As America’s major contribution to theatre, musical theatre has long been considered a quaint form of Americana. But looking just beneath the surface one sees that the American musical has always served a critical social function that moves far beyond simple songs about the golden haze on Oklahoma meadows. With its popular appeal and widespread audiences, the musical has been a fruitful place to both endorse and critique American ideologies and institutions. And as Americans became more rebellious in the turbulence during and following the 1960S and the Vietnam War, the musical followed suit. This course will begin with the Vietnam-era musical Hair in order to consider how the American musical of the late twentieth century is a contested site – a source of popular entertainment and profit and a means to make important political and social critiques. The course will move from the concept musicals of the 1970s, to the profit-driven mega-musicals and nostalgic revivals that dominated the 1980s, to the ‘Disneyification’ of Broadway in the 1990s, to the pastiche and satire that dominated the early 2000s, to the current trends of synergistic marketing and star power in order to explore the ways the musical has variously paralleled and challenged larger trends in the American landscape. The course will emphasize issues of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class, in order to consider how America’s, and consequently the musical’s, treatment of those subjects has shifted in the last four decades. The class may include a trip to New York City to see a Broadway show (depending on show availability).
• Course assignments will include viewings of musicals, quizzes, short research papers, and a class presentation. For the final project, students will work in a group to choose a source text to adapt to a new musical. The group will not write the musical but instead develop a ‘pitch’ to sell their adaptation, emphasizing the ways they will make their musical adaptation relevant to a contemporary audience.
Readings will come from a range of scholarly sources on musical theatre to supplement the musicals students are seeing.
Gypsy, Hair, Company, A Chorus Line, Sweeney Todd, Evita, Into the Woods, Phantom of the Opera, Rent, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hairspray, Spring Awakening, In the Heights