adaptation of the 1990 film starring Julia Roberts (about a prostitute who is “rescued” by a wealthy business man), which opened on Broadway in August 2018. Other recent musicals, including the critical and commercial blockbuster Hamilton (2015), feature similarly regressive portrayals of women.

Gauging Gender Representation in Musicals In this chapter, I examine gender representation in Broadway musicals over a 75-year period (­between 1942 and 2016) by exploring their female characters, specifically in regard to their quality. In this case, “quality” refers to how dimensional the characters are. I first applied the Bechdel test, first introduced in a 1985 comic strip by Alison Bechdel, to these Broadway musicals. When the Bechdel test first entered the mainstream, it was used to reveal gender bias in films. It set an extraordinarily low bar for women’s film roles to cross: films needed to contain at least two named female characters who talked to one another about something other than men. Nevertheless, few films passed the test. Applying the Bechdel test to Broadway musicals reveals similarly disheartening results: of the 241 musicals I examined over a 75-year period, just 34% passed the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test alone, however, is too simplistic a means of gauging representation: it shows that women are in these musicals, and that they speak (or sing), at least for a line or two, but it otherwise reveals little about the characters themselves. To resolve that conundrum, I opted to examine another layer, and thus analyzed which female characters in these Broadway musicals held jobs, which is something quite common for most male characters. I then examined how these classifications—musicals that pass the Bechdel test and musicals that pass the jobs test—have functioned in three 25-year periods between 1942 and 2016. The data revealed that for nearly all criteria, the numbers have remained surprisingly flat over time, with only slight increases. I then examine what these numbers reveal about larger trends regarding gender representation in the Broadway musical over time. 144


While the focus of this book is the contemporary Broadway musical, the periods selected for my study extend back to 1942, largely because of the unique history of the genre. The period from 1942 to 1966 corresponds with what is generally acknowledged to be Broadway’s Golden Age: a time when many musicals premiered that have subsequently been dubbed classics, beginning with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (1943), through perennial chestnuts like Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls (1950), Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady (1956), and Bock and Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof (1964). This provides some context for reviewing the later periods, the first of which extends from just after the Golden Age in 1967 through 1991. This era dovetails with the advent of Second Wave feminism, as well as with such musical theater forms as the concept musical—which departs from the traditional plot structure of Golden Age shows—and concludes with the peak years of the large, spectacular, and generally sung-through megamusicals that dominated through the 1980s. The final era extends from 1992 to 2016, a period that lies more squarely in the era of Third Wave feminism. This period includes the arrival of Disney on Broadway in 1994 with Beauty and the Beast and subsequent revitalization of the theater district, as well as recent blockbusters like Hamilton (2015). In the study, musical revivals (which are often more reflective of the period in which they were originally created) and musical revues (which do not typically feature distinct characters or plots) have been excluded from consideration.

Feminism and the Bechdel Test The original comic strip that spawned the Bechdel test was created by comic strip artist and graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, whose life was the subject of the book and subsequent musical Fun Home in 2015. The test was introduced in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” which ran in numerous gay periodicals and later online between 1983 and 2008. “The Rule,” now known as “The Bechdel test,” appeared in her comic strip in 1985 wherein a woman tells her friend that for her to see a movie, it needs to conform to “The Rule.” She says, in subsequent panels, “I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements. One, it has to have at least two women in it…who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man.” In a blog post on her website from November 8, 2013, Bechdel noted that, “the Test is about something I have dedicated my career to: the representation of women who are subjects and not objects.”9 In the years since Bechdel’s test entered the mainstream, arguments have ensued over its specifics, and additional details have been added by various interpreters in order to formalize its applications. For instance, a commonly used criterion today is that the two female characters under consideration for the test must have names. Even so, few films pass the bar. For instance, Lucy Feldman of The Wall Street Journal analyzed the eight best picture nominees for her article, “How the 2016 Oscar Nominees Did on the Bechdel Test,” and found that only three passed the test: Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Room.10 While it can be argued that the Bechdel test is too simplistic, and its threshold too low, the test does bring to the forefront “where feminism ‘begins,’” according to feminist theater scholar Elaine Aston.11 In pointing out the lack of women in theater (or film), the Bechdel test gives name to what Aston calls “feelings of exclusion” and “…the growing awareness that women’s social and cultural lives have been overlooked, marginalized and trivialized by male-dominated social systems and cultural values” (xi).12 Many academics argue that identifying a lack of female representation is the first step toward creating feminist theater. While scholars don’t always agree about what exactly constitutes feminist theater, perhaps Sue-Ellen Case sums it up best in the conclusion to her landmark study Feminism and Theatre: The feminist in the theater can create the laboratory in which the single most effective mode of repression – gender – can be exposed, dismantled and removed; the same laboratory may 145

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produce the representation of a subject who is liberated from the repressions of the past and capable of signaling a new age for both women and men.13 For Case, then, feminist theater exposes gender disparities and attempts to replace them with progressive images of women. The stage musical—often considered one of the most conservative forms of theater, in large part due to its reliance on nostalgia and its mass-market appeal—is thus largely seen as less progressive in its portrayals of women than other types of theater. That being said, there are progressive, feminist musicals, as well as musicals that might be considered progressive when viewed through different lenses. Musical theater scholar Stacy Wolf, in her books A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical and Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical, examines roles for women in musicals from the 1950s to the present, in part by deconstructing their heteronormative narratives. Because Wolf considers the “love story or romance” so central to the musical that “few commentators even note it as a convention rather than a fact or requirement,” she does not attempt to fully deconstruct the musicals she highlights.14 Instead, she zeroes in on the “love story,” extending it to include female protagonists in a musical, whether or not the libretto suggests that they are romantically involved.15 She considers moments, particularly climactic ones that involve female duets, as evidence of these relationships; for instance, she unpacks what can be read as a queer relationship between the two witches of Wicked, Elphaba and Glinda, who sing several duets together. Though Wolf doesn’t explicitly utilize the Bechdel test, she too considers musicals to be feminist if they have at least two named female characters who talk (or sing) to each other about topics other than their relationships with men.

Gender Representation in Musicals, 1942–2016 For this analysis, I narrowed down the shows under consideration in the three periods by using the eighth edition of Stanley Green and Cary Ginell’s book Broadway Musicals, Show by Show, which lists Broadway musicals that opened in a given year that the authors considered to have either historical significance, or else, “other importance to the development of the musical.”16 In an editor’s note, they note that criteria for inclusion included, “length of run, seminal importance, people involved, uniqueness of approach or subject matter, quality of the score, and general acceptance as a significant work in the field.”17 Published in 2014, the eighth edition only covers shows through A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2012), so I extended the study to include all musicals that appeared on Broadway after that show, from late 2013 to the end of 2016. For my study, the female characters had to have names, and I stipulated further that the characters had to interact for longer than one or two lines or sung lyrics. In evaluating characters’ jobs, I opted to cast as broad a net as possible. I considered royalty (like the Disney princesses Jasmine in Aladdin and Amneris in Aida), students (like the high schoolers in Bring It On), witches (like Lola in Damn Yankees or Elphaba in Wicked), goddesses (like the muses in Xanadu or Asaka and Erzulie in Once on this Island), and prostitutes (like Lucy in Jekyll and Hyde) to be gainfully employed. I did not, however, consider work that wasn’t paid or that was mentioned only in passing or alluded to but never depicted (like Helen’s community theater work in Fun Home and Eliza’s philanthropic work with her orphanage in Hamilton) to be employment. Also, only one female character needed to have a job in a show for the show to count. Using these criteria, the complete results of the analysis of musicals premiering between 1942–1966, 1967–1991, and 1992–2016 are presented in Table 14.1.


Do-Re-#MeToo Table 14.1  W  omen, Work, and the Bechdel Test in Broadway Musicals 1942–2016

Total number of musicals (excluding revues and revivals) Total number that pass the Bechdel test Number of musicals that pass both the Bechdel and jobs test Number of musicals that pass the Bechdel test, but NOT the jobs test Number of musicals that do NOT pass the Bechdel test, but female characters have jobs Total number of musicals with female characters with jobs, broadly defined, both Bechdel passing and non-Bechdel

Broadway Musicals 1942–1966

Broadway Musicals 1967–1991

Broadway Musicals 1992–2016

94 (excludes 4 revues)

63 (excludes 6 revues)

84 (excludes 4 revues)

29 (31%)

19 (30%)

35 (42%)

20 (21%)

19 (30%)

29 (35%)

9 (10%)

0 (0%)

6 (7%)

36 (38%)

25 (40%)

30 (36%)

56 (60%)

44 (70%)

59 (70%)

Analyzing the Data Table 14.1 reveals several things about musicals from over this 75-year period. While it seems to suggest that the number of musicals produced declined considerably from the first period to the middle period under study, the reality is that this apparent production decline is actually reflective of the choices made by the editors of the Show By Show volume (which was the basis for this study) about which musicals to include in their volume, which includes a greater number of musicals from the Golden Age era. While there were, in fact, fewer musicals produced on Broadway during the 1980s and 1990s, the drop in production (and subsequent turnaround) was not so drastic as the chart suggests. What is surprising about the results, however, is their consistency across all three 25-year periods considered. In the earliest period, 31% of musicals considered passed the Bechdel test, while in the next 25-year period, 30% of musicals passed. Thus, for the first 50 years of the 75-year period studied, the percentages of shows that could pass the Bechdel test decreased by 1%. Over the most recent 25-year period, from 1992 to 2016, the musicals that passed the Bechdel test jumped to 41%, representing only a 10% gain over the original numbers dating back to 1942. These numbers fall shy of the 53% of films that passed the Bechdel test when analyzing film, according to Smith (Hickey). The percentages of musicals that pass the jobs test but not the Bechdel test were remarkably consistent as well. They fluctuated just 4% over 75 years, ranging from 38% in the earliest period to 40% between 1967 and 1991, and then 35% in the most recent period. In addition, the total number of musicals that depict at least one woman with a job, whether or not the musical passes the Bechdel test, is also steady. Between 1942 and 1966, 60% of musicals depicted women with jobs. That number rose to 70% in 1967 and stayed there through the most recent period. Finally, the percentage of musicals that pass the Bechdel test but not the jobs test has also remained consistent—at under 10% for the entire 75 years studied. These results imply that it is far more likely for a musical to pass the Bechdel test if a female character is employed in it; perhaps


Mary Jo Lodge

having a focus other than men for a character aids in more progressive portrayals. Also, notably, the percentage of musicals that could pass both the Bechdel and jobs tests did increase over time, moving from 21% in the earliest period studied to 30% between 1967 and 1991, and then finally peaking at 35% in the most recent period. There has also been a sharp increase, from 41% in the period 1967–1991 to 59% in the period 1992–2016, in musicals that depict at least one female character with a job, regardless of whether the musical passes the Bechdel test.

Interpreting the Data: Female Employment and Feminism Since American musicals did not develop in a vacuum, the results of the earlier research are best viewed in context. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s participation in the American labor force has gradually increased, from 32%, starting in 1948 (the earliest date when gender-driven records are available) to 56.7% in April of 2018.18 The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics “Women in the Labor Force” databook notes: Immediately following World War II, less than one-third of women were in the labor force. However, women soon began to participate in greater numbers, and their labor force participation rose rapidly from the 1960s through the 1980s before slowing in the 1990s. Women reached the peak of their labor force participation in 1999, with a rate of 60.0 percent. Since then, labor force participation among women has declined, to 56.7 percent in 2015. In addition, a large share of women work full time and year-round.19 The data collected on musicals revealed that from 1942 to 1966, 60% of musicals depicted women with jobs, a figure that greatly exceeds the percentage of women in the actual US labor force at that time.20 These early musicals, then, were more progressive in their depiction of women’s labor than the lived reality of women in the workforce. Perhaps musicals at the time were more interested in reflecting wish fulfillment (as musicals consistently do), than in portraying life as it was. The 50 years from 1967 to 2016 show a consistent rate of 70% labor force participation by women in stage musicals. In real life, women’s participation in the labor force in 1967 hovered just over 40%, and it increased to 57.4% in 1991, at the transition between the latest two periods studied.21 In 2016, female labor force participation was nearly the same as it was 25 years earlier, at roughly 59.8%.22 Again, the data for Broadway musicals produced in this era exceed the real-life statistics, particularly in the period from 1967 to 1991, where the percentages at some points are nearly 30% higher than the actual female labor participation at the time. Thus, the musical theater data that might initially be interpreted as revealing a disheartening trend of stagnancy in the numbers regarding female employment in fact consistently show that women characters on Broadway had jobs far more often than their real-life counterparts. Even for a medium viewed as conservative, and arguably even regressive, Broadway musicals are rather progressive in this regard. Indeed, the change from 60% participation in the labor force, as depicted in the earliest period of musicals studied, to the 70% in the middle and later periods is a significant increase and shows that at some points in the 75-year span, female labor force participation represented on Broadway stages was sometimes 30% higher than it actually was in the United States during that same time period. It is helpful to contextualize this examination of female employment as depicted on Broadway stages as it relates to feminism. First Wave feminism, largely concerned with women’s suffrage in the United States and elsewhere, had long peaked as a movement by 1942, when this study begins. Between 1942 and 1966, the seeds of Second Wave feminism—more concerned with women’s sexual and reproductive freedom, as well as their presence and rights in the workplace—were sown in part by the spike of women in the workforce during World War II. While US employment statistics are not available during this period in the same form as the data cited earlier, 148


other statistics reflect significant changes in the US labor force during World War II. Goldin and Olivetti report that “[a]round 14 million men were mobilized, the male labor force declined by almost 9 million and the female labor force, which stood at 14 million in 1940, increased by more than 7 million.”23 This substantial increase in women’s participation in the labor force, and their subsequent removal from those jobs when the men returned home from World War II, resulted in the reluctance of some women to give up the positions and salaries they earned during the war. This discontent helped fuel the Second Wave of feminism, which was further fueled by landmark publications on the role of women in society like Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963). This cultural shift might account for the significant increase in representations of female employment in Broadway musicals in the 1967–1991 period, which coincided with the rise of Second Wave feminism. As noted earlier, the leap from the actual labor force participation in the period, which rose steadily from 40% to 57.4%, to the depicted labor force participation in musicals, which rocketed to 70% in the same range, is significant and contradicts the lived experiences of female (and indeed all) viewers of musicals at the time.

“Nice Work if You Can Get It”: Musical Trends and Female Character Employment Over the course of the 75-year time span, the number of musicals with female characters who could pass both the Bechdel test and meet the job criteria test increased just 14%, from a dismal 21% in the earliest period, peaking at 35% in the most recent one. Even today, just over a third of new musicals on Broadway feature at least two women who have conversations (either spoken or sung) about something other than a man, and at least one woman holds a job, which gives her character context outside of the more traditional musical theater role for women as love object. In fairness, however, this has increased from the dismal fifth of musicals that could pass both the Bechdel and jobs test in the earliest period studied, 1942–1966. Of course, perhaps this 14% overall increase is simply in keeping with the slow but incremental changes in the way women are viewed in American society, since Broadway typically takes time to catch up with societal advances. In fact, Wolf has argued that within the Broadway musical’s fairly narrow scope, which is nearly always trained on heterosexual romance, the medium still has been continually “revising its representation of gender and of heterosexual romance to navigate social ills and conflicts.”24 Not all representations of female characters, particularly in the Golden Age, are as problematic as these numbers might suggest. For instance, while the early musicals of Rodgers and ­Hammerstein weren’t especially progressive in their treatment of female characters, every show the pair wrote, from The King and I in 1951 to the end of their collaboration in 1959 with The Sound of Music, passes both the Bechdel and jobs tests (none of the ones that pre-date The King and I do). Other Golden Age musicals, including My Fair Lady (1956), West Side Story (1957), The Music Man (1957), and Gypsy (1959), easily pass both tests as well. By the 1960s, Stacy Wolf points out that “Single Girl” characters had emerged on Broadway and includes the title characters from such iconic musicals as Hello, Dolly!, Mame and Sweet Charity in that designation; she adds that, first and foremost, a character who falls into this category “is employed, and her workplace is the location of monetary and emotional security.”25 For these characters, their work is a crucial part of their identity. Even so, Hello, Dolly! can’t quite pass the Bechdel test, but the so-called “Single Girls” in Mame and Sweet Charity push both musicals to pass both the jobs and Bechdel tests. Still, to echo the concerns raised in Paulson’s New York Times article, gender stereotypes remain alive and well on Broadway. The incremental changes made in representation of women in musicals have yielded some transformations in how characters function, but there is much progress still needed. Still, a recent trend in musicals of moving away from love stories as central 149

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subjects—particularly in musicals where women play a major role both on-stage and off—seems to have aided in creating characters that can pass both the Bechdel and jobs tests. With jobs, or, indeed, anything to talk about other than men, women seem to have a better chance of being depicted as subjects in their own lives. In fact, these new shows push back against the foundational idea of the musical as love story, and are, instead, the antithesis of love stories. For example, Waitress (2016), which features an entirely female creative team (a Broadway first), can be read as the story of a woman who gets out of not one but two ultimately destructive or limiting relationships with men. If/Then (2014), which features complicated dueling storylines using the same characters, is also less about the love life of its heroine Liz/Beth, and more about the way she survives and succeeds on her own as a single working woman and mother after a divorce and then the death of her second husband, or the end of destructive affairs with her male friends or colleagues. Beautiful (2014) is about Carole King’s career trajectory through her failed marriage, divorce, and years as a single mother. Ultimately, all three of these musicals are really about the destruction of marriages or romance and the primacy of the mother/child relationship in these working women’s lives.

Moving Forward and Conclusions In examining the specifics of representation of women in Broadway musicals, it is helpful to refer to data gathered about a large number of shows—in this case, 241 of them. Studying these musicals in relationship to the Bechdel test and the jobs criteria has revealed a number of trends regarding gender representation on Broadway. There is, however, much work to be done. E ­ xamining musicals in terms of their depictions of gender and race, in keeping with Third Wave feminism, would surely be illuminating, particularly given the dearth of complex female characters of color on Broadway until recently. Also, exploring the kinds of jobs women hold in musicals would be revealing, particularly since it appears that nearly all of the jobs depicted are either in the performance world (as singers, dancers, or actors), or else are deeply traditional ones for women (teachers, nurses, and secretaries among them). It is clear, for instance, that an extraordinarily small number of musicals depict women in jobs related to STEM fields (as doctors, ­engineers, or scientists); thus, even the jobs criteria might be more limiting than expected, in terms of equitable (or even aspirational) gender representation. In addition, exploring the complicated role that additional female creators might have in the representation of female characters in musicals opens numerous avenues of inquiry, particularly since it is widely assumed that more women behind the scenes translates to more progressive characters on stage. Anecdotally, this assumption seems true—the team of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, who won the first Tony award for Best Score awarded to a female writing team for Fun Home in 2015, created a rich musical about work and female identity that does not revolve around heteronormative romantic entanglements. Still, more study is needed—and more female creators need to break through Broadway’s glass ceiling—to even examine whether their participation makes a notable difference in female representation on stage. Thus, while the increase in numbers of gainfully employed female characters in Broadway musicals might indicate some progress in representation (and indeed, is a more progressive depiction than what was women’s lived experience at the time), the fact remains that the number of working women who speak or sing to each other about things other than men has barely increased since the Golden Age. Perhaps, as is the hope for films, increased involvement of women as the creators of musicals might lead to dramatic changes in women’s roles onstage, as post-study musicals like Come From Away and Amelie (which pass the jobs and Bechdel tests, and which have female creative team members in significant roles) suggest, and might change the conversation about gender representation in Broadway musicals. 150


Acknowledgment Lafayette College Excel Scholar Madeline Kraft, class of ’18, served as research assistant for this essay.

Notes 1 Eva Longoria. “Eva Longoria: Representation Matters. It’s Also Just Good Business.” 1 Mar. 2018. Web. 16 May 2018. <> 2 Martin Belam and Sam Levin. “Woman Behind ‘Inclusion Rider’ Explains Frances McDormand’s Oscar speech.” 5 Mar. 2018. Web. 16 May 2018. < film/2018/mar/05/what-is-an-inclusion-rider-frances-mcdormand-oscars-2018> 3 Activist Tarana Burke first began using the phrase “Me Too” to support sexual assault survivors and end sexual violence in 2006. The movement went viral in October 2017 and was initially credited to others, but her original coining of the term was subsequently acknowledged. 4 Sara Boboltz and Kimberly Yam. “Why On-Screen Representation Actually Matters.” huffingtonpost. com. 24 Feb. 2017. Web. 16 May 2018. 5 League of Professional Theatre Women. “#ONEMORECONVERSATION – A SPECIAL LPTW ACTION.” Web. 17 May 2018. n.d. 6 Russell Lehrer. “Looking at Hiring Biases by the Numbers.” Actors’ Equity Association Equity News 102.2 (Spring 2017): 8. 7 Ibid., 8. 8 Michael Paulson. “The Problem With Broadway Revivals: The Revive Gender Stereotypes, Too.” 22 Feb. 2018. Web. 16 May 2018. <> 9 Alison Bechdel. “Other Projects.” 8 Nov. 2013. Web. 22 June 2016. . 10 Lucy Feldman. “How the 2016 Oscar Nominees Did on the Bechdel Test.” 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 22 June 2016. <> 11 Elaine Aston. Foreword to Feminism and Theatre by Sue-Ellen Case, reissued ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008. xi. 12 Ibid., xi. 13 Sue-Ellen Case. Feminism and Theatre. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008. 132. 14 Stacy Ellen Wolf. Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 8. 15 Ibid., 8. 16 Stanley Green and Cary Ginell. Broadway Musicals, Show by Show. 8th ed. Milwaukee: Applause Theatre & Cinema, 2014. n.p. 17 Ibid., n.p. 18 Bureau of Labor Statistics Reports. “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook.” Apr. 2017. Web. 24 May 2018. . n.p. 19 Ibid., n.p. 20 FRED Economic Data, St. Louis Fed. “Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate: Women.” updated 1 Apr. 2018. Web. 24 May 2018. . 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Claudia Goldin and Claudia Olivetti. “Shocking Labor Supply: A Reassessment of the Role of World War II on Women’s Labor Supply.” The American Economic Review 103.3 (May 2013): 257. 24 Stacy Ellen Wolf. Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 9. 25 Ibid., 59.


15 IT’S STILL WORKING Collaborating to Perform the Stories of Everyday Americans, Then and Now Trudi Wright

Composer Stephen Schwartz, who by the age of 26 had already experienced success with Godspell (1971), Pippin (1972), and The Magic Show (1974), became enthralled in 1974 with an unlikely source for his next project: Studs Terkel’s national bestseller Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, which was published that same year.1 Schwartz, and eventually a team of talented collaborators, wrote Working for a cast of five women and ten men, who tell most of the show’s stories through song. The company numbers, as well as many solo pieces, depict characters’ varying feelings about their lives at work with dialogue drawn from the interviews collected and published by Terkel. The original Broadway production of Working also featured a few simple but poignant dance numbers. See Table 15.1 for song titles, composers, original characters, and the location of the songs’ inspiration in Terkel’s book.2 Table 15.1  Working, Original Cast Recording Occupation/Person Interviewed

Referenced in Terkel’s Working

Walt Whitman/ Stephen Schwartz


“Lovin’ Al”

Micki Grant

“The Mason” “Nobody Tells Me How”

“Just a Housewife”

Craig Carnelia Mary Rodgers/Susan Birkenhead James Taylor (Spanish lyrics by Graciela Daniele and Matt Landers) Carnelia

Parking lot attendant/ Alfred Pommier Mason/Carl Murray School teacher/Rose Hoffman Migrant worker/ Roberto Acuna

Not referenced. Some text from Whitman’s poem, “I Hear America Singing” pp. 297–302



Song Title


“All The Livelong Day ‘I Hear America Singing’”

“Un Mejor Día Vendrá”

Housewife/Therese Carter Felt presser/Grace Clements


pp. xlv–xlix pp. 483–88 pp. 7–14

pp. 396–401 pp. 384–389

It’s Still Working

Song Title


Occupation/Person Interviewed

“If I Could’ve Been”





“It’s an Art” “Brother Trucker”

Schwartz Taylor

“Fathers and Sons”


“Cleanin’ Women”


“Something to Point To”


Retired man/Joe Zmuda Waitress/Dolores Dante Truck driver/Frank Decker Fireman/Tom Patrick and others from a section called “Fathers and Sons” Cleaning woman/ Maggie Holmes Company

Referenced in Terkel’s Working

pp. 562–570 pp. 389–395 pp. 279–296 pp. 705–748

pp. 161–168

The show’s character vignettes come together to create what Schwartz called a “documentary musical” or “nonfiction musical,” which was a new genre floating around the 1970s theater world. Schwartz writes, “Working is a non-fiction musical. A musical documentary. The words spoken, and generally the words sung, did not spring from a writer’s imagination; they were spoken by real people.”3 Although documentaries, as a genre, can tell a gripping story from beginning to end, ­others—like Working and the musicals Schwartz names as influences, including The Me Nobody Knows (1970), A Chorus Line (1975), and Runaways (1978)—are held together by a common theme and thus play more like revues. Because Working’s scenes can be viewed as stand-alone pieces, each of which speaks to a unique social issue, it is possible to study them individually. This makes Working an excellent show to analyze in the music or history classroom. In this chapter I will demonstrate the case study model by analyzing the song, “Just A Housewife” by Craig Carnelia. The character in this piece is influenced by second-wave feminism of the 1970s, and yet her story sounds eerily current. Indeed all of the interviews, chosen to become scenes, are fully representative of the sociocultural themes of the 1970s and yet, because many of the issues presented in the show linger on into the present, Working can be studied as both an artifact and a representation of modern-day culture.

Inspiration Schwartz learned of Terkel’s bestseller in a Book-of-the-Month flyer he found in a pile of mail at his Connecticut home. In the advertisement, he read about Heather, a telephone operator who noted how grateful she was to customers who took the time to ask her about her day. As Schwartz tells it, Heather’s simple gratitude made him realize the importance of treating the operator as the person she was, and not just the voice of a large company: I would be the guy we put in the show who curses the phone company, and I would complain about it being a monopoly. Suddenly, I realized that there was a person sitting in some location that I’d never pictured in my mind, and he or she had a whole life and a series of dreams and disappointments and expectations and wearinesses that I had never thought about, and that I was connected to this person through this transaction. I had never given it an instant’s thought. Some people might find that obvious and not particularly compelling. To me it was enormously compelling, and I wanted to write about it.4 153

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Heather’s genuine account of the importance of human kindness during her work day prompted Schwartz to further investigate Americans’ complicated relationships with their work, with the aim of adapting Working into a musical.5 Schwartz contacted his agent, Shirley Bernstein, who arranged for him to visit Terkel in ­Chicago in hopes of retaining rights for the book.6 Terkel remembered, When Stephen Schwartz, out of the blue, suggested the book Working as the “book” for a musical, I was astonished. A most unlikely idea, I thought. At first. The more he talked about it, the more enthusiastic he became, the more my doubts were assuaged. I was attracted toward his vision. Something told me he had something: it was more than just a musical. It was a celebration of the “ordinary” people, whose daily lives are unsung. He would sing about them, the anonymous many, whose lives touch ours every day without our realizing it. Go ahead, I said. And he did.7 It was Schwartz’s commitment to the workers and their stories that convinced Terkel to support the unlikely project of setting worker interviews to music. Although Working was revised and updated in 2012 by Schwartz and writer/director Gordon Greenberg to reflect the changing landscape of America’s work, this chapter focuses on the 1978 version of the show. Many scenes from the 1978 version remain, including “All the Livelong Day,” “Nobody Tells Me How,” “Brother Trucker,” “Just a Housewife,” “Millwork,” “If I Could’ve Been,” It’s an Art,” “Joe,” “Cleanin’ Women,” “Fathers and Sons,” and “Something To Point To.” However, new songs have since been added to reflect the sociocultural changes in the ­A merican workplace, both positive and negative, over the past 40 years. The updated version includes work scenes featuring “the land of office cubicles” and workers with modern jobs, including the character Raj Chanda, a tech-support operator for Verizon. (Raj takes the place of Heather the telephone operator.) The update also includes two numbers by Lin-Manuel Miranda: “Delivery,” sung by the character Freddy Rodriguez, who is working in the fast-food industry and saving money to live out his dreams of a work life with more freedom, and “A Very Good Day,” which depicts two immigrant workers who find reward in their work despite the low pay they receive in the e­ lderand child-care industries. Although the updates were meant to modernize Working by taking into account the effects of technology on society and the financial disparities felt by immigrants in America’s current economy, the 1978 version is still performed more frequently than its 2012 counterpart.

Workers and Their Creative Process At first, Schwartz intended to write and direct Working on his own, a decision he made on the heels of his two previous shows, Pippin (1972) and The Baker’s Wife (1976).8 Pippin, now an especially beloved entry in the Schwarz canon, was fraught with creative difficulties during its inception. The young Schwartz was used to a collaborative creative process, which he had enjoyed during his experience writing and staging Godspell (1971). Pippin’s director Bob Fosse, however, wanted complete control of that production, thus setting up a contentious dynamic during rehearsals and previews. The Baker’s Wife shares a similar story. The writing of the show came easily to Schwartz and his newly acquired creative partner, Joseph Stein. The rehearsals and preview process, however, were fraught with issues, most of which related to differences of vision between Schwartz and Stein, and David Merrick, the show’s producer. The Baker’s Wife toured in the United States for six months (in its ever-changing versions), but never made it to Broadway. Although negatively affected by some of the business and creative dealings of Broadway, Schwartz knew the benefits of communal script creation because of the successful collaborative 154

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process that brought Godspell, the first of Schwartz’s many successful musicals, to the New York theater scene.9 This may be why, not long after finishing Terkel’s book, Schwartz contacted friend and fellow writer Nina Faso, who then shared in the adaptation process. The two spent time reading and choosing parts of the book to adapt for the musical, but then chose to work out the logistics and other potential content with more input from friends and colleagues. Working thus ended up being developed with much material coming directly from the actors. The value Schwartz placed on the ideas of “the workers” of this production was not unlike the newfound respect he had gained for workers like Heather the telephone operator. With this ethos in play, Schwartz and Fasso invited a group of their actor friends to a rented rehearsal space to try out and try on some of the “characters” from Terkel’s text. Paying them with lunches and transportation reimbursements, Schwartz first asked the actors to read pre-chosen monologues from Working. He also asked them to read all of Terkel’s book, and to note passages that interested them. De Giere reports, “In a free-form, experimental way, the workshop group honed potentially stage-worthy material and watched each other improvise physical movements for particular jobs so that a vision of staging could emerge.”10 This experimental process was a common practice in New York theater at the time, especially Off and Off-Off Broadway, which is where Schwartz got his start with Godspell. During these rehearsals, Schwartz recalled that all ideas were tried out in front of the group, no matter how impractical or bad they sounded.11 This open-minded and supportive process no doubt allowed each member of the team to feel heard and safe from judgment, fostering a conducive environment for the creative process and nurturing the sensitive, multiple-­perspective show. Because there were a number of points of view represented by the actors who attended the workshops and helped make the various work stories come to life, a variety of experiences contributed to the different voices we hear on stage. The process also speaks to the respect Schwartz felt for his coworkers, something he thought had not been present in his two previous shows. Along with rehearsals, Schwartz organized outings for the actors to visit various workplaces. The cast visited a local fire department, a parking lot, and a restaurant to observe actual workers. Schwartz wanted the cast to embody not only the movements of the workers doing their jobs but also how the ways these movements reflect their feelings about their work.12 Cast member and dance captain Steven Boockvor recalled, “We got embedded into the real behavioral understanding of each one of those characters. Stephen Schwartz is very organic that way.”13 In fact, Schwartz continues to encourage all casts of Working to do similar “hands-on” research to more deeply understand the working lives of others. The direction for casts to visit local workers in order to learn from them appears in the show’s production notes and in an online forum hosted on the composer’s official website. Schwartz suggests, …as I think I say in my production notes, it wouldn’t be a bad idea, if you have time, to take your cast on a field trip to something like a local firehouse, or have someone come to talk to them about his or her job, just to see how people behave when they are talking about what they do (they DON’T over- dramatize or feel sorry for themselves, they DO use humor and a kind of self-deprecation). This might help them in their performances.14 Although not every cast possesses the time or means to visit places of employment or invite guests to rehearsals, many companies do. These visits create heightened awareness, which can deepen a cast’s understanding of actual people in their community. Thus, the nuanced characters we meet in every performance of the show were created by myriad sources. These include the original stories collected by Terkel, the many actors who lent their ideas and talent to bring the workers’ stories to life, and the songwriters Schwartz eventually 155

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approached to compose songs for the show in order to give each character a unique sound. This is another reason why Working can be studied as a whole work of art or analyzed scene by scene. Schwartz began to write the score alone, just as he had with the script, but while struggling to get the parking lot attendant song to sound the way he wanted, he sought the help of a friend. Schwartz remembers, “I said to myself, ‘This is silly. Why am I sitting here trying to do a Micki Grant song? Why don’t I just call Micki Grant?’”15 She accepted his offer and began to compose for Working, eventually contributing “Lovin’ Al” and “If I Could’ve Been.” This opened the floodgates for other collaboration opportunities. As can be seen in Table 15.1, Schwartz collaborated with singer-songwriter James Taylor, the actress and composer Micki Grant, the songwriting team of Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, and Craig Carnelia, a Broadway newcomer with a sensitive compositional style.

Craig Carnelia’s “Just a Housewife” Carnelia was exposed to Broadway at an early age and claims Richard Rodgers’s No Strings, which he saw at age 14, as his first musical of inspiration. He learned to play the guitar and piano, sang in a folk group, and attended Hofstra University. While there, he won the role of The Boy in the long-running Off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks. After his run in that production, he pursued a career in songwriting and, later, musical theater composition. His first big break was writing songs for Working. Other credits include music and lyrics for Is There Life After High School? (1982) and Three Post Cards (1987), and lyrics for Sweet Smell of Success (2002). He wrote lyrics for Imaginary Friends (2002), which he also co-scored with Marvin Hamlisch, as well as Poster Boy (2016). His work has garnered the Johnny Mercer Award and the first annual Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theater Award. In addition to his career as a composer and writer, Carnelia also mentors young writers at the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop, the Dramatists Guild Musical Theatre Fellowship, and the Eugene O’Neill Musical Theatre Conference.16 Carnelia’s ability to write the humanity of the character into his songs has become a hallmark of his compositional style. It was this quality that Stephen Schwartz noticed and admired in Carnelia’s writing. In a 2004 interview with theater critic Peter Filichia, Carnelia remembers Schwartz coming to see him in a cabaret performance and liking what he heard. Carnelia said, “he was drawn to my work because we had very similar influences--folk, mid ‘60s rock, the Beatles, Paul Simon, and James Taylor.”17 Schwartz then asked him to write “Joe” and “Just a Housewife.”18 A few different writers from the creative team offered versions of “Just a Housewife,” including composer Mary Rodgers and lyricist Susan Birkenhead, who eventually contributed “Nobody Tells Me How,” but in the end, it was Craig Carnelia who provided “the song’s feeling of quiet desperation.”19 When asked about Carnelia’s contributions to Working, Schwartz remembers, All of Craig’s songs for Working, but most particularly ‘Joe,’ taught me something about writing for characters, and thus about writing for musical theatre. What Craig did, more vividly than other musical theatre composers I had heard, was to capture the essence of the character, not just in the lyric, but in the music as well. The music was not just a tune with an appropriate mood, but a tonal portrait of the character’s soul and circumstances. Even if you don’t speak English, you can hear ‘Joe’ and the music will tell you about the character. Since working with Craig on Working, I’ve tried to emulate that aspect of his writing in my own.20 Schwartz’s description of the “tonal portrait” created by Carnelia is not only heard in “Joe,” a song featuring the reminiscences of a proud, retired man, but also in the thought-provoking “Just a Housewife,” which features a “quietly desperate” musical setting.


It’s Still Working

“Just a Housewife,” now considered by Schwartz to be a classic from the show and a number he kept in the 2012 update, is a ballad in ABA form about a woman’s work in the home.21 Written during a time of intense debate about women’s roles on both the public and domestic fronts, Carnelia keenly captures a slice of middle-class America in the 1970s. When the song was written, what is now often referred to as second wave feminism was in full swing. According to scholar Harriet Kimble Wrye, the second wave was “a broad sociopolitical-cultural movement located in the 1960s and 1970s, [which] focused on consciousness-raising around gender issues, women’s liberation ([think] Betty Friedan, Kate Millet, Simone de Beauvoir, Bela Abzug, Gloria Steinem), and job and economic parity.”22 Second wave feminism emerged after World War II. Scholar Margaret Walters reports, In 1947, a Commission on the Statues of Women was established by the United Nations, and two years later it issued a Declaration of Human Rights. Between 1975 and 1985, the UN called three international conferences on women’s issues, where it was acknowledged that feminism “constitutes the political expression of the concerns and interests of women from different regions, classes, nationalities, and ethnic backgrounds…There is and must be a diversity of feminisms, responsive to the different needs and concern of different women, as defined by them for themselves.”23 This opening of dialogue inspired many women to share their experiences through writing, including Betty Friedan. Her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique exposed the myth of the happy housewife.24 Although criticized by later feminists like bell hooks and Jill Johnston for her narrowly defined white middle-class feminism, Friedan’s ideas nevertheless influenced countless other women, and fueled the movement. They also resonated with Carnelia, whose lyrics for “Just a Housewife” resemble the kind of woman spotlighted by Friedan, but through his music paints a nuanced and highly recognizable female character.25 The housewife in Working is inundated with feminist ideas from the media as proven by ­Carnelia’s lyrics, “Nowadays all the magazines make a bunch o’ beans out o’ family life. / You’re a wiz if you go to work, but you’re just a jerk if you say you won’t. / Women’s Lib says they think it’s fine if the choice is mine, but you know they don’t!” Although some women of the seventies bravely broke new ground in the workforce and enthusiastically supported their female counterparts who made the same choice, others, like Carnelia’s “Housewife,” stayed home to raise their families. “Just a Housewife” brings to light the inconsistencies of feminism at the time. The feminists of the period were keen on women choosing their own career path, but only if that path lead to a job outside of the home, which is why this housewife struggles with her decision to stay home. In the previous line, she feels that the media and members of the women’s liberation movement look down on her work. The “choice” to work in the home, which some American women were fortunate enough to make because of their socioeconomic status, is still being made by mothers of today. Just as the slow pace of Joe’s days as a retired person is reflected in the repetitive accompaniment of his song, so too is repetition incorporated into the housewife’s lament. Her accompaniment oscillates between a D major chord with an added second scale degree and an A major chord. In addition, Carnelia adds a suspension-like figure on beats one and three of the piano’s bass line in every other measure, between the notes G sharp and F sharp (see Figure 15.1). The repetitive movement from G sharp to F sharp colors the D major and A major chords, and represents the dichotomy of the woman’s life. On the one hand, she feels that she is “nothing special,” but also knows the importance of being a mother and wife. Notice, too, the singer’s melodic line. No matter which chords are playing below, the melody is made up of two repeating motifs,


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Figure 15.1  “Just a Housewife,” mm. 4–8.

which represent her feelings of being stuck: she feels that what she is doing is the right thing for her family, but she also wants the world to understand that she is more than her seemingly menial daily responsibilities. Although she considers her choice to stay home the right one for her, she feels underappreciated—both by her family and the women of her society. Once again, the desire to understand more deeply the person behind the profession is what inspired Schwartz’s idea for a musical based on Working in the first place. In the words of original cast member Matt Landers, “I remember how powerful the show was. It made you notice how unappreciative people can be. That’s the thing, the depersonalization of people by the jobs because they are defined by their jobs….But they are all individual people underneath that, and that’s the message of the show. That’s what really made it work.”26 In keeping with the driving impulses of the show in general, Carnelia’s music expresses some highly personal moments in “Just a H ­ ousewife.” For example, as the woman lists her many duties, she also relives moments when she “loses her patience.” To intensify the feeling of impatience, Carnelia features a section in which the singer, reverting to spoken dialogue, begins to count to ten, a common tactic used to control rising temper. Although the woman succeeds in “cooling down,” a raised key change to E flat major occurs immediately after her counting in the song representing her still heightened emotions. The accompaniment continues with an oscillation, now between E flat and B flat major, and the singer resumes her repetitious melody, now in a higher key. The B section of “Just a Housewife” returns to D major, but now features a new melody. The housewife, who begins by singing, “I don’t mean to complain at all, but they make you feel like you’re two feet tall,” uses the section to express all her frustrations, supported by a more active accompaniment than in the A section. Her melody is recitative-like, in that it stays on the same pitch with a few half-note fluctuations from A to G sharp and back to A (see Figure 15.2). In the middle of this second section, Carnelia again modulates from D major to E flat major to support the character’s growing emotions. He cleverly raises the key to emphasize the word “know,” in the lyric “Women’s Lib says they think it’s fine if the choice is mine / but you know they don’t!.” This key change sets up the crux of the housewife’s argument, which arrives in her next line: “What I do; what I choose to do may be dumb to you / but it’s not to me.” 27 Although she may be judged for “only” doing the work of a housewife, she knows and understands the worth of her life. It is at this moment we hear her defiance against the narrow feminist ideal, which claims that the only way to equality with men is to choose work outside of the home. The final A section, which returns to the original key of D, is a compression of information from sections A and B. The accompaniment and the singer’s emotions arrive back to the despondency of the beginning. It is as if she accepts the fate of being judged by society. Instead of the 158

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Figure 15.2  “Just a Housewife” by Craig Carnelia, mm. 63–67.

continuous oscillation between the two-measure patterns found in the original A section (see m. 7–8 in Figure 15.1), however, he adds a repeat of the second measure’s melody (see Figure 15.3). By removing the “All I am is…” and its corresponding melody, and repeating what she feels she is—“someone’s mother,” “nothing special” and, later in the same manner, “unexciting,” and “kinda dull”—the listener is alerted to her lack of self-worth. For a moment in this final section, the more defiant B section comes through with the familiar line and melody, “I don’t mean to complain at all,” (as seen in Figure 15.2) but is quickly supplanted with the A section material again, which slows “poco a poco” to the end where she proclaims with finality that she is…“just a housewife.” “Just a Housewife,” with its message of deep internal conflict, still applies to many women. Whether mothers decide to stay home with their children like the protagonist in the song, choose to return to work despite guilt about doing so, happily go back to work, or find that they must work to support themselves and their families, the Working scene offers a plethora of choices to begin or continue dialogue around women’s issues of both the past and present. Some women go to work because they have a passion for their vocation, while others must work to provide for their families. Some stay home out of a desire to do so, while others must stay home to care for special-needs children or ailing parents. Many who go to work yearn to spend more time with their families and feel guilty for missing important moments in their children’s lives, while those who stay home can experience feelings of frustration, much like the housewife in Working. Many articles in the popular press that currently circulate about mothering in the twentyfirst century imply that neither choice is ideal; women are frequently judged, regardless of 159

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Figure 15.3  “Just a Housewife” by Craig Carnelia, mm. 105–107.

the choices they make about childbearing and child-rearing. “Dear Stay-at-Home Mom Who Plays with Kids and Think You have a ‘Real Job.’” This salaciously titled blog post catches the reader’s attention and then praises the work of stay-at-home mothers.28 Published only two years earlier, “Kids of Working Moms Are Better Off ” offers findings from a Harvard Business Review study that suggest “daughters of mothers who work are more successful than their peers” and earn more, too. 29 The sheer number of articles on the relationship between mothering and work speaks to the currency of this topic and why “Just a Housewife” remains a “classic” for all those who perform and view Working year after year: it articulates the human experience Schwartz felt would translate into box-office success, which came to Working, if in a nontraditional way. “Based on a New York Times Best seller!” “Nominated for five Tony Awards!” “Winner of two Drama Desk Awards!” These accolades, most often displayed by successful Broadway shows in their splashy marketing campaigns, are all ways to describe Working. However, Working originally ran for only 24 performances, a flop by Broadway standards. And yet, after undergoing revisions by Schwartz and the director Paul Lazarus soon after its dismal showing on the Great White Way, and again in 2012 to update the show’s content, Working enjoys numerous productions all over the world. According to Musical Theatre International (MTI), the theatrical licensing agency that holds the rights to Working, the original version of the show has been produced by 1,018 schools, 429 community theaters, 392 ­colleges, 26 professional theaters, and ten international theaters since the mid-1990s. The 2012 version has been performed in 135 schools, 60 community theaters, 47 colleges, seven professional theaters, and four international productions, for a grand total of 2,128 productions to date.30 Working continues to speak to school groups and amateur theater audiences because of the creative team’s fierce commitment to portraying the nuanced feelings of people we all know and engage with in our communities on a daily basis. The show began in the actor’s workshop where Working’s nonfiction content developed under the leadership of Steven Schwartz who exhibited deep respect for all of the workers involved in its creation. Its score features the songs of five talented composers, including the genuine depiction of intricate human emotion by Craig Carnelia, and its script contains an authentic collection of scenes about the work of everyday people who make up the intricate and complicated fabric of American society. In it, we hear the stories of our parents, our siblings, our neighbors—and even ourselves. Leonard Bernstein so eloquently described the American musical as “an art that arises out of American roots….”31 So too can this definition be used to describe Working. It is a musical that tells the story of America’s laborers, which is why it still “works.”


It’s Still Working

Notes 1 Studs Terkel. Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. New York: Pantheon Books, 1974. 2 See Stephen Schwartz. Working: A New Musical. Original cast recording. Sony Music Entertainment, MASTERWORKS and MASTERWORKS BROADWAY, 88691 99108 2, 1978; compact disc reissue, 2012. 3 Stephen Schwartz. “Working.” Web. 27 Apr. 2017. . 4 Carol de Giere. Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz from Godspell to Wicked. New York: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2008. 146–147. 5 Heather Lamb’s story (Terkel, 65–69) was turned into a scene for Working and can still be seen, thanks to the Educational Broadcasting Corporation and Community Television of Southern California. This version is available on DVD: Studs Terkel’s Working. Broadway Theatre Archive. Directed by Stephen Schwartz and Kirk Browning. Produced by Phylis Geller and Lindsay Law. Image Entertainment 143810882-2, 1982. A more detailed discussion of this television version can be found in Paul Laird’s chapter on Working in The Musical Theater of Stephen Schwartz: From Godspell to Wicked and Beyond. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. 133–150. 6 Paul R. Laird. The Musical Theater of Stephen Schwartz: From Godspell to Wicked and Beyond. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. 134. 7 Stephen Schwartz. Working: A New Musical, Original Cast Recording Liner Notes, 1978. JS 35411. 8 de Giere, Defying Gravity, 149. 9 For more information on the creative process of Godspell, see de Giere’s chapter, “Godspell Off-Off Broadway.” Defying Gravity, 42–66 and Paul R. Laird’s chapter, “Godspell.” The Musical Theater of Stephen Schwartz, 15–44. 10 de Giere, 150. Some of the members of that original actor’s workshop were Robin Lamont, Gilmer McCormick, Jeffey Mylett (all members of the Godspell cast); Laurie Faso (Nina Faso’s brother); Bobo Lewis and Matt Landers (original Working cast members); Steven Boockvor (an original cast member of A Chorus Line and Working); and Lynne Thigpen (who was playing in Schwartz’s The Magic Show and went on to later fame as the Chief in Carmen Sandiego). A Chorus Line shared a very similar collaborative process as that show was being written. Having some of that cast create Working was an intentional move by Schwartz and Faso. 11 Ibid., 151. 12 Ibid., 150–151. 13 Ibid., 151. 14 Stephen Schwartz. “Working – Notes for Directors and Musicians.” Web. 11 Apr. 2017. . 15 de Giere, Defying Gravity, 152. 16 “Craig Carnelia.” Web. 13 Dec. 2016. . ­Samuel French is a licensing company, which holds the licensing rights to all of Carnelia’s shows, except Working. 17 Peter Filichia. Theater News for Theatermania, “A Conversation with Craig Carnelia.” Web. 17 Mar. 2017. . 18 During the creation process of the show Carnelia also wrote “The Mason,” which features a brick-layer’s celebration of the permanence of his craft, and the show’s closer “Something to Point To,” which uses the image of a newly erected building to bring all the workers of the show together in loose conclusion to this revue. 19 Laird, “Working,” 137. 20 de Giere, Defying Gravity, 155. 21 Laird, “Working,” 146. Carnelia’s other songs for the show, including “Joe,” “The Mason,” and Working’s closing number, “Something to Point To,” are also included in this list. The only one of his songs not considered a “classic” is “Hot’s Michael at the Piano,” a number which was cut during the show’s previews in Chicago. 22 Harriet Kimble Wrye. “The Fourth Wave of Feminism: Psychoanalytic Perspectives Introductory ­Remarks.” Studies in Gender and Sexuality 10 (2009): 185. 23 Margaret Walters. Feminism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. 97. 24 Betty Friedan. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W.W. Norton, 1963.


Trudi Wright 25 bell hooks. Feminist Theory from Margin to Centre. Boston: South End Press, 1984; Jill Johnston. ­L esbian Nation: The Feminist Solution. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. In her writing, hooks introduces a feminism that takes into consideration women of color and women who must work to support themselves and their families. Johnston, on the other hand, argues for lesbianism within the feminist ­movement, where women totally separate from men who represent the patriarchy of American culture. To enhance the feminist discussion surrounding “Just a Housewife,” students could also consider the Mickey Grant song, “Cleanin’ Women,” to underscore the ideas presented by bell hooks and others. Another avenue of study is the scholarship surrounding the employer/household worker relationship, which includes: Judith Rollins. Between Women: Domestics and Their Employers. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1987 and Mary Romero. Maid in the USA. New York: Routledge, 2002. 26 De Giere, 171. 27 Both “know” and “choose” are italicized in the Craig Carnelia Songbook. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard ­Corporation, 2006. “Just a Housewife” was originally published in Oradell, NJ by Big A Music, 1978. 28 Kelsey Strater. “Dear Stay-at-Home-Moms Who Play With Kids and Think You Have a Real Job.” under “Inspirational” tab. Web. 28 Apr. 2017. . Other articles include Michelle Zunter. “Why Is Stay-At-Home Mom Shaming Still Happening?” Web. 28 Apr. 2017. ; and Farrah Alexander. “I’m a Stay-at-Home Mom and a Feminist.” Web. 28 Apr. 2017. ; Dulce Zamora. “Hard Choice for Moms: Work or Stay at Home?” Web. 28 Apr. 2017. . There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles dedicated to this topic, both in print and online. 29 Ananya Bhattacharya. “Kids of Working Moms Are Better Off.” CNN Business. Web. 16 Oct. 2018. . 30 Richard Patterson (Professional Licensing Associate, MTI), email message to author, 4 Aug. 2016. 31 Larry Stempel. Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater. New York: Norton, 2010. 684.



The day after the revival of Promises, Promises opened on April 25, 2010, Newsweek posted an article entitled “Straight Jacket” on its website that began with the following provocation: “The reviews for the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises were negative enough, even though most of the critics ignored the real problem—the big pink elephant in the room.”1 As the author, pop culture critic Ramin Setoodeh, saw it, the problem everyone was ignoring about the revival was that Sean Hayes, the actor playing Promises’ lead role, was unconvincing in the part because he is an out gay man. Setoodeh reminds readers that Hayes is “best known as the queeny Jack on Will & Grace” and that the actor’s “sexual orientation is part of who he is.” Thus, he complains, “it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is.”2 Setoodeh then describes a different gay actor’s performance on a primetime television show as “more like your average theater queen” than a convincing love interest for a girl, but returns to the topic of Promises, Promises to describe Hayes as someone who “tips off even your grandmother’s gaydar.”3 The piece’s ostensible point is to discuss the difficulties of being an out gay or lesbian actor, but the article is neither a careful critique of Promises, Promises nor coherently argumentative. Rather, Setoodeh’s article is more a set of musings prompted by his attendance at the Promises revival, and his dislike of the show and its central performance. These postshow ruminations caused rather a stir. On the gay culture website After Elton, ­editor-in-chief Michael Jensen posted a scathing response in which he described Setoodeh’s opinions as “shockingly retroactive,” and accused the critic of reiterating “tired gay-obsessions of the far right.”4 For Jensen, the crux of the matter was that Setoodeh’s critiques damaged the gay community as a whole. Jensen noted that Setoodeh is himself an out gay man, and he argued that “It’s already difficult enough for actors to brave any possible backlash by coming out. Having another gay man say he doesn’t think gay men can convincingly play straight, doesn’t make it any easier.” A few days later Sean Hayes was nominated for a Tony award as best actor in a musical, but the Newsweek kerfuffle had only just begun. Hayes’s Promises co-star Kristin Chenoweth was next to weigh in on the topic publicly, calling the Newsweek piece “horrendously homophobic” and describing it as a “bigoted, factually inaccurate article that tells people who deviate from heterosexual norms that they can’t be open about who they are and still achieve their dreams.”5 Through early May, responses to Setoodeh’s article proliferated. Television producer Ryan Murphy called for a boycott of Newsweek; Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black penned an op-ed for the Hollywood Reporter with Jarrett Barrios, then-president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The men attacked Setoodeh 163

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directly, saying that his piece “seems to raise more questions about his own internalized biases than what the ‘public’ actually perceives” and that the article “leans away from reality and tilts toward openly gay Setoodeh’s own issues with sexuality and femininity.”6 Some critics came to Newsweek’s defense. Alongside Barrios and Black’s vituperative ad hominem attacks, the Hollywood Reporter ran a well-reasoned dissent by Andrew Wallenstein.7 In a piece for the Huffington Post entitled “Now That You Mention It, Rock Hudson Did Seem Gay,” playwright Aaron Sorkin defended Newsweek, joking, “This is a sentence I never thought I would type: I’m coming to the defense of a theatre critic.”8 The theater industry apparently remained unsettled by the Straight Jacket affair, and in late May CBS announced that Hayes (a popular television star, after all) would host the annual Tony awards. At the ceremony in mid-June, Hayes and Chenoweth opened the evening by sharing what the New York Times’ Patrick Healy described as “a long, open-mouthed kiss.”9 This performance of heterosexuality (believable or not) succeeded, for a time at least, at putting the Straight Jacket affair to rest.10 Although most of the responses to the Newsweek piece were condemnatory, and although the Straight Jacket affair might seem a silly tempest in an even sillier teapot, I want to look more closely at what it can illuminate about contemporary mainstream theater. What went mostly ignored in the responses to Setoodeh’s piece is the rather obvious fact that he was an audience member like any other. If a spectator disliked the show he attended, this ought to be cause for introspection rather than dismissal. In other words, rather than argue with the critic, it might be better—as directors often tell actors—simply to take the note. In this essay, I attempt to take Ramin Setoodeh seriously as a member of the Promises, Promises audience who saw a performance he disliked. I’ll make several arguments about what this audience response can tell us about Broadway musicals in the twenty-first century. First, I want to make an argument about “playing gay” and “playing straight”: our beliefs about the ability to play one or the other have much to say about what we think about gayness itself (and sexuality as such). Complicating this first argument is the idea of the closet—a site of contestation that still troubles many actors—and the even more vexed question of outing, a divisive political tactic from the 1980s and 1990s that haunts the Straight Jacket affair in peculiar ways. This exploration of outing, a practice fundamentally about queer identity and the ways queer people speak to and about other queer people, will lead us to a discussion of contemporary queer criticism and the objectification that attends a majority of popular theater criticism—not just that published in Newsweek. The expression “the elephant in the room” refers to something we all know is there but attempt to ignore. The color pink has long been associated with the gay rights movement, but “seeing pink elephants” is a euphemistic phrase referring to drunken hallucinations caused by Delirium Tremens. Setoodeh’s evocation of the pink elephant combines these three ideas, describing open secrets and figures of fantasy, fabricated by audience members and articulating the contract of desire between actor and audience. This essay explores the implications of this simultaneously monstrous and hilarious image, examining the disavowed eroticism always at work in acts of criticism.

An Elephant in a Room Although Chenoweth, GLAAD, Murphy, and others called the Newsweek piece offensive or inappropriate for suggesting that gay people can’t play straight people, this was not really Setoodeh’s argument. Such a statement would, in fact, be manifestly nonsensical. As Derek Thompson noted in the Atlantic, “Gay actors play straight all the time,” and this is as true of the out gay actors Thompson cites—“Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother; David Hyde Pierce in Frasier; Ian McKellen in Lord of the Rings, and X-Men, and everything”—as it is of the (let’s just say dozens of ) 164

The Pink Elephant in the Room

gay and lesbian actors who keep their sexual preferences out of the public eye.11 In other words, not only do gay actors play straight all the time, many are good enough at it that audiences don’t question their portrayals. But the critic never made this argument in the first place. Although most of the commentators in the Straight Jacket affair concern themselves with this topic, Setoodeh did not say gay actors shouldn’t play straight characters; he simply found Sean Hayes unconvincing as Chuck Baxter. Rather than attack the critic for homophobia or self-hatred, I want to consider his own observations as an explanation. In the original Newsweek piece, Setoodeh says he found Hayes “wooden and insincere, as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is.”12 Setoodeh interpreted Hayes’s awkwardness as him trying to hide his gayness from the audience, but one might as easily attribute Hayes’s insincere performance to an attempt to hide something else. More likely, Hayes was trying to shed the persona of Jack McFarland, the sitcom character that made him famous and with whom he is identified in the popular imagination. Most of Promises’ critics, in fact, found themselves unable to forget Hayes’s earlier television performance. Daily News critic Joe Dziemianowicz noted that the role of Chuck Baxter calls for “a slapstick clown and a standup comic, so it’s inevitable that [Hayes] recalls Jack from Will & Grace”; indeed, every review of Promises mentions Will & Grace.13 Even the Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck, who enjoyed Promises more than most critics, cites Hayes’s ability to shed Jack McFarland as an indication of his skill, writing that he “shows no traces of his familiar persona from TV’s Will & Grace and delivers a winning, low-key turn.”14 Like the Harry Potter franchise has for Daniel Radcliffe since the early 2000s and The Count of Monte Cristo did for James O’Neill in the nineteenth century, Will & Grace haunts Hayes. As recently as 2016 a Times reporter annoyed Hayes with a question about shedding his McFarland persona. “I gave up caring about that a long time ago,” Hayes replied.15 But it has seemingly been difficult for many spectators to see Hayes as anyone other than Jack, and critics continue to have this same problem. Indeed, Will & Grace, which ran for eight seasons from 1998 to 2006, was revived in 2017 and ­renewed for a second (that is, tenth season) before the new episodes even hit the air. Jack McFarland wasn’t simply the zany next-door neighbor on a television sitcom. He was understood as a particular kind of silly neighbor. In an interview for NPR in 2010, Hayes said the character was more a product of audience reception than his own intentions: At the beginning of Will & Grace, I played Jack as the funny next-door-neighbor type, as we’ve seen in the past. And I thought that was my role. I didn’t really play into the gay part as much – the stereotypical gay part. And I have to say, the critics […] pegged Jack as the flamboyant, extremely gay character because they didn’t know what else to call him.16 Not only mainstream publications read Hayes’s performance this way; the gay press did as well. Hayes was “Will & Grace’s queeny, über-homo Jack McFarland,”17 “the flamboyantly out-andproud Jack.”18 McFarland stepped into the shoes of a powerful, inescapable comedic type, the silly figure Vito Russo catalogues so comprehensively in the first chapter of The Celluloid Closet. In other words, Hayes’s performance in Promises was haunted not only by Jack McFarland but also by the entire history of the effeminate sissy on stage and screen, a history that taught audiences how they were supposed to look at Hayes long before he appeared on Broadway in 2010. The late-1960s world of Promises, Promises puts the history of this stock figure into stark relief. Neil Simon’s script, based on the I.A.L. Diamond–Billy Wilder film The Apartment (1960), follows a mild-mannered office worker named Chuck Baxter whom nobody notices. Chuck is in love with his coworker Fran Kubelik, who can’t seem to remember his name and takes no notice of him. In order to ingratiate himself with his bosses, Chuck begins lending out his apartment to the company’s many vice presidents for their extramarital flings. Through a series of farcical situations, Chuck and Fran become friends, and the show ends with the possibility of romance. 165

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Much of the humor of Promises, a show whose jokes long ago began showing their age, involves a kind of winking innuendo in which the audience knows that sex is the topic of discussion but at least one of the characters is naively oblivious to the joke. A typical (and typically Neil Simon) gag in the first act involves the timid Chuck’s neighbors confusing him for a ladies’ man when it is his bosses and not he who have been using the apartment for their rendezvouses. Embedded in the joke is the idea that Chuck isn’t who he seems and that he feels powerless to correct assumptions made about him. Consider, also, the sequence in which Mr. Dobitch pretends Sylvia is sick the first time Chuck lets them use his apartment. Chuck tells us: “She was fine the next day but it must have been a recurring ailment because she began feeling sick regularly every Tuesday night for a month.”19 Promises’ comedy hinges on misunderstandings about the sexual abilities and desires of various characters. And the audience is in on the joke. But if, in the pre-Stonewall days of Promises’ original 1968 production, Chuck’s powerlessness could be read as unsuccessful heterosexuality, hilarious for its lack of success, 40 years later Chuck’s inability to succeed with women is difficult to read as anything but homosexuality. What’s worth noting is that today, assumed heterosexuality—the heterosexual default we are all used to decrying—is slipping away.20 Audiences, at least on Broadway, have become skeptical of heterosexuality. A character is no longer heterosexual until proven otherwise; audiences both gay and straight are on the lookout for signs of the love that dare not speak its name. Even grandmothers, Setoodeh notes, have gaydar. And Jack McFarland is always the elephant in the room, even when Sean Hayes is not onstage.

A Closet of Pachyderms Although it was written a decade before the Straight Jacket affair, one might be surprised to find the second edition of John Clum’s Acting Gay (2000) prefaced by a prescient discussion of Hayes, his sexuality, and his first film, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998). Clum describes Hayes as “the sort of actor one would hire to play a stereotypical gay character. He’s slender, cute, sweet, with a very expressive face and a high tenor voice.”21 Clum finds Hayes and his film charming but is impatient with the coy way Hayes avoids discussing his sexuality: “Hayes plays his own games about being and acting gay. On the Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss website, both Hayes and [costar Brad] Rowe claim to be heterosexuals. They may well be,” Clum remarks drily, “but we all know the official Hollywood mythology: There are no gay actors, only gay roles.”22 Clum’s frustration with Hayes’s claims to be straight in 1998 and his later statement—repeated during the original run of Will & Grace—that he wanted “to keep his sexuality a mystery,” was shared by many in the gay media.23 As out and proud as Jack McFarland was, Hayes himself officially came out a month before appearing in Promises. His revelation was the Advocate cover story for April 2010, the same month Promises opened. The bright blue magazine advertised “The interview you’ve waited 12 years to read.” Inside, Hayes says “He’s not happy about sitting down with the magazine” and tells his interviewer that he wasn’t in the closet but trying to keep his options open as an actor: “Faced with the very real prospect of jeopardizing his chance at landing straight roles down the road, he started reciting stock answers.”24 But “I am who I am,” Hayes says. “I was never in, as they say. Never.” As Steven Schelling notes in the gay magazine Xtra!, however, long before 2010 Hayes “drew speculation as to his sexual orientation. (Okay, straights speculated—the gays knew.) But despite urging and prodding from gay advocates and gay media, he refused to speak on the record about his sexuality” until he started doing press for Promises.25 The Advocate interview was clearly a bid to promote the revival to the gay press: the article is upfront about that promotion and includes a synopsis of the show and quotes from Chenoweth and Promises producer Craig Zadan.


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Schelling’s claim that “the gays knew” directs us toward questions central to the politics of the closet: to whom is one out? And what might it mean to be in the closet if “the gays” already know? We would do well to ask what it is that “the gays” believe themselves to know about Hayes or any other actor. Queer people differ from one another in numerous ways (including gender, class, race, preferred sexual practices, religion, and nationality)—a fact often occluded by those who wish to look at us as a political group or market niche, a reality too quickly covered over by unthinking use of the term LGBT. Eve Sedgwick reminds us—as the first axiom of Epistemology of the Closet— that “People are different from each other,” and homosexuality as a blanket term describes a wide variety of practices, desires, and subjectivities.26 Even if “the gays knew,” then, we didn’t know much. As David Halperin puts it, “gay male desire actually comprises a kaleidoscopic range of queer longings – of wishes and sensations and pleasures and emotions – that exceed the bounds of any singular identity and extend beyond the specifics of gay male existence.”27 Coming out, on the other hand, publicly defines a sexuality, linguistically encompassing and making sense of a collection of desires that in fact make little sense. Once declared, this sexuality brings with it a set of meanings that allows others to believe they better understand the person so defined. For Wayne Koestenbaum, “Coming out is a way of telling a coherent story about one’s sexuality, and it has worked political wonders […]. But coming out is only one version of the vocalization underlying sexuality itself.”28 For the sake of LGBTQ politics, activists or fans might wish for celebrities to define their sexualities, but as Sedgwick notes, there are remarkably few of even the most openly gay people who are not deliberately in the closet with someone personally or economically or institutionally important to them. Furthermore, the deadly elasticity of heterosexist presumption means that […] every encounter with a new classful of students, to say nothing of a new boss, social worker, loan officer, landlord, doctor, erects new closets.29 I argued previously that audiences’ heterosexist presumption is fading, but it is not unreasonable to argue that Hayes and other actors—performers in the business of embodying the desires of audiences—might want to keep their own desires private, even secret, to maintain a public image as a desirable sexual object. (In the theater, this tradition dates back to the first celebrity actors. To cite two examples from the seventeenth century, Sakata Tōjū rō, the famous kabuki actor in Genroku Japan, maintained strict secrecy about his love life; Anne Bracegirdle, the Restoration England actress, specifically cultivated a coy virgin persona. Both exploited their own attractiveness to the opposite sex by being mysterious about their private lives.) But even setting aside this argument that secrecy about a performer’s own desires is good for business, we would do well to heed Halperin’s and Sedgwick’s reminders that terms like gay and lesbian are never comprehensive and always remain inadequate descriptions of the capaciousness of desire. Critics and media commentators of the Straight Jacket affair, however, discussed “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” as essential attributes, expressed either badly or well, rather than describing desire as multiplicitous, complex, or even confusing. Chenoweth, Black, and Setoodeh himself treat homosexuality as an essential component of a person rather than a dynamic, mutable relationship between bodies. Hayes, on the other hand, with his silence and the coy periphrasis he has employed to discuss his sexuality, long resisted committing to such a coherent story about sexual desire.30 “I don’t see sexuality,” he said in 2016, and the reasons he has given for resisting a public categorization of his sexual life were neither meritless nor ill-advised.31 In this way, the Straight Jacket affair calls attention both to the politics of the closet and the politics of outing— that is, publicly condemning someone for hiding his or her homosexuality.


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As the April 2010 Advocate cover notes, Hayes had been famous for 12 years before coming out, but the Advocate had itself already outed him. In 2006, in the antagonistic piece “Sean Hayes: the Interview He Never Gave,” the Advocate reminded readers that Hayes had “played two very well-known gay characters,” had never publicly dated a woman, and had refused for eight years to be interviewed by the magazine.32 The Advocate, of course, claims a largely gay readership; Newsweek’s audience is more mainstream, and it seems likely that Setoodeh’s April 2010 piece outed Hayes to broader audiences. As Richard Ouzounian noted in the Toronto Star, “There might still have been millions of people who hadn’t known before that Hayes or Groff or Cynthia Nixon or Neil Patrick Harris or Portia de Rossi were gay […]. But everyone now sure knows.”33 Further, Setoodeh’s article accuses Hayes of homosexuality—“the big pink elephant in the room”—and censures other critics for lying about it. Newsweek, in other words, used the old trope linking homosexuality to insincerity and deviousness, outing Hayes with language approximate to the hostile outings of homophobic politicians in the 1990s. To complicate matters further, Setoodeh’s opponents employed this same politics of outing in their counterattacks. Chenoweth’s open letter notes that she’d been “told on good authority that Mr. Setoodeh is a gay man himself,”34 and GLAAD’s Barrios and Black refer to “openly gay ­Setoodeh’s own issues with sexuality and femininity.” An overwhelming majority of the articles comprising the Straight Jacket affair go out of their way to speak, as the Atlantic does, about “Setoodeh, who is openly gay,”35 or to lament with Ryan Murphy that “Mr. Setoodeh is himself gay.”36 Thus, these articles, while praising out actors and ostensibly celebrating gay identity, take pains to out Setoodeh—to tell readers that the man calling an actor too gay for his job is also a gay man. In either case, the writers doing the outing use the sexuality of others as a weapon. Both writers frame the sexualities of their targets as coherent and essential; while Setoodeh accuses Hayes of attempting to hide his sexuality, the responding articles obliquely accuse Setoodeh of precisely the same thing. The actor’s sexuality, in this case, was expressly used against him by the critic; the critic’s sexuality was, in turn, used against him by others. If, to paraphrase Foucault, sodomy used to be something one was charged with doing, homosexuality remains something one is accused of being. The Straight Jacket affair makes clear that in contemporary criticism, homosexuality is frequently still something to hide.

Desiring Pink Elephants (on Parade) The musical theater has long been recognized as a complex site for the various operations of gay and lesbian desire. These queer desiring relationships have been noted by D.A. Miller, Stacy Wolf, David Savran, and John Clum, among others.37 A teenaged Wayne Koestenbaum even “worried, listening to records of Darling Lili, Oklahoma!, The Music Man, Company, and No, No, Nanette, that [he] would end up gay: […] I had a clear impression,” he says in The Queen’s Throat, “that gays liked musical comedy.”38 As Miller quips in Place for Us, “In the admittedly monstrous case that he isn’t gay, the aficionado of the Broadway musical must resign himself to being thought so, or work as hard as Frank Rich to establish his improbable but true sexual orientation.”39 Miller argues that “though not all gay men – nor even most – are in love with Broadway, those who aren’t are hardly quit of the stereotype that insists they are.”40 Audiences seem to agree with this overwhelming critical consensus: a year after the Straight Jacket affair, Tony awards host Neil Patrick Harris joked in his opening number that “Broadway has never been broader; it’s not just for gays anymore!” One of the fundamental arguments in Place for Us is that queer desire’s relationship to ­Broadway musicals shifted profoundly after Stonewall. Miller argues that before 1969, musicals could function as a kind of expression or vehicle of identificatory possibility for a widespread, unlocalized homosexual desire for a range of men—that it was a form designed “to indulge men in the thrills of a femininity become their own.”41 After Stonewall, with the ascendance of gay identity, 168

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US American culture “could no longer help sensing that the Broadway musical was ‘a gay thing,’” irremediably associated with homosexuality.42 Miller is no doubt correct, but if the musical initiates queer operations of desire, these operations aren’t uniform. Rather, the audience’s desire for the musical performer works in several modes, relating simultaneously to identification, eroticism, and virtuosity. A spectator can desire a character in multiple ways—to be the character, sing like the character, be loved by the character, be loved like the character. The spectator might also ­desire, on a different level, simply to sing, dance, act, perform. The critic, in the guise of dispassionate observer, catalogues and evaluates, frequently pretending that this description and assessment are unrelated to and uninflected by the complexities of desire. The distance necessary for criticism, however, hasn’t stopped critics from using the language of desire to discuss performances and performers. Indeed, the history of theater criticism is filled with critics speaking openly about the desirability of the performers they watch. In his review of Wicked, for example, Ben Brantley described Elphaba, or rather Idina Menzel, as “the slinky babe with green skin on the broom.”43 To return to my examples of seventeenth-century performers, the most frequently quoted description of Anne Bracegirdle refers explicitly to desire. Colley Cibber writes, “she had no greater claim to beauty than what the most desirable brunette might pretend to. But her youth and lively aspect threw out such a glow of health and cheerfulness, that on the stage few spectators that were not past it could behold her without desire.”44 Although Sakata Tōjū rō was a heartthrob for most of his life, critics became unkind as the actor aged. The 1708 hyōbanki, a kind of yearbook for kabuki critics, is worth quoting; note that the critic isn’t shy about using the language of desire, arguing that: No one really believes that a woman would fall in love with such an old man. […] Now, there are some people who will say that everything in theater is imaginary, so one needn’t be concerned with the question of whether actors are young or old men. If they act skillfully we become absorbed in the play and are moved […], but foolish women like myself – no matter what play we see – feel that what is going on is real and true. We shed tears at the sad places, and our hearts race during frightening scenes. We are aroused by love scenes and our hearts are strangely moved.45 If this critique is harsh to Tōjū rō, its frankness about the effect of desire on the “believability” of a performance is remarkable. The passage expresses what many commentators during the Straight Jacket affair wished to confound: audience perceptions about actors’ attributes do affect their responses. Claims to the contrary are simply dishonest. Hayes may claim not to “see sexuality,” but critics of Promises, Promises certainly did—and not only Ramin Setoodeh. In the New York Times, Brantley argued that Hayes’s “relationship with Ms. Chenoweth’s Fran feels more like that of a younger brother than a would-be lover and protector.”46 In a subsequent piece he described Promises as mostly lacking in “sexual energy,” commenting that throughout the play’s first act “[Hayes] – despite being cast opposite the appealing Kristin Chenoweth – has given the impression of someone still waiting for a playmate to bring out the devil inside him.”47 In the Toronto Star Richard Ouzounian wrote, “Hayes has a winning personality as Baxter, but he’s too sweet. You […] don’t really believe he’s in love with Kubelik. A puppy-dog crush, maybe, but little more.”48 Perhaps even more telling is a remark made by New York Post’s Michael Riedel when the show’s casting was announced—two years before Promises opened. “Hayes,” worried Riedel, “doesn’t seem quite virile enough to play a role originated by Jerry Orbach, one of Broadway’s greatest leading men.”49 The comparison to Orbach contrasts the masculinity of one actor with another, but let’s be clear that virility is a quality not remotely associated with Promises’ Chuck Baxter, the 169

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lonely bachelor who lets his superiors at work use his apartment for sex. Chuck is, to the contrary, a character whom critics consistently describe as a nebbish and who, in his opening monologue, identifies himself as “the kind of person that people don’t notice.”50 The show’s characterization of Chuck is precisely the opposite of masculine: as early as the musical’s first scene, Dobitch asks if he can talk to Chuck “Man to man,” and Chuck replies, “Gee, Mr. Dobitch, I never thought you considered me that way.”51 Chuck knows he lacks masculinity: it is a lack essential to his ­character. Riedel’s comparison to Orbach, then, had nothing to do with whether Hayes was right for the role; it appears to have been simply a coded way of wondering whether Hayes was “too gay” for the part. To put it another way, although Setoodeh bore the brunt of the criticism during the Straight Jacket affair, numerous male critics apparently felt entitled to comment on Hayes’s ­perceived lack of masculinity as long as they pretended they were talking about something else. Black and Barrios, then, might well accuse Setoodeh of having “issues with sexuality and femininity,” but so do most of us, straight and gay alike. In How to Be Gay, David Halperin charts the rise, in mid-century gay literature, of “the straight-acting and -appearing gay man.”52 In the 1950s, this image or type became the romantic ideal for many gay men, and “was built on systematic contrasts with other, earlier, queerer types [like Vito Russo’s sissies]; in fact, it thrived on explicit put-downs of effeminate or gender-deviant men, from whom the hero or the author recoiled in horror.”53 The sissy is ridiculed for his femininity on all sides, including by many gay men. One need only look on gay social media to see such shame at work and note the number of males whose profiles include the phrase “masc 4 masc.” But this eroticization of masculinity among gay men and its attendant ridicule of femininity contradict the out-and-proud story we’ve all agreed to tell straight people about gay culture. For Setoodeh to say, in a mainstream publication like Newsweek, that Hayes’s perceived femininity interrupted the pleasures of the critic’s evening of musical theater—desires normally disavowed by critics—was a kind of uncloseting all its own. The Straight Jacket affair, in many ways, outed the mainstream gay community’s own biases against men who aren’t quite “masc” enough. This returns us to the operations of desire at work between the critic and Broadway performer. Setoodeh’s article details, however clumsily, a failed experience at the theater. The audience is supposed to want to be Chuck Baxter, to be loved by him, to be loved the way he is loved, to sing like him, simply to sing, or some combination of these desires. This desiring operation did not work for Setoodeh, and in the case of Promises, Promises we might do better to blame heterosexist masculinity instead of queer sexuality, the closet itself rather than the person in (or out of ) it. But what the Straight Jacket affair makes most apparent is that the critic is a desiring sexual subject, whose judgments about an actor’s performance are affected by what he or she finds attractive, and that the actor is the object of that erotic investment, a figure of fantasy on which each of us projects our desires.

Notes 1 Ramin Setoodeh. “Straight Jacket.” Newsweek 155.19 (2010): 50–51, at 50. Newsweek 155.19 is dated May 10, 2010, but the article first appeared online on April 26, 2010 as “From Glee to Sean Hayes: Gay Actors Play Straight.” Web. 2 Feb. 2017. . The responses from Jensen and Chenoweth appeared before the article appeared in print. 2 Setoodeh, 50. 3 Ibid., 51. 4 Michael Jensen. “Newsweek’s Ramin Setoodeh Strikes Again: Gay Actors Can’t Play Straight.” New NowNext. 27 Apr. 2010. Web. 25 May 2019. . 5 Quoted in Michael Jensen. “Kristin Chenoweth ‘Offended’ by Ramin Setoodeh’s Homophobic Article in Newsweek.” NewNowNext. 7 May 2010. Web. 25 May 2019. .


The Pink Elephant in the Room 6 Jarrett Barrios and Dustin Lance Black. “Milk Scribe Joins GLAAD against Newsweek.” Hollywood ­Reporter. 12 May 2010. Web. 25 May 2019. . 7 Andrew Wallenstein. “Why Newsweek Need Not Apologize to GLAAD.” Hollywood Reporter. 12 May 2010. Web. 25 May 2019. . 8 Aaron Sorkin. “Now That You Mention It, Rock Hudson Did Seem Gay.” Huffington Post. 12 May 2010. Web. 25 May 2019. . 9 Patrick Healy. “Red and Memphis Win Top Tony Awards.” New York Times. 14 June 2010, C1. 10 The Straight Jacket affair flared up again in January 2011 because Setoodeh revisited the issue in an article in the Daily Beast. This garnered furious responses from AfterElton and GLAAD, but by ­January 2011, Promises was no longer the focus of the criticism. See Aaron McQuade. “Gay Actors and Ramin Setoodeh: Setting the Record ‘Straight’.” 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 25 May 2019. ; Michael Jensen. “Ramin Gets It Wrong Again. Anyone Surprised?” NewNowNext. 3 Jan. 2011. Web. 25 May 2019. . 11 Derek Thompson. “Of Course Gay Actors Can Play Straight.” 15 May 2010. Web. 25 May 2019. . 12 Setoodeh, 50. 13 Joe Dziemianowicz. “Promises: Say a Little Prayer.” Daily News. 26 Apr. 2010, 24. 14 Frank Scheck. Review of Promises, Promises, Hollywood Reporter. 26 Apr. 2010, 7. 15 See Erik Piepenburg. “He’s Playing God on Broadway.” New York Times. 22 May 2016. AR7. 16 Sean Hayes. “Offstage with Broadway Star Sean Hayes.” Fresh Air, 11 June 2010. 17 Steven Schelling. “Can Gays Play Straight?” Xtra! 17 June 2010, 19. 18 Melissa Rose Bernardo. “Offstage with Sean & Kristin.” Playbill 28.9 (2010): 6–7, at 6. 19 Neil Simon. Promises, Promises. New York: Random House, 1969, 10. 20 See Adrienne Rich. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Signs 5.4 (1980): 631–660. 21 John M. Clum. Still Acting Gay. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000, vii. 22 Clum, viii. 23 Ibid. 24 Ari Karpel. “Sean Hayes: I Am Who I Am.” 8 Mar. 2010. Web. 25 May 2019. . In print, the article appeared in April 2010, pp. 32–37. 25 Schelling, 19. 26 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990. 22. 27 David M. Halperin. How to Be Gay. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2012. 69–70. 28 Wayne Koestenbaum. The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire. Boston: Da Capo Press, 2001. 174. 29 Sedgwick, 67–68. 30 This changed in late 2016 when Hayes apologized for not coming out sooner and referred to himself as “a proud gay man.” See Chris Gardner. “Sean Hayes Says He’s Sorry for Not Coming Out Sooner.” Hollywood 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 25 May 2019. . 31 Piepenburg, AR7. 32 Neal Broverman. “Sean Hayes: The Interview He Never Gave.” 10 Mar. 2006. Web. 25 May 2019. . 33 Richard Ouzounian. “Actors: What’s Gay Got to Do with It?” Toronto Star. 16 May 2010, E3. 34 Chenoweth quoted in Jensen, “Kristin.” 35 Thompson. 36 “Glee Creator Ryan Murphy Pushes for Newsweek Boycott.” 11 May 2010. Web. 25 May 2019. . 37 See D. A. Miller. Place for Us: Essay on the Broadway Musical. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998; Stacy Wolf. “‘Defying Gravity’: Queer Conventions in the Musical Wicked.” Theatre Journal 60.1 (2008): 1–21; David Savran. “‘You’ve got that thing’: Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, and the Erotics of the List Song.” ­T heatre Journal 64.4 (2012): 533–548; John M. Clum. Something for the Boys: Musical Theater and Gay Culture. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. 38 Koestenbaum, 11.


Aaron C. Thomas 39 40 41 42 43 4 4 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53

Miller, 16. Ibid. Ibid., 90. Ibid., 134. Ben Brantley. “There’s Trouble in Emerald City.” New York Times. 31 Oct. 2003, E1. Quoted in Leigh Hunt, ed. The Dramatic Works of Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar. London: Edward Moxon, 1840, xxviii. Quoted in Laurence R. Kominz. The Stars Who Created Kabuki: Their Lives, Loves and Legacy. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1997. 173. Ben Brantley. “Back in the ’60s: Let’s Tryst Again.” New York Times. 26 Apr. 2010, C1. Ben Brantley. “Promises, Promises Katie Finneran and Sean Hayes.” New York Times. 16 May 2010, AR15. Richard Ouzounian. “Promises Made, But Unfulfilled.” Toronto Star. 26 Apr. 2010, E2. Michael Riedel. “Thick Web of Intrigue.” New York Post. 19 Mar. 2008, 44. Simon, 3. Ibid., 7. Halperin, 46. Ibid., 46–47.


17 “A LITTLE MORE MASCARA” Drag and the Broadway Musical from La Cage aux Folles to Kinky Boots John M. Clum

At the opening of the 1983 musical La Cage aux Folles (book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman), a chorus of what seemed to be provocatively dressed women sang that they are “an illusion.” In the original Broadway production, all but two of these “chorines” were men in drag. This opening chorus underscores the questions drag raises. The feminine appearance of these men was an “illusion,” but if audience members assume this is a chorus of men in drag, the two women—biological females indistinguishable from the biological males in drag—were also an illusion. The men were so convincingly dressed and made up as women that the gender of the chorus members was virtually impossible to determine particularly since extra women’s voices were mixed into the singing the audience heard. Who was male and who was female? Gender itself became an illusion. I want to examine the different ways in which drag, homosexuality, and gender have coalesced in three musicals that have drag performers as leading characters: La Cage aux Folles, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1998; music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, book by John Cameron Mitchell), and Kinky Boots (2013; music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, book by Harvey Fierstein).1 The drag queens in these shows are empowered by drag—by performing as women. At the same time, however, on stage they dominate and supplant women. The shows I discuss celebrate femininity, but only when presented through a male body. Intentionally or not, all three shows raise questions about gender definitions and norms through their use of drag. While La Cage and Hedwig, both entertainments and, for their time, political statements, make the connection between female impersonation and homosexuality, Kinky Boots implies that the two are not necessarily related. All three musicals emphasize issues of gender over those of sexual orientation. Moreover, the pleasure and empowerment the transvestite characters in these musicals experience come from performance, not from sex. I begin with two caveats. First, to some extent, drag has always been part of the American musical. I don’t mean in the sense that musicals focused on men in women’s clothing—though that was a staple of Ivy League musicals produced by groups like Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club and Princeton’s Triangle Club before coeducation shook up those all-male bastions, as well as an element of World War II musicals like This Is the Army and Call Me Mister.2 I am talking instead about the exaggerated, cartoon-like presentation of femininity in what Ethan Mordden calls the “Big Lady musicals” of the 1960s and early 1970s. As Claude J. Summers has written, “For many gay men, the centerpiece of the musical was the larger-than-life female star, her persona an exaggeration of femininity that one associates 173

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with drag queens.”3 For Summers, the exaggerated femininity of the musical diva “plays out the parodic, larger-than-life performance of gender that the musical privileges.”4 There is thus already a connection between the female divas of musicals and drag queens.5 It should not be surprising, then, that in 2015, Lee Roy Reams played the title character in a regional theater production of the Jerry Herman/Michael Stewart musical, Hello, Dolly! Dolly was always something of a drag character, a cartoon version of femininity famously played by aging stars who themselves had become camp.6 Al LaValley notes, “Extreme camp figures already seem like drag queens,” 7 citing as one such figure, Carol Channing, the first Dolly, famous for her big eyes and baritone voice. Channing has acknowledged that she was often imitated by drag queens: “I can’t remember the last time one of my imitators didn’t have a five o’clock shadow.” 8 It was no great leap, then, that composer-lyricist Jerry Herman moved from creating songs for Dolly Levi and Auntie Mame to writing music and lyrics for drag queen Albin in La Cage aux Folles. Second, the Broadway musical has always been a conservative art form. It may occasionally reflect left-leaning politics or cultural shifts, but it is seldom, if ever, revolutionary. Gender-bending in the Broadway musical came decades after it appeared in popular music and, as a rule, appeared in more conservative garb. Although Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a commercial Off-Broadway production, its origins in downtown drag clubs and its venue, the shabby ballroom of a West ­Village hotel that had seen better days, reinforced its unconventional form—part monologue, part rock concert—and content.9 Disney’s The Lion King was the Broadway hit of the season while more adventurous shows like Paul Simon’s The Capeman failed. Jonathan Larson’s Rent, developed at the nonprofit New York Theatre Workshop and a Broadway hit by the time Hedwig and the Angry Inch opened, was tamer musically and in terms of gender and sexual politics. Rent offered among its East Village Bohemian characters a gay Latino drag queen who dies of AIDS-related infections.10 Angel’s character echoes old stereotypes of the gay man as victim, while Hedwig remains outrageously alive until the final curtain. One sign of Broadway’s conservatism is that it took 16 years from its Off-Broadway opening for Hedwig and the Angry Inch to move uptown to Broadway, in a production starring one of America’s most famous openly gay performers, Neil Patrick Harris.11 Both in terms of its rock score and its questioning of gender norms and sexual politics, Hedwig was still cutting edge for Broadway in 2014. The biggest hit of the 2013–2014 Broadway season was Disney’s Aladdin.

Drag, Gayness, and Gender Identity In his 1968 book Drag, Roger Baker wrote that drag, “is about role-playing and questions the meaning of both gender and sexual identity…. It is about men’s fear of women as much as it is about men’s love of women and it is about gay identity.”12 For Baker, drag is inevitably connected with gayness. Esther Newton agrees; in her classic 1978 study of drag performers, Mother Camp, she argues that “Female impersonators are both performing homosexuals and homosexual performers.”13 Performing drag, then, is not always only about performing femininity, but can also be a means of performing homosexuality. Baker wrote Drag before elements of drag became mainstream in British glam rock in the 1970s and 1980s, before gender theorists made drag a serious topic for analysis, and before dramatic changes in gay culture would marginalize the “queen” and valorize “straight looking and acting” gay men. As Newton notes a decade later, “Where ten years ago the streets of Greenwich Village abounded with limp wrists and eye makeup, now you see an interchangeable parade of young men with cropped hair, leather jackets and well-trimmed mustaches.”14 For many post-Stonewall gay men, as drag kings Del Lagrace Volcano and Judith “Jack” Halberstam observe, the drag queen is “both a revered image of queerness and an image associated with shame,”15 174

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The power of drag reaches well beyond its expression and historical importance for gay men and women. A number of scholars and theorists have explicated the complex gender politics implicit in the masculine body under a feminine disguise. As Newton wrote in Mother Camp, drag is “a double inversion that says ‘My outside appearance is feminine but my essence ‘inside’ [the body] is masculine.’ At the same time, it symbolizes the opposite inversion: ‘my appearance ‘outside’ [my body, my gender] is masculine but my essence ‘inside’ [myself ] is feminine.”16 Here, Newton assumes a binary that later gender theorists deconstruct. In her seminal work Gender Trouble, Judith Butler claims that drag “is an example that is meant to establish that ‘reality’ is not as fixed as we generally assume it to be.” For Butler, drag isn’t a matter of violating a gender binary—it questions that binary. Drag is an illusion that demonstrates the contingency of gender categories and norms.

“Sorry, but you do act like his mother” Torch Song Trilogy17 From his early drag performances to his hit stage adaptations of the films La Cage aux Folles and Kinky Boots (both of which center on drag performers), to his performance as Edna Turnblad in the Broadway adaptation of John Waters’ cult classic Hairspray (on stage in 2002 and on television in 2016), the openly gay Fierstein is arguably America’s most famous creator and performer of drag roles. His first commercial hit as writer and performer was the non-musical Torch Song Trilogy, which was first performed Off-Broadway and then ran on Broadway from 1982 to 1985 before being made into a movie in 1988. Chubby, with a gravelly baritone voice that sounds decidedly masculine, Fierstein looks and sounds less effeminate than one expects a drag queen to be; the way he presents begs the question: did Fierstein’s performance as Arnold make Torch Song Trilogy safe Broadway fare? Arnold, the central character in Torch Song Trilogy, is a drag queen who wants a husband and family. Torch Song Trilogy was simultaneously adventurous for Broadway in its presentation of a fiercely proud, sexually active gay man as its moral center, and anachronistic in its linking of gay men to effeminacy and drag. In the course of the three one-act plays that comprise Torch Song Trilogy, Arnold wins over the bisexual Ed from his fiancée Laurel. He also dismisses his mother from his home when she won’t accept his relationship with Ed as equal to hers with her husband and condemns Arnold’s parenting of a 15-year-old gay boy. Arnold wants to be a good mother to his son—not a father, which he assumes will be Ed’s job. While not transgender, Arnold falls into the broad category of gender variance. He sees himself as a man, but as one who wants to play traditional feminine roles both on- and offstage. In doing so, the character can be interpreted as one who courageously defies gender norms. Some critics, however, saw a darker side to Arnold’s aspirations. Alan Sinfield observed, “Arnold doesn’t just share feminine attributes; he doesn’t just, by pushing women out of the action, marginalize them. He seizes the feminine for himself; he is the better woman. It is Arnold [not Laurel] who has a son, and Ed is made to agree that Arnold in drag is the more beautiful woman.”18 This subtext—the man in drag is the better woman—emerges in most of Fierstein’s successful works. Take for example Fierstein’s book for La Cage aux Folles, which began its 1,722 performance run at the Palace Theater in summer 1983, while Torch Song Trilogy was still running a few blocks away and gay activists were beginning to mobilize against the AIDS epidemic.19 La Cage, a 1973 Paris stage farce, was made into a movie in 1978 and was for years the top-grossing foreign film in the United States. The film spawned two sequels, in 1980 and 1985, and was the basis for the hit American film, The Birdcage (1996). In the musical version he wrote with composer-lyricist Jerry Herman, Fierstein sentimentalized the source material, making the story more about marital devotion and a son learning to appreciate his parents. 175

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In the musical, drag performer Albin has lived for two decades in a quasi-marriage with straight-looking and -acting Georges. They have raised a son, the product of a one-night stand Georges had with a “British tart” who has shown no interest in her offspring. Like Arnold with David in Torch Song Trilogy, Albin has proudly served as Jean-Michel’s mother. When Jean-Michel falls in love with Anne, the daughter of a homophobic right-wing politician, he asks Georges to make sure Albin is not present when Anne’s parents visit. Georges responds, “Look at him. The man who has dedicated the last twenty years to making a home for us … consider what it is you’re doing; throwing him out of the home he has made for us.”20 To Georges, Albin is a successful homemaker, playing the traditional female role at home as well as onstage in the club’s nightly drag show. But Jean-Michel can’t have Albin meet Anne’s homophobic parents because unlike Georges, Albin cannot pass as straight. He is an incurably over-the-top cartoon of an effeminate gay man. As D.A. Miller points out, “this ‘gay musical’ denies its homosexualizing tendencies not by rejecting the homosexual, but by recognizing him, as a mythological creature that no one could ever actually be.”21 During the song “Masculinity,” Georges initially attempts to give Albin lessons in acting straight so he can come to the wedding as “Uncle Al.” But straight “Uncle Al” quickly proves to be beyond Albin’s range as a performer. Albin ultimately appears at dinner with Anne’s parents disguised as Jean-Michel’s biological mother—a performance that not only proves right up his alley but also contains a good deal of truth. While masculinity for Albin would be a performance, then, femininity comes naturally. Throughout, La Cage conflates same-sex desire and gender nonconformity. When Albin sings “I Am What I Am” at the end of the first act, it is a celebration of his dual identities as a female impersonator and proud gay man. In La Cage, the effeminate homosexual succeeds not only in performing women on stage but also in reasserting and reaffirming their traditional roles in the home. The musical thus not only reinforces these stereotypical roles but also the outmoded idea that a gay couple serves as a mere parody of husband and wife. In Torch Song Trilogy and La Cage aux Folles, the straight-looking and acting men are most ambivalent about being proud of and fighting for their positions as bisexual or gay. The queens in Fierstein’s early work are the fighters. In a 2015 interview, Fierstein recalls, “You know, there’s a moment in Vito Russo’s movie The Celluloid Closet where they edited it with Arthur Laurents saying, ‘I hate sissies,’ and it cuts to me quickly and I say, ‘I love sissies!’ and I make that point— visibility at any price.”22 At a time when many post-Stonewall gay men were resisting effeminacy, Fierstein was celebrating it, even if in doing so, his Georges-Albin depiction simultaneously reinforced a number of stereotypes. La Cage is a musical about theater, alternating diegetic numbers on stage at the titular nightclub with book numbers that heighten the emotional power of the backstage domestic drama. The nightclub is a carnivalesque place where patrons lose their inhibitions. In the diegetic numbers, drag is a glamorous theatrical illusion, but what is theater without theatricality? Albin as Zaza is far more exciting than Albin out of drag. In the HBO documentary Drag Time, female impersonator Varla Jean Merman asserts the irony of drag: “The very clothes that imprison women liberate men,” or at least men who find joy in wearing women’s clothes. Albin, for one, is miserable in male drag. At the end of the musical, Dindon, Anne’s father, cannot understand the dynamics of Jean-­ Michel’s family, but the young man is finally proud to assert the truth: DINDON:  Your parents? What parents? Oh, one of them could have possibly fathered you, but

you can’t tell me that the other one is your mother. JEAN-MICHEL:  That’s precisely who he is. (90)

Jean-Michel’s choice of pronoun is important: “he” is my mother. According to Fierstein’s book, a man can be a better mother than a woman. One might read this as a manifestation of Fierstein’s 176

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latent misogyny, but the playwright is trying to make the point that gender is irrelevant, at least within the confines of the Broadway musical. As John Epperson says on Drag Time, “If everyone could let go of this male-female thing, everyone would be so much happier.” La Cage may present a rather reactionary picture of a gay couple as a straight-acting man and an effeminate one in a dress, but Fierstein was nevertheless trying to find a way to out the heretofore unacknowledged queerness and gender nonconformity of the Broadway musical.

“Wig in a Box” Hedwig and the Angry Inch By the time La Cage aux Folles opened on Broadway, drag and hints of homosexuality had become staples of popular music genres as divergent as glam, disco, and hard rock. As Richard Smith claims, “Pop music had been embracing ‘genderfuck’ and androgyny since the 1950s. Its history is littered with men who have challenged and changed what it means to be a man, and blurred the boundaries of gender.”23 By the end of the decade, male rock stars like the Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, and David Bowie had incorporated drag into their live acts.24 John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch was inspired in part by the gender-­bending rock of David Bowie, Boy George, and their American counterparts, as well as the queer aspects of Andy Warhol’s factory. Maimed by botched gender reassignment surgery that has left him with neither penis nor vagina, and jilted by his American soldier husband who demanded the sex change in the first place, the young, gay, East German Hansel, now identifying as the female ­Hedwig, is stranded in a Kansas trailer park. Caught between genders, Hedwig’s only comfort comes from putting on makeup and the wig she keeps in a box, and from playing rock and roll with a group of army wives. Female drag and rock music allow Hedwig temporary escape into glamour and an embrace of her feminine persona. Given Hedwig’s lack of male or female sexual organs, any gender identity is a choice and a performance. Hedwig and the Angry Inch takes the androgyny of glam and glitter rock quite literally. Hedwig is incomplete—physiologically neither male nor female. But she believes that our incompleteness, our dividedness, is the source of our need for and ability to love. In the song “The O ­ rigin of Love,” she sings that we were once creatures with four arms and legs and two sets of eyes; some all-male, some all-female, some both. Since the jealous gods split the creatures in two, each half has longed to be put back together with its other. Hedwig, too, longs for completion. When her husband deserts her, young Tommy Speck, the “twin born by fission,” becomes her other half.25 Hedwig gives Tommy her love, her knowledge of rock music, and her songwriting talent, but Tommy leaves her when he discovers her lack of genitalia, stealing her songs in the process. After Tommy becomes a star with Hedwig’s songs, Hedwig feels compelled to follow him from town to town, singing in dives near the larger venues where Tommy performs for ­thousands of fans. Meanwhile Yitzhak, Hedwig’s green-card husband and backup singer, desperately wants to put on drag like Hedwig. The casting of the musical emphasizes the painful sense of loss and dividedness Hedwig feels and inflicts on Yitzhak, a man longing to dress and perform as a woman, played by a woman in masculine drag. At the end of the musical, Hedwig, by some mystical means, “absorbs” and thus reunites with Tommy Gnosis. He strips off his costume and appears before the audience as a man; he bestows his wig to Yitzhak, who, in turn, appears before the audience in full female drag (drag for the character, not for the actress playing him). In so reuniting with the object of his desire, Hedwig is made spiritually whole. Yet the vehicle for that wholeness is rock and roll. While the last number, “Midnight Radio,” celebrates music created by women—“Patti/ and Tina/ and Yoko/ Aretha/ and Nona/ and Nico/ and me”26 —Hedwig nevertheless presents as a man. Elizabeth Wollman writes that in this respect, Hedwig reflects the male domination of 177

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rock and roll: “Hedwig is transformed at the end … when the character strips away all artifice (read: femininity) and stands nearly naked (and clearly male) before the audience. Simultaneously, Hedwig’s cross-dressing husband, Yitzhak, is transformed into a role that is expected of women in rock: a backup singer.”27 Here, as in Fierstein’s work, men retain their masculine authority, even in drag. But what is drag for this character? Isn’t Hedwig’s final outfit also drag? Like the Children of the Moon he sings of in “The Origin of Love,” he must combine masculinity and femininity. But drag is still identified with homosexuality, linking desire for men with an identification with women.

“The Sex Is in the Heel” Kinky Boots It is interesting that in the twenty-first century Harvey Fierstein, who was a gay culture hero in the 1980s, and Cyndi Lauper, a staunch advocate of gay and transgender rights with a large gay following, would create a musical in which the drag queen is sexless, and only the straight white male has a love interest. In Fierstein’s previous celebrations of drag, female attire was liberating for homely gay men, an expression of their sexuality and their sense that true glamour is feminine. Yet Fierstein wants us to believe that Lola (aka Simon), the drag queen who is half the bromance at the center of Kinky Boots, is not homosexual. In a 2013 interview with gay journalist Michelangelo Signorile, Fierstein noted, “The really interesting thing to me is that not one critic—not the gay critics, not the straight critics—not one critic picked up on him being straight. Not one.”28 Since Lola’s sexual orientation is never mentioned, one can read her as gay or straight. Billy Porter, who originated the role of Lola, played her as gay: “I don’t think there is one moment of the show where if you ask anybody the question as to whether Lola was gay or straight, that you think my version of Lola was straight.”29 Yet Fierstein calls Lola “sexless.” There is no mention in the musical of Lola having any romantic or sexual life; Ben Brantley observed in a 2015 review of the musical that he “was aware more than ever of the lack of genuine sexual content in Mr. Fierstein’s script.”30 The 2013 musical Kinky Boots is faithful to the 2005 film on which it is based. In both versions, Simon/Lola’s narrative is totally about gender identity, not sexual orientation. Simon, uncomfortable in his masculine persona, is happiest as Lola, whose songs are about the sexiness of inhabiting a female persona. Yet Lola doesn’t have a sex life. While gender identity is distinct from sexual orientation, what is gender identity without sexual desire? Lola wants to be desired by her audience, but does not seem to desire anyone. The design of the boots she wears is of crucial importance because, according to one of her songs, “The Sex Is in the Heel.” But what does sex mean to Simon/Lola? In Kinky Boots, drag replaces love or sexual satisfaction. Like his sexual orientation, Simon/Lola’s racial identity is not an issue in Kinky Boots. Would it make any difference if Lola were played by a white actor? In place of sexual desire, Kinky Boots offers homosociality. Instead of the gay “marriage” in La Cage aux Folles, we have a bromance. Kinky Boots focuses on Simon’s friendship and business partnership with Charlie, the heterosexual heir to a northern England shoe factory that is sliding into bankruptcy. After accidentally meeting Simon/Lola in London, Charlie decides to convert his struggling business into a factory that designs and produces shoes for drag queens, and brings Simon/Lola onboard as his design consultant. Billy Porter is right in saying that Kinky Boots is basically about “two unlikely friends who happen to have Daddy issues.”31 Charlie’s father pushed him into the family business; Simon’s father hated his effeminacy and made him learn to box so he could defend himself. Together, Charlie 178

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and Simon sing that they are not their father’s sons. Yet Charlie has saved his father’s business and Simon proves his mettle as a boxer to earn the respect of the men in the factory. Lola is not only the most glamorous “woman” in Charlie’s factory; as Simon, he is also the most desirable man. In the song “What a Woman Wants,” the character insists that he understands better than the men in the factory what a woman wants: a man with his combination of masculine and feminine attributes. His female auditors enthusiastically agree. Simon lets macho Don win a boxing match, because he has compassion and understanding that Don lacks—traditionally feminine characteristics that make him the better man. In totally separating gender identity from sexuality, Kinky Boots becomes a show about masculinity. At the end, everyone sings “Just be what you wanna be”—but the show implies one is only free to be a heterosexual man or a sexless one in feminine attire. While celebrating gender liberation, Kinky Boots endorses heterosexuality: Charlie ends up with a doting girlfriend; Lola remains sexless and alone. In its own way, Kinky Boots is as old-fashioned as La Cage is. Lauper’s music is as decidedly 1980s as Jerry Herman’s was 1950s Broadway in the 1980s. The show’s sexual politics are even more reactionary. Ben Brantley noted of the audience at a 2015 performance of Kinky Boots ­starring heterosexual television personality Wayne Brady as Lola: “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a straighter-looking, more quintessentially Middle American group assembled for a  Broadway show, not even in the heydays of Cats and Mamma Mia! And this, by the way, was a crowd primed to love Lola — to roar whenever she talked dirty (which is never too dirty) and to take her side against any hidebound macho man who would deny this glamazon her choice to be fabulous.”32 Lola, in other words, is unthreatening even to midwestern Republicans. In some ways, Kinky Boots is even more conservative than Fierstein’s earlier work. Torch Song Trilogy was overtly (homo)sexual, including a comic presentation of anal sex in the backroom of a gay bar. Like Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles advocated gay marriage and parenting long before they gained much public acceptance, although the butch-femme marriage in the musical verged on parody of a heterosexual marriage. The drag queen in Kinky Boots is totally unthreatening. She is part of a safely apolitical musical. The 2014 Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch was more a measure of how far ­A merican culture had come since it first appeared on Jane Street. Its openly gay star had just spent almost a decade playing a caricature of a straight womanizer in a hit television comedy series. Now in glitter and drag, he attracted sellout audiences. In 2014, Hedwig still raised crucial questions about gender as destiny and choice. Having lost his phallus, the symbol of masculine power, ­Hedwig chooses to assert, celebrate, and perform her femininity. In the Broadway version of ­Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the title character is not a rock star like his former lover, Tommy Gnosis, who has risen to the top by stealing Hedwig’s creations, but as embodied by Harris and the performers who followed him, he is a Broadway star. In a musical, that is the ultimate empowerment. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the richest of the musicals I discuss here, offered a challenging picture of gender and identity as Hedwig turns her entire sad life into a fierce performance.

Notes 1 These are not the only recent Broadway shows to feature drag performances. Billy Elliott depicted a boy who loved to dress in drag. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was about three drag queens touring Australia. The villainess Miss Trunchbull in Matilda was played by a man in drag. And Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, originally performed by Harvey Fierstein, is a drag role. 2 This sort of World War II-era number was recreated in the “Honeybun” number in Rodgers and ­Hammerstein’s South Pacific (1949). 3 Claude J. Summers, ed. Queer Encyclopedia of Music, Dance and Musical Theater. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 2004. 182. 4 Queer Encyclopedia, 182.


John M. Clum 5 D. A. Miller maintains that heterosexual men can never fully enjoy Golden Age musicals because they force men to identify with the female lead. For him, the musical’s “unpublicizable work is to indulge men in the thrills of a femininity become their own.” Place for Us: [Essay on the Broadway Musical]. ­Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998. 90. 6 It was rumored that producer David Merrick wanted Liberace to play Dolly on Broadway. Danny La Rue, one of Britain’s most celebrated drag performers, played Dolly Levi in a West End revival in 1983. Among the women who followed Channing in the role on Broadway: Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Martha Raye, Phyllis Diller, Pearl Bailey, and Ethel Merman. Touring Dollys included Mary Martin, Dorothy Lamour, Eve Arden, Ann Sothern, and Yvonne de Carlo. The 2017 Broadway revival featured Bette Midler, Donna Murphy, and Bernadette Peters and, on tour, Betty Buckley. 7 Al LaValley. “The Great Escape.” Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 64. 8 Michael Musto. “Carol Channing on Gay Men, Drag Queens, and Johnny Depp.” . A video of Channing’s performance in a 1977 revival of Hello, Dolly! (with Reams as Cornelius) is available on YouTube. Her manic parading on the passerelle that surrounds the orchestra pit during the title song reminds one of a drag pageant. 9 Elizabeth Wollman’s book, The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical from Hair to Hedwig. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2006, discusses Hedwig’s place in the history of the rock musical. 10 I wrote in 2000 of the romance in Rent between Collins and Angel, “The formula isn’t much different from that of Kiss of the Spider Woman, in which a nelly Latino queen got to have sex with a macho man, or A Chorus Line in which Paul, the abject gay, was a Latino drag queen … Angel doesn’t carry the baggage of guilt and shame Paul carries and the macho man [he has sex with] is gay, but this is a small step forward.” Something for the Boys: Musical Theater and Gay Culture. New York: St. Martins, 2000. 272. 11 There are three available versions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in print: the 1998 version (New York: Overlook, 2000) and the 2014 Broadway version (New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2014). The 2001 film adaptation, released by New Line Cinema, is available on DVD. 12 Roger Baker, with contributions by Peter Burton and Richard Smith. Drag: A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing Arts. New York: New York UP, 1994. 18. 13 Esther Newton. Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1979. 20. 14 Newton, Mother Camp, xiii. 15 Del Lagrace Volcano and Judith “Jack” Halberstam. The Drag King Book. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1999. 35. In July, 2015, the organizers of Free Pride, a more radical alternative to Glasgow, Scotland’s Gay Pride celebrations, set off a storm of controversy by banning drag queens from performing at their event. The organizers stated, “It was felt that it would make some of those who were transgender or questioning their gender uncomfortable.” According to the organizers, drag queens reflected the “transmisogynistic” attitudes of many gay people. 16 Mother Camp, 103. 17 Harvey Fierstein. Torch Song Trilogy. New York: Gay Presses of New York, 1980. 114. Further references are to this edition. 18 Alan Sinfield. Gay and After. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1988. 110. 19 La Cage aux Folles has been revived twice on Broadway. A large-scale production failed in 2004. However, a tacky small-scale import from London opened in 2010 and ran a year. 20 La Cage aux Folles. New York: Samuel French, 1984. 46. 21 Miller, Place for Us, 131. Miller argues that “gay musicals” aren’t as gay as their closeted predecessors. 22 “Q&A: Harvey Fierstein Opens Up on the Success of Kinky Boots, His ‘Legendary Disaster’ & Insulting Double Standards.” Pridesource 2252. 6 Jan. 2015. Web. . 23 Richard Smith, “Frock Tactics.” in Baker et al., Drag, 240. 24 Todd Haynes’ 1998 film Velvet Goldmine presents a fictional account of the complex sexuality of glam rock performers. ­ uckworth, 25 John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask. Hedwig and the Angry Inch. New York: Overlook D 2014. 70. 26 Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 81. 27 Wollman, The Theater Will Rock, 208. 28 Michelangelo Signorile. “Harvey Fierstein on Kinky Boots, Working with Cyndi Lauper and His Show’s Big Surprise.” Huffington Post. 17 May 2013. Web. . Fierstein’s next play, Casa Valentina (2014), depicts a group of


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29 30

31 32

heterosexual transsexuals in 1962 who despise the connection made between transsexuals and homosexuals. One is intent on making sure that there are no homosexuals in the association he is organizing for transsexuals. “Billy Porter’s ‘Kinky Boots’ Character is Fierce, Sexy … and Gay.” Web. . Ben Brantley. “Kinky Boots with Wayne Brady as a Cross Dresser You Could Take Home to Mother.” New York Times. 27 Dec. 2015. Web. . At the end of May, 2017, Kinky Boots had run on Broadway for 1,730 performances, longer than the original production of La Cage aux Folles, and was still running. Ibid. Ibid.



Reading the Musical through Race and Ethnicity

Cultural identities, the blending or clashing of races or ethnicities, and other issues involving personal or group identity have long been at the center of the musical’s preoccupations. Even opera, which one might think of as being stuffy, romantic, “timeless,” and otherwise unconcerned with real-world problems, often visits topics of racial or ethnic tension to drive its plots. Verdi’s Otello (1887), for example, which is based on Shakespeare’s play Othello, is about a beloved military hero who nevertheless feels insecure and shunned by society because he is a dark-skinned immigrant in a white community. Similarly, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein infused South Pacific with calls for racial equality or, at least, heightened awareness of racism; it was 1949 and he didn’t do it perfectly, or in a “woke” modern way, but he did it loudly and with conviction. During and following the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, musicals became more frequently concerned with racial and ethnic tensions. Hair (1968) touches on a host of hot social issues of its day, including race. Ragtime (1998) tells of three different racial, class, or ethnic groups— wealthy, fully assimilated white professionals, working-class black servants and musicians, and recent ­Eastern European Jewish immigrants—meeting, clashing, and mixing in 1920s America. Avenue Q (2003) explores the topics of racism and ethnic diversity via humans and puppets meant to represent different races and species. Issues of race also pervade the question of casting a Broadway musical. Whether or not the plot involves topics of race or ethnicity, a show’s creators must decide how to cast the show: with “­realism,” if the show is set in a particular place and time? With “color-blind” casting, disregarding historical incongruities to cast the best voices and actors? With intentional “miscasting,” choosing to use performers of color in traditionally white roles to make a statement about biases in casting and provide work for minorities? Must a musical always cast an actor who exactly matches the character’s race or ethnicity—if that’s even possible? We may recall the intense controversy surrounding the casting of a white actor as the half-white, half-Asian Engineer in Miss Saigon (1991). Shows can change their stance on casting if they run long enough, as well; this reflects social changes and shifting views on race and ethnicity. Les Misérables (1987), for example, was originally cast with almost entirely white performers, presumably because the story took place in France in the early 1800s and all the characters would have been white in real life. But the show loosened this rule after running for many years. Jess saw a production well into the show’s 16-year ­ adame run that looked like this: Monsieur Thénardier, played by a white man, is married to M Thénardier, played by a black woman. Their daughter, Eponine, was played as a child by a white,

Reading the Musical

blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl. Eponine ages ten years before intermission, and in this production the role was taken over by an Asian-American adult actor. The tour group of senior citizens bussed in from Brooklyn, sitting around Jess in the audience, was confused, but when she explained the story and casting choices, they rolled with it just fine. The anecdote itself, however, raises questions that are examined in the following essays: is it acceptable—or even encouraged and socially helpful—to cast without regard to race, or even to cast against culturally dominant expectations? How many directors are willing to ignore historical inaccuracy or occasional audience confusion, versus risking backlash for not casting a diversity of actors? Will Hamilton’s intentionally diverse recasting of the founding generation cause ripple effects in other early twenty-first-century productions, or cause a conservative backlash, or both depending on the production and its audience base? The authors in this section all take up questions of race and ethnicity, both in musicals and in casting. Todd Decker traces the history of casting people of color (especially in shows not specifically calling for such actors) from the 1970s to the present. Sissi Liu uses the case study of Hello, Dolly! to discuss the industry and societal impact of casting with an all-black or all-Asian group. Stefanie A. Jones discusses Avenue Q, a show that purportedly takes racism head-on; they argue that despite its hip and confrontational stance, the musical mines stereotypes for comedy rather than calling for reform. Elizabeth Craft analyzes the racial politics at work in all three of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musicals to date, noting how despite Hamilton’s massive popularity and bold casting, Bring It On (2012) is the more radical and hopeful show in terms of race relations. The final essay of this section moves from issues of race and color to issues of ethnicity and religion: Raymond Knapp and Zelda Knapp look at Falsettos (1992; the authors focus on the 2016 revival) as a recent depiction of Jewish identity, discussing how it reckons with the powerful influence of that most Jewish of Broadway hits, Fiddler on the Roof (1964).


18 THE MULTIRACIAL MUSICAL METROPOLIS Casting and Race after A Chorus Line Todd Decker The Broadway audience is overwhelmingly and enduringly white, educated, and wealthy. Since the 1980s, the Broadway League—an organization of theater owners and producers—has ­provided statistics to support this description of people who attend Broadway shows.1 The League’s first “demographics of the audience” report, released in 1980, counted 83% of the audience as white. In annual reports issued from the 1998–1999 season to the 2015–2016 season, the audience has averaged 78.4% Caucasian, with little variation. The annual reports note that, on average, 75% of theatergoers over age 25 have a college degree, with just over half of those (37% of the audience) holding graduate degrees. Since the late 1990s, annual income has shifted in these surveys: in 2002–2003, 33.3% of the audience earned over $150,000; by 2015–2016, that group had risen to 40.8%. In the 2008–2009 and 2015–2016 reports, over 5% of respondents reported making over $750,000 annually. The majority white, educated, upper-income makeup of the Broadway audience—a privileged population by three separate measures—provides an important context for historic developments in the post-1970 musical. Succinctly put, in the last 40 odd years, and especially since the mid1990s, racially and ethnically diverse casts have increasingly appeared on Broadway stages in shows which entirely or almost entirely avoid the exploration or expression of racial identity or difference in their the textual and performed content. These reciprocal and persistent new ­practices in the casting and content of Broadway musicals have required audiences to be nimble about how they interpret the meaning of performers’ evident racial or ethnic identities. Central to this trend is a new kind of musical, defined here under the term multiracial and including productions with visibly diverse casts performing shows that bear in their texts no or only minimal traces of racially marked content—whether in spoken or sung words, or in musical or dance style. The trend toward multiracial casts emerged in the mid-1970s with the seminal hit A Chorus Line, and came to dominate Broadway productions from the mid-1990s to the present. Visible diversity onstage with little or no reference to racial or ethnic difference in the content of a show allows the Broadway audience to, if they wish, have their cake and eat it too. The Broadway stage may look diverse; yet the commercial American musical as a genre—with some significant ­exceptions—still consistently avoids engaging with the questions and realities of racial and ethnic difference and experience in the United States. The Broadway musical remains white—­ understood here as a tacit, privileged lack of concern with racial identity or difference—even as performers of color appear in a greater proportion of each season’s shows than in the past.


Todd Decker

The multiracial musical takes three distinct forms: 1 Book shows, mostly set in contemporary New York City. So-called colorblind casts—rare in the commercial musical theater—are included here under the term cross-racial casting. 2 Retrospective revues with multiracial casts that celebrate past musical and dance styles. 3 The near-ubiquitous practice (documentable since 1996) of including one to three persons of color (usually black) in otherwise all- or almost all-white ensembles, in musicals where most or all of the leading and featured performers are white. These three sorts of productions, as defined by both casting and content, express the larger multiracial conceit of the Broadway musical over the last four decades. None of these three strategies yields musical theater that addresses urgent racial or ethnic issues remaining in what—for a few years during this period—some were hopefully if misguidedly calling the post-racial era. Nor do these approaches celebrate racial or ethnic diversity in a spirit of multiculturalism—another catchphrase of the era’s cultural conversations. Social critique and the celebration of racial otherness, always constructed as non-whiteness, remain the purview of sporadically appearing black-, Asian-, or Latinx-cast shows like The Color Purple (2005; revived 2015), Allegiance (2015), and On Your Feet! (2015), or shows demanding diverse casts that perform racial or ethnic types and tell pointed stories of racial and ethnic history such as Show Boat (1927, revived 1994), Big River (1985, revived 2003), Ragtime (1998, revived 2009), Hairspray (2002), Avenue Q (2003), Memphis (2009), and The Book of Mormon (2011). In contrast with shows that thematicize the performance of racial or ethnic identities, the multicultural musical in all guises typically combines visual diversity—literally on the faces of the cast—with dramatic and musical homogeneity, most often some brand of Broadway whiteness (a stylistic mixture which, like most popular culture realms, presents a whiteness heavily invested in black music and dance). And while multiracial musicals may provide jobs for performers of color, these shows do not engage with past histories or current controversies around race and ethnicity, nor do they highlight the distinct experiences of nonwhites in song and dance. Multiracial shows can present an empty diversity—seen but not sung or danced—and mark the contemporary Broadway musical as a commercial and creative sphere where whiteness prevails even in the presence and bold performances of individuals who, in the Broadway context, resolutely remain in a position of racial otherness. The range of effects and thoughts stimulated by multiracial shows is felt inside each individual theatergoer and, like any such personal response to cultural products, inevitably responds to distinct intersectional identities. Still, given Broadway’s overwhelmingly white audience, the multiracial musical is best understood as offering an experience with racial and ethnic otherness that works to assure white, wealthy, educated elites that the commercial theater has, in some measure, embraced diversity and is open to persons of talent from any racial or ethnic background. This comforting subtext serves as a default interpretive position that preserves the musical stage as a nonconfrontational political and social arena of pure enjoyment, a utopian commercial space with a high price of admission, where racial and ethnic histories have been overcome, or can be set aside for the span of a story told in song and dance.

Book Musicals (Mostly Set in New York City) Seventeen dancers, facing forward and standing in a row, make up the quintessential stage picture of the 1975 musical A Chorus Line. The audience, together with the director running the ­Broadway chorus audition that forms the narrative frame, has ample time to look at and compare individual faces and bodies. Two of the seventeen, in the original production and most professional stagings, are visibly not white: Connie (fourth from house left) is Asian; Richie (seventh 186

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from house right) is black. Two other dancers, Paul and Diana (side by side at the house right end), are revealed in dialogue to be Puerto Rican. A Chorus Line gets close to but narrowly avoids being what Ronald Dennis, the original Richie, privately titled the show during rehearsals: “A Group of White Dancers.”2 Only the smallest of gestures in the libretto and score for A Chorus Line acknowledges the racial and ethnic otherness of Connie, Richie, Paul, and Diana. Diana introduces herself this way: “My name is Diana Morales. And I didn’t change it ’cause I figured ethnic was in.” When asked, “What made you start dancing?” Diana replies, “Who knows? I have rhythm—I’m Puerto Rican.” The moment reads as nerves, in no way expressing Diana’s actual understanding of why she became a dancer. Later in her solo “Nothing,” Diana quips, “we don’t have bobsleds in San Juan” and briefly prays to “Santa Maria,” but the song’s melody and arrangement carry no Latin musical markers. While the actor cast as Diana needs to be convincingly “Puerto Rican”—a designation that can be stretched to include a range of stereotypical looks—nothing about Diana’s part pegs her as Latina. Connie, Richie, and Paul’s nonwhite status shows up in the show’s text even less than Diana’s. Connie’s racial heritage can be removed by eliminating her statement, “I was born in Chinatown” in the “Year of the Chicken”; alternate lines “IF THE GIRL PLAYING CONNIE IS NOT ORIENTAL” (emphasis original) are provided in an appendix to the rental script.3 (Connie’s diminutive stature—“four foot ten” she sings repeatedly—may be read as an Asian stereotype or a challenge any below-average-height aspiring chorus performer might face.) Richie wryly tacks on a visually obvious bit of information when introducing himself, saying “And I’m black.” ­Otherwise his character goes unexplored, except for a brief feature in the ensemble number “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.” Casting a nonblack performer in the role of Richie is as simple as casting a non-Asian dancer as Connie, and various replacements for Richie’s “And I’m black”—including “And I’m gay.”—circulate in Chorus Line’s production history. Paul’s ethnic background never comes up; his monologue instead explores the otherness of being gay. With virtually no exploration of Diana, Connie, Richie, or Paul’s experiences of racial and ethnic otherness, A Chorus Line is, in essence and sometimes in practice, about “A Group of White Dancers” for whom questions of race and background can be ignored. In analogous fashion, the multiracial New York City book show after A Chorus Line has featured a group of individuals marked as specific urban types hailing from distinct neighborhoods and defined by career goals or personal aspirations rather than racial or ethnic backgrounds. In A Chorus Line, the “neighborhood” is a Broadway stage—the symbolic heart of the genre and, by extension, the city. Other shows focus on less iconic New York locations, presenting characters whose visibly evident racial and ethnic differences are submerged within a shared social niche. The artists and activists in Rent (1996) live in a yet-to-be-gentrified Alphabet City. The Life (1997) depicts pimps and prostitutes in Times Square at its sex-business peak, before the redevelopment in progress when the show was running. The show’s script defines the cast as “multi-racial and multi-ethnic,” but pegs only one character—Mary, “a young, pretty blonde from Duluth”—by race or ethnicity.4 If/Then (2014) celebrates a group of successful adults in gentrifying, neoliberal Manhattan, where lives and time itself are fundamentally shaped by individual choices (even if the conceit of fate—both romantic and tragic—is invoked). In the Heights (2008) presents diversity among Latinos in Washington Heights. A single African-American character, Benny, lends an edge of racial tension to one of the show’s romantic couples.5 In all these shows, racially diverse groups of friends and acquaintances share their professional and personal lives. Interracial couples are common and unremarked upon in Rent and If/Then. Black pimps manage white prostitutes without comment in The Life. In the Heights uses an interracial couple to highlight generational resistance to love across color lines—the Latino father objects to his daughter’s black boyfriend; in the song “Enough,” the Latina mother calls an end to such prejudices. Here, the tolerant multiracial city is synonymous with a younger generation who sees 187

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through visible differences. Beyond racial and ethnic differences, Rent and If/Then also embrace gay and lesbian relationships without comment, while In the Heights refers to them humorously. If/Then even features a bisexual character paired off in different narrative strands with a man and a woman, thereby imagining the city to be without limits on individual choice in the realm of sexuality. However, as in A Chorus Line, small touches in the texts of these shows nod toward nonwhite racial or ethnic identities. More importantly, consistent replacement casting along near identical phenotypical lines indicates the visible diversity of skin tones in each multiracial book show to be intentional and, on some level, constitutive of unspoken meaning. For example, Rent. Mimi is Latina to about the extent of Diana in A Chorus Line. Mimi sings of growing up “where the Spanish babies cry” and her mother’s message on an answering machine is in Spanish. An apartment shared by two white, straight men—Roger and Mark, Rent’s de facto leads—defines the physical space of the show. Nonwhite characters visit this homosocial zone of creative white men to various ends: Mimi enters as a suitable partner for Roger; the nonwhite Angel, in drag for part of the show, brings exotic color linked to a more flamboyant performance of gayness than that of the nonwhite and gay Collins. (Replacement casts have shown an expansive view of Mimi’s Latinx identity, with black performers such as Renée Elise Goldsberry in the role. Angel, mostly played by Latinx actors, has been taken on by Asian-identified performers such as Jose Llana and Telly Leung.) Rent’s double insistence on African-American affluence is evident in the cast’s two gainfully, prosaically employed supporting characters: the landlord Benjamin Coffin III and the lawyer Joanne (whose elite parents are especially developed). The Life, If/Then, and In the Heights offer a similar mix of small textual touches and unspoken assumptions embodied in consistent casting along racial and ethnic lines. Avenue Q offers a compelling contrast to the five New York book shows grouped earlier. Avenue Q concerns a diverse group of characters in a distinctive neighborhood—specifically a handful of college-educated, underemployed New Yorkers looking to find their purpose in life and in Brooklyn. Riffing on Sesame Street, the children’s television show that has offered an engaged and positive vision of the multiracial city since 1969, Avenue Q takes up issues of race and sexuality in direct, comic fashion. Combining human characters with puppets called monsters, Avenue Q defuses controversial issues in a spirit of crude “did they say that?” humor that declares implicit agreement on racial questions as part of the freedom to shock. The characters acknowledge racial categories and stereotypes in the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” but declare this “doesn’t mean they go around committing hate crimes.” In the unity of the street they share “For Now,” as the closing song goes, race and ethnicity can be joked about freely and safely in a show that dares to offend but only in the solidly liberal territory of a Broadway theater. In short, Avenue Q engages with the diverse identities of its characters directly and thoughtfully in ways multiracial book shows on the model of A Chorus Line and Rent do not. The consistent casting practices of multiracial book shows offer insight into the similarly multiracial cast of The Lion King (1997). The casting of black and white performers in specific roles playing animals—which are, of course, not racially marked—has been utterly consistent. The online resource Playbill Vault allows for quick assessment of the headshot of almost every performer to appear in the show’s 20-year Broadway run. These standardized professional images inevitably locate individuals within specific types. Looking at this resource like a casting director, racial casting patterns quickly become evident. Black performers play all the “good” lions (Mufasa, Simba, Nala) and fill the entire singing and dancing chorus. White leading and featured roles ­follow defined physical types as to age and physical size: older with an air of distinction (Scar); older, balding (Pumbaa); younger, tilting toward Mediterranean (Timon); comic supporting actor ­lacking “leading man” good looks (Zazu, Ed). Clearly, despite The Lion King’s elaborate makeup 188

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and mask-work, the races of performers make meaning for the show’s creators and audiences. Director Julie Taymor has insisted across the show’s global, multilingual run that black South African performers play the narrator, Rafiki, and be a substantial presence in the chorus to add an authentic connection to the score’s South African musical elements, credited to composer ­Lebohang “Lebo M.” Morake. Taymor has called the cast’s South African contingent the production’s “spiritual foundation.”6 Attention to racial casting patterns opens The Lion King to various readings. For example, Scar’s outsider status is reinforced by his being the only “white” lion. The connection between Simba and his father Mufasa is strengthened by both being embodied by black performers. (In the original animated film [1994], Simba is voiced by Matthew Broderick and Mufasa by James Earl Jones, an interracial pairing not replicated in the theater.) And the seriousness of Simba’s battle with Scar unfolds as blackness redeeming the world from a white usurper with help from silly but good-hearted white sidekicks. For a liberal New York audience, The Lion King tells a subliminal tale of good whites (who are funny to boot) helping a black prince reclaim his inheritance from a white villain.7 Multiracial book shows that ignore questions of race and ethnic identity work at one remove from productions where performers of color are cast in roles normally given to whites, a practice best understood under the term cross-racial casting. (The reverse practice—white performers playing characters of color, sometimes called whitewashing—is increasingly rare on Broadway, if still present in Hollywood, and typically hotly criticized.) Examples of cross-racial casting, a rare practice in the commercial musical, include revivals of Carousel (1994) and 110 in the Shade (2007), both starring Audra McDonald, and the Gershwin musical Nice Work if You Can Get It (2012), which cast black actor Stanley Wayne Mathis as a Long Island police chief in the 1920s. Long-­ running shows frequently refresh their casts by bringing in performers of color in leading roles with the potential to attract new or repeat audiences: Toni Braxton was the only black Belle in the 13-year run of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—the character was given a new song, “A Change in Me,” when Braxton joined the cast—and the long-running revival of Chicago (1996) has rotated performers of color into every major role. It took until 2014 for the title role in The Phantom of the Opera to be played by a black man (Norm Lewis, who also played Javert in the 2006 Les Misérables revival), although Robert Guillaume took over the role in LA as early as 1990. In these cases, the race of the performer means nothing in the world of the show but means much in the theater, where audiences can register a positive racial breakthrough while not being required to deal with any other, perhaps more troubling, racial issues. Perhaps the ultimate exercise in cross-racial casting is Hamilton (2015), in which a cast of nonwhite performers embody the nation’s white founding generation. Here, again, the race of the performers means nothing in the world of the show, but everything in the theater and in the show’s hip-hop infused score and choreography. Enthusiastic embrace of Hamilton by young audiences and liberal and conservative elites—and resistance to the show by historians and other scholars—suggests the ambiguity of cross-racial casting in the high-stakes historical and political context of Hamilton’s setting and story. More broadly, Hamilton points toward the difficulty of pinning down the meaning of multiracial casting as defined here. Whether multiracial and cross-racial casting in book shows is taken to be positive or negative depends on the content and context of a production and the individual position of each theatergoer and performer. Given the overwhelmingly white Broadway audience, it is safe to say that the default interpretive position offered by the book shows described earlier is celebration of increased opportunity and visibility for performers of color—a diversity goal achieved—coupled with a (perhaps) welcome release from dealing with the more controversial aspects of race and ethnicity in the United States, issues that shows like Show Boat, Ragtime, The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q, The Color Purple, and Allegiance make central to the stories they tell. 189

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The Abstract Multiracial Space of the Retrospective Revue The late 1970s saw the emergence of a new sort of revue that brought the intimate address of cabaret to the Broadway stage, where the audience and economic stakes were larger. Most of these revues were retrospective celebrations of past Broadway creators, primarily songwriters. The initiating pair of retrospective revues starkly contrasted white and black: Side by Side by Sondheim (1977) transferred from London’s West End with its original cast of four white performers; Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1978), featuring five black performers doing songs by or associated with Thomas “Fats” Waller, moved from Off Broadway for a four-year Broadway run, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical along the way. The small-cast, minimally staged, commercially successful retrospective revue was a regular presence in the 1980s and 1990s, when Times Square was in economic transition, moving toward redefinition as a family oriented arena. In Broadway’s twenty-first century economic boom, the retrospective revue has largely passed out of fashion, replaced by the jukebox musical. Most retrospective revues from the 1980s and 1990s employed multiracial casts (see Table 18.1). If Ain’t Misbehavin’ built its evocation of 1930s and 1940s Harlem on an all-black cast, Sophisticated Table 18.1  Retrospective Revues, 1977–2010




Featured Creator or Musical Style

Racial Makeup of Cast

1977 1978 1978 1980 1981 1981 1982 1985 1986

Side by Side by Sondheim Ain’t Misbehavin’ Eubie! Perfectly Frank Shakespeare’s Cabaret Sophisticated Ladies Blues in the Night Jerry’s Girls Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood

390 1,604 439 17 54 767 53 139 13

Stephen Sondheim Thomas “Fats” Waller Eubie Blake Frank Loesser William Shakespeare Duke Ellington Blues Jerry Herman Jerome Kern

All-white All-black All-black All-white Multiracial Multiracial Multiracial Multiracial Multiracial

1985 1992 1993

Leader of the Pack Five Guys Named Moe A Grand Night for Singing

120 445 52

Multiracial All-black All-white


Smokey Joe’s Café: The Songs of Lieber and Stoller Swinging on a Star Street Corner Symphony


Ellie Greenwich Louis Jordan Rodgers and Hammerstein Lieber and Stoller

Multiracial Multiracial

99+ 461 276 17


Putting It Together Swing! It Aint’ Nothin’ But the Blues The Gershwins’ Fascinating Rhythm The Look of Love

Johnny Burke 1960s and 1970s pop and soul Stephen Sondheim retro swing Blues George and Ira Gershwin



Sondheim on Sondheim


Burt Bacharach and Hal David Stephen Sondheim

1995 1997 1999 1999 1999 1999

97 80


+ Strictly limited run.



All-white Multiracial Multiracial Multiracial


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Ladies (1981) celebrated the same milieu through the music of Duke Ellington but with a slightly multiracial troupe. The principal stars of Sophisticated Ladies, dancers Judith Jamison and Gregory Hines, were African-American, but white performers like Terry Klausner (with featured billing) were also part of the show. Near the close of act two of Ain’t Misbehavin’, the revelry stops and the all-black cast acknowledges the impact of racism with a haunting version of the song “Black and Blue.” Sophisticated Ladies never takes a similar pause, setting a pattern followed by multiracial revues to follow. The practice of mixing black and white performers celebrating famous songwriters continued in the short-lived London transfer Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood (1986) and the all-female Jerry’s Girls (1985), a compilation of songs by Jerry Herman. In the former, the legendary Elizabeth Welch, whose Broadway career stretched back to the early 1920s, appeared with three other performers: two white, one black. Welch was not assigned songs composed for black characters, and beloved tunes the audience might anticipate as perfect for her—like Julie’s numbers in Show Boat—were performed by her castmates. In Jerry’s Girls, Leslie Uggams shared the spotlight with Chita Rivera and Dorothy Loudon.8 Uggams sang numbers for characters she would have been unlikely to play in a full-scale production: “If He Walked into My Life” from Mame and “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles. While her rendition of the latter could be interpreted as transferring gay pride into an expression of black pride, the entire conceit of the multiracial retrospective revue worked to soft-pedal such associations, leaving them for audience members to take or leave as they wished. The multiracial revue as a quasi-theatrical space where any performer can sing any song comes to the fore in such moments, which invite theatergoers to assess each production choice, within their knowledge and experience, as evidence for racial “progress,” a wrong-headed artistic decision, or just another song and dance that does or does not engage with the nation’s racial history. Retrospective multiracial revues also celebrated popular music styles and eras not typically present on Broadway, seeking specific, nostalgia-oriented audiences. Leader of the Pack (1985), featuring the 1960s pop songs of Ellie Greenwich (with Greenwich herself in the cast), suggested black and white youths had always sung together. Street Corner Symphony (1997) combined pop and soul hits of the 1960s and 1970s in similar fashion. Smokey Joe’s Café (1995) featured Lieber and Stoller songs from the late 1950s and early 1960s, when black and white tastes overlapped and pop music fans might not have registered whether a given singer was white or black. On the stage, of course, such distinctions are always waiting to be made. The 1999 revue Swing! exploited that decade’s emergence of so-called neo-swing: an updated approach to popular music of the 1930s and early 1940s. Swing!’s Playbill cover featured competitive ballroom dance champions Ryan Francois and Jenny Thomas, an interracial couple, in a pose that signaled the athletic, high-energy nature of the show. Most of the danced and sung duets in Swing! were similarly interracial, with a preponderance of black man and white woman pairings. In its celebration of the present, Swing! almost entirely submerges the fraught racial history of its titular music and dancing style, which emerged among black bands and dancers and moved, like so many pop-culture trends, into the white mainstream. Only in the penultimate number, “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” is the racial context for swing mentioned, and only in a celebratory mode. White singer Ann Hampton Callaway sang her own new lyrics, “To think that syncopation / Outsmarted segregation. / Blacks and whites were rompin’ and stompin’ all night, / At the Savoy.” Callaway concluded, “And the beautiful thing that’s happenin’ today / Is that the spirit of Savoy is here to stay.” Callaway and Swing! offered a sanguine view of American history: interracial couples, seen in number after number, including a salute to World War II-era USO shows, were uncommon at the Savoy, or during the swing era. The staging, sets, and costumes for Swing! avoided precise period re-creation: the show was firmly in the now, a realm constructed around the elision of racial questions and a tacit celebration of interracial collaboration. 191

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The multiracial cabaret-style revue faded from Broadway in the twenty-first century. ­ elebrations of older Broadway musicals found a home in the Encores! series, which each season C brings shows unlikely to receive commercial revivals back in semi-staged concert versions. The explosion of so-called jukebox musicals tapping post-rock styles uses the semblance of a story to hold the audience, generating hits like Mamma Mia! (2001), Jersey Boys (2005), and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (2014)—each of which employs racially diverse casts. The multiracial revues of the 1980s and 1990s briefly opened a space for song and dance that centered more on performers than characters. And while these productions surely gave performers of color welcome opportunities to appear on a Broadway stage, these shows rarely highlighted the historical, political, or social contexts for the popular music they celebrated and offered another variety of empty diversity that reinforced the default whiteness of New York’s commercial musical theater.

Racial Casting Practices in Ensembles: A Statistical Perspective At the climax of A Chorus Line, the director casts eight of the seventeen dancers in the chorus of his upcoming Broadway musical: six whites, one Latina, and one black man. These choices anticipate an ensemble casting practice that can be documented on Broadway since the mid-1990s: the inclusion of one or two performers of color in an otherwise white ensemble. Tables 18.2 and 18.3 express in statistical terms casting practices in 208 musical ensembles in shows that played Broadway between June 1996 and May 2016.9 The opening night cast for each production was assessed in racial and ethnic terms based on headshots and biographies of every cast member listed in Playbill. (Photo arrays of complete casts became standard practice for nearly every show only in the 1990s.) Broadway performers strategically deploy their headshots as tools to further their careers: to signal their “type” or present a maximally flexible persona.10 Casting directors and audiences apprehend a performer’s race in part through the self-curated index of the headshot, a professional calling-card that, to a greater or lesser extent, presents racial or ethnic identity that, as philosopher Linda Alcoff has noted, operates in part “through visible or otherwise discernible features.”11 Performer biographies offer a further index of performed racial identity in the professional theater: for example, ensemble performers cast in the 2012 revival of Porgy and Bess can be reliably understood as black. Still, the statistics offered here rely on my own respectful guesses as to individual performers’ racial and ethnic identities based on the publicly available evidence of headshots and bios. As Table 18.2 shows, 75% of Broadway musicals staged between 1996 and 2016 included performers of color in their ensembles. Seventeen percent had all-white ensembles. Eight percent had entirely nonwhite ensembles, whether all-black (The Color Purple), all-Latinx (On Your Feet!), or all-Asian (Flower Drum Song [2002]). Table 18.2 reveals the prevalence of multiracial casting in ensembles over this 20-year period. Table 18.3 divides the 208 surveyed shows into six groups (A-F) by placing multiracial ensemble casting in context with casting in leading and featured roles. These more specific categories Table 18.2  R  acial Makeup of Broadway Ensembles (208 Productions Opening between June 1996 and May 2016) %

Racial Makeup of Ensemble

75 17 8

Racially mixed All-white ensemble Entirely nonwhite


The Multiracial Musical Metropolis Table 18.3  R acial Makeup of Broadway Ensembles in Relation to Casting in Leading and Featured Roles (208 Productions Opening between June 1996 and May 2016) Group


Racial Makeup of Ensemble

Racial Makeup of Leading and Featured Performers








4 43


17 8

Multiracial Three or fewer black performers in ensemble otherwise all-white All-white ensemble Entirely nonwhite

Multiracial in a context where race matters to the plot Multiracial in a context where race is peripheral to the plot (including multiracial revues) Color-blind casting All or almost all white All or almost all white Entirely nonwhite

suggest how ensemble casting works in relationship to race as a narrative theme in the Broadway musical and as an interpretive challenge to the Broadway audience. Thirty-three percent of the productions surveyed (Groups A, B, and C) included a thoroughly multiracial ensemble, with four or more performers of color, in a context where leading and supporting roles were played by both white performers and performers of color (almost always black). Slightly less than half the productions (Group A) demanded multiracial casting for narrative and thematic reasons. Hairspray!, for example, tells of racial integration in 1960s Baltimore through racially sorted musical styles. White and black principals, featured players, and ensemble members prove essential to the meaning of Hairspray! In such shows, a multiracial ensemble is a dramaturgical requirement. By contrast, just over half of productions with multiracial ensembles (Groups B and C) demand from the audience a strikingly different response toward visible racial diversity in the ensemble. When leading and featured roles are cast using cross-racial practices (Group C), the multiracial nature of the ensemble becomes a visible fact to be ignored, as in the abovementioned revivals starring Audra McDonald. Similarly, in multiracial book shows with multiracial characters that do not take up questions of race per se (Group B)—as in The Life or If/Then—a multiracial ensemble recedes in importance. The multiracial musical revues discussed earlier fall into this category as well. This leaves nearly half (43%) of the musicals surveyed: Group D, productions that combined all- or almost all-white principals and featured players with an ensemble placing three or fewer black performers among almost all-white performers. These productions ask the viewer to see through race only in the ensemble, often with a small nonwhite presence. Of the 88 shows in this category, 30 include only one person of color in the ensemble. What explains this phenomenon? In nine productions in Group D, a black member of the ensemble understudied a lone black featured player in the cast. The practicalities of insuring a performer of color who was ready to step into a specific role had the effect of adding minimal racial diversity to an otherwise nearly all-white ensemble. Further insight into why some productions in Group D employed slightly integrated ensembles can be gleaned from a consideration of Group E, which includes productions with all-white ensembles and all or nearly all white leads and featured players. In the 20 years under consideration, this was an unusual choice: slightly less than one of five musicals had all-white ensembles. Two similar sorts of shows appear in this group. Many revivals of canonic musicals with period settings employed all-white casts—including 1776 (1997), Cabaret (2014), Fiddler on the Roof (2004, 2015), Gypsy (2003, 2008), A Little Night Music (2009), She Loves Me (2016), and The Sound of Music (1998). New musicals using period settings, especially set in Europe or distinctive regions of the United States, also opted 193

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for all-white casts, for example, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (2010), The Bridges of Madison County (2014), Bullets over Broadway (2014), Doctor Zhivago (2015), The Light in the Piazza (2005), The Woman in White (2005), and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2010). All these productions used racially appropriate casting. The choice not to include one or two persons of color—in these years going against general practice—can be understood dramatically to encourage audience immersion in a consistently imagined, slightly foreign or past world. Theatrical presentation of a racially uniform space, where race carries implicit narrative meaning, applies also to entirely nonwhite cast shows (Group F)—including Fela! (2011, 2012) and The Capeman (1998). Many such racially homogeneous musicals carry a story-centered seriousness that lends itself to more dramatic emotional engagement. By contrast, revivals and new musical comedies oriented toward crowd-pleasing entertainment, spectacle, and broad comedy more often accommodate the inclusion of few persons of color in the ensemble and find their place in Group D. Productions with one or two such cast members and all-white leads and featured players include 42nd Street (2001), Bye Bye Birdie (2009), Curtains (2007), Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (2008, 2009), Mary Poppins (2006), Once Upon a Mattress (1996), and The Producers (2001). The ensembles in such musicals may serve as a signal not to take the story-world of a given production too seriously, inviting spectators instead to relax and enjoy the fun without thinking much about race, while also proffering visible evidence—in the isolated black face or faces in the ensemble—that diversity has been accounted for. A less charitable interpretation might read the lone black performer in an otherwise all-white ensemble as tokenism—to which one reply would be the perennial argument that at least said performer has a job. A show with few black performers in an otherwise all-white ensemble can, serendipitously, allow for musical blackness to emerge, leaving a trace that remains after a select black ensemble member departs the show. The 2015 musical Something Rotten! celebrates the history of the musical with frequently hilarious references to and quotes from over 40 familiar shows. Only one of these is a black-cast musical. In the second act’s show-within-the-show, a female ensemble member pops out of an egg costume and sings, “And I am telling you, I’m not gonna be an omelet.” This reference to Dreamgirls (1981) was introduced by Marisha Wallace, the only black female performer in Something Rotten!’s original ensemble. Wallace had played Dreamgirls’ Effie earlier in her career. Her channeling of Effie’s big number, “And I Am Telling You,” in an egg costume marks the only moment when Something Rotten! acknowledged Wallace’s blackness within the show. Otherwise, she was—like the single other black performer in the show12—part of the production’s cartoonish evocation of Elizabethan England. Wallace departed Something Rotten! from May to July 2016. During this period, another black woman, Tracee Beazer, stepped into the ensemble. But when I saw Something Rotten! on June 1, the show’s ensemble was entirely white and the bit from Dreamgirls was sung by a white performer, forced by the text of the show into a moment that could be construed as whitewashing. At this performance, the quote from Dreamgirls became—for this theatergoer, who also saw the show with Beazer in the cast—less a satisfying burst of blackness in Something Rotten!’s otherwise white homage to musical theater and more a remnant of the show’s original, ever-so-slightly racially diverse cast, enduring evidence for Broadway’s multiracial ensemble casting practices over the previous 20 years.

Notes 1 Statistics draw on A Study of the New York Audience for Broadway Theater (by Consumer Behavior Incorporated for the League of New York Theaters and Producers, 1980) and annual reports by the Broadway League, usually titled The Demographics of the Broadway Audience. League reports consulted include those for the 2002–2003, 2008–2009, and 2015–2016 seasons, all of which include information dating to the 1997–1998 season. 2 Robert Viagas, Baayork Lee, and Thommie Walsh with the original cast, On the Line: The Creation of A Chorus Line. New York: Morrow, 1990. 156.


The Multiracial Musical Metropolis 3 James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. A Chorus Line (1975, typescript rental parts libretto), author’s collection. 4 The Life prompt book, Tams-Witmark Music Library (1996). 5 On the Town (1944) and Seesaw (1973) anticipate the post-Chorus Line multiracial musicals discussed here. On the former, see Carol J. Oja. Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War. New York: Oxford UP, 2014. 6 Michael Paulson. “‘The Lion King’ Effect.” New York Times. 19 Nov. 2017. 7 Taymor has noted how the racial identities of performers behind the makeup inflect The Lion King’s meaning in different countries. 8 Before its Broadway run, Jerry’s Girls toured with Uggams, Carol Channing, and Andrea McArdle. The cast album features these performers. 9 Only performers not billed as leading or featured players were counted. Such performers, even if they play small roles, are also listed as part of the ensemble. Small-cast musicals lacking any ensemble are excluded. 10 Interview with Ken Cerniglia, dramaturg and literary manager, Disney Theatrical Group, 16 Nov. 2017. 11 Linda Alcoff. The Future of Whiteness. Malden: Polity, 2015. 40–41. 12 The role of the Minstrel was cast as black during the Broadway run, with Michael James Scott and André Ward both appearing in the part.


19 “BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY” All-Black and All-Asian Hello, Dolly! as Celebration of Difference Sissi Liu

In 1967, faced with waning audiences at his blockbuster hit show Hello, Dolly! (1964), the infamously mercenary impresario David Merrick hired an all-Black cast starring Pearl B ­ ailey and Cab Calloway to bring the show back to life from 1967 to 1970. In 2013, an A ­ sian-­A merican theater company revived Hello, Dolly! at the Pershing Square Signature Center in New York with an all-Asian cast and Christine Toy Johnson in the title role. Was the all-Black Hello, Dolly! by any means socially progressive? Was the all-Asian Hello, Dolly! a gimmick? Was it a coincidence that both productions took place during the historical periods when the A ­ frican-American and Asian-American communities, respectively, advocated for more inclusion in American theater? Did Hello, Dolly! comprise secret messages of activism? What new meanings did the minority casts provide the Broadway blockbuster? To answer all these questions, this chapter introduces a new perspective of reading the musical that celebrates minoritarian performance, examines the historical purposes and significance of both the all-Black and all-Asian Hello, Dolly!, and parses the messages of social advocacy embedded in minoritarian casting practices of the musical. The story of Hello, Dolly! can be traced back to British playwright John Oxenford’s one-act farce A Day Well Spent (1836). The play depicts a day in the life of an eminent hosier, Mr. C ­ otton, his foreman Bolt, and his apprentice, Mizzle. Bolt and Mizzle sneak off to the city when they should be looking after Cotton’s shop, only to run into him. The story ends as three couples tie the knot: Cotton marries Mrs. Stitchley, an old lady who owns a dress shop; Bolt marries Miss Brown, Mrs. Stitchley’s friend and helper; and Cotton’s daughter Harriet marries the young gentleman Mr. Cutaway.1 In six years the play was adapted as Einen Jux Will Er Sich Machen (He’ll Have Himself a Good Time, 1842) by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy. About a century later ­Thornton Wilder adapted it into The Merchant of Yonkers (1938) featuring the title character Horace ­Vandergelder—a flop on Broadway; and later The Matchmaker (1954) with the focus shifted to the female lead Dolly Levi—a hit in Edinburgh and London, and then on Broadway, where it was produced by David Merrick. Merrick was, in fact, so successful with the play that in 1961, he began putting together a cast and creative team to musicalize it. Michael Stewart, who wrote the book for what became Hello, Dolly!, strengthened Dolly Levi even further. Levi, a matchmaker for the wealthy Yonkers merchant Horace Vandergelder, plans to marry him herself. Vandergelder comes to New York to participate in the 14th Street parade and meet Dolly at Irene Molloy’s hat shop, where he intends to propose to the proprietor. While he is away, his clerks, Cornelius and Barnaby, decide to seek adventure in New York City. Upon learning of their intentions, Dolly directs them to the 196

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hat shop. When Vandergelder arrives, he is infuriated to find two men with Irene, and cancels his plan to marry her. Dolly promises to introduce Vandergelder to an heiress at the Harmonia ­Gardens restaurant that evening. There, she enters triumphantly, feted adoringly by old friends. A riot ensues, and everyone except Dolly is arrested. In the final scene back in Yonkers, Cornelius and Irene decide to marry and open a store across the street from Vandergelder’s. Vandergelder proposes to Dolly and makes Cornelius his business partner. A widow who is no longer young, Dolly does not fit the conventional gender stereotypes or expectations of a leading lady. Directors initially turned down the musical because they felt that the kind of celebration in the title song “Hello, Dolly!” did not make sense. When Merrick asked Harold Prince to direct the show, Prince passed on the project, and suggested Merrick get rid of the title song: “The ‘Hello, Dolly!’ number has nothing to do with Dolly Levi. She’s a woman who has no money and scrounges around; she’s never been to a place as fancy as the Harmonia Gardens, where the number happens…. The way the number is now, you’re talking about a woman who has lived her life at ’21.’”2 Jerome Robbins also turned down an offer to direct because he couldn’t understand what the title song was about or why Dolly belonged there. “Hello, Dolly!” is indeed isolated from the story of the musical, but the isolation is itself a metaphor of how Dolly as a character doesn’t belong. She doesn’t conform to contemporary age or gender stereotypes; she doesn’t belong to the social class of the heiress or Vandergelder. She is so good at managing other people’s lives that she comes off as both outsider and patronizing manipulator: when everyone else is arrested for instigating a riot, she avoids trouble as if she were on a different planet. It would seem that as a poor widow, she doesn’t belong to Harmonia Gardens, either, but has used wit and charm to work her way up there. As she famously, triumphantly descends the elegant staircase in her sumptuous gown, the restaurant staff gleefully marks her appearance. In his book World of Musical Comedy, Stanley Green posits, “No matter how tightly constructed a musical may be, there is always room enough for at least one number…that is inserted solely as an applause-catching specialty with scant relationship to the plot.”3 To the directors who turned down the show, “Hello, Dolly!” is precisely such a song of irrelevance. However, the fact that the song has been perceived as an irrelevant number runs parallel to the racial and sexual minoritarians’ exclusion in society and lived experience which many regard as peripheral and insignificant. The song is a poignant reminder that minoritarians can and should take center stage and celebrate their difference. “Hello Dolly,” especially when performed by a minoritarian actor, asserts Dolly’s great significance and dismisses the commonly held perception that she is no more than a trivial afterthought inserted to fill the room.

From “Before the Parade Passes By” and “Hello, Dolly!” to Minority Casting Celebrating difference and otherness is, in fact, the central message of Hello, Dolly! The song “­Before the Parade Passes By” both serves as a metaphor for the musical and neatly summarizes Dolly as a character. It is also the key to perceiving minority casting of the musical as a broader celebration of difference. The song takes on new meaning, after all, when sung by a person of color. “Before the Parade Passes By” comes late in act one, when Dolly reflects on her life after the death of her beloved husband Ephraim. She bemoans a dry, colorless existence without him, which resembles a dead oak leaf. She decides with this number to finally “rejoin the human race,” and thus sings of declaration, motivation, celebration, and empowerment. Dolly gives herself a second chance to be alive again—to race with “the parade.” As a metaphor, this “parade” could mean life itself; it could also mean the majority, or the normative. Instead of merely being “in” the parade, Dolly wants to be “out in front” with her “head up high” waving “an old baton”: to embrace herself and to live her life in such a way that the parade has to catch up with her rather than 197

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the other way around. Earlier in act one, Horace reveals that he plans to march in the 14th Street parade with the only people he can trust: 700 men. By moving to the front of such a parade, Dolly honors her own difference and otherness as a woman perceived as past her prime. “Before the Parade Passes By” thus becomes a thrilling celebration by and of the outsider. When a person of color sings it, the song becomes more than mere celebration. It turns, as well, into a declaration of racial pride and a motivational march advocating step-by-step empowerment. The rhythm evokes snare drums in a marching band, forming a rhythmic pattern that is bracing and powerful. The melodic line, too, builds in pitch, representing a gradual elevation toward victory. The number ends on a higher note than it begins on, symbolizing the process of elevation as empowerment through the course of the song. If “Before the Parade Passes By” is a declaration song advocating racial difference and pride, then the title song, “Hello, Dolly!,” is an “outcome song” depicting the victorious result of the outsider’s endeavor. Similar to “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Hello, Dolly!” is a song built on elevation. The melodic line steadily rises in shape, and the phrases follow arcs of elevation. Just like “Before the Parade Passes By,” the song ends higher than it began, again symbolically elevating the character as it progresses. As an outcome song that serves as the production’s eleven o’clock number, “Hello, Dolly!” would not be nearly as effective without the formidable declaration of “Before the Parade Passes By” at the end of act one. It’s important to note that there was little authorial intent toward social activism in the creation of Hello, Dolly! Composer and lyricist Jerry Herman specifically told interviewers that he did not think too deeply beyond his goal to entertain. But a minority cast—especially the all-Asian cast—clearly brings a message of social advocacy into the musical: difference, such casting says, is to be included and celebrated. If the all-Black Hello, Dolly!, with its oft-criticized mercenary casting choices, was socially progressive in any way, it was in its increased Black employment rate on Broadway, its boost at the box office of audiences of color, and its establishment of Pearl Bailey as a beloved leading lady on Broadway. The all-Asian Hello, Dolly!, despite its rather short run, delivered a compelling statement that actors of Asian descent, too, very much belong in the Broadway world.

The All-Black Hello, Dolly! In 1963, the musical, then called Dolly: A Damned Exasperating Woman, had unsuccessful tryouts in Detroit. After intensive rewriting and a change of the show’s title, Hello, Dolly! was a hit in its subsequent Washington DC run. It was such a hot ticket by the time it arrived on Broadway on January 16, 1964 that after initial top prices of $8.80 for weekday and $9.40 for weekend performances, tickets soon rose to $9.60 for all evenings.4 The infectiously cheerful musical seemed to help lift audiences out of the depression brought about by the assassination of President Kennedy months before. The musical garnered publicity during the presidential campaign in 1964, both when Channing sang “Hello, Lyndon!” at the National Democratic Convention and when Merrick threatened to sue anyone who attempted to change it to “Hello, Barry (Goldwater)!”5 Also in 1964, Louis Armstrong released his album titled Hello, Dolly!, in which he interpreted the song “Hello, Dolly!” The album became an instant sensation, and sold three million copies.6 The musical’s ten Tony Awards included Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Director and Choreographer, Best Producer, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for the original Dolly, Carol Channing. By January 1965, the rights to the show had been sold to a dozen different countries. It was equally successful on the road. In 1965 and ‘66, the show was performed before American troops in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. When women’s rights were in the air in the sixties, the title role Dolly Levi, a capable middle-aged widow who handles love, romance, and marriages by manipulating other people’s lives, spoke to the civil rights movement. Stacy Wolf writes, “The musical does not sexualize [Dolly]; rather, [her] forceful personality reverses 198

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the age-old masculine-active/feminine-passive binary.” 7 Unlike many conventional female roles in the past, Dolly is clearly the master of her own future. In the summer of 1967, while race riots rampaged in American cities including Buffalo, ­M inneapolis, and Detroit, David Merrick saw a new opportunity: why not replace his all-white cast of Hello, Dolly! with an all-Black one? The gimmick, which was possibly the only way to boost the box office, would allow him to cash in on the civil rights movement. At the time, C ­ hanning had been with the road production for almost two years, and Ginger Rogers, who first took over the lead in the Broadway production, had been succeeded by Martha Raye and Betty Grable, respectively. Despite the fact that all these women had offered excellent, distinctly individualized interpretations of Dolly, the hit musical was beginning to fade on Broadway. Merrick, it was often argued, would do anything to ensure a long run. Long before the all-Black Hello Dolly!, theater critic Robert Brustein had accused Merrick of too regularly applying “the shameless hucksterism of a modern Barnum,” in his relentless pursuit of money.8 At the same time, however, Black underemployment on Broadway in the late 1960s was a grave problem. Despite the 1952 endeavor of Actors’ Equity to integrate the theatrical world, integration onstage was rare, and a majority of backstage workers, too, were white. Of the 664 production employees on Broadway in the 1967–1968 season, only 14 (2%) were Black.9 Black performers were expected to constantly prove their worthiness; even when they did, they were most often given menial roles like servants or doormen. And for his difficult reputation, Merrick had a demonstrated interest in working with Black theater artists. In 1955, he hired Black stagehands by threatening the union with “publicizing their delaying tactics.”10 Having successfully worked with Black casts in musicals like Jamaica (1957), Merrick was convinced a Black cast could sell as well as a white one. Hello, Dolly! was not the only show for which he used an all-Black cast; he did it again in 1990 with his revival of Oh, Kay!11 When Merrick first approached Pearl Bailey to portray Dolly, she was reluctant to say yes; she was well aware that Merrick was most likely attempting to capitalize on the civil rights era. Already a well-established performer, Bailey had won a Donaldson Award for her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman (1946), received top billing in House of Flowers (1954), and appeared in the film versions of St. Louis Blues (1958) and Porgy and Bess (1959). Despite her misgivings, she finally took the role because “she was thrilled at the idea that she would be performing in a theater where, as a child, she would not have been allowed to come through the front door.”12 Bailey brought her own style to the character Dolly (Figure 19.1), imbuing the character with warm, witty, wise asides and interpolations, and ad libs, as well as plenty of curtain-call chitchat.13 Critics and audiences responded with equal warmth and enthusiasm. Richard P. Cooke for the Wall Street Journal called Bailey “a production all of her own. [She] has more show business talents than almost anyone I can think of, perhaps chief among them her ability to take an audience under her wing…Seldom has stage enthusiasm seemed more genuine.”14 Richard Watts Jr. of The New York Post observed, “I have rarely been among so many unaffectedly enthusiastic spectators. In fact, at the end of the performances, it appeared that they were determined to climb onto the stage en masse and embrace the splendid Miss Bailey.”15 Barely two weeks into Bailey’s run, Walter Kerr humorously claimed in The New York Times, “Eventually people are going to stop going back to see Hello, Dolly! They’ll just settle down and live there.”16 One of the most enthusiastic reviews came from Clive Barnes, also for The New York Times: Miss Bailey had no trouble at all in stopping the show—her problem was getting it started again. On her entrance the audience wouldn’t even let her begin. After about a minute’s applause, she cleared her throat …, murmured, “I’ve a few more words to say in this show…” She had, and a few more to sing. … By the second act the audience was not merely eating out of Miss Bailey’s hand, it had started to chew at her fingernails. …[T]he audience would have elected her Governor if she’d only named the state.17 199

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Figure 19.1  P  earl Bailey descending the stairs with a powerful gesture as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! Photo Courtesy of New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Just like that, a musical that seemed about to close again became the hottest ticket in town. The allBlack Hello, Dolly! ran for two years, until December 20, 1969. Pearl Bailey became the diva that kept the musical going for the longest stretch during its original run. A musical that cost $400,000 to produce eventually made an astounding $27 million on Broadway and $60 million worldwide by 1970.18 The all-Black cast proved controversial from the start. While content that the production supplied so many Broadway jobs for such a long time, Frederick O’Neal, the first African-American president of Actors’ Equity, argued that Hello, Dolly! violated Equity policy by casting according to color rather than ability. Nevertheless, O’Neal stopped short of lodging a formal complaint against Merrick.19 Through the 1960s, and especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., one could taste racial tension in the air. Many Black theater makers, such as Douglas Turner Ward, disapproved of the all-Black Dolly.20 The most astute criticism revolved around the exploitative nature of the casting choices, and the notion that Black performers were hired to make profits and set longevity records on Broadway, while ultimately benefiting the white producer and overwhelmingly white audiences. A week before the opening of the all-Black Dolly!, an article in the Philadelphia Tribune pointed out that some people believed “the all-Negro show is a throwback to the Cotton Club–type shows of the thirties and has set the civil rights movement back 30 years.”21 Theater historian Allen Woll argues that the all-Black Dolly! “harked back to the black Mikados of 1939.”22 These criticisms aside, there are positive social outcomes to Merrick’s experiment. Its success challenged critics, producers, and historians to rethink minority casting. The New York Times critic Clive Barnes was quite upfront about how the production changed his mind: “[F]rankly my sensitive white liberal conscience was offended at the idea of a nonintegrated Negro show. It sounded too much like ‘Blackbirds of 1967,’ and all too patronizing for words. But believe me, from the first to the last I was overwhelmed. Maybe Black Power is what some of the other musicals need.”23

The All-Asian Hello, Dolly! Whereas the all-Black Hello, Dolly! was initiated by a powerful white producer with no small interest in profits, the all-Asian Hello, Dolly! was initiated by Asian-American theater artists as an 200

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activist, nonprofit undertaking. The percentage of Asian-American actors on and off Broadway has been historically diminutive: the employment rate of Asian-American actors in the 2010s is even lower than that of Black actors in the late 1960s. Between the 2006 and 2011 theater seasons in New York City, Asian-Americans were cast in only 2% of roles on Broadway and at major Off-Broadway theaters. From 2012 to 2016, successful shows like Here Lies Love and Allegiance caused that percentage to increase, but only to a still-low 3%. In comparison, African-American actors were cast in 14% of roles, while Caucasian American actors appeared in 79% of roles.24 In a city in which 44% of the population is Caucasian, 26% African-American, and 13% Asian-­ American as of 2016, the casting rate of Asian-Americans, despite a small jump from a dismal 1% in the late 1960s, remains alarmingly meager.25 The increase in Asian-American employment in the theater is due in large part to the growth of predominantly Asian and Asian-American productions and companies, rather than mere racial integration. New York-based companies like Pan Asian Repertory Theater (founded in 1977), the National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO) and the Ma-Yi Theater Company (both founded in 1989), the National Asian Artists Project (NAAP) (founded in 2005), and the Leviathan Lab (founded in 2009) all endeavored to provide more roles for Asian-American performers. Predominantly Asian or Asian-American productions mounted by these companies focus on original works by Asian-­American writers, or produce classics by European and Euro-American writers with predominantly Asian casts. Whereas Pan Asian Rep, Ma-Yi, and Leviathan focused on original works by Asian-Americans, the NAATCO is devoted to adaptations of European and Euro-American classics. The NAAP strikes a balance by producing both canons and original Asian-American works. Asian-American activist organizations also play a crucial role in fighting structural racism in the performing arts. The organization that has been spearheading this mission is the Asian ­A merican Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC), founded by a group of Asian-American actors to increase visibility on New York City’s stages. The AAPAC organizes forums to discuss minority representation in New York theater, and garners statistics that demonstrate and validate their feelings of invisibility. In February 2012 the AAPAC held a roundtable discussion, “Represent Asian: The Changing Face of New York Theater,” featuring notable producers, agents, and casting directors who discussed access to casting opportunities for minority actors, and suggested ways toward a more inclusive theater scene. The AAPAC actively challenges and works to end yellowface and brownface practices (practices in which a non-Asian actor puts on makeup to portray an Asian role) in major US Broadway and Regional theater companies. One example was the group’s condemnation of La Jolla Playhouse’s color-blind casting 26 as a disguise to exclude racial minorities in their 2012 production of The Nightingale, a story set in China. After hearing from Asian-American theater artists, the Artistic Director of La Jolla Playhouse, Christopher Ashley, and The ­Nightingale’s director, Moisés Kaufman, apologized and admitted that they had been unsuccessful at what they tried to do. Color-blind casting has been criticized as well by many scholars, including Neil Gotanda and Brandi Wilkins Catanese.27 Conforming to the nontraditional casting model of marking nonwhite colors as problematic, color blindness ultimately denies racial subordination, represses those who recognize it, and encourages the continuation of racial subjugation. In the context of prevalent exclusive casting practices in mainstream theaters that continuously deny the visibility of the Asian-American theater community, the actor, choreographer, and director Baayork Lee, along with her theater company NAAP, decided to produce Hello, Dolly! with an allAsian cast. Lee was one of the earliest Asian-American stars on Broadway. She made her Broadway debut at five as Princess Ying Yaowolak in the original production of The King and I (1951). After collaborating with Michael Bennett on several Broadway shows, she developed the role of Connie Wong in A Chorus Line (1975) based on her life story. In 2004, Lee became the first Asian-­A merican to direct a nationally renowned company when she directed Cinderella at the New York City Opera. Under her leadership, Cinderella cast the largest number of Asian or Asian-American actors 201

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for a non-Asian specific production in the history of NYCO.28 In 2005, after directing a national tour of The King and I, Lee started a summer musical theater school in New York’s Chinatown. She cofounded NAAP with theater artists Steven Eng and Nina Zoie Lam shortly thereafter. NAAP co-founder Steven Eng has noted that because of Baayork Lee’s lifelong associations with the American musical as an actor, choreographer, and director, she is probably the only Asian-American with the power to produce revivals of classic Broadway musicals in New York.29 No other Asian-American companies, at least in New York, have attempted a revival of a ­Broadway musical. The logical reason is that for Asian-American theater artists who have not developed a close connection with Broadway theater makers, permissions are exceptionally hard to obtain and very costly—especially for production in a New York theater. Lee, however, had plenty of experience: before Hello, Dolly!, she got permission from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization to direct successful all-Asian productions of Oklahoma! (2011) at Theater Row’s Acorn Theatre and Carousel (2012) at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater in New York City. Jerry Herman happily gave NAAP permission to produce Hello, Dolly!, but stipulated that he wanted Lee Roy Reams to direct the production.30 Reams had played Cornelius in the 1974 Broadway revival with Carol Channing, had gone on to direct revivals across the country, and directed the Broadway revival in 1994, again starring Carol Channing. He also made an impact playing Dolly himself in drag at the Wicked Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida in 2015. NAAP accepted the stipulation, and Hello, Dolly! therefore became the sole musical in NAAP’s Rediscover Series that was directed by a non-Asian American artist. In the production, Dolly was portrayed by Christine Toy Johnson, co-founder of the AAPAC and the performer Baayork Lee had in mind for the role from the start. Johnson had been featured extensively on and off Broadway, in regional theaters, in film, and on television. As a writer, her plays and musicals have been produced across the country by companies like Prospect Theater and the O’Neill Theater Center. In 2012, Johnson founded the Asian American Composers and Lyricists Project to give voice to new Asian-American talent in the musical theater. Johnson considered Dolly to be one of the most exciting roles in her acting career. When asked about her approach to the character, she stressed that Dolly to her was not “white”: “I did not play Dolly as ‘white.’ I played her as a human being whose qualities and characteristics illuminated a story that was not defined by race or ethnicity. She just happened to look like me.”31 Johnson cherished the significance of “adding a different community experience into the mix of the storytelling” and “representing this particular community that is not usually in this particular show. … The end result is about being inclusive (Figure 19.2).”32

Figure 19.2  Christine Toy Johnson dancing with her all-Asian company as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! Photo Courtesy of Eric Bondoc.


“Before the Parade Passes By”

The all-Asian Hello, Dolly! only ran for two performances, on April 29 and May 6, 2013. Unlike David Merrick’s lucrative enterprise, this production was staged by a nonprofit organization with an unpaid staff. All the work behind the NAAP’s productions was performed by highly motivated volunteers who worked either for free or for a humble honorarium. To raise funding, the NAAP held online and mailing fundraising campaigns, school campaigns, self-sustaining programs, and auctions.33 A Kickstarter campaign raised $15,320.34 The box office was a success—the first night was almost filled and the second night was sold out. The ticket sales, however, did not cover production costs. Two Monday nights at the new Signature Theater complex on 42nd Street were ultimately all the NAAP could afford. A Rediscover Series production, the all-Asian Hello, Dolly! did not specifically target Asian-American audiences. On those two nights of performances, the majority of the audience members were white—just like at the all-Black Hello, Dolly! The production represented the collective talents of artists of Asian descent, and sent a collective message to the Broadway world, which so often excluded Asians. Without stringently demarcating between a “white” show and an Asian-American show, the cast and company have strategically navigated porous boundaries to redefine what it means to be simultaneously inclusive and celebratory of difference. On the one hand, NAAP stayed faithful to the sociocultural setting of the musical and did not turn Dolly into a culturally visible Asian or Asian-American character. This is a statement that Asian-Americans were sharing in the inclusive experience articulated in Dolly musical about an outsider using wit and charm to achieve happiness and social status. On the other hand, NAAP disruptively inserted all-Asian presence into a Broadway blockbuster that is traditionally played by white actors and a genre that has been dominantly white, and thus celebrating Asian and Asian-American difference and prominence on and off stage. It is equally crucial for Asian-American theater makers to diversify the Broadway musical by increasing minority representation on Broadway as it is to create works for, about, and by Asian-Americans in the first place. The ability to traverse, however paradoxically, between exceptionality and inclusivity is key to Asian-American theater practitioners’ artistry and social advocacy. Esther Kim Lee writes, “Perhaps when American theater truly includes all ­A mericans, Asian American theater will cease to exist.”35 Nevertheless, even when American theater truly embraces all Americans, it will still be significant that Asian-Americans and other racial and cultural minorities continue to highlight their minoritarian influence and celebrate their exceptionality. In a Hello, Dolly! production with a minority cast, when a minority actor sings the declaration song “Before the Parade Passes By” to celebrate the ways she stands apart from the majority or normative, the musical shifts into a new and profound realm of representation and semantics. “With the rest of them, with the best of them,” Dolly proclaims; here, her solo declaration becomes a collective statement of advocacy. Collectively they “hold [their] head up high”; just as Dolly declares, they will be able to “raise the roof,” and “carry on!” The declaration becomes an opportunity the minority community creates for itself—not one that is handed to them. In 1967, Pearl Bailey created a second chance for herself and some of her fellow Black artists. In 2013, Baayork Lee and NAAP created a similar opportunity for an Asian-American theater company. Hello, Dolly! works well to celebrate both groups. Clearly, Broadway took notice: Pearl Bailey and Baayork Lee were recipients of Special Tonys for their respective achievements. Bailey was awarded a Special Tony in 1968 for her Hello, Dolly! performance and Lee received the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award in 2017 for her “a substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations.” 36 When we parse the musical from the perspective of the outsider, it seems Hello, Dolly! is meant to be performed by minority artists. “Don’t go where you’re tolerated; go where you’re celebrated,” says Christine Toy Johnson. As the world 203

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experiences a global shift to the right, and US immigration policies have begun to tear families apart, it is time for racial, sexual, and other minorities to “move out in front,” and fight for inclusion and the celebration of difference before the parade of justice and equality passes by.

Notes 1 John Oxenford. A Day Well Spent: A Farce in One Act. London: John Miller Publisher, 1836. 2 William Goldman. The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969. 170. The 21 Club, also known as ’21, is a high-end restaurant and bar where many US Presidents dined. It has held private wine collections for celebrities and hosted pre-ball parties for the biennial International Debutante Ball. 3 Stanley Green. World of Musical Comedy. London: The Tantivy Press, 1980. 2. 4 Ethan Mordden. Open a New Window: The Broadway Musical in the 1960s. New York: Palgrave for St. Marvin’s Press, 2002. 5 Howard Kissel. David Merrick: An Unauthorized Biography. New York: Applause Co., 1993. 6 Stephen Citron. Jerry Herman: Poet of the Showtune. New Haven: Yale UP, 2004. 102. 7 Stacy Wolf. Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 73. 8 Robert Brustein. “A Buccaneer on Broadway.” New Public. 2 Feb. 1963, 26–27. 9 Allen Woll. Black Musical Theatre: From Coontown to Dreamgirls. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U, 1989. 226–227. 10 Woll, 221. In 1952, in response to the alarming data regarding Black employment on Broadway, Actors Equity, together with the League of New York Theaters, the Dramatists’ Guild, the Negro Actors Guild, and the NAACP, attempted to increase Black employment rate and integrate the theatrical world. The backstage life on Broadway, however, continued to be all-white in the following years. Merrick’s insistence on hiring Black stagehands in 1955 may be seen as a continuation of the theatrical organizations’ effort in 1952. 11 Enid Nemy. “Merrick’s Oh, Kay!” New York Times. 1 June 1990, section C, 2:1. 12 Kissel, 364. 13 Citron, 112. 14 Richard P. Cooke. “Pearl as Dolly.” Wall Street Journal. 14 Nov. 1967. 15 Richard Watts Jr., “Pearl Bailey and the New ‘Dolly’.” New York Post. 13 Nov. 1967. 16 Walter Kerr. “Life with ‘Dolly’ Is Delovely.” New York Times. 26 Nov. 1967. 17 Clive Barnes. “All-Negro ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Has Its Premiere.” New York Times. 13 Nov. 1967. 18 McCandlish Phillips. “Broadway Bids Dolly a Fond Adieu.” New York Times. 28 Dec. 1970, 38:1. 19 Woll, 228. 20 Nat Hentoff. “The Negro Celebrates the Negro.” New York Times. 17 Dec. 1967. 21 Walter Bailey. “Pearl Bailey–Cab Calloway ‘Hello, Dolly!’” Philadelphia Tribune. 4 Nov. 1967. 22 Woll, 228. 23 Barnes, “All-Negro ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Has Its Premiere.” 24 “Stats Report.” Asian American Performers Action Coalition Official Website, Web. 18 Feb. 2016. . 25 US Census Official Website, Web. 8 July 2017. . 26 Color-blind casting, one of the four categories of non-traditional casting put forth by the Non-­ Traditional Casting Project in 1986, depicts the practice that actors are cast without regard to their race or ethnicity. Despite its popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, color-blind casting has been denounced by many for fostering systematic denial of racial subordination. One of the most famous public denouncements of color-blind casting was presented by August Wilson in his debate with Robert Brustein in 1996. See Angela C. Pao. No Safe Spaces: Re-casting Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in American Theater. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2010. 27 See Neil Gotanda. “A Critique of ‘Our Constitution Is Color-Blind.’” Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge. Ed. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2000, and Brandi Wilkins Catanese. The Problem of the Color[blind]: Racial Transgression and the Politics of Black Performance. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2011. 28 NAAP Official Website, Web. 2 July 2017. . Baayork Lee’s other directorial credits of Broadway musicals on tour include: Bombay Dream, Barnum, Porgy and Bess, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Carmen Jones.


“Before the Parade Passes By” 29 30 31 32 33 34

Skype interview with Steven Eng, 3 July 2017. Ibid. Christine Toy Johnson’s email to the author, 14 May 2017. Phone interview with Christine Toy Johnson, 4 July 2017. Skype interview with Steven Eng, 3 July 2017. “All Asian-American HELLO, DOLLY! in New York City.” Kickstarter Campaigns. Web. 28 May 2017. . 35 Esther Kim Lee. A History of Asian American Theatre. New York: Cambridge UP, 2006. 226. 36 “Special Tony Award.” Tony Awards Official Website, Web. 28 June 2017. .


20 RACE AND THE CITY Racial Formation in Avenue Q Stefanie A. Jones

Often described as an adult Sesame Street, Avenue Q (music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx; book by Jeff Whitty) depicts recent college grad Princeton as he moves to a working-class neighborhood in New York and learns how to become an adult. For a show that touts itself as breaking the rules through its open discussion of racism, sex, and schadenfreude, Avenue Q has found remarkable mainstream resonance. It premiered Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theater in February 2003 and ran through mid-May,1 reopening on Broadway in July 2003 and closing in September 2009. It then transferred again Off Broadway, to New World Stages, where it is still running as of this writing.2 Avenue Q received numerous positive reviews and was one of the first musicals in the 2003–2004 season to turn a profit; it remains a commercially successful property.3 In this chapter I assess values espoused by this contradictory work, based on sociological theories of racism. Rather than looking at the show through a “lens of race,” which presumes that there is a nonracial way of encountering the contemporary world and its cultural objects, I focus on the how and why of this musical’s racial work. All plays in a racial society have raced characters; I ask how Avenue Q constructs the social relations of its racialized characters, in order to illuminate the power dynamics of those social relations. By analyzing the relationship between real-world racial hierarchy and the musical’s racial formation (the order, and rules that determine that order, as they exist within the world of the musical) I argue that Avenue Q stabilizes rather than destabilizes racial categories, and uses those categories to disseminate power and flexibility to white people, and to disseminate stereotypes about and power away from people of color. Although “antiracism” is commonly understood as an umbrella term for progressive racial politics, “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” as antiracism actually serves the economic interests of Avenue Q’s elite audience members. After reviewing theories of racism and discussing how I will use those within a sociology of theater methodology, I analyze three elements of racial formation within Avenue Q. First I look at how the musical creates racial categories and assigns characters to them, as well as the consequences of those assignments. Next I examine how these racial categories and their relationships to one another are strengthened by how the show depicts racism and delimits the response to it. Finally, I explore how that hierarchy is structurally about urban housing, with symbolic and potentially material implications for resource distribution in New York City.

Theoretical Framework and Methodology While the term has several contested meanings,4 many sociologists operate within the framework of racism as “a system of advantage based on race.”5 This is in contrast to a popular understanding 206

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of racism as individual beliefs about essential biological differences between people that lead to prejudice and discrimination. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva critiques this latter “idealist” approach because, in emphasizing ideas as “the root of social action,” it reduces “racism mostly to psychology, which has produced a simplistic schematic view of the way racism operates in society.”6 Even the institutionalist definition used by Kwame Ture and Charles Hamilton, who in Black Power were some of the earliest thinkers interpreting racism as prejudice coupled with power, depended on the idea that racism reflected conscious, race-based decision-making. While some racism is individual interpersonal prejudice and discrimination, much is left out of this commonsense definition. By rooting understandings of racism in individual beliefs, theorists operating from this position cannot address racism’s structural impacts and forms, its existence in less overtly racist societies than the United States, the rewards that perpetuate it, its foundational role in social structures, and its capacity to change over time in specific ways. Within definitions that focus on racism as systemic rather than personal, there are also various approaches. One major example, Omi and Winant’s racial formation theory, emphasizes society’s “comprehensively racialized…structure,” 7 defining racism as an initiative that “creates or reproduces structures of domination based on essentialist categories of race.”8 Conversely, ­Bonilla-Silva highlights social processes over essentializing ideologies; both camps, however, recognize society’s fundamentally racial shape. Bonilla-Silva defines racism as an independent “organizing principle of social relations” that produces for groups subordination and superordination according to differentials of power and reward distributed in arenas like the economic, political, social, and psychological.9 We thus might use the term “racial hierarchization” synonymously with racism and “racial hierarchy” to refer to the consequences for individuals or groups under racism’s social regimes. Expanding this conversation further, Ruth Wilson Gilmore understands racism as “the production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerabilities to premature death.”10 Although “premature death” may seem like a new part of the definition of racism, Gilmore is merely providing a more detailed analysis of what exactly is entailed in the “advantage” within “a system of advantage based on race.” Gilmore’s definition accounts for ways racism operates beyond individual or group intentions; thus, like Bonilla-Silva’s, it’s a material, not idealist, perspective. Gilmore refuses an economic-reductionist view of the material, insisting on a materiality in the world that is no less real simply because it is not monetary. This definition thus avoids pitfalls of other existing definitions of racism that Bonilla-Silva describes, and is capacious enough to account for racially hierarchized issues as wide-ranging as environmental racism, police violence, and the prison-­industrial complex, as well as the impacts of racial hierarchization that extend across socioeconomic class. A final benefit of this definition is its reflection of the urgency of redressing racial hierarchy: racism truly is, Gilmore stakes, a question of life or death. Theater studies approaches tend to focus on questions of racial representation rather than the particular operation of racism itself. Theater scholars ask questions like, “In what ways are various races represented in this particular musical?”11 or “How does this work innovate from previous racial representation in the theater?”12 While these excellent questions often provide answers that overlap with issues of racial hierarchization within and beyond the theater, I am interested in the relationship between sociological inquiries into racism and the field of sociology of theater studies. These studies ask questions like, “What are the consequences of these policies for theater-makers, including people of color?”13 or “What anxieties about or new understandings of race are managed in these works?”14 My methodology herein takes up an appropriate theater object, the musical Avenue Q, through the earlier-outlined discourse on racism. I examine how the musical produces racial difference and resultant racial groups, how it hierarchizes those groups and the results of that hierarchization, and how that racial structure is entangled with issues of urban housing. As housing is a basic human need, access to it is fundamentally an issue of vulnerability to premature death. 207

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The Racialized Social Relations of Avenue Q Racialization for characters in the musical is accomplished through various factors including the nature and behavior of each character (including how their gender and class are constructed), the way the character is performed, and the physical appearance of the puppets and the bodies of the performers and puppeteers. Accounting for each of these elements reveals that Avenue Q constructs a tight linkage between traditional biological markers of race and the production of raced characters. Those links reproduce stereotypes of blackness and Asianness, and rehash theater’s historical role in the creation of those stereotypes. The first, most obvious way the musical constructs race is through appearance. The puppets are of various colors; yet most are not accompanied by markers of racialization. Princeton is a yellow-orange puppet, Lucy is light pink, Rod is blue, Nicky is green. Some puppets are racially marked, however: a separate group of slightly fuzzier puppets is racialized as “Monsters”; in addition to appearance, the audience can tell that Monsters are a race because of how other characters subject them to racism. The puppets who are not Monsters are marked as white through their very depiction as racially neutral.15 Through their nonhuman coloration (blue, green, orange, etc.) the non-Monster puppets untie race from skin color, but because “raced” Monsters are indicated by a feature of their bodies (having fur), race amongst puppets remains biological. The musical’s connection between race and skin color is strengthened by the fact that the vast majority of puppeteers in the history of the production are white. The Monster puppet characters, whose puppeteers are also typically white, are predominantly marked as racially neutral; the very rare exception is when other characters enact racism upon them. The Monsters’ whiteness is especially evident when compared to the distinctly racially marked black and Asian characters. In addition to the puppets and their operators, the musical features non-puppet characters who are racially scripted in alignment with the appearance of the actors playing them. The first of these is Brian, who is not racially marked (which neutrality marks him as white), and is described in the character list as “a laid-back guy.”16 Another is Gary Coleman. As a reference to and representation of the famous African-American actor of the same name, he is marked as black through a character description that reads “Yes, that Gary Coleman,” and through the script: his lines alone are littered with dropped final “r”s and “g”s, and words like “yo’,” “d’ja,” “ain’t,” and “don’tcha.” Representation of racial stereotype continues throughout the show, as Coleman’s numbers each depend on the performance of stereotypical blackness. For example, Coleman’s big Act 1 number, “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love),” is inflected with jazzy notes, brass, and sexually explicit lyrics, meant to mark it as “black” music.17 The Asian-American non-puppet character Christmas Eve, “a therapist who moved here from Japan,” is described as speaking “with a subtle Japanese dialect. In instances where hitting the dialect is necessary to make a point, comic or otherwise, it’s noted in the script” (ix). This note is unnecessary since this “dialect” is demanded through the script: each of Christmas Eve’s lines is missing propositions or verbs, or contains malapropisms or mispronunciations like “sucka” and “ruv.” Scholar Daphne Brooks positions Avenue Q within a legacy of racist popular theater: “Avenue Q’s critical and box-office success reminded the theater world of the persistently marketable and ever-seductive appeal of minstrel culture at the dawn of the twenty-first century.” Brooks notes further that the show “trad[es] burnt cork for felt marionettes” to reflect minstrelsy’s “resurgent popularity.”18 While Brooks’s critique extends to the show as a whole, Gary Coleman’s depiction is a key part of how the musical relates to minstrelsy. In particular, the show makes Coleman the punch line for its jokes. One example comes before Coleman joins the number “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist.” Two nonblack characters are about to make a black joke when Coleman appears, catching


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them in the middle of their illicit humor. His first line in this scene is “Whatchoo talkin’ about Kate?” Instead of the joke that was about to be told, this acts as a performative “black joke,” a kind of scriptus interruptus that reveals the playwrights’ and audience’s anxieties about talking about race. While any scripted black joke might lose its humor over time, or be subject to explicit deconstruction or a linchpin fomenting radical rejection, the joke of this performance—particularly because, as a reference to another performance, it relies on meta-theatrical humor—is more likely to remain funny. The performance of the actor playing Coleman is the punch line; an audience member, unable to be singled out from the whole, is safe to laugh at this black joke as part of the crowd.19 By comically re-performing Gary Coleman’s famous line from the late-1970s television sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, the actor playing Coleman is asked to represent simplified, outdated comedic blackness for the audience’s pleasure. The character resonates with and is inextricable from theater’s history as a site of violence against and profit from blackness and black people. Coleman’s minstrel implications are only enhanced when productions cast white actors to play the character behind a black puppet. Much of Avenue Q’s comedy also comes through the depiction of Christmas Eve and the show’s structural entanglements with yellowface. While Avenue Q’s use of yellowface is most clearly demonstrated through its casting practices involving numerous instances of white actors cast as Christmas Eve, it also encompasses dehumanizing depictions of Asian characters performed by actors of any descent because those forms of racial representation are part of the American theater’s legacy of yellowface practices. While some actors do portray her humanity, the performance practices that the script demands of and that many productions direct onto Christmas Eve nonetheless constitute her as a yellowface type: in addition to her “dialect,” the reader can find many visual examples of costuming and makeup choices that produce a caricatured trope of Asianness. In a recent search, for example, I saw the effect created through Orientalized costume (often a kimono), exaggerated makeup that sometimes included white face paint, and/or performance styles like walking with mincing steps and bobbling head, or speaking with widened eyes and over-exaggerated facial expressions. Yet these exact moments are also scripted for comedic purpose. In one example, Christmas Eve encourages a friend to pursue a man: “You go get him! A man respond to an aggressive woman. (To [her fiancé] BRIAN, pushing him) You! Go get job!” The humor of this bit and the pleasure for the audience depend on the juxtaposition between its parts. The first two sentences are relatable: Christmas Eve reaches out in solidarity to a character whose romantic interest is meant to be appealing to the audience. Yet we are quickly distanced from this connection when Christmas Eve acts violently, pushing her fiancé and yelling at him. We are thus pulled away from intimacy with Christmas Eve and into further alignment with her white friend. As Christmas Eve enacts the stereotype of married Asian woman as work-obsessed shrew, this distancing moment, and thus the group-making patterned for the audience, is a moment of distinctly racial group-making.

Racial Hierarchization in Avenue Q The major feature that defines the relations between characters (and the groups they represent) in Avenue Q is the neighborhood in which they live. That the musical is named after their block makes it evident that it’s central to the conceit of the show. Princeton joins the group of Avenue Q residents through “It Sucks to Be Me,” coming across the other major characters comparing their lack of employment and romantic opportunities on the street outside their apartments. What sucks about Princeton’s life is that he can’t afford more convenient housing and must move to Avenue Q; his discussion of housing costs becomes linked to each character’s complaints through song, further inflecting the number with class-based limitations on a fulfilling life. Although the characters agree that Gary Coleman is worst off, the number ends with the characters singing


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together, linking their issues to both their location and their relationship to each other, unified even in their difference. In this way Avenue Q is depicted simultaneously as shared location and shared circumstance. “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” builds on this depiction of the characters as on equitable footing because of their similar class position while working through the possibility of racial tension. In this number, characters make or experience judgments based on interpersonal prejudice about their racial group. The verses reflect “discussion” about different, well-known examples of such prejudice, like telling a racist joke, saying “you people,” or using a non-PC term to refer to someone. By “working through” racism, the verses lead to social cohesion expressed through the shared lyrics and harmonious, catchy chorus. Embodying the song’s growing social consensus, the number of characters singing the chorus increases after each verse. The message of the song is that group acceptance of the idea that “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” will ease and erase racial conflict. The racist precipitating incidents in the song are as follows: Princeton (non-Monster puppet, white) asks Kate Monster (Monster puppet, white) if she and another Monster character are related; Kate tells Princeton about her desire to open a school for Monsters that would exclude non-Monsters; Gary Coleman (African-American) admits liking Polish jokes; Brian (white) calls Christmas Eve (Asian-American) a racial slur; Christmas Eve critiques white people, Jewish people, and taxi drivers. By focusing on interpersonal harms and presenting them as equal, the show equates the experiences of people of color with those of white people and Monsters, thereby trivializing racism and establishing it as universally experienced. If everyone’s experience of racism is identical, then racism cannot produce different group outcomes.20 This equalization symbolically deauthorizes people of color who might otherwise make uniquely powerful claims about adverse effects of prejudice in order to counteract a history of race-based discrimination against them. At the same time, white people gain more symbolic power through the equation of their experiences of prejudice with “racism” through a rewriting of history. By being classified as “racism,” white experiences become associated with socially rejected examples of racism, like Jim Crow, and with widely recognized historical struggles against racism, like the Civil Rights Movement. Perversely, the contributions of Gary Coleman and Christmas Eve amplify the song’s message that all racisms are the same. Because these characters and their stances are often embodied by actors of color, their participation further legitimates this reinterpretation of the history of racism. Thus, Avenue Q denies that racialization creates inequality, while simultaneously creating inequitable racial categories that resonate with theater’s historically powerful racist representations like minstrel and yellowface depictions. Avenue Q’s double-edged racial project, which we might summarize as disavowed group-making and hierarchizing, itself creates further racial hierarchization. By falsely equating all forms of prejudice to delegitimize critiques of racism alongside its strengthening of racial categories through racist representation, Avenue Q symbolically undermines those positioned within these categories, deauthorizing people of color while symbolically uplifting those positioned as white. We can see this disproportionate, group-differentiated distribution of symbolic power even more starkly through examination of how the musical authorizes whiteness. While the worldviews of black and Asian people are discounted through the plot’s reliance on and justification for stereotype, Princeton’s worldview is legitimated, especially through his position as the protagonist. If shared circumstances, indicated as class, equalize Avenue Q’s racial groups, it’s important to indicate that Princeton’s class is distinct from his neighbors. Princeton’s race and class are invisibilized within the production for those who share his position, as the majority of the audience for Broadway musicals does. In addition, Princeton’s class is obscured because he experiences temporary economic hardship through the musical. Yet from a working 210

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class perspective, it’s obvious that Princeton is middle- or upper-class; the temporary experience of economic hardship, so relatable to educated, white, economically elite spectators, is itself an experience limited to the bourgeoisie. Despite the musical’s attention to his experiences of hardship, Princeton’s preppy dress and Ivy League name, and relationships to family, material goods, and work point toward his class: instead of being fired, Princeton is laid-off; before that, his “parents sen[d] all of [his] stuff from home!” Even when unemployed, he has access to credit cards, the Internet, a cell phone, spending money, furniture, carryout food, clothes, newspapers, magazines, books, television, and his own lethargy. After his job loss Princeton reveals not that he is impoverished, just “almost broke”: he has savings and parents to fall back on. Princeton’s decisions and behavior are the show’s most important indications of his economic position. Early in the musical Princeton moves to a new city and signs a lease (with the implied two to three times the monthly rent for a security deposit), only to learn that the job he moved for does not exist. Instead of fleeing his debts and obligations, turning to relatives or alternative housing options like shelters or the street, seeking temporary or less attractive work, selling possessions or his body, or drowning his sorrows, Princeton copes with this nightmare scenario by turning to the frivolous pastime of seeking his purpose. Work for Princeton, then, is less about survival than to create meaning in his life. This distinctly bourgeois drive, the motivating force of the plot, is the connection between desire, labor, and livelihood, as though one’s labor under capitalism should or could be justified by a higher moral standing central to what gives life meaning and value. His drive for purpose is what moves the musical’s plot forward, and is teasingly idolized in the song “Purpose.” These features of Princeton’s class are recognized by audiences, just not as markers of class. What working-class spectators might see as class distinction is instead familiarized, affirming Princeton’s position as the norm. Princeton’s economic privilege “directly experiences the immediate sanction of the bourgeois public”21; further symbolic power is granted Princeton and his dominant position with respect to the other characters. By positioning Princeton as on equal footing as his less-wealthy neighbors, the show disguises his power over them so that it can demonstrate his belonging among them in the city.

Living in Harmony: Access to the City as Antiracism As we’ve seen, through group formation and hierarchization, white people, especially the bourgeoisie, are positioned as the most legitimate, and black and Asian people are debased and positioned as illegitimate, especially on issues of racism. Avenue Q utilizes that symbolic differential to justify white access to city spaces associated with people of color. The musical’s setting is mostly “on the avenue:” an authentic block in an ungentrified urban neighborhood. Avenue Q’s relationship to New York City is important to its market success; it failed in Las Vegas despite its touted “adult humor.” 22 The show’s brand identity depends on a variety of city-centric components: the title, intertextual connections with other works set in New York, even the brand symbol itself, which mimics the symbol of an MTA subway line. Avenue Q is a liminal space for Princeton, in which his identity can be honed and he can discover himself. Yet it is not his apartment so much as the city itself that is important for this transition. Living on Avenue Q creates shared circumstances and cross-racial contact, but the musical prohibits Avenue Q from being home for most of its characters by positioning “elsewhere”—New York City more broadly—as the place to be, and representing Avenue Q as distant from that elsewhere and liminal (between other parts of these characters’ lives). For example, when Princeton mopes at the top of Act 2, his neighbors comfort him not by inviting him to their homes, but with 211

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the number “There Is Life Outside Your Apartment.” Princeton’s recovery from his breakup and his progress toward somewhat-adulthood is secured during this venture, symbolized by his acquiring a new sexual partner at the end of the group’s jaunt. In another example, when C ­ hristmas Eve and Brian achieve economic stability at the end of the musical, they declare that they are moving to a new neighborhood. The generalized urban space of the show is connected to New York’s specific locational appeal, as emphasized by Avenue Q’s creators. In the script’s afterword, Whitty discusses various changes during the run: Originally, Brian and Christmas Eve moved to the Lower East Side at show’s end. But as Avenue Q continued its run, that neighborhood grew ever chic-er. So we changed it to Hell’s Kitchen for some of the Q companies - a neighborhood that sounded threatening, but then the day came when Hell’s Kitchen also became trendy. Another change was in order! Brian and Christmas Eve’s current destination is Flushing, Queens. (Investment tip: buy property in Flushing immediately, as it’s bound to become the hot new place to live.)23 The work is thus changed over time to fit a particular understanding of and desire for “threatening” if gentrifiable neighborhoods. A sense of urban authenticity, especially through contact with pre-gentrification populations depicted as economically struggling racial others, is central to the show’s appeal. Princeton’s access to these neighborhoods and these populations is prioritized; he operates as a stand-in who can pursue the audience’s desires. Not only does Princeton deserve access to these working-class neighborhoods to facilitate his coming-of-age, but his character is also defined by his capacity to leave for better neighborhoods, and the inevitability of that departure. This deservingness is shaped through Princeton’s stance antiracism. While Princeton’s class position enables him to live on Avenue Q, the symbolic authority the white characters gain from their resolution to racism facilitates and justifies Princeton’s access to the authentic New York. The musical’s characters achieve belonging through common circumstances, and maintain it through their resolution of conflict within their shared space. The white puppet characters’ romantic difficulties provide the major source of conflict that shapes the plot. The only conflict within this community that involves residents of color is resolved as it is broached: the potential for racism raised in “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist.” By returning to this number, we can see how the white characters are uniquely figured as the solution to racism in a way that not only makes the community open to them, but in a way that makes them needed in the community. In “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” the characters discuss racism and then decide what they should do about it. By accepting the universality of racial prejudice, everyone will be able to relax, get along, and cohabitate harmoniously in opposition to racism’s divisiveness. The process enacted through the song, admitting one’s little bit of racism, is also celebrated as a solution to racism itself. Reading “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” as antiracism further reveals how it privileges whiteness and advances the importance of racial contact. Getting beyond racism is necessary, according to this number, because sensitivities about racism are depicted as preventing racial harmony. This is conveyed through the content of the lyrics and the song’s structure: its verses, about racial conflict, interrupt the harmonious chorus. Because racial harmony is the inevitable result of getting beyond racism, the song implies that people’s intentions are good, or at least neutral. Sensitivity about racism prevents the revelation of these good intentions, which will become obvious if people are given enough time and contact to truly express themselves. The internal logic of “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” as antiracism depends on increased racial contact between white people and others. The real means of overcoming racism


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takes the form of generating sufficient contact for white people to speak about race to people of color, revealing their genuinely good character without being unjustly attacked. This antiracism presumes and structurally depends on the idea that everyone has good politics and that discussing racism itself is the problem, modeling the idealist perspective on racism that sociologists like Bonilla-Silva critiqued earlier in the chapter. It’s only through racial contact that white people can prove they aren’t racist, by getting beyond the racism they might perform and to their inner benevolence and good politics. The number’s vision of the end of racism is really one about cohabitating without tension. With the song’s final lyrics, living together becomes the goal of resolving racism. While this might read as a vision for desegregation, the symbolic power differential that Avenue Q’s racialization creates prohibits people of color from being able to critique racism. When people of color try to address racism, they are positioned as not accepting the narrative of the song, and therefore as always fomenting racial tension. Even as a vision of desegregation, then, this antiracism still organizes racial groups hierarchically. White people need to access the city to be antiracist, and are needed in the city because of their antiracism. The musical thus always has a place for Princeton; low-income housing is ultimately not in high demand, and the question of who Princeton displaces is never raised. Living together on Avenue Q is only achievable through neutralizing racism; white people are uniquely capable of doing so. Thus Avenue Q authorizes white, bourgeois access to the city, while delegitimizing opposition from people of color in the name of resisting “racism.” It’s no surprise, then, that this particular antiracism is in opposition to material antiracisms in the black radical tradition,24 in particular powerful urban movements against gentrification that have arisen especially after the turn of the millennium. Of various degrees of formality, militancy, and longevity, movements led by black and brown working-class urban-dwelling people push against the very project promoted by Avenue Q under the framework of anti-gentrification. Examples include the B ­ rooklyn ­A nti-Gentrification Network, Community Movement Builders in Atlanta, Defend Boyle Heights in Los Angeles,25 and Defend Our Hoodz in Austin, Texas. Indeed, a significant body of scholarship and activism addresses how white people displace residents rather than desegregate neighborhoods that have historically been occupied by people of color, and critiques connections between gentrification, racism, and police violence.26 By suggesting that development forces and urban actors should invest in current residents and the improvement of their lives, these groups operate under a material antiracist alternative to the racial politics discussed here. Their demands vary over time and location, but seek to address racial inequality through the downward redistribution of resources,27 rather than through market concessions to white gentrification demand like that shaped by Avenue Q.

Conclusion By reproducing anti-black and anti-Asian racism while using the racialization of certain puppets as Monsters to delimit what kind of racialization is legible, Avenue Q reinforces the content and boundaries of racial categories. In addition, the musical symbolically empowers the hierarchized positions of these racial groups within the musical and with respect to the broader field of urban living. The musical uses these hierarchies to create white relocation to nonwhite urban spaces as a form of antiracism, in opposition to the material antiracist positions on housing and the city promoted by anti-gentrification organizers. New York City’s theater scene is deeply entangled with real estate markets. A few examples beyond the scope of this study are the ways theater spaces relate to the commodification of city space more broadly,28 tourism’s impact on the housing market (such as through AirBnB), the large population of professional actors who seek short-term or temporary housing because of touring


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productions, and the displacement of impoverished communities to build theaters like Lincoln Center.29 Although the racial formation within Avenue Q does not distribute housing resources itself, the musical distributes symbolic power disproportionately to groups that it differentiates on the basis of race. This power shapes cultural values about who can want what, why, and how they might get it. While the integration of segregated communities doesn’t result from white-driven gentrification of historically black or Asian city spaces, a commonsense understanding of white relocation as somehow antiracist serves gentrification and stalls wholesale resistance to it. A single musical may not immediately lead to the life or death consequences of being housed or unhoused, but it is inextricable from the costs of gentrification.

Notes 1 Web. 15 Sept. 2016. 2 Dave Itzkoff. “‘Avenue Q’ Won’t Close, Moving Off But Not Out.” New York Times. 15 Sept. 2009. Web. 23 June 2015. . 3 Bruce Weber. “The Puppets Who Made a Profit.” New York Times. 30 May 2004. Web. 20 June 2015. ; Jesse ­McKinley. “To Producers of ‘Avenue Q,’ Puppets Now Mean Profits.” New York Times. 1 May 2014. Web. 23 June 2015. . 4 Carl Hoyt, Jr., “The Pedagogy of the Meaning of Racism: Reconciling a Discordant Discourse.” Social Work 57.3 (2012): 225–234. 5 David Wellman, quoted in Beverly Daniels Tatum. “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and Other Conversations about Race. New York: Basic Books, 1997. 101. 6 Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. White Supremacy & Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001. 21–22. 7 Michael Omi and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1994. 190. 8 Omi and Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 206. 9 Bonilla-Silva, White Supremacy & Racism, 44–45. 10 Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: U of California P, 2007. 28. 11 Warren Hoffman. The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2014. 12 Jayna Brown. Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern. Durham: Duke UP, 2008. 13 Hillary Miller. Drop Dead: Performance in Crisis, 1970s New York. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2016. 14 David Savran. Highbrow/Lowdown: Theater, Jazz, and the Making of the New Middle Class. Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 2009. 15 Ruth Frankenberg. “The Mirage of an Unmarked Whiteness.” The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness. Ed. Birgit Brander Rasmussen, Eric Klinenberg, Irene J. Nexica, and Matt Wrey. Durham: Duke UP, 2001. 72–96. 16 This and all other quotations from Avenue Q are from Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, and Jeff Whitty. Avenue Q The Musical: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical. Milwaukee: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2010. 17 Portia K. Maultsby. “Soul Music: Its Sociological and Political Significance in American Popular ­Culture.” Journal of Popular Culture 17.2 (1983): 51–60; Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003. 106. 18 Daphne Brooks. Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850–1910. Durham: Duke UP, 2006. 345. 19 On audience pleasure and anonymity, see Laura Mulvey. Visual and Other Pleasures. 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009; on the audience as theatrical convention, see Herbert Blau. The Audience. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990. 20 Only race-based difference is treated this way; while it dismisses the legitimacy of differentiations caused by experiences of racism, the show validates differences between people based on gender and sexuality through happy resolution of Princeton’s love triangle and the number “If You Were Gay.” 21 Pierre Bourdieu. The Field of Cultural Production. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. 51.


Race and the City 22 Hilary Baker. “From Broadway to Vegas: The Triumphs and Tribulations of Avenue Q.” Studies in Musical Theatre 5.1 (2011): 71–83. 23 Lopez, Marx, and Whitty, Avenue Q, 150, emphasis in original. 24 Robin D. G. Kelley expands on Cedric Robinson’s understanding of this tradition and recuperates its presence in US movements and ideas. Robin D. G. Kelley. Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Boston: Beacon Press, 2002; Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression. Chapel Hill: The U of North Carolina P, 1990; Cedric Robinson. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill: The U of North Carolina P, 1983. 25 See Kimberly Welch. “Sideways Fences: Resisting Gentrification in Boyle Heights, a Los Angeles Community.” Lateral 6.2 (2017), . 26 Some work includes Neil Smith. “Toward a Theory of Gentrification: A Back to the City Movement by Capital, not People.” Journal of American Planning Association 45.4 (1979): 538–548; Mason Lorna, Ed Morlock, and Christina Pisano. “Mapping a Changing Brooklyn, Mapping a Changing World: Gentrification and Immigration, 2000–2008.” The World in Brooklyn: Gentrification, Immigration, and Ethnic Politics in a Global City. Ed. Judith DeSena and Timothy Shortell. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013. 7–49; David Harvey. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. New York: Verso, 2012; Aneta Dybska. “Where the War on Poverty and Black Power Meet: A Right to the City Perspective on American Urban Politics in the 1960s.” European Journal of American Studies 10.3 (2015): 1–14; Cedric Johnson. “Gentrifying New Orleans: Thoughts on Race and the Movement of Capital.” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society 17.3–4 (2015): 175–200; the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, . 27 I reflect an opposite to the “upward redistribution of resources” with which Duggan names major economic transitions over the past 25 years. Lisa Duggan. The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003. xii. 28 Elizabeth Wollman. “The Economic Development of the ‘New’ Times Square and Its Impact on the Broadway Musical.” American Music 20.4 (2002): 445–465. 29 Keith Williams. “How Lincoln Center Was Built (It Wasn’t Pretty).” New York Times. 21 Dec. 2017. Web. 6 Jan. 2018. .


21 CAN WE “LEAVE BEHIND THE WORLD WE KNOW”? Exploring Race and Ethnicity in the Musicals of Lin-Manuel Miranda Elizabeth Titrington Craft In the months leading up to the 2016 Academy and Tony Awards shows, minority representation became a hot-button topic. The list of Academy Awards nominees prompted the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. In contrast, the list of Tony nominations seemed a shining example of contemporary diversity: nominees for best musical included Hamilton: An American Musical, a show about American history featuring a multicultural cast and hip hop-infused score, and Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, a reinvention of a famous black-cast musical from Broadway’s early years.1 The contrast gave rise to the counter-hashtag #TonysSoDiverse. The record-setting 2015–2016 season is notable, however, largely for its departure from Broadway’s norm.2 While Broadway musicals have a long history of addressing race and ­ethnicity—as evidenced in classics like Show Boat (1927), South Pacific (1949), and West Side Story (1957)—­Broadway’s creators and audiences continue to be predominantly white.3 While analyzing the data to put the Oscars–Tonys scuffle into historical perspective, the writer, producer, and actor Lee Seymour found that “since the awards began—1929 for the Oscars, 1947 for the Tonys—over 95% of all nominees have been white, with the Tonys recognizing more people of color by 1%.”4 Minority actors continue, in the early twenty-first century, to be underrepresented in New York theater; underrepresentation of minority groups remains an issue offstage as well.5 Regarding the 2015–2016 season, Broadway theater owner and producer Jordan Roth said, “This is the kind of season that we want to continue to support and learn from, but I don’t think we can pat ourselves on the back and say our work here is done.”6 At the same time, many twenty-first-century musicals—including Avenue Q (2003), Passing Strange (2008), The Scottsboro Boys (2010), Hamilton (2015), and Allegiance (2015)—have boldly tackled racial issues using techniques ranging from nontraditional casting to puppetry and referencing musical styles from minstrelsy to hip hop. Moreover, some evidence points to the related trend of increasing diversification of casts, which was visible on the 2016 Tony stage. Examining data from 2006 to 2016, the Asian American Performers Action Coalition found in its 2015–2016 report on “Ethnic Representation on New York City Stages” a “definite upward trend in the casting of minority actors.” 7 Composer, lyricist, and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda has become an emblem of Broadway’s aspirations toward increasing diversity and one of musical theater’s most important voices. Miranda, whose parents both came to the mainland United States from Puerto Rico and who grew up in New York City, wrote his first musical, In the Heights (2008), partly in response to the limited roles 216

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for people like him: “I knew I wanted to have a life in the musical theater. I knew I didn’t dance well enough to play Bernardo [in West Side Story] … [or] Paul [in A Chorus Line]. And that was about it.”8 Miranda has helped reconceive the role of race and ethnicity and expand opportunities for minority actors in musical theater with his shows In the Heights, Bring It On: The Musical (2012), and Hamilton. Although each of these musicals addresses turbulent issues in content and casting, they are hardly homogeneous. Hamilton is set in colonial America, while In the Heights takes place in contemporary Manhattan. Bring It On was written in collaboration with other powerhouse Broadway composers and lyricists; Miranda was sole composer and lyricist for In the Heights and Hamilton, in which he premiered their lead roles. Each also approaches race and ethnicity in different ways: In the Heights depicts an insular but panethnic Latinx community, Bring It On highlights interracial encounters, and Hamilton uses an almost all-minority cast to depict white historical figures.9 Yet crucial commonalities emerge. Each speaks to contemporary social and political issues. Each appeals to traditional Broadway theatergoers while reaching out to new audiences. Each advocates for cross-cultural understanding and solidarity across races and ethnicities in the United States, even while acknowledging different groups’ customs and histories. And each does so using hip hop, combined with other musical styles and traditional musical theater forms, thereby diversifying the Broadway musical aesthetically, musically, and choreographically. Miranda’s shows share a politics of labor, creating a host of roles, including leads, for minority actors. Finally, the musicals share an optimistic vision. The teenage characters of Bring It On sing with youthful idealism, “We can leave behind the world we know.”10 Miranda’s musicals envision a new world of Broadway and US society, one that is not post-racial but racially inclusive and aware.

Pan-Latinoism and the Immigrant Experience in In the Heights In the Heights turned heads with its 2008 Broadway debut. A team of Broadway newcomers helmed the show: director Thomas Kail, book writer Quiara Alegría Hudes, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and Miranda, the composer, lyricist, and star. Many involved would become regular collaborators with Miranda. While critics delivered a mixed verdict, the show’s long Broadway run; multiple Tony Awards, including for Best Musical; popularity with regional, community, and school theaters; and plans for a film adaptation have ensured its secure place in the repertory.11 In the Heights gives voice to contemporary experiences of (im)migration, dramatizing critical issues for (im)migrant communities: the search for identity, struggles of Americanization, possibilities and limits of transnationalism, and challenges of neighborhoods facing gentrification.12 The plot centers on two characters facing major decisions as they question where home is: Nina struggles with whether or not to return to Stanford University after losing her scholarship, and Usnavi contemplates whether to return to the Dominican Republic, the birthplace he left when he was too young to remember. The show’s script incorporates Spanish and Spanglish words and phrases, and its score intermixes hip hop, Latin, and contemporary Broadway musical styles. Set on a single block in Washington Heights, In the Heights immediately positions itself as an introduction to the Latinx community of this northern Manhattan neighborhood. In the opening number, main character-cum-narrator Usnavi raps directly to the audience, inviting them to “take the A train” (a quotation of music and lyrics from the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn jazz standard) to the subway station at 181st Street. Although the Washington Heights/Inwood area in which Miranda grew up is about three-quarters Hispanic, it has been home to many shifting 217

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immigrant and minority populations.13 Miranda explains that with In the Heights, he sought to represent the neighborhood’s various immigrant waves and the pressures of gentrification: That’s why Abuela [Claudia, the grandmotherly figure] is Cuban—Cubans and Puerto R ­ icans got here first; our middle-generation characters…are Puerto Rican, ‘cause that’s the next wave; and then Dominicans in the seventies…so those are the youngest characters…that’s very deliberate, to reflect the waves of immigration. And then the Irish before that, who are just offstage, right? And then hipsters after it, just waiting for their entrance.14 Near the end of the show, Nina’s parents sell their business, Rosario’s Car Service. When they remove the sign, an older one for “O’Hanrahan Car Service” peeks through, a testament to the neighborhood’s cycles of change. By focusing on an ethnic enclave, In the Heights follows in the tradition of shows like Porgy and Bess (1935) and Flower Drum Song (1958), with their respective African-American and ­Chinese-American casts. Dramatically, such depictions reflect the segregated nature of many US neighborhoods. They also allow writers to focus on in-group relationships and avoid dealing with discrimination or with tensions among racial groups in the United States. Indeed, all of the main characters of In the Heights are Latinx, with the exception of the African-American Benny, whose outsider status is thematized within the musical. By including members of multiple immigrant waves, however, In the Heights portrays a panethnic Latinx identity, a choice with distinct political ramifications.15 Because the group designated by the term “Latino” is highly heterogeneous, differing in national origin, race, and political and social experience, “the very ‘group-ness’ of Latinos” is highly contested.16 In the Heights nonetheless embraces the concept of “Latinidad,” the expression of a shared Latinx identity.17 In the opening number, the ensemble sings about hanging flags from their countries of national origin, and Usnavi raps that “we got a lot in common.”18 As other scholars have written, for individuals from Latin American countries, uniting as “Latinos” carries certain strategic political, social, and cultural advantages, especially as a response to discrimination based on vague notions of “brown” skin rather than on specific national identities.19 In the Heights’s pan-Latino characters and themes serve to increase understanding among groups sharing some similar experiences in the United States, while also having the commercial benefit of making the work more broadly marketable. We hear Latinidad represented musically in many of the show’s ensemble numbers, especially “Carnaval del Barrio,” an impromptu Fourth of July celebration in the midst of a neighborhood blackout. In it, Daniela, the spirited, take-charge owner of a local hair salon, rallies the group by leading them in a boisterous song and dance. Marked “bomba-ish” in reference to a traditional Puerto Rican musical genre, the number calls for castanets and congas, and its lyrics are peppered with Spanish phrases.20 Miranda imagined the number as a Puerto Rican parranda, a Christmas tradition in which people go door-to-door playing musical instruments and improvising lyrics.21 Within the song, Usnavi spurs on the celebrations by pulling out the Dominican Republic flag as he asks, “Can we sing so loud and raucous / They can hear us across the bridge in East ­Secaucus?” The group responds by asserting in Spanish their pride and rootedness in national heritage: “Pa’rriba esa bandera! /…/ Esa bonita bandera! / Contiene mi alma entera!”22 As the song reaches its apogee, Usnavi reasserts dedication to pan-Latinoism, exclaiming, “From Puerto Rico to Santo Domingo / Wherever we go, we rep our people and the beat go.” Given its Independence Day setting, this number suggests a melding of national customs old and new, claiming immigrants and their traditions as American. In this song and throughout, In the Heights seeks to tell, as Miranda puts it, a “classic American story”—no less so for the fact that its characters speak in Spanglish and wave the flags of their countries of origin.23


Can We “Leave Behind the World We Know”?

Racial Encounter in Bring It On Miranda’s next show, Bring It On, seemed on its face to be a complete turnabout: he went from an original story with In the Heights to a loose adaptation of a film; from a story about an intergenerational community to one about high schoolers; and from a project he originated and starred in to a highly collaborative endeavor with co-composer Tom Kitt, co-lyricist Amanda Green, and book writer Jeff Whitty.24 Yet Bring It On’s focus on race and ethnicity and its use of hip hop serve as connecting threads. Bring It On has not had the staying power or recognition of In the Heights— indeed, it began as a touring production and was scheduled for only a limited run on Broadway— but critics found it “unexpectedly charm[ing],” and it, too, has an active life in amateur theater.25 While In the Heights focuses on an almost all-Latinx community, Bring It On shows characters navigating racial, ethnic, and class boundaries. It is part of a small group of musicals—like Show Boat and Ragtime (1998)—featuring as a key theme encounters between a black or minority group and a white group, along with the musical styles of each.26 The story: white cheer captain ­Campbell is redistricted from Truman High to the mostly minority, underprivileged Jackson High, which, to her shock and dismay, does not have a cheerleading squad. She joins Jackson’s dance crew after winning over its leader, Danielle, and convinces them to form a cheerleading squad with the promise of glory and scholarship money—the latter a lie. In the end, Campbell learns that friendship trumps trophies, and Jackson High “crosses the line” in its performance at the Nationals, breaking the official rules but performing in its own unique style. As is typical in musicals with racial tension as a central theme, music draws aural contrast between racially distinct groups. The Truman High cheerleaders perform to the synth-soaked pop typical of cheerleading competitions. The soundscape of Jackson High, on the other hand, is highly percussive, syncopated, and influenced by hip hop and R&B. Miranda describes trying to “Rihanna the hell out of the beat” to create the song “Friday Night, Jackson.”27 It might be easy to dismiss Bring It On as “fluff” (or a “featherweight concoction,” as critic Charles Isherwood described it) because of its movie-inspired plot and ostensibly frivolous subjects of teen girls and cheerleading.28 However, the show tackles complex subjects, often in clever, incisive ways. It comments upon whiteness rather than treating it as the norm, for example, and through the character of La Cienega—Broadway’s first transgender teen character, according to—it also depicts some progressive conceptions of gender.29 In the encounter narrative of Bring It On, stereotypes and missteps abound on both sides. When Danielle tells her the dance group is called a “hip-hop crew,” Campbell responds, “My people call it a squad”—a line that stops the other characters in their tracks. She is horrified moments later when the racial implications are pointed out to her—by “my people,” she had meant cheerleaders. Later, Campbell surprises Danielle by coming to her defense when some customers at the Burger Pagoda call her “Burger Girl,” delivering what Danielle describes as “the whitest beatdown I ever heard.” Indeed, Bring It On treats whiteness as a race with its own cultural and musical associations. In one scene, Danielle issues a challenge: Campbell can prove her commitment to the crew by donning an old mascot outfit from the days when Jackson was in an Irish neighborhood and dancing at the post-homecoming game party. (As with the “O’Hanrahan” sign in In the Heights, we’re reminded here of different waves of immigrant and minority groups.) Campbell delivers in “Friday Night, Jackson,” which highlights her whiteness through her “Lucky McClover” costume, with its huge white head and red beard (see Figure 21.1), and proves her mettle and dance chops. In the show’s final number, Danielle sings, “I thought you were a spoiled rich / uptight little white bitch / now I think you’re just white!” While in those moments whiteness and class are described as benign and ultimately unimportant, upper-class privilege—aligned with whiteness in the musical as it is in US society—is


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Figure 21.1  Photograph of Bring It On: The Musical touring production, 2011, from Craig Schwartz Photography.

treated more critically elsewhere.30 In the revelatory “Eva’s Rant,” the eponymous villain ascends to the triumphal declaration “I’m dazzling! Magnificent! I am the one percent!” This references the language of economic disparity in the news during the musical’s national tour and Broadway opening due to the Occupy Wall Street movement.31 Eva follows the song with a biting indictment of American society: “The fact remains: there is no way you can win. In real life – people like you can’t.” Though spectators—and the other characters—hear her as cruel, the line is also a reminder that the systemic inequities of US society are not as easily resolved in real life as they are in musicals. Bring It On’s narrative is not without problems. It springs from a type of story built on a clichéd trope: that of a white figure saving a minority community.32 Urban schools are a prime location for such stories, whether the “white savior” is changing the lives of at-risk students in the classroom or leading a sports team—or cheerleading squad—to victory.33 The musical makes fun of this trope overtly: when Campbell suggests the dance crew make a cheerleading squad, Danielle replies, “You know what this reminds me of? Those movies, you know what I’m saying, where the white dude or the white lady makes a trip to the scary ‘inner city’ and, you know, fixes dem colored folks right up!” Despite proclamations that “we can leave behind the world we know,” however, Bring It On ultimately fails to fully escape the very storyline it ridicules. Although “Cross the Line,” Jackson’s penultimate number at Nationals, blends music and movement styles of cheerleading and hip hop—of Truman’s musical world and Jackson’s—the show’s closing number, “I Got You,” uses a Broadway pop style.34 The assimilation and accommodation remain lopsided; the story remains Campbell’s. Nonetheless, this show goes further than many in reimagining encounter narratives. It encourages audiences to engage in critique even as they enjoy the high-­ flying stunts and fun music. Perhaps it even points toward a future in which a musical about race can have a more equitable ending.

Rewriting an Inclusive History in Hamilton Miranda is currently most widely known for his third Broadway musical, the cultural juggernaut Hamilton. Upon reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow, as Miranda tells it, he envisioned Hamilton’s story—“literally wr[iting] his way out of his circumstances”—as akin to the biographies of rappers like Tupac Shakur, Biggie, and Lil Wayne.35 220

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Miranda wrote both music and lyrics for this through-sung musical and played the starring role in the original Off-Broadway and Broadway productions. The production staff, creative team, and cast include many people he had worked with previously, including Kail, Blankenbuehler, and orchestrator and arranger Alex Lacamoire. Since Hamilton’s Off-Broadway premiere in February 2015, the musical has achieved meteoric success: rave reviews; 11 Tony Awards, including one for best musical; and consistently sold-out shows across the nation. Hamilton has been described as “revolutionary,” and indeed it breaks new ground in multiple ways. Building on In the Heights and Bring It On, which use hip hop for select numbers, it is arguably the first critically and commercially successful Broadway hip hop musical.36 It is also remarkable for its use of nontraditional casting: white historical figures are portrayed by a cast composed almost entirely of people of color. Miranda told the New York Times, “This is a story about ­A merica then, told by America now, and…our story should look the way our country looks…. I think it’s a very powerful statement without having to be a statement.”37 Thus, while in subject matter Hamilton is only peripherally about race, its casting and use of hip hop ensure that race is central to the show’s messages and meaning. Given its casting, the show’s multiple references to slavery take on added import. The show’s opening number mentions the practice of slavery in the Caribbean, where Hamilton grew up. In the first of two cabinet-­meeting scenes staged as rap battles, Hamilton retorts to Jefferson, “A civics lesson from a slaver…/ Your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor. / ‘We plant seeds in the South. We create.’ Yeah, keep ranting. / We know who’s really doing the planting.”38 Miranda almost spits the last line in the original-cast recording.39 And Jefferson’s showstopping act-two opener includes a request for “Sally” to “be a lamb, darlin’” and open a letter—this lyrical reference to Sally Hemmings flies by but is punctuated in the staging by the ensemble member’s balletic grand battement, or big kick, on an accented off beat in the music.40 While Miranda has most commonly compared Hamilton to rappers, he also highlights ­Hamilton’s status as an immigrant. In the opening number, Hamilton is described as “another immigrant / Comin’ up from the bottom.” The French Marquis de Lafayette, who came to the United States only temporarily, is identified as an immigrant as well. In the Battle of Yorktown scene, Hamilton and Lafayette proclaim, “Immigrants / we get the job done” and high-five. Although the line comes early in the song, many commentators have noted that audiences break into applause upon hearing it. In these ways, the show responds to and is interpreted through the lens of the contemporary politics of immigration. As in Bring It On, whiteness is also rendered noticeable, in this case by its relative absence onstage: there is only one lead character played by a white actor, King George.41 Through him, whiteness is aligned with Britishness and made comical. King George’s musical numbers are distinctly inspired by 1960s Britpop, his manner is foppish, his gait is stiff, and the staging of his numbers is static. While the rest of the cast is constantly in motion, King George’s movement is minimal: a pout or raised eyebrow becomes a significant gesture. The stereotype of Brits as fops in comparison to more manly Americans is long-standing, but here we see whiteness, generally, painted with a similar brush. Likewise, in the song “Farmer Refuted,” Hamilton outwits a white secondary Loyalist character while arguing for the Revolution, further associating whiteness with Britishness, stagnancy, and repressive authority. Hamilton’s overarching bid for racial and ethnic inclusivity is clear, embedded in its music and choreography as well as its lyrics and casting. Yet the show is also multivalent, with both progressive and problematic messages. Unsurprisingly given its outsized cultural footprint, it has attracted the most media and scholarly attention of any of Miranda’s musicals to date, with outspoken criticism of the show’s racial politics accompanying glowing accolades. Critics have highlighted its perpetuation of “Founders Chic,” its adherence to a bootstrap ideology blind to structural inequalities, and even the politics of color implicit in its original casting decisions.42 As scholar 221

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Lyra D. Monteiro points out, Hamilton’s messages about slavery are all-too-fleeting, and in its most “damning omission,” the momentary portrayal of Sally Hemings aside, “not a single enslaved or free person of color exists as a character in this play.”43 Hamilton’s openness to interpretation and the subtlety of its critiques allow viewers to latch onto the themes they find most appealing. This helps explain the musical’s popularity with wide-ranging constituencies across the ideological spectrum. It thrives on the fact that there are, for audiences, “multiple…Hamiltons.”44 While race and ethnicity are critical yet frequently subtextual issues onstage, they are equally important and more overt in offstage commentary about the show and spin-off products like The Hamilton Mixtape, an album with covers, remixes, and related songs. The Mixtape includes, for example, the incisive “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” with new lyrics that directly address contemporary immigration.45 Race and ethnicity have also been central to two high-profile controversies. One erupted over a March 2016 casting call for “nonwhite” performers. In response, producers agreed to change its wording while insisting that “it is essential to the storytelling of Hamilton that the principal roles—which were written for non-white characters (excepting King George)—be performed by non-white actors” and that “we will continue to cast the show with the same multicultural diversity that we have employed thus far.”46 The other controversy developed over a post-curtain call speech the cast delivered to Vice President-elect Mike Pence in November 2016, in which they expressed concern on behalf of a “diverse America” and asked the new administration to “work on behalf of all of us.”47 President-elect Donald Trump subsequently Tweeted that Pence “was harassed…at the theater by the cast of Hamilton…!”48 The unusual, perhaps even unprecedented, curtain call speech and Trump’s response reminded audiences that Hamilton’s cast are members of minority groups living in a fraught present-day society, and not just portraying a past one.

Can We “Leave Behind the World We Know”? Time Magazine wrote in 2008 that In the Heights might “be regarded as the first musical of the Barack Obama era. It represents change on Broadway…. And it has…people who want Broadway to reach out to new audiences with contemporary, heartfelt shows like these—crying ‘Yes, we can.’”49 Indeed, Miranda’s trio of musicals might be seen to represent the Obama era. We can hear resonances of the Obama slogan “yes we can” in the Bring It On lyric, sung by the white and ­A frican-American female leads, “We can leave behind the world we know.” But have we left behind that world—even on Broadway? Can we? Whether Miranda’s musicals and the shows that prompted #TonysSoDiverse will result in lasting change on Broadway is unclear. Moreover, like South Pacific, West Side Story, and other past musicals that tried to address race and ethnicity in progressive ways, Miranda’s musicals will continue to be subject to debate over their cultural messages and impact. Yet these shows, along with many others, are forging new paths as they imagine a Broadway more representative of the nation that houses it. From their content to casting, they challenge audiences to think in new ways about historical and contemporary issues of race and ethnicity. Their impact is extended as regional and community theaters and schools put on productions, giving rise to opportunities for minority performers to play interesting, substantive roles and prompting conversations about race in US theater and society.50 Much is at stake as Broadway and the nation continue to grapple with how race and ethnicity are seen, heard, and experienced, and who is represented both onstage and off. Leslie Odom Jr., who played Aaron Burr in Hamilton’s original cast, remarked of the recent crop of Broadway shows, “The kids being inspired now—they’re going to start writing now, and we’ll see their work in six or seven years.”51 What new worlds might they be able to imagine?


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Acknowledgments My thanks to Joanna Dee Das, Jane Hatter, Hannah Lewis, Catherine Mayes, Anne Searcy, and the editors of this volume for their comments on this chapter; Alyssa Liu for her research assistance; Lin-Manuel Miranda for sharing his time for our 2013 interview; and Craig Schwartz for his help with the featured photograph.

Notes 1 Hamilton: An American Musical also appears as Hamilton, which I use hereafter. 2 An Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) report found Broadway had its most diverse season in the ten years for which the organization has data, filling 36% of roles with minority actors: Ethnic Representation on New York City Stages 2015–2016, January 2018, 1–2, 10–11. . 3 Dates are of Broadway premieres. White theatergoers purchased 77% of tickets in the 2015–2016 season: “The Demographics of the Broadway Audience 2016–2017.” New York: The Broadway League, 2018. 24. 4 Lee Seymour. “The Tonys Are Just as White as the Oscars—Here Are the #TonysSoWhite Statistics.” Forbes. 4 Apr. 2016. . 5 See the AAPAC reports on “Ethnic Representation on New York City Stages” available at ; Michael Paulson. “After #OscarsSoWhite, Broadway Seeks a #TonysSoDiverse.” New York Times. 27 Apr. 2016. . 6 Paulson, “After #OscarsSoWhite.” 7 AAPAC, Ethnic Representation 2015–2016, 2. Musicologist Todd Decker similarly found that after the Broadway musical’s especially white period of the late 1980s–early 1990s, casts became more racially integrated in the 2000s: “Jim Crow in Times Square: Racial Segregation as Structural Element of Broadway Musical History” (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society, Vancouver, November 2016). 8 “Go Behind the Curtain,” TeatroStageFest event in conjunction with New York Times “Times Talks” series, 9 June 2008; see also Elizabeth Titrington Craft. “‘Is This What It Takes Just to Make It to Broadway?!’: Marketing In the Heights in the Twenty-First Century.” A Mark, a Yen, a Buck, or a Pound: Money and the Stage Musical at the Millennium. Ed. Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman. Special issue of Studies in Musical Theatre 5.1 (2011): 51–53. 9 I use Latinx except when using pre-existing scholarly terms (e.g. pan-Latinoism) or describing characters for whom “Latina” or “Latino” seems most accurate. 10 Bring It On lyrics and dialogue quotations are from Jeff Whitty et al., Bring It On: The Musical Libretto Vocal Book. New York: Bring It On the Musical; distributed by Music Theatre International, n.d. 11 In May 2018, Warner Bros. secured the film rights to the musical: Mike Fleming Jr., “‘In the Heights’: Warner Bros Closing $50M Deal for Movie Rights after Hot Auction.” Deadline Hollywood. 17 May 2018. . 12 My dissertation provides more detail about the issues discussed here: Craft. “Becoming American Onstage: Broadway Narratives of Immigrant Experiences in the United States.” Ph.D. diss., Harvard U, 2014. 274–303. 13 Miranda grew up in Inwood, north of Washington Heights and frequently grouped with it. For demographic information from the period of In the Heights, see Laird W. Bergad. Washington Heights/Inwood Demographic, Economic, and Social Transformations 1990–2005 with a Special Focus on the Dominican Population, Latino Data Project. New York: Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies of the City U of New York Graduate Center, 2008. esp. 4, 5. 14 Miranda, interview by author, New York, 5 Nov. 2013. 15 As Todd Decker discusses in his chapter in this volume, “The Multiracial Musical Metropolis: Casting and Race after A Chorus Line,” this diversity of national origins also evokes an idealized multiracial metropolis. 16 Gary M. Segura and Helena Alves Rodrigues. “Comparative Ethnic Politics in the United States: ­Beyond Black and White.” Annual Review of Political Science 9 ( June 2006): 382.


Elizabeth Titrington Craft 17 On In the Heights as an expression of Latinidad and the ways it challenges conventional gender roles, see Stacy Wolf. Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 188–195. 18 In the Heights lyrics and dialogue quotations are from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes. “In the Heights”: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical. Milwaukee: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2013. 19 Nancy Foner and George M. Fredrickson. “Introduction: Immigration, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States: Social Construction and Social Relations in Historical and Contemporary Perspective.” Not Just Black and White: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Immigration, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States. Ed. Foner and Frederickson. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004. esp. 7; G. ­Cristina Mora. Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New American. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2014. On pan-Latinoism in theater, see Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez. José, Can You See?: Latinos On and Off Broadway. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1999. esp. 15; David Román. “Latino Genealogies: Broadway and Beyond—the Case of John Leguizamo.” Performance in America: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the Performing Arts. Durham: Duke UP, 2005. esp. 110, 131–135. 20 Lin-Manuel Miranda. In the Heights Full Score. New York: Williamson Music, 2008; distributed by R&H Theatricals. 358. 21 Miranda, interview by author. 22 “Up with that flag /…/ That beautiful flag / Contains my whole soul.” 23 In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams, Great Performances series, PBS, produced by RadicalMedia, aired 27 May 2009. . 24 The Bring It On film’s screenwriter Jessica Bendinger took legal action against the musical, ending in an undisclosed settlement and a credit noting the musical was inspired by the motion picture. The musical, in fact, more closely resembles Bring It On: All or Nothing (2006), a later, direct-to-DVD film from the series. David Ng. “‘Bring It On’ on Broadway Gives Credit to Movie Screenwriter.” Los Angeles Times. 25 July 2012. . 25 Scott Brown. “Theater Review: The Unexpected Charms of Bring It On: The Musical.” 1 Aug. 2012. . 26 Todd Decker categorizes such musicals as “interracial shows”: “Jim Crow in Times Square”; Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 4–5. 27 “PLAYBILL EXCLUSIVE: Bring It On’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Kitt and Amanda Green Sample Their Musical Wares.” 2 July 2012. . 28 Cheerleading is frequently perceived as inauthentic, not a real sport; girls, as Jacqueline Warwick writes, are “generally dismissed and overlooked in cultural analyses…. [T]heir interests and concerns are often regarded with derision (if they are noticed at all).” Charles Isherwood. “‘Bring It On: The Musical’ at Ahmanson Theater.” New York Times. 22 Nov. 2011. ; Warwick. Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 1960s. New York: Routledge, 2007. 2. 29 Adam Hetrick. “‘It Ain’t No Thing’: Bring It On: The Musical Cheers On Broadway’s First Transgender Teen Character.” Playbill. 15 Aug. 2012. . The actor who played La Cienega in the original cast is not transgender. On whiteness in musical theater, see Warren Hoffman. The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2014. 30 See, for example, Lisa A. Keister and Hang Young Lee’s research showing that the wealthiest in the United States in 2010 were largely and disproportionately white and non-Hispanic: “The One Percent: Top Incomes and Wealth in Sociological Research.” Social Currents 1.1 (2014): 18–19. 31 The Occupy Wall Street movement protests formally began after the show’s Atlanta opening but before the national tour and Broadway premiere, raising the question of whether this lyric was added along the way. 32 Matthew W. Hughey defines the “white savior film” as one “in which a white messianic character saves a lower- or working-class, usually urban or isolated, nonwhite character from a sad fate”: The White Savior Film: Content, Critics and Consumption. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2014. 1. 33 On this sub-genre of the “white savior film,” see Hughey, 52–59. 34 “I Got You” is reminiscent of other songs from teen-focused stage and film musicals from Grease to the High School Musical series.


Can We “Leave Behind the World We Know”? 35 Rebecca Mead. “All About the Hamiltons.” New Yorker. 9 Feb. 2015. ; Mark Binelli. “‘Hamilton’ Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda: The Rolling Stone Interview.” Rolling Stone. 1 June 2016. . 36 Although not all of Hamilton’s music is hip hop, the moniker of hip hop musical is appropriate, Loren ­Kajikawa writes, because of Hamilton’s broader “engagement with hip hop’s history, culture, and aesthetics.” “‘Young, Scrappy, and Hungry’: Hamilton, Hip Hop, and Race.” American Music 36.4 (2018). 468, 470. 37 Rob Weinert-Kendt. “Rapping a Revolution: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Others from ‘Hamilton’ Talk History.” New York Times. 5 Feb. 2015. . 38 Hamilton lyrics quotations are from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. Hamilton: The Revolution; Being the Complete Libretto of the Broadway Musical, with a True Account of Its Creation, and Concise Remarks on Hip-Hop, the Power of Stories, and the New America. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016. 161. 39 Hamilton: An American Musical, Original Broadway Cast Recording, Atlantic 551093-2, 2015, compact disc. 40 As Anne Searcy demonstrates, the show’s dance sometimes offers critique beyond the musical’s spoken text: “Bringing Dance Back to the Center in Hamilton.” American Music 36.4 (2018). 41 The show’s casting call specifies that King George is white. 42 Lyra D. Monteiro argues that certain characters, like Eliza, read as white in addition to making the other ­ iranda’s claims listed here: “Race-Conscious Casting and the Erasure of the Black Past in Lin-Manuel M Hamilton.” The Public Historian 38.1 (2016): 91. See also Ishmael Reed. “‘Hamilton: the Musical’; Black Actors Dress Up like Slave Traders…and It’s Not Halloween.” CounterPunch Magazine. 21 Aug. 2015. ; Donatella Galella. “Racializing the American Revolution: Review of the Broadway Musical Hamilton.” Advocate. 16 Nov. 2015. ; James McMaster. “Why Hamilton Is Not the Revolution You Think It Is.” HowlRound. 23 Feb. 2016. . 43 Monteiro, “Race-Conscious Casting,” 93. 4 4 Elizabeth Titrington Craft, “Headfirst into an Abyss: The Politics and Political Reception of Hamilton.” American Music 36.4 (2018). esp. 430. 45 See Justin A. Williams. “‘We Get the Job Done’: Immigrant Discourse and Mixtape Authenticity in The Hamilton Mixtape.” American Music 36.4 (2018). 46 Nigel M. Smith. “Broadway Hit Hamilton under Fire after Casting Call for ‘Non-White’ Actors.” The Guardian. 31 Mar. 2016. ; Tom Huddleston, Jr., “Broadway Mega-Hit ‘Hamilton’ Criticized Over ‘Non-White’ Casting Call.” Fortune. 30 Mar. 2016. . 47 Brandon Victor Dixon (Aaron Burr in the performance) read the speech, which Miranda, director Thomas Kail, and producer Jeffrey Seller wrote with input from cast members. Christopher Mele and Patrick Healy. “‘Hamilton’ Had Some Unscripted Lines for Pence. Trump Wasn’t Happy.” New York Times. 19 Nov. 2016. . 48 Donald Trump, Twitter posts from 19 Nov. 2016, 5:48am; 19 Nov. 2016, 5:56am; 20 Nov. 2016, 3:22 a.m., . 49 Richard Zoglin. “Life after Rent.” Time. 29 Feb. 2008. . 50 Debates about theatrical casting policies, for example, will continue and likely intensify when the rights to Hamilton become available. Miranda has said that “the note that goes with the school productions” will be: “If this show ends up looking like the actual founding fathers, you messed up”: Weinert-Kendt, “Rapping a Revolution.” 51 Paulson, “After #OscarsSoWhite.”


22 FALSETTOS AND INDECENT IN THE SHADOW OF FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Reconsidering Jewish Identity on Broadway in the New Millennium Raymond Knapp and Zelda Knapp Between December 2015 and October 2016, two musical revivals and a new play opened in New York, mapping a remarkable century for the representation of and by Jews on Broadway.1 The most commercially successful of the three, Fiddler on the Roof (Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick; 1964) ran for over a year, undergoing only modest revision from when it originally appeared at the end of Broadway’s so-called Golden Age. A few months later, Indecent (Paula Vogel, Lisa Gutkin, and Aaron Halva)—a play with musical interludes—illuminated a longer tradition of Jewish theater in New York and retrospectively made Fiddler appear surprisingly conservative, however revolutionary it once seemed. Finally, a daringly staged revival of ­Falsettos (James Lapine and William Finn, 1992)—known more for its quirky confrontation between Jewish traditions and homosexuality and for being the first Broadway musical to engage with the AIDS crisis than for its consideration of Jewish identity as such—offered anew what might be considered Fiddler’s antithesis: a show grounded squarely in current realities of Jewish life in urban America, virtually ignoring Jewry’s European roots. Yet, inescapably, all three productions demonstrate how inseparably intertwined Jewish identity remains with the Holocaust, even well into the twenty-first century. We will consider in this chapter how this constellation of shows newly reconfigures J­ewish identity, both regarding its difficult historical trajectory and its continued relevancy to wider cultural concerns. Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of a Jewish family ca. 1905—Tevye, his wife Golde, and their five daughters—poised between tradition and modernity, just before the entire population of Anatevka, their beloved shtetl, is dispelled by Russian authorities. In situating its story within the larger history of Jewish erasure from Eastern Europe, Fiddler was always indirectly about the Holocaust,2 but the 2015 revival gave that subtext heart-stopping reality by having Tevye enter in modern dress, discover a signpost for the long-vanished village of Anatevka, and then summon the cast, as if from a mass grave, from below the back of the stage. This opening device linked to the show’s concluding reference to the current refugee crisis, with Tevye back in his red parka amid a never-ending cyclical march of refugees. Arguably, the revival also reinforced a conservative tendency that had already set in by the early 1970s, when the somewhat stodgy film version appeared and the show’s record-breaking Broadway run ended. By then, the show’s aspirations toward more universal themes (generational conflict, persecution, diaspora, assimilation versus


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cultural traditions, feminism versus patriarchy), along with its indulgent celebration of Jewish humor, had yielded to a ferocious emphasis on its specifically Jewish character, and to a somberness that rendered its humor bittersweet and quasi-ritualistic. These are slippery claims, to be sure, since Fiddler’s humor does not simply disappear as its quality shifts, and since its Jewish themes had been there from the beginning, fundamental to the show’s agenda to universalize its Jewish perspective.3 Moreover, Fiddler has worn its progressive tendencies proudly, allowing Tevye’s three older daughters to seek their futures outside the patriarchal traditions celebrated (and slyly mocked) in the opening number, “Tradition,” with each daughter reaching farther afield than the last. But even with that quasi-feminist leaning against tradition, the women are given little musical agency. Hodel may sing of her love, in the duet “Now I Have Everything,” but she sings also of the heavy price it exacts, in “Far from the Home I Love.” This may have been enough in the 1960s, when Tevye’s rueful soliloquys about his lessened p­ atriarchal role could allow a newly balanced consideration of key plot elements to emerge regarding female choice and intermarriage.4 Yet, as with many other Broadway revivals that adhere to venerated texts, even when revised according to present-day sensibilities, the politics remain intractably those of the original show, entrenched within its structure and very fabric. With Fiddler’s evocation of traditional Jewish music and its fatherly narrative perspective, the deck was always stacked against its gestures toward rebalancing societal hierarchies, always already conservatively, reassuringly patriarchal in its presentational mode.

In Fiddler’s Shadow A closer look at [Fiddler and God of Vengeance] reveals that they do, in spite of obvious differences in tone and sensibility, share a central theme: Both are father-daughter stories about men destabilized by their little girls’ sexual ripening. (Susan Reimer-Torn) 5 Indecent recounts a story based on historical events: Sholem Asch’s Yiddish play, God of Vengeance, despite controversies regarding its setting in a brothel, its lesbian love story (between the brothel owner’s daughter and a prostitute), and its sacrilegious treatment of the Torah, is mounted successfully in Berlin (1907) and then tours Eastern Europe before being staged for Yiddish-­speaking audiences in New York. But the play’s triumphant march is abruptly halted in 1923 when it transfers to Broadway in a bowdlerized English version, at which point its cast and crew are arrested on charges of obscenity, effectively destroying their professional careers. At the center of Indecent’s action, Sholem Asch writes God of Vengeance while Jews in Europe face persecution and pogroms but not yet genocide. By the time the Broadway cast is prosecuted for obscenity, Asch has withdrawn from playwriting and from society, bitter over the increasingly dire circumstances facing European Jews—including the original European cast of Vengeance—and the American government’s response to his report of atrocities against Jews in Europe, which ironically echoes a line delivered by the brothel owner’s cynical wife in the bowdlerized version of Vengeance: “These things happen.” Just by telling this story, Indecent offers compelling evidence that the conservative patriarchal bent evidenced by Fiddler and its latter-day reception was not the only option for twentieth-­ century Jewish theater. Indeed, a pointed allusion to Fiddler at the beginning of Indecent insists on this comparison, as a solo violin leaps up a fourth to launch the play’s action and introduce musicand dance-styles redolent of East-European Jewry (“Ale Brider”),6 styles that recur episodically throughout the play. As might be expected given the play’s historical span, Indecent’s evocations of the Holocaust are much more overt than Fiddler’s. Projected supertitles in Yiddish and English summon the players (identified as the “Dead Troupe” in the script)7 from the ashes, which spill from their coatsleeves as they begin the play and again near the end, at which point they fall with


Raymond Knapp and Zelda Knapp

stark finality as the cast joins an “impossibly long line” to the death camps and gas chambers. Falling ash thus frames the main action of the play, bleakly emphasizing the title’s ironic twist regarding what may be deemed “indecent.” Even more pointedly, the device recalls the familiar Biblical phrase, “ashes to ashes” (replaced in the play’s bilingual supertitles by the more optimistic “from ashes they rise”), while offering a grim visual pun on the principal subject’s name. This striking visual reference to the Holocaust—hauntingly poetic, inevitable in its reprise—is then reinforced with stark verbal brutality in the play’s final sequence, as an aging Asch, an accused Communist making his own forced exodus from America to London in 1952, rebukes a young producer who wants to mount his play: “I, too, have lost audience members. Six million … have left the theater.”8 Despite Asch’s bitterness and the fate of his play’s cast and crew, Indecent allows the inner romantic core of Vengeance—its lesbian love story—to emerge with some sense of triumph as the play’s enduring legacy. This romance is spotlighted through the recurring motif of the “Rain Scene,” and its torch is carried by Lemml, whose fierce devotion to their story begins the moment he reads Rif kele’s lines aloud in the salon, follows him to his bitter confrontation with Asch prior to his departure for Europe, and concludes with his despairing wish that the lovers escape (which they do, if only in his mind). The love story lays lasting claim to the narrative as the two women share the final scene together, risen from the ashes, dancing joyously in the rain. The core lesbian story in Indecent is nevertheless dominated by the concerns of men. The internal play, God of Vengeance, was written by a man and focuses more on the brothel owner Yekel than on his daughter Rif kele’s love affair with Manke. But the reclamation of Vengeance by playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman reaffirms the central importance of the lesbian relationship, both the pure innocence of first love and the earthy sensuality of their sexual awakening in the “Rain Scene,” performed first by two men in a salon reading aloud from a script and frequently evoked throughout Indecent as Vengeance’s most important moment. Thus, Madje Asch tells her husband, “You make me feel the desire between these two women is the purest, most chaste, most spiritual—,” a sentiment confirmed subsequently by the Yiddish and American actors who perform it, the stage manager Lemml, and even Eugene O’Neill. Near the end of Indecent, the two young women play the scene with striking variations: shivering and starving in the attic of a Polish ghetto, but then, beautifully, in its original Yiddish while actual stage rain falls upon them, dancing and embracing while an aged Asch looks on wonderingly, the cleansing rain figuratively washing away the ashes that had fallen with such finality just moments before. ­Indecent—unlike Fiddler, which ends resigned to its characters’ displacement—is defiant in its survival. The players may turn to ash, and Asch himself may turn away from the world, but the story and its c­ haracters—and the Jewish people—survive beyond ash and death. Embodying Indecent’s defiant stance, eventually against even the playwright Asch, is its evocative, pointed use of dance music and songs from the period. The songs, in particular, locate the dramatic point somewhat outside the drama we are watching, within an enduring public space that celebrates human connection in its many forms, and echoes that connection long after the humans involved are gone. Unlike songs in a traditional musical, which delineate the specific experiences of the players themselves, the songs and song-fragments in Indecent offer a lens of edgy nostalgia through which we contemplate the stages of the action. Sometimes the numbers are deployed straightforwardly, as in “Ale Brider” and “Vot Ken You Makh in America?” (“What Can You Do in America?,” about accommodating to American behavioral expectations). And they are sometimes ironic, as in “Ain’t We Got Fun?” or when a recording of the title song from Oklahoma! superimposes on the nearly contemporary destruction of the Łódź ghetto. But they can also be much subtler in their delivery, as when “Suitcase in Berlin” is staged to suggest same-sex entanglements with casual frankness. More poignantly, “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn” initially delights


Falsettos and Indecent

for the nostalgic sound of its blended female voices, redolent of its most popular recorded form in the United States by the Andrews Sisters (1937), but then reverts to Yiddish and a slower tempo with subdued blue lighting, adding a tinge of seduction to its minor mode as the song’s tender celebration of an unorthodox love comes to the fore (thus: “bei mir”), resonating with the play’s lesbian story as a locus of connection. Although it is subtly rendered on stage, the script makes the intention behind this resonance clear, as the “Bagelman Sisters” transition to become Chana and Halina, members of the Dead Troupe.9 And the specific resonance with the play’s lesbian couple is visually confirmed later, when similar lighting and dance moves—with intertwined and encircling arms—bring Manke and Rif kele together in the rain. Here, however, as the two singers walk off, arms entwined, the accompaniment retreats to the background as if in defeat, its residual strains providing a sad underscore to an already unfolding montage of brokenness, which takes us from 1938 to an attic in the Łód ź ghetto five years later. During this montage, an embittered Lemml makes his determined trek back to Poland, slowly walking the perimeter of the stage; the isolated Asch writes his novels at the typewriter (rhythmically punctuating the song); Asch’s friends write to him from Poland, asking for assistance; and a desperate Nakhmen (Lemml’s cousin, a harshly critical voice at the initial reading of Vengeance) fruitlessly attempts to trade on his connection to Asch to secure a visa. When the Dead Troupe at last perform the “Rain Scene” in its entirety in the attic, the emotional climax of requited love is broken off, as the two girls begin singing the lullaby “Wiegala” and take their place with the others in line, with “the smell of smoke and ash”—as the supertitles inform us—“thick in the air.”10 Falsettos arrived on Broadway in 1992 as a two-act musical created by combining two earlier off-Broadway one-acts: March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1990), themselves part of a trilogy of one-act musicals beginning with In Trousers (Off-Broadway, 1979). Each one-act chronicles a different stage in Marvin’s journey of sexual discovery, as he struggles to manage the consequences of his choices. March of the Falsettos picks up where In Trousers leaves off: with Marvin divorcing his wife, Trina, for his male lover, Whizzer, while insisting on maintaining an extended nuclear family involving Trina, Whizzer, and his pre-teen son, Jason. Meanwhile, his therapist Mendel woos and wins Trina, eventually triggering a tantrum from Marvin that dissolves his relationships with both. Since he has already broken up with Whizzer, he is left trying to salvage his remaining connection, to Jason. Falsettoland, set two years later, overlaps the early stages of medical investigations into AIDS and HIV, anticipating the inexorable death-march the disease enacted within the gay community. Marvin and Whizzer reunite, but Whizzer soon shows signs of an unidentified illness (“Something Bad Is Happening,” sung by their doctor friend Charlotte), which is killing him and pushing Marvin to a new level of maturity. The combining of March and Falsettoland into one evening effectively bookends the beginning of the AIDS crisis with the comparatively innocent before and the grim after, offering implicit echoes of the Jewish experience pre- and post-Holocaust.11 Taken together, Indecent and Falsettos delineate a history of twentieth-century Jewish theater in which Fiddler on the Roof is as much aberration as mainstream. True, Fiddler’s place on Broadway was forged by the developments that Andrea Most traces in Theatrical Liberalism and her earlier Making Americans,12 through which Jewish elements became core to the American musical. But if Fiddler seems a culmination, it also stands apart from these developments. As Most argues in Making Americans, by the early 1960s, Jewish musical writers on Broadway “no longer engaged directly with Jewish anxieties about belonging. … [and] began to experiment with musicals involving historical Jewish characters such as Fanny Brice and Tevye. … Historical distance … allowed [them] to sentimentalize the Jewish immigrant without endangering their own highly assimilated identities.”13 Thus, Fiddler cashes in on decades of Broadway’s more subtle advancement of Jewish values and causes, for a long time constituting the closing chapter of a successful quest by Jews


Raymond Knapp and Zelda Knapp

to secure a place within an institution central to American national identity. More specifically, ­Fiddler’s universalizing themes built on generations of Jewish intersectionality, which created a space in which the problems of marginalized groups could combine forces, in an effort to overturn the exclusionary impulses of xenophobia and nationalism. Emblematic of the period with which Making Americans is most concerned (1925–1950), many Jews working on Broadway made common cause with African-Americans and other minorities, and contributed to strongly liberal trends in musical theater.14 In this, they echoed the spirit of inclusion that informs God of Vengeance, at least as it is celebrated and mourned in Indecent. These alliances, especially with African-Americans, began to break down at precisely the time Fiddler and Funny Girl (1964) began to treat Jews more directly, notwithstanding the prominent role Jews were then playing within the Civil Rights movement. The arrival embodied by these shows, especially Fiddler, served as an overture of sorts, establishing a defensible Jewish homeland on Broadway three years before the Six-Day War would seemingly secure its real-world equivalent. If the rise of Black Power and related movements in the 1960s began simultaneously to tear at Jewish intersectionality, the full price of these arrivals, and their attendant encouragement of more conservative sentiments, has taken a long time to be fully recognized. But by 2016, the rifts were unmistakable, and not just in those Broadway shows that had troubled the relationship between Jews and African-Americans such as Parade (1998) or Caroline, or Change (2004). While many American Jews have made common cause with Black Lives Matter and other groups advocating for minority rights, Israel itself has been increasingly denounced within academia and in the liberal press, in what many would see as a resurgence of anti-Semitism, but is surely more complicated than that. It is in this context that the conservatism of Fiddler—which cleaves to a past world the show itself understands as gone forever—can seem particularly problematic and the cultural work of Indecent and Falsettos can seem so very important, insisting on a continuation of the agenda that had produced a secure space on Broadway for Fiddler in the first place.

Falsettos and Jewish Intersectionality When [Zero Mostel] entered his little house during rehearsals, he would kiss the mezuzah. … Jerry Robbins … said, “Z, you don’t have to kiss the mezuzah.” “I don’t have to kiss the mezuzah?” he muttered. The next time he entered, he crossed himself. From then on, he kissed the mezuzah. –Jerry Zaks15 Both Fiddler on the Roof and Indecent are set in highly profiled pre-World War II Jewish settings, a guarantee in itself to trigger nostalgia and the intense ache of loss that all evocations of pre-­Holocaust Jewish life in Europe evoke, especially among Jews, and most especially among those who lost family in the Holocaust. Both assimilation narratives and intersectionality are necessarily undermined by such settings; in these worlds, Jewish life is in itself uniquely valuable. Falsettos, contrariwise, begins with a bit of hilarious anti-nostalgia, “Four Jews in a Room ­Bitching,” and aside from the Bar Mitzvah that, along with the AIDS crisis, drives the plot in Act II (­“Falsettoland”), little else in the show feels particularly Jewish, or at least the kind of Jewish that remembers its roots, that kisses the mezuzah. Tokens of Falsettos’s differentiation from Fiddler are not hard to find. There is no Tevye to preside over Falsettos. Characters take turns playing the narrator, whose function is minimal, sometimes setting a sardonic tone by acknowledging the constructed nature of musical drama and the voyeuristic act of watching it. But to begin with their beginnings: the revival of Falsettos makes precisely the opposite opening gesture as the revival of Fiddler, where the actor playing Tevye assumes the role only after appearing in modern dress. In “Four Jews,” the four male characters (including ten-year-old Jason) are initially costumed like shepherds “back in biblical times,” then 230

Falsettos and Indecent

strip down midway through the number to reveal contemporary clothes beneath their robes and to introduce themselves. Before this point, they evoke through lyrics and choreography several biblical scenes and stories, presented more playfully than reverently, climaxing, in one of the central “miracles of Judaism,” with the parting of the Red Sea. The latter mini-scene happens at the instigation of Trina, the first act’s sole female character, who crosses the stage intoning “Slavery, slavery” while collecting the shepherd’s crooks and staffs, props that the “Four Jews” have just used, with tongues firmly planted in cheeks, to suggest other scenes and characters from the Bible. The most clearly evoked characters in this oddly eclectic quartet are Whizzer’s Samson, combing out his hair with his staff-comb, and Jason’s David slaying Goliath, his crook becoming first a sling and then, with playful anachronism, a bow. Marvin seems to be claiming membership in another biblical quartet, riding his crook-horse toward the apocalypse, while Mendel, more generically, plays a flute and dances. But if the latter point of reference is vague, Mendel is more graphically pointed earlier, when, while singing the show’s first solo lyric, “Whadda they do for love?,” he assumes the pose of Jesus on the cross, his shepherd’s crook the cross-beam, his head tilted, his three companions grouped like those gathered at the foot of the cross in countless paintings. While we may observe that the costuming in both Fiddler and Falsettos seeks to connect the distant past and the present, we must also wonder why the Jews in Falsettos, in evoking that past, would call out, however playfully, such extreme moments in Christian mythology as the Crucifixion and the apocalypse. Because these evocations are layered onto a number that does not refer to Christianity in its lyrics (nor to any other biblical scenes other than the Exodus), we may assume they are inspired by the themes of Act II, and are meant to point obliquely to the apocalypse of the AIDS epidemic, the martyrdom of its victims, and the helplessness of their observers. Indeed, even the use of a red swath of fabric to represent the Red Sea, however playfully literalist, can seem a deeply disturbing presentiment of the AIDS crisis, particularly for the long moment, prior to its “parting,” when red extends across the entire stage. The opening to Act II, on the other hand, does not refer at all to Jews, as Mendel calls out instead to “Homosexuals, women with children, [and] short insomniacs,” categories that may include Jews but need not, and that also accommodate the act’s two new characters, who are not Jewish: Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia, who, as “the lesbians next door,” also fit into the first of Mendel’s categories.16 This reorientation of perspective sets up the show’s main gestures toward intersectionality, through establishing a dialectic between a core Jewish component and a broadened perspective; thus, the AIDS plot will operate, across the act, in dynamic dialog with the Bar Mitzvah plot. Indeed, the addition of Charlotte and Cordelia constitutes a separate gesture toward intersectionality, given the level of tension between gays and lesbians in the early 1990s. For the revival, Charlotte was cast as a woman of color (Tracie Thoms), conforming to the interracial practices cited earlier. Act II also extends and resolves the central problem of Act I, which enacts a kind of human-scale puzzle game wherein the adults are both players and tokens. For Marvin, the game-playing symbolizes an extended refusal to grow up. For Jason it reflects an evolving childhood that will by the end of the act partly displace chess with girls. For Mendel—Marvin’s therapist and his ex-wife’s future husband—it points to his presumptuous tendency to rationalize inappropriate behavior. And for Whizzer it represents something between Jason’s youthful changeability and Marvin’s refusal of adulthood. In “I’m Breaking Down,” Trina plays, too, if ruefully, indulging the phallic imagery of her “banana-carrot surprise” (a sequence omitted from the cast album).17 But, more typically, she plays the grownup, complaining in “Trina’s Song” (just after accepting Mendel’s proposal), “They grow, but don’t mature … Their toys are people’s lives. … I’m tired of all the happy frightened men who rule the world. Stupid, charming men. Silly, childish jerks.” The basis for her plaint is immediately confirmed by the men themselves, who, in “March of the Falsettos,” seem simultaneously figments of Trina’s fantasies and true to their characters’ own inclinations, describing themselves as 231

Raymond Knapp and Zelda Knapp

“Four men swaying in phosphorescence, … replaying their adolescence. … It’s a goddamn surety we’re lacking in maturity,” enacting their childishness through every absurd move. Growing up involves pain; the beginning stages of that process are driven, in Act I, by failure. Marvin’s games with Whizzer fail—literally, during a chess game between two manipulative people that is neither taken seriously nor entirely a game—and they break up. Marvin’s high-stakes game with Trina fails when he cannot accept her marriage to Mendel and strikes her in front of their son and her fiancé. But at the end of the act, these isolating failures lead him to a new maturity, expressed poignantly in “Father to Son” and given gestural focus when he gently pushes Jason’s chess set to the side in response to his son’s effort to escape. Marvin, through this gesture and the controlled intensity of the song, insists instead that they focus on each other, without mediation, as he tries to chart Jason’s path to adulthood. Maturity in Falsettos connects directly to the capacity to love, and before the final number of Act I, the latter receives very little expression. Instead, Jason withdraws; Marvin spars with Whizzer and Trina; Mendel manipulates, then awkwardly proposes marriage; Trina accepts a marriage of convenience; the new couple sets up a household around an unhappy Jason, as if they are playing a board game. In Act II, however, the lesbians next door and Whizzer’s return provide occasions for new models of expressed love before disaster strikes. The upbeat tone of Charlotte and Cordelia’s portions of “A Day in Falsettoland” and the sentimental sweetness of Marvin’s “What More Can I Say” are so strikingly new that they would be cloying without the counterpoint of Mendel and Trina’s discontent, the squabbling over Jason’s Bar Mitzvah, the fact that “What More” is sung in bed, nude, one man about the other asleep in his arms, or without our background awareness that such happiness comes too early in the act not to be the prelude to tragedy. Importantly, too, baseball replaces chess for Jason (conveniently bringing Whizzer back aboard, just in time to coach him to success), and a round of racquetball shows Marvin and Whizzer managing their differing abilities with greater equanimity than they had in their earlier round of chess. A new stage of maturity—or capacity to love—comes with more difficulty for the others. Mendel makes little if any progress, although Trina achieves a breakthrough in “Holding to the Ground,” as does Jason, who—right on cue with his official progression to adulthood—­ decides not to cancel his Bar Mitzvah, but rather to hold it in Whizzer’s hospital room. The onset and progression of AIDS functions, through the pain it brings, as the direct agent of Trina’s and Jason’s maturation, and of Marvin’s full arrival to adulthood, an aspect of the plotting that is given crucial reinforcement through staging. Throughout Act I, all the stage furniture is pulled from a large, gray puzzle cube, reassembled to create the required individual settings, each step reinforcing the act’s thematic use of games and game-playing, culminating in Mendel and Trina’s “Making a Home.” But when, at the beginning of Act II, the cityscape created through these shapes tumbles to the ground, the game-playing is essentially over. The shapes gradually disappear from the stage, cleared to make room for the racquetball court, used minimalistically to suggest the lesbians’ apartment or Mendel’s office, and reduced by the onset of the crisis to a single bench-like shape. Immediately after, when Whizzer collapses on the court, Trina brings on the show’s first actual furniture—a chair—as she begins “Holding to the Ground,” providing the first component of what will be Whizzer’s final reality: the hospital room. In the final sequence, after the Bar Mitzvah celebration and Marvin’s farewell to Whizzer (“What Would I Do?”), the large puzzle cube returns to the stage, and from it a single shape is removed to serve as Whizzer’s headstone, leaving a disturbingly deep void in the cube’s face, directly evoking, like the ­Homosexuellen-Denkmal in Berlin, the opening of a mausoleum, a World War II bunker—or an oven, an all-too-familiar image from the Holocaust.18 If at the beginning of the show Trina can play the intersectionality card with immunity, as a playful engagement with ritual (“Slavery, slavery”), we are here, in the end, at the grim intersection of human tragedy.


Falsettos and Indecent

In creating a musical setting that reflects modern Jewish life without overemphasizing its J­ewishness, Finn in Falsettos parallels Sondheim, who despite a strongly etched Jewish sensibility only rarely makes a point of Jewishness itself—a parallel reinforced by an often observed stylistic affinity, involving a “brittle” musical style overlaid with conversational and clever lyrics.19 Yet, despite these affinities, Finn is considerably more willing than Sondheim to activate Jewishness, to evoke Jewish intersectionality, and, more generally, to impose his own experiences and attitudes on his characters. It is in this context of partial affinities with an earlier generation of Broadway composers that Falsettos might be seen not as opposing Fiddler’s encrusted conservatism, but as adapting its structural features to different ends, already observed in its reversal of Fiddler’s opening device. But the parallels run much deeper, evident even before these revivals brought a new focus to them. Both shows open with a number that establishes a seemingly secure world in which Jews squabble as a way of life. Both include a character who speaks confrontationally to God, although with another neat reversal, since that character is the father in Fiddler and the son in Falsettos. The wives in both shows attempt to find love within a marriage whose rationale is, initially, decidedly not love. Both shows, after their opening numbers, proceed to undercut the traditions that provide stability to their respective worlds, and then partially to restore tradition around the very thing that has upset it. Thus, Fiddler presents a traditional wedding around Tzeitel’s untraditional act of choosing her own husband, whereas Marvin attempts to create an extended family unit after his divorce, including both his previous family and Whizzer. By the end of the first act, in both, these attempts end in disaster, but retain some basis for continued hope. In their second acts, however, they each confront an implacable enemy while holding to Jewish traditions as a means for extending family to a sustaining larger community, even in the face of the sure knowledge—in the audience, at least—of a grim fate awaiting large numbers in that extended community. Thus, given Marvin’s renewed sexual relationship with Whizzer earlier in the act and Dr. Charlotte’s chilling reprise of “Something Bad” (“something … that spreads from one man to another”) we end the show knowing Marvin’s extreme risk without knowing his actual fate, just as, with Fiddler, we must imagine what awaits those who leave for Siberia, for Kraków, for America, for Jerusalem. Falsettos’s story of AIDS in the context of Jewish homosexuality thus runs in direct parallel to Fiddler’s story of Anatevka’s destruction as a foreshadowing of the Holocaust, whether by intention or by some invisible hand directing how Jewish stories ought to be told. Arguably, however, Falsettos reengages Jewish intersectionality, with the AIDS crisis displacing older intersections based on shared histories of slavery or diaspora. These structural affinities obliquely reinforce this reengagement, taking full advantage not only of the ways that Fiddler has become the single most important emblem of Jewish culture relevant to Broadway, but also of that show’s capacity to stand in for Jewish loss more generally, as it surely does in the haunting opening of Indecent.

Notes 1 Fiddler on the Roof opened December 20, 2015 and closed December 31, 2016; Indecent opened off-­ Broadway May 17, 2016, transferred to Broadway April 18, 2017, and closed August 6, 2017; Falsettos opened October 27, 2016 and closed January 8, 2017. Drafts of this chapter were read at “American Culture and the Jewish Experience in Music” (UCLA 5–7 Nov. 2017), and at UT, Austin (8 Dec. 2017); the authors wish to thank audience members, along with the editors, for their useful interventions. 2 See, e.g., Raymond Knapp. The American Musical and National Identity. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2005. 215–216. 3 Reaching for universality in this way can backfire. Early editions of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl (including the 1959 film) were seen to efface much of the title character’s Jewish identity in attempting to universalize her story (Ruth Franklin. “Did Anne Frank Really Have An ‘Infinite Human Spirit’?” The New Republic. 8 Mar. 2011. Web. 4 Aug. 2017. ). Similarly, the 2004 revival of Fiddler was seen to have lost its “Jewish soul” (Thane Rosenbaum. “A Legacy Cut Loose.” Los Angeles Times. 15 Feb. 2004). For related discussions, see Jill Dolan. “Wondering about Fiddler on the Roof at Arena Stage.” The Feminist Spectator. 17 Dec. 2014. Web. 4 Aug. 2017. . 4 See Andrea Most. Theatrical Liberalism: Jews and Popular Entertainment in America. New York: New York UP, 2013. 152–160, who concludes, “while the daughters stride confidently into the future on paths dictated by their hearts, the play is ultimately unsure whether parents or children will have the better life” (159). 5 Susan Reimer-Torn. “The Brothel Owner and the Milkman.” Jewish Currents. 28 Apr. 2017. Web. 19 June 2018. . 6 “Ale Brider” (“Brothers All”), a Yiddish workers’ song, flips gender for a later verse, which, had it been included, would have called out the brothel owner’s wife and daughter by name (Sarah and Rif kele), along with the Americanized name of the actress playing the latter (Ruth): “Sore, Riveke, Rut un Ester.” 7 Paula Vogel. Indecent. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2017. All references to Indecent, including Yiddish spellings, are to the published script unless noted. 8 Asch’s reference to an extended audience, now gone, recalls an earlier scene, when Peretz, the host for the salon reading of the play, asks, “Asch. Asch. Who is your audience?” and Asch replies, “I want to write for everyone.” 9 The Bagelman Sisters (later, the Barry Sisters) capitalized on the Andrews Sisters’ success with “Bei Mir” to take their own careers mainstream, as performers of Yiddish songs in swing style. 10 As the script explains, “‘Wiegala’ was written by Ilse Weber, a nurse at the Children’s Hospital at ­Theresienstadt … for the children in the wards. When it came time for the children to be transported to Auschwitz, Ilse volunteered to go with them. It is said she sang this song in line to the chambers: ‘The wind plays on the lyre, the nightingale sings, the moon is a lantern … sleep, my little child, sleep.’” 11 This connection was made earlier and more explicitly in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (1985); Kramer’s stand-in Ned Weeks asks, with irrepressible fury, “What causes silence like that?” and laments, “It’s happened before. It’s all happened before.” Other plays that address the AIDS crisis early on include William M. Hoffman’s As Is (1985), Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1991/1993), and Larry Kramer’s The Destiny of Me (1992), while other plays, including Lanford Wilson’s Burn This (1987), Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room (1990), and Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltz (1992), respond more obliquely to the crisis. 12 Andrea Most. Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2004. 13 Ibid., 196. 14 At the same time, Jews on Broadway and in Hollywood continued to proliferate African-American stereotypes through blackface, and employed business practices that marginalized their contributions. Core here is the articulation between assimilation and intersectionality, strategies that could be opposed to each other (as in the practice of blackface), but were at other times closely allied, as in much of the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein. ­ ostel’s 15 Jeremy Gerard. “Director Jerry Zaks on the Love Stories behind ‘Hello, Dolly!’ – And Zero M Mezuzah.” Deadline Hollywood. 24 May 2017. Web. 6 Aug. 2017. . 16 Mendel’s list concludes with “and a teeny tiny band,” referring first to the orchestra, later to the cast and Mendel’s wedding ring, and, finally, to those who remain to mourn Whizzer. 17 The symbolism specifically targets the three men in Trina’s life: she chops two bananas, one unpeeled (Whizzer is only half-Jewish), then inspects a pathetically limp carrot. 18 See (Web. 1 July, 2019). This visual allusion topically parallels the huge AIDS Quilt backdrop at the ending of the first full staging of Falsettos (Howard Sherman. “Before Broadway’s ‘Falsettos,’ Hartford Stage’s Changed Lives.” Web. 12 June 2018. ). 19 See, e.g., Thomas S. Hischak’s. “William Finn (1952–).”Contemporary Gay American Poets and Playwrights: An A-to-Z Guide. Ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 2003. 162–171, 168–169.



Reading the Musical through Dance

This collection of chapters focuses on bodies in motion. Dancing is often undervalued as a key factor in musical theater meaning and history, despite its centrality to many productions and its status as one of the three elements that create a “triple threat” performer. Thanks to a growing number of committed musical theater scholars like the ones featured herein—as well as the recent return in popularity of dance- and movement-heavy shows like Hamilton—our field is finally beginning to address the layered, culturally loaded meanings of dance on the musical theater stage. What is dance in musical theater? How has it functioned in the past, and how has it changed at present? How does it relate to other dance genres, including historical dance, social dance, or dance styles associated with pop and rock music? How do choreographers enforce, undermine, or otherwise interpret the meaning of a show with their contributions? In this section, Joanna Dee Das uses the 2000 dance musical Contact to question the very definition of a musical. A show consisting of constant dance, but no singing or original or live music, Contact was critically and commercially successful, but it still confused plenty of critics, audiences, and Tony voters when it appeared on Broadway. In her chapter, Das explores the controversy surrounding Contact, not with the goal of pinning down a genre label for the piece, but rather to explore what is at stake when a piece pushes the boundaries of what a musical is supposed to be by prioritizing dance so boldly. Next, Liza Gennaro examines the ways dance is approached in revivals: what choices does a choreographer have with the revival of a dance-heavy musical? How do new choreographers balance cultural memory with the need to freshen up old chestnuts—do they retain the original choreography, modify and update it, or toss it out completely and start anew, despite audience familiarity with the original moves? Finally, Phoebe Rumsey explores the impressive range of dance styles presented in Hamilton, arguing that choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s nearly perpetual movement vocabulary carries the story at least as much as the music and lyrics do. The dance and gestures create a parallel, informative historical narrative that reinforces and comments on the storyline. Any musical, whether dance-heavy or not, presents bodies on stage for audiences to look at. Those bodies might be healthy, typical, disabled, or atypical, whether they are in constant motion or barely moving at all. All choices by any creative team, about any body or mind at work onstage, have a significant impact on how we understand what we are taking in.

23 WHAT MAKES A MUSICAL? Contact (2000) and Debates About Genre at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century Joanna Dee Das

In her introduction to The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theater, Nadine George-Graves questions why people in the twenty-first century still seem to care so deeply about defining a performance as either dance or theater.1 As her primary example of a show that blurred these genres, GeorgeGraves discusses Contact. Contact won the 2000 Tony Award for Best Musical despite having no singing, no live music, no original score, and almost no dialogue. Instead, dance was the show’s primary medium of communication. After the Tony Awards, New York Post critic Clive Barnes remarked that Contact was the “luckiest” show of the Broadway season, given that “the entire musical is in effect nothing but three ballets.”2 Bestowing the Best Musical designation on Contact—during the first Tony Award ceremony of the new millennium, no less—sparked enormous debate. Those who weighed in generally framed their arguments in aesthetic or philosophical terms. Musicians, composers, orchestrators, and librettists argued that Contact was not a musical given its lack of musical elements. Theater critics defended Contact’s categorization because the show’s music and dance transported audiences to another world, and thus served the genre’s existential purpose. George-Graves underscored the theatrical nature of Contact, given that the show incorporated character, plot, and “silent method acting,” but also recognized that it “substitute[ed] orality with corporeality.”3 When viewed through an aesthetic lens, Contact comes across as a fairly clear-cut dance production: the show’s performers respond to recorded music with movement, which is standard practice in dance concerts but anomalous in the live-music world of musical theater. The limited theatrical techniques employed, even the snippets of dialogue, have been part of concert dance for decades. Its format was three short acts connected not by plot but by theme—again, a typical format for concert dance but rare for musicals. What the aesthetic debates miss is that economic and political motivations influence genre categorization. Pamyla Stiehl argues that a musical is a “Golden Triangle” comprised of music, dance, and text.4 If we think of that triangle instead as a three-legged stool, then commercial enterprise is, in Elizabeth Craft’s words, the “foundation”—the floor upon which the stool sits.5 Creators Susan Stroman and John Weidman originally described Contact as a “dance play,” but soon after its Off-Broadway debut at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater of Lincoln Center, Contact was rebranded as a musical. Within months the show moved to the Vivian Beaumont Theater, the official Broadway playhouse of Lincoln Center, making it Tony-eligible. As a genre, musicals have a wider audience and make more money than dance productions. During the 2002 fiscal year—the first such year that data were collected for dance performances in New York, and a year 236

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during which Contact was still running on Broadway—one million people saw shows classified as dance concerts in New York City, spending $61 million on tickets. In contrast, 11 million people attended Broadway productions that season, and ticket sales grossed $643 million.6 The Tony Awards offer greater recognition than the New York Dance and Performance Awards, known as the “Bessies.” By marketing itself as a Broadway show and winning the Tony for Best Musical, Contact was able to achieve a different level of financial success and stature. There was also a political consideration. Beginning in the early 1980s and accelerating in the 1990s under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, multinational corporations became heavily involved in the real estate of Times Square and the financing of musicals. Instead of individual producers, whose idiosyncratic artistic visions could lead them to take chances on new ideas, corporate production teams like Disney Theatrical Productions proceeded more conservatively, putting money into revivals, musicals based on successful films, and productions that had established themselves in Europe. Many such shows relied more on technological effects and less on the power of embodied performance. Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera, which had almost no dancing, became international sensations for which Broadway was less an end goal than a launching pad for even greater global profits. The smash-hit success of two Disney endeavors, Beauty and the Beast (1994) and The Lion King (1997)—the latter which as of 2019 is the ­h ighest-grossing musical of all time—seemed to cement the trend of corporate dominance by the late 1990s.7 The debate about Contact’s legitimacy as a musical, therefore, quickly became a proxy for larger debates about who had power over Broadway’s future at the dawn of the new millennium. Was Contact, developed in a basement rehearsal room at the nonprofit Lincoln Center complex, an artistic David that challenged the commercial Goliath of Disney? Or, conversely, in its exclusion of singers, musicians, orchestrators, and other personnel typically associated with Broadway, was Contact’s creative team ultimately not much different than the corporate producers whom many felt were “destroying” the artistic integrity of the American stage musical? Less explicitly, was the debate over Contact a missed opportunity for the field of dance? Instead of claiming ownership of Contact and thus demonstrating the power of dance to reach and profit from a broader audience, many dance critics disparaged the show, expressing wonderment that audiences and theater critics seemed to enjoy it. Nor did others in the dance community make much effort to capitalize on the show’s success, confirming social theorist Pierre Bourdieu’s claim that those who see themselves in the realm of “high” culture “inver[t]…the logic of the larger economy of the society.”8 Furthermore, though Lincoln Center has historically been a site for concert dance, the specific venues for Contact within the performing arts complex typically showcased plays and musicals, not dance concerts. Popularity, profits, and expansion into new spaces lowered, rather than raised, Contact’s cultural capital.

The Creation of Contact: Not Just Another Dansical Contact was not the first show on Broadway to feature dance as its dominant communicative medium. Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ (1978) was the first that Stiehl considers a fully realized “dansical,” which she defines as “an all-dance production created by a recognized, authoritative Broadway choreographer/director and intended as a musical theater work for a Broadway audience,” which “puts choreography and dance at the forefront.”9 After Dancin’, the dansical disappeared for 21 years, until a cluster of shows emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s: Fosse (1999), which won the Tony for Best Musical, Swing! (1999), Contact (2000), and Movin’ Out (2002). During those years, the Tony administrative committee also decided to count two all-dance productions— Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake (1998) and Riverdance (1999)—as musicals, with Bourne winning Tonys for Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical in 1999. 237

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Given that the “dansification” of Broadway was in full swing, why did Contact alone become so controversial?10 Despite sharing several characteristics with these other productions, Contact uniquely had no live music. Swing!, Fosse, and Movin’ Out were fully sung and orchestrated; Riverdance and Swan Lake, which had no singing, nevertheless used live orchestras. Furthermore, Contact was neither a revue nor a cohesive narrative, the two primary structural forms of musical theater, but instead built of vignettes. These differences not only altered its aesthetic qualities but also its relationship to the economy of Broadway. Contact’s uniqueness was linked to its creation story, which unfolds like an artist’s fantasy and contributed to its championing as a “pure” process in contrast to the corporate culture of late 1990s Broadway.11 A nonprofit institution has such faith in an artist that it gives her free rein to create whatever she wants. She gathers the perfect group of people, intentionally diverse in look and movement style, who magically fit synergistically together. She gives them agency to be co-creators, investing them in the process. She encourages dancers to find their inner actors and actors to find their inner dancers. Paid a modest $300 or so a week, with no guarantee of r­ eaching the stage, the performers create “something out of nothing” in a concrete basement rehearsal room.12 Improbably, in the era of corporate bankrolling and spectacular special effects, the modest production built on the simple idea of human contact wins the first Tony for Best Musical of the new millennium. Contact’s creation was not entirely a Cinderella story, however. The artist in question was Susan Stroman, Tony Award-winning choreographer for Crazy for You (1992) and the 1994 revival of Show Boat. When the executive directors of Lincoln Center offered her this workshop opportunity, they were hardly betting on an unknown entity. While Stroman’s aesthetic does not have a definitive movement style associated with it like Fosse, she is known for incorporating props and lots of classic “showstopping” numbers like synchronized line dances. In a synchronized line dance, performers execute identical steps simultaneously, with the same quality and lines of the body (i.e. they will all kick their right leg at the same height), to the same rhythm. The repetition and mirroring, the exactitude and coordination of body positions, transform human beings into a visual spectacle of movement machines. Paradoxically, this detachment from the human gives audiences an affective feeling of joy and wonder. Stroman is also acclaimed for giving her dancers depth of character, which seems to contradict her tendency to include machine-like precision and prop interaction in her choreography.13 It also makes her the perfect director-choreographer for a show that blurs theater and dance. Journalists lauded Stroman’s methodology of “researching” backstories for the characters in Contact as further evidence of the show’s uniqueness.14 Earlier in the twentieth century, choreographers Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins similarly asked dancers to flesh out motivations and emotions to inform their dancing; Stroman has cited Robbins as an inspiration for her character-driven work.15 The surprise critics expressed that Stroman would ask a dancer to have ­emotional depth points to historical amnesia about these earlier efforts. Furthermore, many people still think of dance productions as either too abstract or stuck in an outmoded form of storytelling to have the same gravitas as theatrical productions.16 While perhaps unfair, this assertion contains a grain of truth, since anti-theatrical bias still exists in dance. Dancers in the United States have been telling stories and communicating truths about the human condition for well over a century, but until recently few of them received training in acting. Within newer musical theater productions, dancers may collectively convey a certain emotion or mood, but often do not express anything individually. Choreographer George Balanchine’s famous quotes, “Don’t think, dear, do,” and “don’t act, just dance,” have permeated dance studios across the United States, where students are told to get “out of their heads” and into their bodies, as if the two were separate entities. Multiple cast members in Contact confirmed in interviews that they experienced these injunctions against individual expressivity as dancers until working with Stroman on the show.17 238

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Stroman’s story of her inspiration for Contact, which sounds unbelievable and makes for a good tale, also contributed to the emotionally compelling effect of its creation myth. While doing research for a film project, she happened into a pool parlor in SoHo (a neighborhood in lower Manhattan) that became a swing dance club after midnight. Stroman observed as a woman in a yellow dress walked onto the dance floor and “stared down prospective dance partners.” When men approached her to dance, this mysterious woman would accept or reject them with a quick motion of her head. She refused to dance with anyone for more than one song, either moving on to the next partner or leaving the floor.18 Stroman told writer John Weidman (of Assassins and Pacific Overtures renown) the story, and they both fell in love with the idea that a girl in a yellow dress “was gonna change somebody’s life” through the singular experience of a three-minute dance. Weidman was further intrigued by the strict limitations imposed on the encounter: “My experience as a kid was that you hoped dancing would be a prelude to something else—a date, necking, something. The notion that this person was using dance as a very limited and defined way of making contact with other people seemed like a riveting image to me.”19 The yellow dress, whether actually seen by Stroman or borne from her imagination, seemed a perfect costume choice. Red or black would too easily suggest willful seduction; blue, a sense of melancholy; pink, lighthearted flirtatiousness. Yellow could be sexy but more importantly, vibrant and life-affirming.

From Workshop to Broadway Building from the central theme of physical contact through dance as a life-giving force, Stroman and Weidman created a one-hour dance piece. The main character is a middle-aged advertising executive named Michael Wiley (created by Boyd Gaines), who wins awards and drinks with friends, but whose life lacks deep meaning. He tries and fails to commit suicide. In a dream, he stumbles around the streets of New York and happens upon a swing club. He watches, mesmerized, as the Girl in the Yellow Dress (created by Deborah Yates) commands the dance floor among couples clad in black. Wiley works up the courage to ask her to dance. Their climactic moment of physical connection happens during the clarinet solo of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” This dance gives Wiley liberation, redemption, and a reason to live. When he awakes from this dream, his downstairs neighbor appears—a woman in yellow pajamas, also played by Yates—and together they dance as the lights fade.20 After attendees at a workshop performance on February 13, 1999 “went nuts” over “Contact,” 21 Lincoln Center gave the green light to develop the one-hour piece into a full show. Slightly confusingly, “Contact” remained the title for the second act of Contact, and two new scenes comprised a first act. Scene one, “Swinging,” is based on Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting The Swing (1768). An instrumental jazz recording of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Heart Stood Still” provides the soundtrack. As the lights come up, a servant pushes a woman on a swing as she flirts with a male aristocrat lounging on the ground. When she sends her suitor offstage to procure more champagne, she and the servant copulate in various positions on the swing. When the aristocrat returns, a twist occurs: he and the servant switch jackets. 22 The whole escapade has been a play on the idea of “swinging,” with the theme of contact taken quite literally. Scene two, “Did You Move?”, has no obvious relationship to the “swing” theme but does express the yearning for human connection. At an Italian restaurant in Queens in 1954, an abusive husband ( Jason Antoon) and his nervous, chattering wife (Karen Ziemba) sit down to dinner. When he rises to go to the buffet table, he commands her, “Don’t fuckin’ move.”23 In a staged fantasy (signaled by dimmed lights) she escapes his strictures by dancing balletically to music by Tchaikovsky and Bizet. Eventually, one of the waiters joins her for an amorous pas de deux. The 239

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scene demonstrates Stroman’s facility with props choreography: the duo navigates food carts, tables, chairs, and patrons as they leap and pirouette. The fantasy dissolves when the husband returns and asks suspiciously, “Did you fucking move?”24 In both this scene and the second act “Contact,” dance provides a lifeline. When the show opened at the Newhouse on October 7, 1999, critics extended the notion of dancing to save one’s life as metaphor for the show itself: the dance-centric Contact would save the dying genre of musical theater, even though its creators and the Playbill called it a “dance play.” Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote that Contact’s “timing is merciful indeed. It had been looking as if the red-blooded American musical would succumb to fatal anemia before the century’s end…‘Contact’ achieves what few musicals do these days: a sense of euphoric connection between the audience and what is happening on the stage.”25 In the New York Post, Donald Lyons stated, “what’s been lost on Broadway is found at Lincoln Center.”26 In the New Yorker, John Lahr criticized dominant musical trends, namely revivals that had “spread like kudzu over the theater district” and shows that sucked the “fun” out of musicals by carrying “more intellectual baggage than [they] can successfully bear.” He posited that “the effect [of the dancing in Contact] is startling and fresh and free from the infernal pretentiousness of so much Broadway spectacle.”27 Some questionable assumptions underpinned these critics’ responses. The first was that the musical was a dying genre. Declension narratives about the musical had existed for decades, with the chorus of voices mourning its demise grown louder since the end of the putative “Golden Era” in the early 1960s. If true, however, Broadway had either been on life support for over 30 years (a rather attenuated death), or the axiom was simply a cliché spoken so often that it took on the ­veneer of truth. The latter seems more likely: Broadway attendance figures increased from the 1970s to the year 2000, and have continued to rise in the twenty-first century.28 The second assumption was that one can categorize a musical not by aesthetic form, but rather by feeling. Brantley indicated that a musical should create euphoria; Lahr that it should be “fun.” The effusive praise from critics, as well as their designation of Contact as a musical, changed its trajectory. Brantley’s glowing review inspired producers to declare the very next day that they planned to move the show to Broadway. Within 48 hours, Contact had sold out its entire extended run. Some aspects of Contact did not seem to warrant such adoration. Much about the show’s premise lacked originality, especially in the second-act “Contact.” A single, white, male, ­m iddle-aged advertising executive is certainly a clichéd symbol of an empty life. Similarly, it is hardly original to use “Sing, Sing, Sing” as a climactic dance number: Goodman’s tune is also featured in Dancin’, Fosse, and Swing!, the last two of which were running on Broadway as Stroman was developing Contact. Nevertheless, Contact’s almost-exclusive use of embodiment to tell stories was unique for Lincoln Center Theater subscribers and audiences accustomed to musical theater. Beyond mere embodiment, furthermore, the relentless kineticism was a departure from a typical theatrical production. At the restaurant and swing club, patrons kept moving and dancing as the plots developed. Furthering the kinetic intensity, Contact transformed spectators into participants. At the Newhouse, the audience surrounded the thrust stage, sitting close enough for the performers to fling sweat and spit on them. In Act II, spectators were in many ways in the swing club, looking not only at the dancers, but also at audience members sitting across from them. People bought tickets to see the show multiple times from different vantage points, catching different individualized moments of connection. Stroman’s meticulous, precise choreography filled the tiny space. Dancers flipped off of chairs, partnered each other on a pool table, and kept in constant motion, even when props whizzed around them. The kinetic vibrancy would be impressive on a stage of any size, but to experience what Contact cast member Nina Goldman calls a “high energy, high-octane” environment so close up elicited an overwhelming affective response from the 240

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audience.29 While the theme of “making contact” with other human beings is perhaps so broad as to be potentially meaningless, Stroman’s unique way of conveying that message struck a chord. In March 2000, Contact moved to Broadway. This migration was more metaphorical than physical: the production traded in the Newhouse for the Beaumont Theater, located just one floor above in the same Lincoln Center building. While less intimate than the Newhouse, the B ­ eaumont still featured the thrust stage that immersed the audience in the production. Nevertheless, the metaphorical move had concrete consequences. Contact resided uptown at Lincoln Center along with the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and New York City Ballet—a triumvirate of highbrow art. At the same time, Contact was now officially a Broadway musical, and thus the essence of middlebrow entertainment. The attempt to have it both ways caused some problems. Contact ran for 1,010 performances, closing on September 1, 2002. While a decent run, cast member Seán Martin Hingston posits that given how much audiences loved it, the show C ­ ontact could have had a longer life had it relocated to Times Square, Broadway’s geographic and economic heart.30 Then again, becoming a Broadway musical heightened expectations. A backlash occurred among some critics who complained that the vaunting of Contact was overblown hype.31 The show’s new genre designation also increased scrutiny. An Off-Broadway dance production in a nonprofit theater could be applauded for its uniqueness; now that it competed with other ­Broadway musicals for market share, questions arose about the appropriateness of calling it a musical.

Genre Trouble Such questions multiplied in April 2000 when the Tony Award Administration Committee announced that Contact would be eligible for nomination as Best Musical. The musicians’ union, Local 802, officially objected. One member of the Tony nominating committee resigned in protest, calling the decision a “disinvestment in the future of the art form.”32 A few weeks later, nine orchestrators sent a letter to American Theater Wing president Roy Somlyo, League of American Theaters and Producers Executive Director Jed Bernstein, and Edgar Dobie, managing producer of the 2000 Tony Awards, urging “in the strongest terms to reconsider” the decision. The letter argued, to “allow a dance play utilizing recorded standards to be considered denigrates the live theatrical art form of the musical. Having participated as members of the creative team on numerous Broadway musicals, we are disturbed at the lack of recognition for the musical creativity implicit in your decision.”33 Stroman and Weidman, who had decided to call Contact a dance play when it originally premiered, now defended their “musical” against these accusations. Stroman stated, I love musicians….What I haven’t heard mentioned is that we are paying royalties for every song we use, which means that all those musicians are earning money, and probably enough to pay for seven orchestras. Overall, though, I think these controversies are blown out of proportion. ‘Les Mis’ has no dance at all. Does that mean it’s not a musical? I think it doesn’t matter, all these definitions.34 Stroman overlooked the fact that paying royalties for recorded music was not the same as paying working musicians whose livelihoods depended on Broadway productions. Nor did she acknowledge that the three-legged stool of a musical is undeniably uneven: most people assume that a musical will contain singing, but not necessarily dancing. Instead of bolstering her argument that she cared about musicians, her point that it cost even more money to pay the royalties only seemed to reinforce her flouting of the genre’s traditions: it was expensive to break the rules, but she did so anyway. She and cast members insisted that live music would destroy the creative integrity of the show. The score for the second-act “Contact” came from the main character Wiley’s CD 241

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collection; songs from his life fueled his fantasy of the club. Ironically, of course, swing clubs typically feature live bands and singers. A fundamental premise of the swing form is its intimate, improvisatory interaction between musicians and dancers.35 But because of the creative choice to infuse this particular club with the pop tunes of Wiley’s CD rack, Stroman and Weidman felt that the two scenes in the first act should also have recorded music.36 Theater critics rose to Stroman’s defense, arguing that challenging Broadway tradition gives the industry its creative vitality. Jeremy Gerard wrote in New York magazine that Stroman’s work “all but screams Break the rules!…The result may be a hybrid, but it’s original and completely exhilarating.”37 Margo Jefferson argued, “Its form was unusual, but its impulse was primal. It showed us that musicals…exist to convince us that the people onstage always feel a song coming on, and therefore, in the succinct words of Gene Kelly, ‘Gotta dance, gotta dance, gotta dance.’”38 Like Brantley in his review of Contact from the year before, Jefferson defined a musical based on the feeling it created. Dissenting voices came from dance critics, who, as John Heilman noted, “haven’t seen anything new, let alone revolutionary, in Contact at all.”39 The Wall Street Journal’s Robert Greskovic criticized the “canned, clichéd music,” the “uninspired writing,” the “gross obviousness” of the plots, and the choreography, which he wrote “has all the subtlety and originality of whimsical improvisations in front of a dressing mirror.” He surmised that the “hyperbolic” praise of the show meant that “aficionados of Broadway musical theater don’t get out enough to dance performances.”40 A few months earlier, Anna Kisselgoff, then-chief dance critic at the New York Times, had had voiced similar sentiments about Contact, albeit somewhat more gently: “If you want dance with artistic quality, why not just go to ballet and modern-dance performances?”41 Instead of attempting to pull Contact into the fold of the dance world, there seemed to be an aggrieved sense among its critics that audiences were overlooking what dance could offer in favor of ­watered-down versions labeled musicals. When Contact opened in London’s West End in October 2002, theater critics split while dance critics offered unilaterally harsh words. Barbara Newman of the Dancing Times stated acerbically that Contact’s Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Lucille Lortel awards “either [prove] that 2000 was a dud year for musicals or that you can fool all the people some of the time.” She bemoaned the predictability of both the choreography and plot but conceded, “the non-dance audience enjoys every minute of Contact.”42 For the Financial Times, Alistair Macaulay wrote, “it’s as if [Stroman] has an appetite only for clichés.”43 Newman and ­M acaulay’s elitist perspectives cordoned dance off as an art form whose quality depended on a certain difficulty of comprehension. Anything too easily understood by the general public received derision. Such gatekeeping reinforced perceptions of dance as too esoteric to be popular or commercially successful. External factors affected Contact’s critical reception and limited run in England (it closed on May 10, 2003, less than seven months after opening). Hingston posits that the show lost some of its magic when moved into a traditional proscenium space, creating greater distance between the audience and cast.44 Much of the show’s success had been based on the kinesthetic empathy developed between spectator and performer in Lincoln Center’s comparatively intimate spaces. Sheridan Morley of Playbill suggested that London audiences had less “reverence” for ­choreographers—after all, the megamusicals Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, which emerged from London’s West End, featured virtually no dancing.45 Morley’s thesis ignores the facts that the revival of Chicago, a dance-heavy musical, enjoyed success in the West End, and that ­L ondon is one of Europe’s major dance centers. Certainly the dance-going public has an appreciation for quality choreography. Perhaps the West End was not suffering from the same existential crises as Broadway and was thus less inclined to embrace Contact as a savior show. Without as much investment in the


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backstory of Contact’s creation or the backdrop of Disney’s takeover of Times Square, London critics judged the show more on its aesthetic merits—and found it wanting. Nor did Contact have much of an afterlife beyond London. With an R-rated first scene, a dependence on virtuosic dancing, and formidable licensing fees for the recorded music, the show found little traction as a high school or community theater production.

The Legacy of Contact Despite its relatively brief onstage life, Contact has continued to influence musical theater. In the short term, in response to the nomination controversy, the Tony committee created a new category, “Special Theatrical Event,” for shows that did not fit comfortably into the straight play or musical genres. The “Special Theatrical Event” category was discontinued in 2009, however, due to lack of such shows to nominate for the award. Contact’s success also paved the way for Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out (2002), which enjoyed a run of 1,303 performances. Alternately called a “rock ballet” or “jukebox musical,” depending on whether one wanted to emphasize Tharp’s choreography or Billy Joel’s music, the show had no dialogue, instead telling its story through the dancing cast, a live orchestra, and a Piano Man who sang Joel’s music from a perch above the stage. Movin’ Out was nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical (tellingly, not “Special Theatrical Event”) and won two, for Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations. After the show closed in 2005, however, the dansical cycled out of favor. Contact has had a more subtle long-term impact. Its creation story echoes that of A Chorus Line from 25 years earlier: an intimate group of dancers develops a show in a workshop for a nonprofit, Off-Broadway theater and then achieves remarkable success on the Great White Way. The idea of bodies in a room together making performative magic forges a toehold for artistic idealism to survive in the commercial marketplace of Broadway. Contact extended that toehold into the twenty-first century. Yet to draw too sharp a distinction between nonprofit and commercial theater oversimplifies the situation. Corporate productions are not devoid of artistry, and the switch to promoting Contact as a musical soon after its premiere as a dance play reveals that productions developed in “pure” artistic settings are still shaped by marketing decisions. Most importantly, the genre trouble caused by Contact reveals that aesthetic considerations never exist in a vacuum. The economic and ­political circumstances of Broadway at the turn of the twenty-first century inevitably influenced perceptions of the show and its place in the artistic landscape. Future debates over the genre of musical theater may continue to be voiced in the language of aesthetics—but we cannot ignore the economic and political motors running beneath.

Notes 1 Nadine George-Graves. “Magnetic theat Fields: Too Dance for Theater, Too Theater for Dance.” The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theater. Ed. Nadine George-Graves. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. 2. 2 Clive Barnes. “Contact Has More Luck than Live Music.” New York Post. 17 May 2002. 44. 3 George-Graves, “Magnetic Fields,” 2; see also Mary Jo Lodge. “Special Theatrical Event: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.” Studies in Musical Theatre 3.2 (2009): 213–218. 4 Pamyla Alayne Stiehl. “The Dansical: American Musical Theatre Reconfigured as a Choreographer’s Expression and Domain.” PhD diss., University of Colorado, Boulder, 2008. 28. 5 Elizabeth Craft, electronic communication with author, 30 Dec. 2016. 6 “The Economic Activity of Dance in New York City.” Dance/NYC. March 2004 Report, ; “Statistics – Broadway in NYC.” 2001–2002 Season, The Broadway League, Web. 10 Mar. 2017. .


Joanna Dee Das 7 Between 1989 and 1994, there were 35 original shows produced on Broadway and 22 revivals. Prior to 1989, several Broadway seasons did not have more than one revival. See Bryan Vandevender. “Kiss Today Goodbye, and Point Me toward Tomorrow: Reviving the Time-Bound Musical, 1968–1975.” PhD diss., University of Missouri, 2014. For more on Broadway trends of the 1980s and 1990s, see Bud Coleman. “New Horizons: The Musical at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century.” The Cambridge Companion to the Musical. Ed. William A. Everett and Paul R. Laird. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. 296, 298. For more on the “Disneyfication” of Broadway, see Elizabeth Wollman. “The Economic Development of the ‘New’ Times Square and Its Impact on the Broadway Musical.” American Music 20.4 (2002): 445–465. 8 Pierre Bourdieu. “The Field of Cultural Production, Or: The Economic World Reversed.” Poetics 12 (1983): 311. 9 Stiehl, “The Dansical,” 8, 22. 10 Stiehl notes that there was also some grumbling about the categorization of Swan Lake as a musical, but the new orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s music and presence of live musicians mitigated the criticism. See “The Dansical,” 324–335. I also contend that Swan Lake’s limited run of 124 performances dampened debate because it was not seen as a threat to other Broadway shows. 11 The word “pure” came up repeatedly in articles about Contact’s creation process. See Robin Pogrebin. “Making ‘Contact’ Without Conflict; How a Hit Play Evolved, Cordially.” New York Times. 18 Oct. 1999, E1; Irene Backalenick. “Making ‘Contact’ at ATW.” Back Stage. 12–18 Nov. 1999, 5; Sylviane Gold. “Choreographer Stroman Makes Contact with Vision in Yellow.” Dance Magazine. February 2000, 64. 12 Nina Goldman, telephone interview by author, 8 Dec. 2016. 13 Stiehl also notes this contradiction; “The Dansical,” 367. 14 Tony Vellela. “Susan Stroman: Choreographer’s Got Broadway Rhythm.” Christian Science Monitor. 30 June 2000, 20. 15 Susan Stroman, interview by Michael Kantor for WNET Broadway Film Project, 30 Sept. 2003, Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (hereafter TOFT), NYPL. 16 George-Graves, “Magnetic Fields,” 2; Ellie Kusner. “The Actor’s Edge.” Pointe Magazine Online. 1 Aug. 2016. . 17 Arlene Croce. “Balanchine Said.” The New Yorker. 26 Jan. 2009, 36; Catherine Kodat. Don’t Act, Just Dance: The Metapolitics of Cold War Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2015. 61; Michael Riedel. “B’way’s Hot New Leading Lady.” New York Post. 12 Oct. 1999, 83; Goldman, interview. 18 Steven Suskin, quoted in Stiehl, “The Dansical,” 370. 19 Gold, “Choreographer Stroman Makes Contact with Vision in Yellow,” 64. 20 Descriptions come from my viewing of a DVD of Contact, dir. by Susan Stroman, 22 Dec. 1999 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, filmed for TOFT, as well as from Goldman, interview. 21 Goldman, interview. 22 Contact, TOFT. 23 Susan Stroman. “Contact: Typescript, 1999.” 6 Nov. 1999, Performing Arts Research Collections, NYPL. 24 Contact, TOFT; Stroman, “Contact: Typescript, 1999.” 25 Ben Brantley. “Musical Elixir Afoot.” New York Times. 8 Oct. 1999, E1. 26 Donald Lyons. “Sexy Dance Moves Intensify ‘Contact’.” New York Post. 8 Oct. 1999, 44. 27 John Lahr. “Gotta Dance: ‘Contact’ Finds Narrative in the Sweet Melee of the Dance Floor.” New Yorker. 18 Oct. 1999, 239. 28 Bud Coleman, “New Horizons,” 284; For more on the marketing of Broadway musicals after the ­corporate turn, see Wollman, “The Economic Development of the ‘New’ Times Square,” 450–451. 29 Goldman, interview. 30 Hingston, interview. 31 John Heilpern. “The Girl in the Yellow Dress Gotta Sing, Gotta Sing, Too.” The Observer. 19 June 2000. Web. 24 Mar. 2017. . 32 Jesse McKinley. “On Stage and Off.” New York Times. 21 Apr. 2000, E2. 33 Mike Salinas. “Orchestrators Blast Tony ‘Contact’ Decision.” Back Stage. 5 May 2000, 3. 34 Tony Vellela. “‘Contact’ Sport: Tony’s Tussle over Musical Categories: Broadway’s Best Compete for Awards Sunday.” Christian Science Monitor. 2 June 2000, 18. 35 Jacqui Malone, Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1996. 91–110.


What Makes a Musical? 36 Gold, “Choreographer Stroman Makes Contact with Vision in Yellow,” 64; Goldman, interview; Hingston, interview. 37 Jeremy Gerard. “Susan Stroman: Contact High.” New York Magazine. ca. Dec. 1999, Susan Stroman Clippings File, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 38 Margo Jefferson. “REVISIONS: Let Artistic Gray Areas Be, as Long as Truth Is Out.” New York Times. 12 June 2000, E2. 39 Heilpern, “The Girl in the Yellow Dress Gotta Sing, Gotta Sing, Too.” 40 Robert Greskovic. “Dance: She’s Here, There, Everywhere.” Wall Street Journal. ND (circa June 2000) A24, Susan Stroman Clipping File, NYPL. 41 Anna Kisselgoff. “Broadway’s Dance Card Is Full: A New Challenge to Conventional Musicals.” New York Times. 7 Jan. 2000, E1, E8. 42 Barbara Newman. “Another Opening Another Show: Contact and Our House in the West End; ­Hashirigaki and The Maids at the Barbican.” The Dancing Times. Jan. 2003, 27, 29. 43 Alistair Macaulay. Review of Contact, Financial Times. 25 Oct. 2002, in Theatre Record, 1414. 4 4 Hingston, interview. 45 Sheridan Morley. “London News: A Glance at the West End: ‘Contact.’” Playbill 21.4 (2002): 25; in agreement was Matt Wolf. “Legit Reviews: Abroad: ‘Contact’.” Variety. 11–17 Nov. 2002, 34.


24 DANCE IN MUSICAL THEATER REVIVAL AND ADAPTATION Engaging with the Past While Creating Dances for the Present Liza Gennaro Musical theater choreographers tell stories in movement and gesture, in response to text and plot and in collaboration with music. Working closely with a theater director, or in some cases serving as director and choreographer, a dance maker’s job is to translate the ideas of the libretto into movement. In the case of original shows, there is no burden of reckoning with past productions. But when it comes to revivals and adaptations, the ghosts of choreographers past loom heavily just about everywhere: in stage directions, dance arrangements, sound recordings, and cultural memory. The decision whether to recreate original dances, come up with a hybrid of original and new dances, or create an entirely new set of dances is a conceptual choice. It’s also not to be underestimated: it’s among the most important decisions when it comes to setting the style and tone of a production. In the same way that book rewrites and score reorchestrations honor the work of original writers and composers, a breed of new choreographers and directors are bringing classic musical theater dances to new audiences, not as static museum pieces but as living, changing creations that can absorb modern ideas while retaining their original integrity. This chapter examines how choreographers use dance to contemporize classic musical theater texts. In doing so, it considers two musical revivals, Fiddler on the Roof (2015) and The King and I (2015), which utilize hybrid choreography, and one film-to-stage adaptation, An American in Paris, which uses entirely new choreography.

Fiddler on the Roof (2015) For the 2015 revival of Fiddler on the Roof, director Bartlett Sher chose the internationally acclaimed contemporary choreographer Hofesh Shechter to reinvent Jerome Robbins’ original dances used in the 1964 Broadway production. Fiddler is often revived with its original choreography, the use of which requires permission from the Jerome Robbins Foundation, though “such use is not necessarily required.”1,2 Permission from the Foundation is also required to alter Robbins’ choreography—that is, to use portions of the original dances with changes to the actual dance steps or patterns. In the case of the 2015 revival, the Foundation “felt that Bart and Hofesh could be trusted to serve the material appropriately and deserved an opportunity to do so.” Sher directed Shechter to base his choreography on Robbins’ dances, but otherwise gave him free reign to do whatever he wished. Shechter admitted that initially, “I didn’t know exactly what that meant.”


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Basing new choreography on original choreography, especially in the case of Robbins—whose dances are highly specific in terms of character, time, and place—can be creatively stifling. It’s no wonder that Sher’s directive to draw from Robbins’ original dances while at the same time creating freely would be confusing. Born and raised in Israel, Shechter, who considers Jewish folk dances “the DNA” of his dance education, was an ideal choice for the revival. For the “Bottle Dance,” which occurs at the wedding of Tevye’s daughter Tzeitel, Shechter felt that Robbins’ choreography was fresh and interesting enough to retain.3 He added some new movements, but acknowledged that “so much of it is actually Jerome.” Shechter believed that the remaining dances in the show, however, were “not energetic enough.”4 One number that he chose to rechoreograph was “To Life,” during which Tevye celebrates the engagement of his eldest daughter to the wealthy butcher Lazar Wolf. The two men toast the impending wedding with other men from their shtetl at the local inn.5 As originally choreographed by Robbins, “To Life” begins when the celebrants move two tables together to create one large one for their festivities, thereby separating themselves from a group of Russians also patronizing the inn. As their celebration erupts into dance, they move the tables a second time to create floor space. A Russian who sings a long, held note interrupts their dancing. The tension between the Jews and Russians—a recurring theme in the show—is highlighted in this moment: is the interruption a threatening act of intimidation? Or is the Russian man merely hoping to join the celebration? Taking over the dance floor, one of the Russians bumps into Tevye. The bump is initially perceived as intentionally hostile, but after a tension-filled moment, the Russian offers Tevye his hand. Tevye tentatively accepts it, reinforcing his character as a man willing to consider new ideas. The Russian then begins teaching Tevye his dance, and Tevye remarks, “I’m dancing with a gentile!” The Jews and Russians all begin to dance together, and a friendly competition ensues. At one point, the Jews perform a daisy chain, hands held high as the Russians splice between them in a deep plié-traveling step. The moment offers a physicalized representation of coexistence. “To Life” ends with Tevye in the center of two big circles of dancing Jews and Russians, one rotating clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. They peel away from the circle toward the bar, where they all collapse in a drunken heap. Considering the dance as a scene with narrative beats on which the structure, or arc of the number, is built can be informative: the first time the celebrants move tables, the act serves to isolate them. But the second time, the men demonstrate the act of taking over a public space. Next, the vocal interruption by the Russian observer underlines tensions between the two communities. Yet Tevye’s willingness to dance with the man highlights his ability to challenge his belief system and, ultimately, to grow and change. The unity of the Jews in the daisy chain as the Russians splice through the line depicts a willing if tenuous coexistence. The concentric circles surrounding Tevye in the final moments of the number position him physically as a central figure, remind­ ussians ing spectators that this is his story. And the final button of the number, with Jews and R collapsing together in drunkenness after an exhilarating celebration, allows a momentary respite from tribal conflicts. Shechter’s reworking of the number follows the same basic model established by Robbins. However, the primary narrative point—Tevye’s willingness to dance with the Russian—is eliminated. Also missing is Robbins’ powerful use of formations: gone are the table moves, the daisy chain, and the circles Robbins employed as narrative devices. In Shechter’s version, Tevye and Lazar Wolf move to the side of the stage while the dancers take focus, and the movement styles of the Jews and Russians are less clearly defined. Robbins’ Russian dancing, while not meant to be ethnographic, takes the form of character dance as utilized in classical ballet, while his Jewish dance is informed by his observations at


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Orthodox weddings in Brooklyn.6 As with most of Robbins’ musical theater choreography, the dances do not represent his individual choreographic voice, which is more readily apparent in his ballets.7 Instead, they present the “where, when and why” of the dances in relation to the libretto. Conversely, Shechter’s movement style is highly identifiable in his version of Fiddler: it is glorious in a liquid fluidity that is, paradoxically, grounded to the floor. As a product of contemporary dance training, specifically Ohad Naharin’s Gaga, Shechter’s focus is not the creation of a legible, narrative dance, but instead of movement exploration.8 Musical theater dance in 1964 was still practiced in the style of George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, and Robbins, with a focus on storytelling that was legible to the point of employing pantomime and period-appropriate movement to signal actor intent and embodied character. In comparison, Shechter’s Fiddler dancers perform loose-limbed, flowing movements associated with his specific contemporary movement style, rather than strict character- and period-­ appropriate movement. Robbins’ choreographic legibility is evident in the different movement styles his characters inhabit. His Russians perform character dance-inspired lunges, turns, leaps, and squats; his Jews, upright and linked, shake their shoulders as they focus upward, calling on the attention of their creator and thus always placing their religion at the forefront of their actions. Robbins’ movement style distinctions are thus character-driven and narratively informative, whereas Shechter’s lasting dance impression, in both groups, lies more firmly in his own movement style. Linda Winer, writing for Newsday, critiqued Shechter’s “busy, wiggly-armed, contorted dances,” adding, “You have to be better than this to get flexible with Jerome Robbins.” Her focus on the movement vocabulary as a point of criticism would have been valuable if the production had aimed to be a strict recreation, but clearly, it was not. Sher chose Shechter—known for choreography that is inventive and filled with rich, powerful movement and imagery—to infuse the production with a contemporary movement sensibility. In describing his work, Shechter avoids concrete descriptions. Rather, he uses phrases like, “it’s perhaps about the slipperiness of life…it has a smokiness… it’s a series of events…it’s thoughts…you’re like a story-teller and your arms are the mouth that tells the words.”9 He trades in a landscape of emotion rendered in his unique movement style, which views the body holistically: a completely unified entity that rejects the isolation of individual body parts. How his ideas translate onto the body through his technique, which is motivated by imagery, prompts directions like, “you’re in a web of strings…you’re dancing in a bubble…someone is using you like a puppet.” This use of imagery is central to his creative practice, and more connected to contemporary movement innovation than to embodied character development. Robbins, of course, was from an entirely different era of dance. A member of the 1940s New York dance elite, he danced for and with some of the greatest narrative dance makers of the twentieth century, including Michel Fokine, George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, and Agnes de Mille. He honed a style that epitomized explicitly legible narrative dance, and became a hallmark of “Golden Age” musical theater choreography. Movement innovation in his musical theater choreography took a backseat to a Stanislavski-inspired dance authenticity, which adhered to the parameters of time, place, and character. Shechter’s Fiddler choreography is innovative: the dancing is invigorating and fresh, far removed from other current Broadway lexicons; however while thrilling to watch, the definitive element of musical theater dance—explicitly legible ­narrative— is missing. Given the success of the 2015 Fiddler revival, one might ask if Robbins’ organic dance narrative is necessary in the current musical theater scene. Do audiences care that Tevye is not central to the “To Life” number? Are they satisfied with the spectacular movement vocabulary Shechter provides, despite a lack of clear dramatic intent? Has contemporary musical theater outgrown the dramaturgical aspect of choreography? A look at another successful revival that engages with Robbins’ original choreography helps to offer some answers. 248

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The King and I (2015) The Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli collaborated with director Bartlett Sher on the 2015 revival of The King and I, and created several sequences of original movement and staging. In the case of Robbins’ ballet “Small House of Uncle Thomas,” Sher chose to retain Robbins’ choreography, but told Gattelli that he wanted “to do the ballet but on steroids.”10 Part of Gattelli’s assignment was to adapt the ballet, originally created for a proscenium stage, for the thrust stage in the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. Sher told Gattelli, “I want to do what [Robbins] did, but because of the thrust and how I want the piece as a whole to move, I want it to have momentum and an undercurrent of the King and the atmosphere around the palace… I want to figure out a way to feel that tension even more during the ballet and how to weave Tuptim in.”11 In a ten-day pre-production lab with the full cast, Gattelli and Sher experimented. Gattelli explains, It was really great because the company came in and every day, all of the dancers learned every step of the ballet…We were able to take that vocabulary and try it all different ways on diagonals, and with the thrust, and how does it elongate this way, and do they run in from the voms?12 It was a really luxurious process to have that time isolated to just work on the ballet because of the level of detail and because of how we had to expand and contract it and explode it.13 Adapting dance invariably means contending with original dance music, created by dance arrangers who work side-by-side with choreographers to translate dance ideas into music. Dance arrangements and how to interact with them are essential pieces of the puzzle when rechoreographing or adapting. Depending on the scale of a production and its venue—as well as requirements from the composer, lyricist, and book writer estates—dance arrangements are often rewritten or adjusted to accommodate a new choreographer’s vision. When they remain unchanged, they can lock choreographers into an original choreographer’s dance structure and can—especially since music serves as an emotional map for narrative dance—limit a choreographer’s creativity. However, Gattelli embraces the challenge: People ask me, do you prefer choreographing original shows or revivals? And I have to say, even with revivals with regards to dance breaks, I love sometimes not changing them, because I think, ‘wow, well, there must be something in there.’ If I want to change it, how would I interpret it? It’s an interesting game to story-tell in a different way using the same components. I love going back to the classics and getting a crack at them… I try to be egoless if there’s something iconic, the care that went into the gongs and the instruments; it’s for a reason, so I always try to honor that…to hit those touchstones. “Shall We Dance” was another number that Sher and Gattelli felt needed revising. In the original Robbins’ version Anna sings the number, which occurs in Act II after a visit by British dignitaries, in order to explain the British custom of partner dancing to the King. She gently raises her skirt above the ankle and demonstrates a delicate polka hop pattern. When she realizes the King is watching her, she stops to explain that in her country, a proper woman would not dance with a man watching. The King questions why, then, would she dance with a strange man? Anna retorts that she wouldn’t dance with a strange man, but would with a friend. The King then asks her to teach him to dance. Anna explains the Polka rhythm, “1, 2, 3, and,” as she sings a second chorus while the King counts aloud. He performs the hop step in a distinctly Siamese dance fashion: feet flat and flexed, body upright as he steps in place, right, left, right, lifting his flexed foot on the “and” counts. His 249

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execution is a specific choice that tells us a great deal about his and Anna’s clash of cultures, as well as his willingness to try something foreign. They then sing a chorus together, which ends with the King offering Anna his hands, one at a time in rhythm on the final two iterations of “Shall we dance, shall we dance.” The lesson continues as Anna counts steps; the King tries to keep up but is out of synch with her. Realizing he is forgetting the “and,” he starts again. As he improves they both respond with delight until he missteps. Because the King never admits that he is wrong, he accuses Anna of throwing him off count. They start again, but this time he and the music abruptly stop. He says something is not right: this was not how he saw the English dance. Anna insists that it is exactly how they danced, until she realizes that he is referring to their arm position. The King insists that the British men did not hold her with outstretched arms; Anna grudgingly admits that he is correct. Never losing eye contact with her, the King slowly steps toward Anna, reaching for her waist with his right (downstage) hand. When his hand is placed, he asks if the position is correct. She nods and he offers his left hand to her. He then commands that they begin the dance. Anna responds by taking his hand. The orchestra plays the dance break and Anna leans over to take hold of her skirt on the word “we”; she picks up her skirt as he lifts his foot, flexed Siamese-style, on the word “dance.” They begin to polka in a circle around the stage. The sequence of movements with dialogue creates intense sexual tension, which erupts in the abandon of the polka. Robbins’ infatuation with the stillness and elegance of Siamese dance informs the economy of the movement interaction between Anna and the King. The exuberance of the polka erupts in stark contrast, as both a metaphor for sex and a demonstration of western power. Structurally and dramatically, “Shall We Dance” as choreographed by Gattelli for Sher’s revival follows Robbins’ template but offers a more contemporary narrative. Gattelli describes the critical importance of the dramatic moment just before the polka begins: He offered, she took his hand, and then he pulled her in and said, “come.” Then she picked up her skirt and then went into the polka. So it wasn’t like an order, it was more that she acquiesced … for us, the lifting of the skirt happened only after she acquiesced…with regards to who offers who a hand, we went through a bunch of different options, but with ours she only lifted the skirt to go after he pulls her in and she agrees. We purposefully made Kelly [O’Hara] feel like his equal. We spent hours talking about this. Those little things do make a difference. While both versions thus depict physical attraction between the characters, Robbins’ choreography also emphasizes the King’s power and his attitude toward women. The King demands that Anna dance with him in the original version. In Gattelli’s version, however, the characters are equally engaged in the physical touch of the dance moment; the heightened physicality of ­Robbins’ staging is subdued and made more naturalistic. The point at which Anna picks up her skirt in Robbins’ version tell us that she is responding to the King’s demand not only because she must but because she wants to. Her compliance implies both that she is attracted to him and that as a woman, she knows her place. In the Gattelli version, Anna and the King are less formal with each other. There’s no hesitancy on the King’s part: he offers his hand, she chooses to take it, and then he takes her waist, moving into her tightly and aggressively. In a decidedly postfeminist version of the moment, Anna has not been commanded. Rather, she chooses to dance with the King. Do these differences undercut the dramatic arc of the number? Is it more important in 2015 to demonstrate Anna’s independence? Would the King’s dominance of Anna make twenty-first-­ century audiences uncomfortable? Is it better to forgo the reality of time and place in relation to Anna and the King’s relationship in order to speak to a contemporary audience? Bruce Kirle, in Unfinished Show Business: Broadway Musicals as Works-In-Progress, reminds us that there is “no 250

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definitive production of a musical apart from a given cultural moment and that, consequently, the texts of musicals are in themselves necessarily incomplete…Rather than closed, the texts become unfinished, because the characters must be played to conform to changing societal conventions and audience tastes.” Kirle’s assessment applies to dance as well, though purists continue to argue for strict recreations. If Anna is depicted as a woman of her time, subservient to men, she can maintain a pretense of independence, but ultimately is not terribly different from Tuptim, who is completely without agency and forced to marry the King. From a dramaturgical perspective, Anna’s cultural limitations as a woman make her strength and ability to alter the King’s thinking all the more impressive, and arguably more dramatic. This was all acceptable to audiences in 1951, but repositioning Anna as the King’s equal makes her more palatable and relatable in 2015. If we agree with Kirle that “popular culture is a product of its given cultural moment,” fully “dependent on historical relativism,” then we must agree that the alteration of musical theater dance texts is as necessary as changes to spoken text and performance.

An American in Paris (2015) While both Shechter and Gattelli were charged with revising Robbins’ choreography for their respective revivals, the classical ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon became responsible for taking on of the collective memory of An American in Paris (1951) when adapting that Hollywood film for Broadway in 2015. The film starred and was choreographed by Gene Kelly, and remains part of America’s cultural fabric as a cherished classic. As both director and choreographer of the stage adaptation, Wheeldon worked closely with the book writer Craig Lucas, and the music supervisor Rob Fisher, who adapted the iconic Gershwin score. Rather than imitate the film, the musical’s plot was altered and set immediately following the liberation of Paris. A few additional Gershwin songs that were not in the film were interpolated. These changes helped free Wheeldon from the strongest associations with the movie, and allowed him to create contemporary choreography that was comparatively unburdened by the past.14 The following close analysis of the Wheeldon’s choreography reveals the choreographic process, and highlights how choreographers with differing dance backgrounds (Shechter, contemporary dance; Gattelli, musical theater dance; Wheeldon, ballet) prioritize methodological approaches, including movement innovation and narrative. Wheeldon tells his story through universally understood narrative actions: pushing, grabbing, caressing, turning away. He also employs scenic elements, lights, costumes, and, of course, music. It’s no surprise that his training at the Royal Ballet—home of Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan, two of the greatest ballet storytellers of the twentieth century—has made Wheeldon highly sensitive to the narrative qualities of music and dance.15 He emerges from a tradition that believed “ballet could tell a story better than word, that it could express some essential human truth with a moral force that words simply could not convey.”16 He knows how to translate musical themes, whether jazzy, lyrical, romantic, buoyant, pensive, aggressive, humorous, tragic, or uplifting, into expressive dance phrases. And he understands that the narrative potency of dance must never be underestimated. It reveals itself in the choice of dance vocabulary, the participation or absence of characters, the design of dance music, the arrangement of formations, the utilization of movement signifiers, the lift of a skirt, the touch of a hand, or the turn of a back. These elements, no matter how small, help transmit ideas across age, gender, culture, class, and racial boundaries. The stage version of An American in Paris opens with a choreographed prologue that establishes dance as a storytelling device. As the orchestra plays the second movement of Gershwin’s Concerto in F, an enormous Nazi flag is pulled down toward the audience like a wave hitting the shore. It is then turned over and run upstage; its underside reveals the French flag. The scene thus very quickly signifies the liberation of Paris, and also introduces the audience to Jerry Mulligan, originated by Robert Fairchild onstage and Gene Kelly in the film.17 As the French flag rises, a 251

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projection of the Arc de Triomphe with three American fighter jets zooming above it appears. Jerry watches as the planes fly by, and then performs a danced gesture of sketching on a pad, which establishes his identity as an artist. In a nod to the film, which featured mirrors in the “American in Paris” ballet, dancers in choreographed patterns that create defined spaces enter, moving a group of tall mirrors on wheels. As the mirrors move, Liza, the woman who will become Jerry’s romantic obsession, crosses the stage. The following danced narrative then takes place:18 First, Jerry marches from stage right to stage left in an exaggerated, tin-soldier style that telegraphs his military status. As he does so, he bumps into another soldier who gives him a ticket to go home. He sketches some soldiers who dance in a romantic pas de deux with French women. The music becomes more dissonant as strings perform an extended tremolo, and a breadline forms downstage left. Bodies are bent as dancers hold their coats tightly, as if against bitter cold. One woman faints, while another cuts the line. She is thrown to the ground. As the music intensifies, Liza enters and witnesses the violent scene. She helps the woman to her feet and gives her a piece of bread. Jerry sees Liza performing this act of kindness, and as the music returns to the theme used when we first meet him, dancers from the breadline surround her. In a purely classical pose suspended in time, the dancers create a frame around her as light bathes down. Breaking the spell, a soldier bumps into Jerry. Smoke appears from upstage center, and a train is heard. Soldiers rush to it, waving and leaving women behind. The mood changes as two soldiers descend from the train. One tells the other, “Have a good time!” As they disappear into the Paris streets, a solo piano plays a jazzy theme and two women enter performing sexy, flirtatious movements. The stage fills with soldiers and women who all dance, executing the following signifying dance-pantomime movements: a toy soldier march, arms held as if pointing guns and, finally, arms extended forward, one higher than the other, in a modified “Heil Hitler” salute that morphs into a partner dance position. The musical texture becomes less percussive and more legato as four menacing men surround the frightened Liza. As they lift her, Jerry enters, yelling, “What’s going on?” The men flee and Liza runs away. Jerry follows her. Strings and French horns accompany three soldiers returning from war, who are met by three women who embrace them. One woman is left alone, fearful that her man will not return. When he does, they dance to a sweeping, romantic cello line as Liza and Jerry watch. This moment in particular references the emotional wartime reunion choreographed by ­Agnes de Mille for the “Civil War Ballet” from Bloomer Girl (1944). The similarity in gesture and movement between the reunion created in 1944 and the same scenario created in 2015 speaks to the narrative power of dance and how a simple pantomimed gesture, when employed expertly, can convey complex feelings. In the third section of de Mille’s ballet, soldiers return home and a pas de deux between a “returning soldier” and “his girl” takes place. De Mille digs deep to locate behavior that is true to the dramatic moment as the couple begins the task of resuming their relationship after a long separation: standing face to face, the woman takes the man’s hat off his head and attempts to caress his cheek. Overcome with emotion, she turns away, clutching the hat to her breast. He turns her toward him, takes the hat with his right hand, and tosses it away. The gesture suggests that she no longer needs an object—a lock of hair, article of clothing, letter, or photograph—to evoke him. He is home. He begins a sensual bounce while swinging his left arm backward and forward, beckoning her to dance. She responds by matching his movement: he offers her both hands to dance a promenade, and she accepts. In Wheeldon’s reunion, the woman runs to the man and leaps into his arms. He holds her foot, supporting her as she runs through the air horizontally, her feet not touching the ground in the joy of the moment. He sets her down to face him and she touches his cheek and chest. She looks down 252

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and steps away with her back to him, placing her hand to her mouth. He takes hold of her shoulders, gently lifting her against his body. Coaxing her to face him, he lifts her again, this time above his shoulder. He then releases her and draws her into an embrace as her legs swing free in a playful, rocking motion. He puts her on her feet and they sway in tandem, reaching their arms in sequence around each other before he lifts her, first horizontally, like a body floating in space, and then higher as she opens her legs to an extended V, after which he catches her in a cradle lift and exits. Wheeldon’s movement is denser than de Mille’s and comes faster, one movement immediately transitioning to the next. His is a ballet of the new millennium, with new values, dynamics and tempi, but in its rendering of a shared scenario of reunion after a long and stressful separation, it says what de Mille’s did, with similar gestures: the touch of the cheek, the need to turn away when overcome with emotion, the swinging in tandem, the reaching of arms all telegraphing reunion. Wheeldon’s ability to utilize contemporary ballet, which generally eschews legible narrative, to depict a story of reunion feels fresh and current. De Mille’s 1944 “Civil War Ballet” contains the charm and depth of Americana Ballet19 and reflects influences of Martha Graham, thereby evoking the 1940s. Nonetheless, de Mille and Wheeldon address the same project with similar results, albeit employing different movement lexicons. The dance narrative of “An American in Paris” continues when the music quickens to a driving, pianistic cacophony. An angry crowd chases a woman with a shaved head and a Nazi armband. They attack her, lift her overhead, and carry her away. Liza is knocked down in the chaos. Jerry sees her, runs to her on the full orchestral return, and their eyes lock on a big orchestral downbeat. They take hands as he helps her to her feet, motions for her to stay, and then turns to get his bag as she runs off. The crowd enters and freezes on a pause as Jerry runs among them in search of her. High woodwinds and strings return as the crowd takes three unison breaths and faces upstage to watch as the scenic drop depicting the Eiffel Tower begins to glow with light. All exit to a solo flute, and a single bike rider circles the stage. Normalcy has resumed to the war-torn city. The fast piano theme returns as Jerry tears up his train ticket home, the café set appears, and dialogue begins. What has the ballet told us, and how has Wheeldon used dance and narrative action or pantomime to communicate a legible story? To be fair, the audience is informed about the Parisian setting at the very top of the show, when Jerry’s American buddy, Adam Hochberg, stands at a piano and says, “It was the day Jerry Mulligan decided to stay in Paris and it started like this.” He then sits at the piano and begins to play as the lights black out on him and focus instead on the Nazi flag as described earlier. We learn almost instantly that Jerry is an American soldier, as indicated by his costume and toy-soldier march. But we intuit much more about him through the extensive dance sequence that follows. We learn, for example, that he is an artist, and that he is attracted to a French woman, Liza, whom he follows around the city. Liza, too, is highlighted in the dance, and we learn about her as well. She is clearly important to the musical: Wheeldon isolates her spatially in light, and often surrounds her with dancers who create a frame that momentarily suspends time. Finally, we also learn that postwar Paris is a frightening, desperate city, as depicted by the breadline events, the attempted attack on Liza, and the mob attack on a Nazi collaborator. Later in the dance, however, we see Paris begins to heal, which is communicated through the population’s ability to breathe together, as well as the ordinary occurrence of a single bike rider moving through the streets.

Conclusion In many contemporary musicals, whether revival or adaptation, the decision to recreate, alter, or rechoreograph classic musical theater dances is a defining, conceptual commitment that affects the tone and style of productions. Contemporary directors and choreographers do not take the task 253

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of remaking or altering classic choreography lightly. They painstakingly study original notes and recordings, and make respectful decisions about altering dances. Under the creative leadership of Wheeldon, An American in Paris became a fresh theatrical experience that nevertheless employed traditional dance storytelling techniques combined with contemporary ballet. With Fiddler on the Roof and The King and I, Sher chose a hybrid approach engaging Shechter and Gattelli to reinvestigate Robbins’ original work. These decisions and approaches honor dance as an art form that is not static, stuck in time, or rooted to the purview of a single artist. Rather, musical theater dance, like the musical theater itself, is forever changing and growing, capable always of developing and remaining fresh and current.

Notes 1 For information regarding the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, a “theatrical union that unites, empowers, and protects professional Stage Directors and Choreographers throughout the United States,” please visit—“Rights and Responsibilities.” 2 Brian Seibert. “In ‘Fiddler’ a Balancing Act to Rival Tevye’s.” The New York Times. 2016, 2. 3 Ruthie Fierberg. “Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof and a Choreographic Match Made in Heaven. 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2017. . 4 Seibert. “In ‘Fiddler’ a Balancing Act to Rival Tevye’s.” 5 My analysis is based on viewing the 1977 Broadway revival starring Zero Mostel held at the Theatre on Film and Tape archives at the New York Public Library, the 1971 film version, and an interview with Gary John La Rosa, a re-creator of Robbins’ Fiddler on the Roof choreography. 6 Character dance, as offered at the School of American Ballet, includes “the polonaise, mazurka, and other formal and folk dances of the past that appear not only in the classical repertory such as Coppélia, The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty, but also in contemporary works.” . 7 For examples of Robbins’ original choreographic voice, see The Cage (1951), Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1953), The Concert (1956), and Dances at a Gathering (1969). 8 Gaga is the movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, choreographer and artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company. . 9 Hofesh Shechter Company Barbarians. Web. . 10 Liza Gennaro. Gattelli interview with author, 2017. 11 Tuptim is a slave girl sent to the King of Siam as a gift from the King of Burma. 12 The stage term “vom” comes from the Roman vomitorium. It is a stadium exit or entrance that facilitates quick passage of large crowds, and is also used for actor entrance and exits. Modern-day thrust or three-quarter stages utilize voms for actor entrances and exits. 13 The ballet recreation had solid provenance with Gattelli’s associate Greg Zane, who had learned it as a dancer in the 1996 Broadway revival from Susan Kikuchi, daughter of Yuriko, the original Eliza. 14 The person who bore the heaviest burden of memory was Robert Fairchild in Kelly’s role, Jerry ­Mulligan. Young audiences may not be familiar with An American in Paris, but Kelly, part of the cultural heritage as a quintessential American song-and-dance man, is widely known across generations. Fortunately, Fairchild was up to the challenge and his performance, while evoking Kelly’s, remained very much his own. 15 See Sir Frederick Ashton (1904–1988), and Kenneth MacMillan (1929–1992), . 16 Jennifer Homans. Apollo’s Angels A History of Ballet. New York: Random House, 2010. 17 The China silk effect was also used by Jiri Kylian in his 1989 Black and White Ballets, created for ­Nederlands Dans Theater. 18 Indiana University assistant professor and musical director Ray Fellman assisted with the musical analysis. 19 Americana Ballet popular in the 1930–1940s employed classical ballet to express American themes. Catherine Littlefield, Ruth Page, Eugene Loring, and Agnes de Mille were among the most influential choreographers working in the Americana style.



Bodies, boots, and beats fill the stage at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, as Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) raps of young Alexander Hamilton fleeing the West Indies and arriving in New York City. Ensemble performers join him, staking their ground on stage with wide stances and big attitudes. No one’s presence is larger than the composer, creator, and actor in the titular role, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda enters upstage center, walks downstage, thrusts his chest out, points his shoulder to the balcony, and declares, “My name is Alexander ­H amilton.” Men and women, dressed as soldiers, wearing flat heavy-heeled boots, take purposeful strides to position themselves at his side. Their swagger and cool athleticism express the hip style the show has become known for. Hamilton’s ambition does not relent, and neither does the choreography. Fast forward two-and-a-half hours in the show and over 20 years in the narrative: Burr shoots Hamilton. As Hamilton dies, all movement stops; performers and audiences alike exhale after his death. The cast sings the final song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” in stillness. This chapter considers the mix of hip-hop, street dance, and more traditional dance styles in the choreography of the 2016 musical Hamilton. The mix of styles produces an eclectic but effective movement signature, which propels the show from beginning to end. I shed light on how the choreography in Hamilton, popularly called a “hip-hop musical,” is not solely derived from hiphop dance modalities, but is a complex mélange of dance styles that also include social dances such as swing and Lindy Hop, along with jazz and contemporary dance. Investigating the complexity inherent in the choreography in Hamilton helps reveal the musical’s intervention in contemporary culture and brings considerable critical attention to the American stage musical. I explore the connection between dance, music, and historical narratives, and how choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s specific movement choices and precise physicality, in stride with Miranda’s score, create a kinetic and compelling historical sojourn. Whether an ensemble member is guiding the bullet that eventually kills Hamilton with her hand and body, or dancers moving in retrograde to wind back time when Angelica Schuyler reconsiders her choices, dance carries enormous weight in the show. Markedly, Blankenbuehler stops just short in his choreographic input before the perpetually circulating gestures accompanying nearly every scene risk overwhelming the narrative. An excess of movement in a musical, after all, can draw away from the narrative momentum. Skirting this very fine line, between physical sensation and redundancy, can be the key to the success of a musical; evaluating how a choreographer negotiates this balance offers a method to assess dance in musical theater. 255

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To begin, I describe Blankenbuehler’s overall choreographic style and strategies. I then trace how Miranda and Blankenbuehler create the world of the play in the opening prologue. Next, I examine Blankenbuehler’s democratic use of male and female dancers, a choice that from the start disrupts stereotypes about particular sexes doing particular dance styles in musical theater. I then clarify how hip-hop is only one of many movement threads in the highly concentrated tapestry of choreography, followed by a consideration of the challenges of merging various dance styles together in the musical theater. To close, I analyze a handful of critical responses to the dance in Hamilton in order to assess the ways the dances enhance but do not overpower the piece.

Choreographic Strategies Three-time Tony Award-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s greatest achievement in Hamilton is his assemblage of both original and traditional movements and gestures that connect directly to the show’s narrative, and build a sophisticated, moving stage picture on the relatively simple wooden boardwalk set. Blankenbuehler achieves this magnetic effect by juxtaposing a myriad of movement styles that together offer a spectrum of meanings put forth by the body. The dance styles, body language, and nonverbal communication of the ensemble come to both support and tell the story. A few examples of Hamilton’s diverse dance styles help demonstrate the wide range of dance vocabulary at work here. We can see, for example, the waltz in the movement and dramaturgical structure of the scene depicting Hamilton’s wedding to Eliza Schuyler, and playful R&Bstyled step-touches and hip sways when the Schuyler sisters are out “slumming” in the city (“The ­Schuyler Sisters”) as well as during Hamilton and Eliza’s brief, playful courtship (“Helpless”). When Thomas Jefferson returns from France to Virginia after the Revolutionary War, variations on energetic swing dances are used to establish America’s fresh start, Jefferson’s charismatic personality, and his self-important participation in the community that enthusiastically welcomes him home (“What’d I Miss”). The aggression and chaos of various military battles, culminating in “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” are displayed by a fusion of antagonistic hip-hop styles. Krumping, an exaggerated style of physical expression based in gestures, can be seen in the more intense moments in the battles of the show. Popping (a jerk in the body as it hits its pose) and locking (a sharp freeze in a fast move before continuing again up tempo) help emphasize meanings of words in the fast-paced rapping moments. These hard-hitting urban gesticulations combine to give a certain funk and groove to the beats that fit Miranda’s music choices, particularly during the gun duels (“Ten Duel Commandments”). In contrast, contemporary dance gestures and sensibilities are used throughout to physically interpret the turmoil and chaos of the overarching narrative. Changes in movement—from fast-paced to slow motion, transitions of the body down to the floor and up again, and deep core contractions, as though one is reacting to a punch in the stomach—help physicalize the angst and turmoil the characters experience. Backs arching to avoid kicks or swinging arms, and a sense of off-balancedness that can be part of contemporary dance help show how precarious Hamilton’s choices are at times, whether he is taking risks on modes of governing or engaging in adultery. The contrast of contemporary dance with the force and focus of hip-hop moves helps demonstrate the intensity and desperation during and just after the Revolution. This tension between the expressive nature of both styles—the invincibility of hip-hop set against the vulnerability or openness of contemporary dance—suits the character conflicts in the musical and more broadly emphasizes the multifaceted moods of today’s ever-shifting culture. Furthermore, the dancers remain active and involved throughout the show. For example, after the final duel, the near-dead Hamilton is rowed back across the Hudson River and two men sit on the floor and embody both the boat and rowers. Likewise, in regards to the management of 256

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props in the show, the ensemble moves the set pieces in and around the characters, making what would be an ordinary interaction with a set or prop come to life for a moment before disappearing into the shadows. Whether a spiraling kick to deliver a letter to Thomas Jefferson or swooping in using a low lunge while holding a chair high above one’s head to place it moments before another character sits, ensemble efforts are vivid throughout. The rotating stage enhances the feeling of bodies assembling to form images of the narrative action before circling downstage to disappear as quickly as they appeared. In all, the weave of dance into the dramaturgical structure of the musical sets Hamilton up in the tradition of many musicals that use dance as a dramatic tool.1

The Prologue: Musical and Choreographic World-Making Hamilton opens with the backstory of how orphaned Alexander Hamilton, living in the West Indies with his cousin, comes to live in New York City. There, he makes inroads, initially by pestering fellow orphan and eventual rival Aaron Burr about how to finish college in two years. The opening prologue, titled simply “Alexander Hamilton,” sums up Hamilton’s formative years prior to his arrival in the United States. Miranda strategically uses the four-minute opening number to summarize approximately the first 400 pages of Ron Chernow’s 2004 Hamilton biography, which inspired the musical. The thoroughly choreographed prologue serves several functions. First, it establishes the overall style of the show and the mode of communication to be used: Hamilton is essentially structured as a “sung-through” musical that explores the life of one man. This performance style is akin to other successful commercial musicals, for example Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Les Misérables, which focuses on the life of Jean Valjean, and which Miranda has acknowledged was a big influence on Hamilton. Second, the opening number, owing to the precise work of Blankenbuehler, introduces a specific movement palette anchored by gestural choreography that is actively used to tell the story. Gestural choreography refers to the formation of poses and shapes that allude to the narrative through a miming quality. Gestures range from simple military salutes to more indirect gestures which, when paired with the lyrics, resonate meaning. For example, Hamilton describes the memories of death that have plagued him through his life. In this instance, the ensemble, in a wedge-like structure fanned out behind him, sharply frames their faces with their hands, telling of a sort of cerebral angst, then nods sharply and burst into the following movement thread. The movement emphasis is subtle but effective. It is established from the start that the poetics and language intonations of rap will strongly contribute to the sonic world of the show. The rhythms and the accompanying lyrics of “­A lexander Hamilton” detailing Hamilton’s early life are shared among the main characters. The choice to use the contemporary sounds and rhythms of rap sets up from the start the interpretation of history through the lens of the present. The sophisticated rhymes and wily wording are launched from the start as a mode of communication. Anyone familiar with Miranda’s In The Heights will note commonalities in vocal style and recognize his penchant for clever word choices filled with popular culture references and riffs on other artists’ songs.2 Just as the movement in Hamilton visually connects history to the present through its varied dance styles, so too does the musical’s beginning create a world that pulls the audience back in time to 1776 using the familiarity of contemporary sounds. Hamilton thus indicates from its very start that it will not offer a dusty retelling of the lives of America’s Founding Generation.

Gender Roles in the Ensemble The opening of Hamilton introduces the ensemble members and establishes their dramaturgical role as physical storytellers and purveyors of the musical’s physical community. The ensemble 257

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is made up of men and women of various ethnicities, and despite obvious differences in physical stature, all perform the same complex skills, which require considerable strength, dexterity, and cohesiveness. Examining the roles of men and women in the prologue and elsewhere helps demonstrate how Hamilton disrupts expectations about how particular sexes do specific dance styles in the musical theater. The ensemble both takes part in and observes the events of ­Hamilton’s life. Whether male or female, the dance ensemble is dressed uniformly, in eighteenth-centurystyled knee-high boots, riding pants, shirts, and neckties. There are slight distinctions in the garments—women, for example, wear more fitted tops—but overall, there is a uniformity to the costumes. The pants and flat boots allow for movement that is low to the ground, enabling the dancers to travel from one side of the stage to the other with confident strides or long low lunges, which they use at various times to dodge soldiers, weapons, and a variety of other obstacles. Their opening moves are most recognizable as a mix of hip-hop styles with a grounded sense of weight, deep knee bends, sharp accents, and the locking of limbs in quasi-mimetic gestures that coincide with word emphasis. Characteristically, Blankenbuehler builds his pieces by adding bodies to a movement thread or sequence and building physical intensity and complexity toward the moment of strongest dramatic impact in tight correspondence with the narrative. Hamilton is no different in this respect. Blankenbuehler alternates between the sharp forming of shapes with more fluid traveling steps that propel the dancers across the stage, onto the rotating center stage turntable and off. It is made apparent by the ensemble’s expert execution of complex steps that both sexes are equally skilled in terms of strength and dexterity. There is not a separation in dance styles drawn along gender lines that can be common in more traditional musicals such as Oklahoma! or Guys and Dolls. Using this egalitarian mode of choreography in Hamilton the cohesiveness and impact of the ensemble as a whole are enhanced. The concept of equal competence for both male and female dancers contrasts with the relationship between the main male and female characters in the narrative. Hamilton has been criticized for its less-than-inspirational or in-depth exploration of the main female characters, its emphasis on the men, and in particular the adulation of Hamilton despite his shortcomings. Though strong and ­ oldsberry, accomplished Broadway stars originated the roles of the Schuyler sisters (Renée Elise G Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones were Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy, respectively), the women spend most of the narrative looking for men, waiting for men, or reacting to men’s behaviors. Miranda could only do so much, given the real historical place of women in the American Revolution Era, so the idea of representing strong women in other ways is an interesting method of counteracting the limits of history. The equal physical consideration of male and female bodies in the ensemble is made apparent from the start through Blankenbuehler’s choreographic style. This physical commonality is at its strongest in “The Battle of Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down).” The singular energy of the revolutionaries in the Battle of Yorktown is brought to the surface by the movement lexicon provided by Blankenbuehler. The ensemble enters with a series of lunges where the dancers pulse or flex their feet before stepping deeper into the battle. A wave or canon of strong poses passes among the group, akin to stop animation. At times, bodies move through battle gestures (holding guns, swinging fists, ducking and diving from adversity) in slow motion, and then speed up, articulating hands into fists and shifting head positions with sharp focus changes, to enhance a sense of the bravery and cockiness needed to pull off the victory. Overall, through a combined effort to work in unison, find specific spacing marks, hit movement accents, and display sharp changes in energy dynamics, the ensemble achieves a sense of group strength and solidarity. Though there are many musicals where dancers execute challenging dances together (Cats or Chorus Line for example), the stark contrast between the female lead characters, who essentially fall into a variety of feminine stereotypes and the female ensemble 258

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members who do not, opens a space (amped up by the ensemble’s overall athletic and unison dancing) to consider the possibility or a promise of futurity for more equal gender relations. It is important to note the gender equality is only in one direction: women take on male roles or mannerisms, but not the other way around. Women dance in the army as soldiers; the men, however, never dance or act as women. Though the production has not changed casting on the professional front perhaps the many eventual school productions may consider greater gender fluidity? How would a woman in the role of George Washington or a man in the role of Angelica Schuyler shift meanings?

Hamilton—Not Just Hip-Hop Along with rap and hip-hop modes, traditional musical theater styles are also very purposely woven into the moving images and sounds of the musical. Upbeat jazz and tap sensibilities redolent of common Broadway dance styles are recognizable alongside original moves developed by Blankenbuehler. This choice provides a variety of styles to a popular audience and avoids overwhelming spectators with too much “in your face” rap—a style of urban preaching that can dissuade members of the white, upper-and middle-class Broadway demographic if overused.3 Miranda is well-attuned to a wide variety of other music styles as part of his dramaturgical weave. He explains how he consciously measured the amount of rapping: “No one wants to listen to hiphop all night, and we are not going to give it to him all night.”4 Miranda treads carefully with his composition, striking a balance between garnering an interest for current issues inside and outside the musical; he explains that the inclusion of rap in In The Heights (2008) and the labeling of the show by media as a “hip-hop musical” may have led to its early closure. “…if it didn’t have that label of hip-hop painted on it all the time it would still be running, because it was a beautiful, emotionally satisfying show.”5 The collaboration with Blankenbuehler, also the choreographer of In the Heights, follows suit. A full evening of hip-hop or street dancing on Broadway risks alienating mainstream Broadway audiences. The way Hamilton includes hip-hop and street styles, while also catering to the typical Broadway demographic, can be considered part of the show’s diversity. Miranda’s grasp of the complexity in presenting accessible work in the Broadway environment is apparent in the song “What’d I Miss” which opens the second act of Hamilton. The swing-style jazz dance provides a fresh sound and style that helps to propel time in the narrative, as well as to introduce the character of Thomas Jefferson. Now that there is a new beginning for the country and a new act, this shift in tone helps move the story forward. The upbeat song and dance also help establish the particular dimensions of Jefferson’s personality as different from that of the Marquis de Lafayette. This choice is integral, since the same actor plays both roles. Blankenbuehler follows Miranda’s change in rhythms, and fulfills the needs of the narrative by offering a dance style that is light, lifted, and that contrasts with the previous moves in the first act, which had Lafayette striking more defiant postures—such as a thrust chest and fisted hands—as part of Hamilton’s group of confrères. In “What’d I Miss,” Jefferson and a handful of ensemble members (the women now in lowheeled shoes) execute a bouncy swing-like movement style. The structure of this movement involves many low, fast kicks, ball-changes (changes of weight from foot to foot), and spring backs, or individual “breakaways” from one’s dance partner that are characteristic of the Lindy Hop or jive. Using these social dance moves suggests a sense of belonging to a community, and as such the Jefferson character (and actor playing him) is easily able to slide into the narrative, after having been absent for the events of the entire first act. This fusing or hybridizing dance styles can be a provocative mode of physical storytelling. This sort of undertaking is not unique to Hamilton, as Liza Gennaro points out in “Evolution of Dance in the Golden Age of the American ‘Book Musical.’” Choreographers have used dance styles from 259

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eras that differ from the narrative’s setting since the 1940s, when dance began to take on a more prominent role in musical theater. Gennaro finds that the mixing of genres, particularly with minimal historically accuracy, draws attention to the dance. She explains, “The tension between a drive toward authenticity and a disregard for it at the same time is a central element in musical theater dance creation.”6 In Hamilton, Blankenbuehler makes no attempt to provide historically correct movement. Gennaro contends that exploring anachronism in dance is “one area in which the musical theater choreographer demonstrates artistic vision and creative choice.” 7 ­Blankenbuehler’s wide-ranging use of dance styles and movement flows is firmly established in Hamilton as one of the cornerstones of his style. Blankenbuehler is adaptable to music; he is able to morph traditional moves into a visual and visceral journey. This blending style anachronistically draws attention to the dance and provides momentum to the narrative action. Blankenbuehler’s first Broadway success, as part of the collaborative team of Miranda’s In the Heights, required him to bring to life the communities living in New York City’s Washington Heights. Blankenbuehler showcased a variety of Latin dances, while also incorporating hip-hop dance styles. In transitioning skillfully between Latin and urban dance modes, Blankenbuehler successfully incorporated several dance styles into the musical. Gennaro describes ­Blankenbuehler’s ­ amilton, choreography in In the Heights as a “joyously innovative fusion.”8 In the narrative of H there are fewer cultures to draw from; all the characters are colonial American. In order to create the thrill of which Gennaro speaks, Blankenbuehler is more challenged to provide a broad spectrum of dance styles without the cultural richness of the communities in In the Heights.

Critical Reception The ways critics describe and interpret the movement in musicals provide a jumping-off point toward further analysis of movement in musical theater. Moreover, as critics are highly concerned with the success of dramaturgical strategies, they must contend with the inclusion of dance and this grappling can be highly informative as to what dance is doing in musical theater.9 Critics’ reviews of Hamilton thus provide information on the ways dance functions in the musical. Ben Brantley, reviewing the Public Theater run, describes the dance in Hamilton as having a “wide-ranging vocabulary that eludes stylistic ruts.” He continues, “the large ensemble (clad in witty, shorthand period costumes by Paul Tazewell) becomes a perpetual-motion machine. Even during solo numbers, we’re aware of other people onstage, exhaling the sense of varied and multiple lives contingent upon one another.”10 Peter Marks of The Washington Post acknowledges Blankenbuehler’s “supercharged choreography,”11 while Jesse Green for The Vulture counters, “I still wonder, too, if the manic staging by director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy ­Blankenbuehler, fun as it is, may sometimes get in the way of the action instead of enhancing it.”12 These reviews differ in their opinions of the success of the choreography, though Brantley does emphasize the sheer presence the ensemble represents in the piece, and how the dancers’ physicality is powerfully connected to the complex interweaving of individual stories. Green voices apprehension as to whether the highly physical, “supercharged” choreography overwhelms the piece, and this is a valid question. His observation does two things. First, it points out the status of the ensemble in the piece: they are not in the background working to dress up a star performer, but are instead mixed into the story, almost to the point of overshadowing the narrative. Even when not dancing in a highly choreographed numbers, bodies take the place of objects or manipulate them in accordance with narrative requirements. Yet is Green correct? Does the choreography overwhelm the action of the musical at times? I would argue that the dance is particularly apropos, building gradually and in tandem with the narrative. Take, for example, its use in the fiery “The Room Where It Happens.” This number starts with a slow-paced burn as Burr explores his suspicions and questions his conflict of ego. His growing paranoia builds explosively in ways that cut 260

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to the heart of conflicts in the show: inclusion versus exclusion, knowledge versus ignorance, opportunity versus misfortune. The success of ”The Room Where It Happens” breaks from the rap dominating the narrative, offering instead a banjo-heavy, ragtime/early New Orleans jazz-styled song and dance number. The piece with its limited melodic range and various minor tonalities effectively works to match the bouncy tempo with a dark, menacing atmosphere that encapsulates Burr’s rage, embarrassment, and bruised ego. The choreography is an example of classic Broadway dance, which combines slow rising arms and composed upper body movement with fast, hot modern jazz dance steps such as grapevines, chassés (gallops side to side), and low kicks with bent supporting legs. While these steps occur in other numbers, Blankenbuehler’s addition of more movement and dancers creates a sense of anticipation and suspense unique from the other songs. Michael Schulman for The New Yorker describes the trajectory of the piece: “What starts off as Burr’s sidelined summation of the backroom deal that determined the location of the United States’ capital builds into an epiphany about his own hunger for influence, which then propels the action (and Hamilton’s life) to its tragic conclusion.”13 The specific choreographic language Blankenbuehler uses in “The Room Where It Happens” brings the necessary complexity and theatricalization to the moment when Burr recognizes he must take bolder actions, resulting in his shooting of Hamilton. In this number, then, the choreography becomes fundamental to the song’s meaning, and its prominence is justified.

Conclusion In all, the movement in Hamilton comes very close to overpowering the narrative. Blankenbuehler stops, however, just short before the perpetually circulating gestures accompanying nearly every scene desensitize spectators. After close to three hours and the death of Hamilton, the ensemble stands motionless surrounding Eliza Hamilton. The emotional impact is palpable. By simply walking on stage into position, a sense of vulnerability emerges from the ensemble. This stillness and openness redress a show that had blustered and bragged, albeit with considerable panache, humor, and style, for two long acts. Violins play the opening bars of the final number, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” and the conclusion of the musical begins—though, pointedly, not with rap. Characters speak frankly of Hamilton’s achievements without urban rhythms or witticisms. Harmonies are rich and the piece takes on an epic, anthemic feel more common to final numbers in musical theater, and then the musical ends. The closing is certainly not characteristic of what one would think of as a “hip-hop” musical. In its final moments, Hamilton aesthetically references traditional musicals such as Carousel or The Sound of Music, with their respective and similarly stirring finales, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” The choice not to have an active closing number saves the musical from movement oversaturation. Instead, the impression of the entire evening is imprinted in this moment of stillness. The construction of Hamilton is not transcendent or revolutionary. As this chapter has attempted to show, the musical’s complex use of traditional structures, conventions, and musical theater lenses broadens the form’s parameters. The many dance styles incorporated in the show support the goal of looking back at the past through a contemporary lens. By creating a diverse movement palette, Miranda and Kail’s dramaturgical imperative becomes possible.

Notes 1 In the case of Hamilton, comparisons with West Side Story (1957) come to mind. There is a similar use of dance to show conflict between factions, and the inclusion of a dance-laden opening prologue. This mode storytelling is often connected to the “dream-ballet” concept, and can be traced back to the work


Phoebe Rumsey of Albertina Rasch, beginning with The Band Wagon (1931) and other early musicals, culminating in her greatest success with Lady in the Dark (1941). Agnes DeMille developed the dream ballet concept further in Oklahoma! (1943) and Carousel (1945). Traditionally, the dream ballet has no singing, though the dance (not necessarily ballet), mimetic gestures, and tableaux-like formations forward the plot in most parts, and provide psychological insight into the characters. 2 One of the most obvious connections is “The Ten Duel Commandments,” an homage to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments” (1997). 3 Holler If Ya Hear Me is an example of such a situation. The hip-hop musical, built using the lyrics of rapper Tupac Shakur to tell his story, with a book by Todd Kreidler, opened on Broadway in the summer of 2014 and lasted less than 6 weeks. For more information on why the show closed see Jason Newman’s. “Saul Williams: Why Broadway’s Tupac Musical Closed Early.” Rolling Stone. 21 July 2014. Web. 20 May 2015. . 4 Rebecca Mead. “All About The Hamiltons.” The New Yorker. 9 Feb. 2015, 48. 5 Mead, 56. 6 Liza Gennaro. “Evolution of Dance in The Golden Age of the American ‘Book Musical’.” The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical. Ed. Knapp Raymond, Mitchell Morris, and Stacy Wolf. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 54. 7 Gennaro, 54. She explains that Jack Cole was a master at turning away from historical authenticity in his choreography: “it was in the anachronistic and absurd facts of Cole’s work that his choreographic voice emerged,” 54. 8 Gennaro, 59. 9 In “Dance and Choreography,” Zach Dorsey explains that to comprehend the use of dance is to investigate how reviewers contend with it. The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical. Ed. Raymond Knapp, Mitchell Morris, and Stacy Wolf. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 10 Ben Brantley. “In Hamilton Lin-Miranda Forges Democracy through Rap.” New York Times. 17 Feb. 2015. Web. April 1, 2017. . 11 Peter Marks. “History as You’ve Never Heard It Before.” Washington Post. 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 1 May 2017. . 12 Jesse Green. “Theater Review: Is Hamilton Even Better Than It Was?” Vulture. Web. 18 May 2017. . 13 Michael Shulman. “Top Ten Show Stoppers of 2015.” The New Yorker. 17 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 June 2017. .



Reading the Musical through Interdisciplinary Lenses

The musical is, by definition, a thoroughly interdisciplinary endeavor. The image of a composer isolated in a chilly room, trying to churn out inspired art, may sound like Rent but dates back to Beethoven—and it’s a romantic but false image in both cases. Art is created by its social context and, in turn, shapes it: Beethoven required performers, conductors, producers, and supporters to make music; Roger had to get out of his apartment and into the world before he was able to write a song. A musical needs a composer, lyricist, and bookwriter (these three jobs can be done by one, two, three, or more people), not to mention a director, producer, choreographer, designers, performers, musicians, and an audience in order to be fully formed. A musical, then, is a lived experience—not a script or a score. Studying musicals thus requires at least some familiarity with multiple fields. A musicologist working on musical theater scholarship may need to learn something about choreography along the way; a sociologist might need to dig a little into the history of lighting design. Every chapter in this book is, to varying degrees, an interdisciplinary study. Other sections have already gathered chapters that find musicologists using a gender lens, or theater historians using a race/ethnicity lens, or performance studies scholars using a philosophy lens, for example. These chapters in particular, though, might be thought of as intentionally bringing together two or more fields—some of them unlikely or rare, others more traditional—as the fundamental approach. The scholars in this group model how to apply one discipline to another, or fuse the two, or allow the two to inform each other. Here, the musical meets the study of the sci-fi narrative, or historiography, or psychoanalysis, thereby giving us unusual and insightful perspectives. Jake Johnson looks at the role of religion in musical theater, combining it with thoughts on “fake news” and other notions of what’s true in a “post-truth” world; he explores Bernstein’s Mass and The Book of Mormon, revealing a tension in reception history between secular and faith-based audiences. Sarah Taylor Ellis applies the notion of the time warp—borrowed from science fiction or fantasy stories—to the musical in order to explore how songs in musicals can bend, stop, speed up, or otherwise affect time in ways similar to those found in sci-fi. She links the notion of bent time to queer narrative strategies, opening up nonlinear and non-stable possibilities of storytelling. Aleksei Grinenko gives us an in-depth reading of Next to Normal via psychoanalysis, placing the show in the history of that field and demonstrating how the two disciplines—musical theater and psychoanalysis—inform each other in a musical that boldly avoids a tidy ending or a definitive “cure” to the main character’s mental illness.

Reading the Musical

Surveying the work of Stephen Schwartz, one of the most successful composers of the last 40 years, Paul Laird invokes narrative analysis and traces the theme of parent/child relationships, revealing how the topic arises again and again in various guises in Schwartz’s work. Taking another composer who has been successful for decades, James Leve analyzes the recent work of John Kander, proposing a “late style” of music and subject matter that dwells on themes of personal reflection, and demonstrates impressively experimental musical and narrative style components. Elissa Harbert takes history as her subject, running parallel with an exploration of the role of critics, to reveal that musicals about history are often reviewed with particular expectations—­ often harsh, judgmental ones at that. She asks how musicals about history are different from those with other narratives, and then demonstrates how critics approach such musicals with a preconceived set of criteria and expectations in mind. Thus, the lens of historiography gives us not only an understanding of these (supposedly, sort of ) true musicals but also an understanding of critics’ self-defined roles as receivers of the works both as history and as entertainment.



On September 8, 1971, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts opened in ­Washington, DC. That the slain president should be memorialized with a performing arts center was a tribute both to increased government support for the arts under his administration and to the musical-theatrical sensibility in which his political ideology would be framed after his death. Jacqueline Kennedy infamously orchestrated her late husband’s legacy by reference to the 1960 musical Camelot—which premiered on Broadway three years before Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas—telling reporters that he frequently listened with fondness to the cast recording, reflecting especially on the show’s closing lyrics.1 It is fitting, then, that the opening of the Kennedy Center included the premiere of a musicaltheatrical piece, Mass, composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Paul Simon, and commissioned by Jackie Kennedy herself. In stark contrast to the lithe tone and values of America’s Camelot past, however, Bernstein’s Mass captures the increasingly fractured, upside-down America ushered in by Kennedy’s death. This musical is a dark commentary on what Jimmy Carter would, later in the decade, call America’s “crisis of confidence”: a losing existential battle where America’s identity as benevolent savior, enforcer of good, global economic provider, and carrier of divine truth was increasingly held in suspicion by Americans themselves.2 Even ­Bernstein’s choice of genre—obviously modeled on the Roman Catholic Mass in a nod to ­Kennedy’s faith, and heavily inflected with numerous styles and idioms including popular music, opera, and American musical theater—relays the uneasy, shifting identity of Civil Rights-era America. When the Celebrant comes forward in the opening number wearing plain clothes to tell those gathered that he will “sing the Lord a new song” that is “simple,” he alludes to the recognizable ninety-sixth psalm while also encapsulating the ideology of religious fundamentalism that was then encroaching upon American politics—largely one that continues to see the world’s problems as uncomplicated, and their solutions simple. Yet the Christ-like Celebrant’s hopeful message and unapologetic faith are also mired in symbols of what could be an acerbic counterculture when, in his first appearance, he is accompanied by guitar chords. In some productions, the Celebrant even carries a guitar with him while praising God, “the simplest of all,” with a new, uncomplicated message of renewal, optimism, and faith. A few years earlier, Godspell used popular idioms, as well as the guitar, to draw a somewhat haphazard connection between Jesus’ disciples and a tame version of the 1960s counterculture. But Bernstein’s Celebrant operates in a musical and cultural milieu that is much less optimistic and rosy, and that is thus perhaps a more apt representation of the gritty, aggressive corners of the 1960s counterculture movement. Inasmuch as the Celebrant’s 265

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everyday, folksy character was visually and sonically at odds with Catholic conventions of priestly conduct during the liturgy, his attempts to gain access to a simple God using a complex, heavily ritualized religious service also did not resonate with the sentiments of the secular and often agnostic principles of the counterculture he so obviously evoked. This was something new. In this chapter, I make two interconnected observations. I first consider how musicals inhabit and promote a “post-truth” worldview similar to those reflected in current populist resurgences throughout the West. I argue that it is musical theater’s penchant for the unreal that in recent decades has given it traction within both secular, liberalized communities and fundamentalist religious ones. Further, as an important point of confluence between these groups, contemporary musicals may help open a space for constructive dialogue among people with increasingly disparate worldviews. Second, I use two musicals—Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, described earlier, and the 2011 Broadway hit The Book of Mormon—to build a framework for understanding how contemporary musicals hold in tension secular ideals and belief or faith, in a way that celebrates the current post-secular desire to use religious optimism to mitigate secular pragmatism. I will return to the Celebrant and the Mass later; for now, it will suffice for me to point out that the wounded edges of American ideals triggered by Kennedy’s death and the subsequent conspiratorial atmosphere that corrupted America’s faith in its government were sutured in part by musical theater. On one side of the divide lies Camelot, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s continuation of the so-called Golden Age aesthetic of musical theater, penned at the dawn of a new and optimistic decade; on the other side, Bernstein’s Mass, a bare-knuckled exploration of the American faith crisis, whose appearance at the beginning of the 1970s emblematized the fractured postmodern musical theater aesthetic, and offers a testament to the difference a decade can mean in the identity of a nation. In both cases, musicals serve as handmaidens to very different realities. Camelot was useful to Jackie Kennedy as a backward-looking reality, framing what was just briefly a “shining moment” of American prosperity and civility. Mass looks forward, using the same musical conventions as Camelot, to illustrate America’s turmoil and question once-sacred political and religious institutions that were increasingly understood as causes of and not solutions for America’s post-Kennedy hardships. Given the current political climate around the world, it is not difficult to feel pangs of familiarity with this scenario. Populist movements in America and Europe have signaled a renewed interest in the backward-looking reality represented by Kennedy’s Camelot. One of the world’s more distressing neologisms, “post-truth,” appears to have held liberal elites and progressives tongue-tied and aghast as once-trusted platforms of liberal ideals—journalism and higher education chief among them—seem neutered in a seismic shift of public opinion away from objectivity and toward emotional and personal belief as the most influential tenets shaping our reality. Musicals, too, have become a promulgator of progressive ideals, if inconsistently so: in the years since Camelot, they are often viewed as left-leaning, and the people who make and consume them as diverse and enormously accepting. This is the case despite the fact that in many respects, the liberal qualities of musical theater are a thin veneer covering a genre that remains very stubbornly tethered to tradition, and an audience that remains stubbornly homogenous. There have been strong examples of progressivism on the Broadway stage, but for the most part it takes a degree of reality-suspension beyond that required even for musical theater to imagine the musical stage as a bastion of progressive ideals and values. Even the most politically ambitious and liberally motivated musical of recent memory, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2015 monster hit Hamilton, is dependent upon a liberal spinning of the life of the real Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton projects liberal ideals onto the past by cherry-picking aspects of Hamilton’s life (particularly the musical’s construction of him as benevolent immigrant) that are seemingly in line with current liberalized ideologies, yet out of line with historical fact. Crucially, the musical plays up the importance of America’s societal underbelly in shaping the 266

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early nation, even though the financial system the real Hamilton constructed arguably has led to the disparities of wealth in America that create that social underclass in the first place. Conservatism and neoliberal ideologies therefore are baked into Hamilton, and it is entirely possible that the populist right will recognize Hamilton as their own story and wrench it out of liberal hands for their own purposes. This points to an uncomfortable admission: musical theater has long been a source and promoter of what might be called a post-truth reality. You don’t have to look very far to find examples of unreality in musicals; the very act of people bursting into song and dance defies realness in most senses of the term. The reconciliatory fantasy where all loose ends tie up, the hero gets the girl, and the villains get their comeuppance is categorically American and unabashedly escapist— and a more mundane but equally pernicious flavor of the desperate escapism heard within recent mantras like “Make America Great Again.” The protagonists in musicals are rarely complicated and their songs reflect basic, straightforward desires (the ever-present “I am” and “I want” song types, such as “I’m Alive” from Next to Normal and “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors, for example), while antagonists struggle with and sing about complex feelings and behaviors. Audiences watching Oklahoma!, for example, are perhaps better primed to understand protagonist Curley’s simple, if not arrogant, desire to court Laurey than to sympathize with his nemesis Jud’s brooding revenge plot in his number “Lonely Room.” As a result, a mild anti-intellectualism pervades musical theater, which perhaps inadvertently undermines liberal values of critical thinking and reason in order to make for good drama. So while musicals have enjoyed a reputation as a somewhat-liberalized platform for political ideals not yet in place, they likewise dally in a post-truth sensibility that places liberal communities in much closer proximity to the current populist uprising than many would care to admit. Musical theater’s reach into the far corners of America’s social fabric impels us to consider how contemporary musicals matter to increasingly entrenched ideological communities, which perhaps will lead to a cautious optimism that even this single point of confluence is enough to begin a dialogue between them. One way to begin understanding how musicals help construct a post-secular worldview is to consider the genre’s religious roots. Alexander Saxton points out that blackface minstrelsy, an early predecessor to musical comedy, emerged in upstate New York as a form of national entertainment in the mid-nineteenth century that reflected Jacksonian principles of self-fashioning and white supremacy.3 Mormonism, Adventism, and other restorative faiths emerge from this same time, place, and ideological current, carrying forward the performative and theatrical inclinations of fundamentalist religion such as tongue-speaking and speaking on behalf of God. Early American fundamentalism and early American musical theater are cut from the same ideological cloth—one that often drapes outside the realm of veracity. They both are concerned with worlds yet unseen or unattainable, and both put a lot of weight on the necessities of vocal theatricality in order to access those worlds. The result is that the musical has retained a pious identity, never quite shaken from its ideological tethering to the religious impulses used to justify nineteenth-century white supremacy despite its often wanton and lewd subject matter. By the early twentieth century, musicals were considered a wholesome, white, middle-class genre replete with religious values inscribed within reconciliatory, redemptive stories, where right and wrong were clearly demarcated and good always triumphed over evil.4 This Protestant religiosity pervades musicals overtly in times past: Cole Porter famously referred to Richard Rodgers’s tunes as having a certain “holiness” about them, and Oscar Hammerstein II’s liberal Jewish and Protestant upbringing clearly impelled him to imbue his stories with strong moral resonances.5 Musicals now operate more covertly, with gospel-inflected eleventh-hour numbers like “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray (2002) representing so common a trope in contemporary 267

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musicals that many shows barely evade becoming staged sermons.6 Perhaps it is for these reasons that Mormons, evangelical Christians, Jews, Scientologists, and other religious communities who otherwise have little in common embrace the musical stage as a convenient space to explore and express spiritual values. It’s not difficult to see how musicals as a genre are beholden to tradition, a rare expression of popular culture that remains steadfastly committed to spreading good news and modeling a hope in reconciliation without feeling preachy or overbearing. Musicals both implicitly and explicitly project religious values, and it’s no small wonder that religious fundamentalists from Branson, Missouri to Colorado City, Utah have used musicals as vehicles to evangelize among others and comfort their own.7 If musicals are framed by religion in various ways, that framework can sometimes appear disjointed when the subject of the musical appears to be at odds with purported religious values. When musicals turned to more overtly religious topics in the 1970s, as with Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, they usually did so with the secular intention of humanizing divine figures. The rise of the concept musical during this time, most notably in musicals by Stephen Sondheim, gave audiences fractured plots and uneasy resolutions rather than the more preachy morality of musicals from previous generations. As John Bush Jones has argued, the fragmented plots of concept musicals “mirrored the fragmented American society of the 1970s and the anxieties of inward-turning individuals.”8 Still, even the most stridently critical and irreverent musicals of all eras maintain at heart an idealism, in which powerful emotions like hope and love generate their own logic. Even the Jacksonian ideology of white supremacy rested on a nationalist fervor and excited optimism for an expanding frontier, while also sentimentalizing through minstrelsy the mythic journey of the slave who desperately clung to what was being left behind. It is on the axis of empathy, then, that musicals pivot from one topic to another, never fully escaping the religious and political idealism from which the genre was born.

The Book of Mormon The musical The Book of Mormon makes for a compelling case study of this phenomenon, not least because of the great theological prominence actual Mormons afford to American musical theater. Mormonism was born in upstate New York, alongside blackface minstrelsy. As Mormons slowly developed from a fringe polygamist sect to an iconic American religion (what Harold Bloom called “the American religion”), they attached themselves to a musical theater aesthetic to help garner white, middle-class respectability. Even more, because of the ideological roots ­Mormonism and musical theater share, musicals have served both a pragmatic and theological need for M ­ ormons, even today. Mormons in the twentieth century used musicals to change their popular image from un-American and racially suspect to ideal Americans: solid representatives of white, middle-class sensibilities. That remarkable transformation was all the more remarkable since it was musical theater that became a primary conduit for Mormons to change the tune, so to speak.9 Mormons eventually paid a price for their close association with musical theater. The Book of Mormon creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone grew up around Mormons and noted that ­Mormons seem so musical theater-like that the two iconic American institutions actually have a lot in common. In their minds, Mormons, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Disney were different words for the same idea.10 Lampooning Mormons on stage may have been convenient for those reasons, but Mormonism is such an emblem of homegrown Americana that it also becomes in the show a synecdoche for religious Americans more broadly. While The Book of Mormon is satirical and gets laughs at the expense of real Mormons and some of the beliefs they hold sacred, it is easy to read the musical as not defaming the religious but celebrating them. In fact, the musical—a self-­ described “atheist love letter to religion”—concludes by suggesting that religious beliefs are a good thing, no matter how ridiculous they may be, if they help people deal with the complexities of 268

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being human.11 Distinguishing fact from fiction isn’t always a useful task, the musical insists; as John Updike writes, “The crucial question isn’t Can you prove it? but Does it give us a handle on the reality that otherwise would overwhelm us?”12 To be sure, The Book of Mormon mercilessly critiques the dogmatic principles young Mormon missionaries naively extend to people and places they cannot fully understand, but it also tacitly admits that the problems facing the Ugandans—abusive warlords, impoverishment, an unchecked AIDS epide