Song, Stage and Screen XIII: The Musical and Its Others, Then and Now
UCLA May 31-June 3, 2018
Conference Paper Abstracts
THURSDAY MAY 31
Session 1a: Women and Agency
1. Ashley Pribyl – The [Women] Upstairs: Sonic and Visual Representation of Feminine Aging in Follies
“Follies is about age and aging,” wrote Martin Gottfried in his review of the musical Follies (1971) for Women’s Wear Daily. Unlike other shows from the period that used nostalgia to harken back to the early days of the musical, Follies forced audiences to confront the emotional and bodily effects of aging on performers from the past. By framing the show around aging rather than nostalgia, co-directors Michael Bennett and Harold Prince inadvertently engaged with contemporary feminist discourse around sexism and aging, as epitomized by Susan Sontag’s The Double Standard of Aging (1972). Through a combination of archival sources, including reviews, interviews, blueprints, and letters, as well as analysis of video and audio of the original production, this paper explores how Follies represented the figure of the aging female. The show centered aging through the physical bodies of actresses, with older women contrasted – through sight, sound, and memory – with their more youthful selves. While certain elements, such as set design and choreography, highlighted the aging body’s limitations, the women of Follies proved they were “still here” and that older women are funny, sexy, and most of all, entertaining.
2. Mary Jo Lodge – Work, Work!: Women and Work, Onstage and Off, in the Broadway Musical, 1942-2017
In order to move beyond anecdotal evidence of the challenges women face on and off stage in the Broadway musical, particularly in regard to their work, I offer an analysis of women and work in the Broadway musical between 1942-2017. I build on my earlier work applying the Bechdel Test, which reveals gender bias in films, to Broadway musicals from the last twenty-five years. Here, I offer a more complete analysis of how shows that can pass the Bechdel Test fare when evaluated with an additional criterion of female employment, both for characters in musicals, as well as female creative artists behind the scenes. The numbers reveal that during this time period (ranging from the stage of the “Golden Age” and continuing through the present), the rates for female characters that can pass the Bechdel test – and the employment test - have remained surprisingly flat (at around 34%) - and that the numbers are actually getting worse for numbers of women working behind the scenes. In terms of women creators for musicals, the data reveal that when women are involved in major creative roles on shows, the musicals are more likely to pass both the Bechdel and employment tests.
3. Sarah Browne – Girl Talk: Feminist African American Phonocentrism as Act of Resistance in the Musical, Hair
In response to Wollman’s assertion that ‘despite its left-leaning approach to the many social and political issues it tackles, Hair is jarringly old-fashioned in its depictions of women (2014: 1), this paper instead proposes that Hair’s sung moments function as acts of resistance against the hegemonic, patriarchal values of musical theatre in both form and content. By adopting Annette Schlichter’s proposition of a ‘feminist phonocentrism’ which positions the voice as a ‘metaphor of agency and self-representation’ (2011: 38), the analysis in this paper illustrates a rejection of historical discourses that persistently link the female voice to notions of irrationality and absence of social and cultural authority. Furthermore, it demonstrates Hair’s recognition of the unique timbre and grain of the female African American voice as authentic self-presence; a further act of resistance against the ‘legit’ Broadway style of singing. With specific reference to songs from the score and their interpretations, this paper celebrates ‘girl talk’ forming at the margins and explores how this powerful sense of identification highlights the intersections between the four axes of gender, race, adolescence and class. In turn, membership of this female ‘Tribe’ offers a sense of community, belonging, a platform for protest, and a feminist utopia.
Session 1b: Crossing the Pond
4. Laura Milburn – The Great American Songbook Versus British Musical Theater: Noël Coward – The Master Who Intersected the Two
Paradoxically, the form of the Broadway musical is in many respects inherited from British antecedents but after World War I, the Broadway musical began to dominate as a superior form on both sides of the Atlantic. After World War II, the British musical was largely considered lowbrow but there was one figure who continued to be a stalwart in musical theatre both on Broadway and in the West End: Noël Coward. As a whole, Coward’s musical theatre output is largely forgotten about. One reason for this is his works do not fit perfectly into one category and this leads to the undervaluing of the output. Another is that he is effectively a musical “other” – not only was he British but, unlike his American counterparts, he was best known for his work as a playwright. This paper will examine how Coward, the sole English intruder, came to be a leading figure in the medium of musical theatre alongside the likes of Berlin, the Gershwins and Porter and how American musical theatre is reflected in his output.
5. Arianne J. Quinn – “Experiment: Exploring the Musical Signifiers of Identity in Cole Porter’s Nymph Errant”
Written as a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence, Nymph Errant (1933) is one of Cole Porter’s most mischievous plays. Despite strict censorship, Porter was nevertheless able to play with a blending of musical styles in Nymph Errant in a unique and innovative way. Moreover, musical numbers in this show are used to signify place and character development in terms of race, nationality, gender and sexuality with increasing complexity, and in turn reflect his ability to adapt to the unique style of British musical theater. This paper explores the musical markers of identity that are embedded in this work, ranging from references to specific nationalities including Italian, French and Middle Eastern signifiers to portrayals of gender and sexuality. Drawing from scores and recordings, I establish the specific markers of identity that Porter interwove in order to create a musical style unlike that of his American shows. I further demonstrate the extent to which Porter’s music reflected the wide-ranging influences of British culture in the 1930s while remaining “American” in style. This study not only provides a glimpse of a previously unknown aspect of Porter’s musical development, but also explores the cultural contributions of the 1930s Cochran revue and its place in transatlantic musical theater.
6. Naomi Graber – How Can You Tell an American? Kurt Weill’s Immigrant Origin Stories
As the Great Depression gave way to World War II, Kurt Weill, a refugee from Nazi Germany, became increasingly worried about rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States. He addressed these issues in two works of music theatre: the Broadway show Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), and the film Where Do We Go From Here? (1944). Both emphasize the nation’s immigrant roots: Knickerbocker Holiday is set in Dutch New Amsterdam, and Where Do We Go From Here? includes scenes in the same period, as well as a Christopher Columbus sequence. These two pieces speak to the ways Weill’s anxieties over his immigrant status changed with the advent of war. In Knickerbocker Holiday, Weill uses musical style to show that an individual is either a freedom-loving American or a European-style tyrant; the former sing soft-shoes and cakewalks while the latter are accompanied by polkas and Prussian marches. But in Where Do We Go From Here? Weill musically models assimilation, as Columbus’s proto-Fascist Italians initially sing in the style of Puccini, but are slowly coaxed into singing an Americanized foxtrot, showing that American citizenship can be learned, and is not based on birthplace.
Session 2a: Subcultures and Stereotypes
7. Anne H. Healy – Irish Gestalts: Deconstructing Irish Representation on Stage and Screen, 1940s-2010s
Stage and screen representations of the Irish have not always been positive endorsements of the land, way of life, or its people. Visual and aural depictions are often confined to drunken pub singing, hot-tempered fighting, and leprechauns with pots of gold. In 19th century America, Irish immigrants struggled to find their identity among the dominate culture, many of whom already had preconceived ideas of this “Paddy” newcomer. Despite a history fraught with hardship, the Irish retained a pride in themselves that celebrated a history filled with legends and a strong oral tradition. Ironically, it was those same traditions that would perpetuate stereotypical constructs of Irish-ness. Musicals and films such as Finian’s Rainbow, Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and Once all portray strong Irish racial stereotypes in both story and music. Each example presents a distinct take on Irish music and way of life, but surprisingly exhibits little evolution with respect to stereotypes, despite a sixty-year span between works. This paper will unpack the above works in order to examine how each approaches music, dance, melodrama, and the exoticism of cultural Otherness; all of which ultimately distract viewers from the racism contained within the works. By decentering, demythifying, and deconstructing these works, we will discover how these works serve to perpetuate Irish gestalts.
8. John Koegel – Immigration Themes in the Non-English-Language Ethnic Musical in the United States, circa 1840-1940
A multitude of immigrant-oriented, non-English-language musical theater stages flourished in the United States from the time of large-scale German immigration in the 1840s to the outbreak of World War II. All European, several East Asian and Middle Eastern, and Spanish-speaking immigrant groups promoted their own musical theater repertories as a source of entertainment, artistic edification, and national pride, and as a means for accommodation and assimilation within dominant U.S. culture. German, Yiddish, Italian, and Spanish-language musical stages emphasized both professional and amateur performance, while Finnish, Scandinavian, Czech, Armenian, Syrian, Russian, Portuguese, and Polish communities largely featured amateur stages. Professional touring companies offered Chinese opera. Shared patterns existed in the U.S. ethnic musical theater: competition between theatrical repertories imported from the original homeland and works composed specifically for and about immigrant audiences; tension between classical drama and popular musical theater; and conflict between ethnic identity and cultural assimilation. Following the work of scholars such as Nicolas Kanellos, Peter Conolly-Smith, and Sabine Haenni, this paper highlights the common threads between these immigrant theater traditions; shows how musical theater eased the entrance of immigrants into U.S. society; presents three case studies of the immigrant theme in the Yiddish, Mexican, and German musical comedy; and suggests concrete ways in which the ethnic musical theater can be incorporated into the current scholarly examination of the American musical theater.
9. Jake Johnson - To Sing is to Belong: Mormons, Musicals, and American Integration
Musicological studies of the American musical have helpfully considered how religious ideologies shaped the genre’s musical style, theatrical conventions, and dramatic content. Yet so far not much attention has been given to ways musicals likewise shape religion. This paper addresses this unevenness by demonstrating how the Mormon Church used the musical Promised Valley (1947) to transform from a fringe sect to become, in Harold Bloom’s words, “America’s religion.” In examining the ideological similarities between Mormonism and early American musical theater, I argue that Mormon theology promotes vocal theatricality as a divine quality and that Mormons are therefore drawn to the theater as a way of modeling godliness. Moreover, Promised Valley seems a deliberate attempt by the Mormon Church to cash in on American acceptability and whiteness. Promised Valley was modeled after Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!—a musical hailed, after all, for integrating all elements of the story with song and dance yet criticized for whitewashing frontier American life. I go on to show how Promised Valley’s characters use “singing” to forge community on the nineteenth-century frontier, mirroring in the musical the same cultural integration to which Mormons aspired in postwar America.
Session 2b: Queer Performers, Queer Characters
10. Gus M. Gowland – Let’s Make a Song and Dance About It: A Performance-Led Provocation
The musical has been considered a ‘common language for gay men’ (Clum, 1999) and yet itconsistently perpetuates a dominant heterosexist ideology. With a ‘“disproportionate number” of gay men among its major architects’ (Miller, 1998) this paper asks why the representations of homosexuality remain so limited. The repeated tropes of the Tragic Gay or the Drag Queen, alongside the near complete ignorance of other sexualities such as lesbianism and bisexuality, leave musical theatre playing catch up with its multimedia cousins. This paper will respond to existing portrayals of homosexual men and offer an alternative perspective to the ‘I Am What I Am’ (Herman, 1983) mentality, that loudly declares the Self without ever truly naming it. If the defiant show tune is an act of denial, in which ‘the subject has so thoroughly accepted his own dismissal as an agent in [the world]’ (Miller, 1998), and the character becomes an unknowing vehicle for self-suppression, this paper questions how the musical theatre writer can challenge this whilst acknowledging the homogenous voice. This paper offers a performance of homosexuality that utilizes the lived experience of the author to practically explore how to be gay on the musical theatre stage.
11. Ryan Bunch – Fun Home and Broadway’s Ghostly Queer Kids
Despite musical theater’s reputation as a safe space for queer youth, queer kids remain largely invisible on the Broadway stage. As Kathryn Bond Stockton notes, the queer child is largely unacknowledged in the present, appearing retrospectively after the emergence of the queer adult. This “ghostly” queer child haunts the theater in ways similar to Marvin Carlson’s notion of ghosted performances. Fun Home (2015), adapted from Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel, seems to affirm its queer child’s visibility, but there remains a ghostly quality to Small Alison, who materializes in adult Alison’s memory before mostly disappearing for the last third of the show. In the moment of her first identification with an adult lesbian, Small Alison’s lyrics cut off in silence where they are unable to speak the name of her desires. Revealing the extent to which the category “theater kid” simultaneously encodes and conceals the presence of queer kids on stage, actor Sidney Lucas reported that she drew on her experience of discovering and identifying with theater kids to inform her performance of Small Alison. This strategy suggests that the ghostly queerness of theater kids both limits and provides opportunities for the negotiation of their identities on stage and off.
12. Bryan Vandevender – Come On In From the Outside: Gender Outlaws and Queer Spatiality on the Broadway Musical Stage
The history of gender impersonation, gender play, and gender exchange on the Broadway musical stage is long and storied—from Julian Eltinge’s star turn in The Fascinating Widow (1910) to Nellie Forbush and Luther Billis’s “Honey Bun” sketch in South Pacific (1949) and Mary Sunshine’s drag aria in Chicago (1975). In these musicals (and numerous others), a cisgender character’s choice to traverse a heteronormative gender border is conscious, temporary, and intended as a source humor. A smaller cohort of musicals including Cabaret (1966), The Rocky Horror Show (1975), La Cage aux Folles (1983), Rent (1996), Taboo (2003), and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2011) stand apart from these titles by featuring characters whose gender identity and performance challenges, defies, or abjures heteronormative gender binaries. Prior to the 2012 Broadway premiere of Bring It On: The Musical, Broadway’s gender outlaws were chiefly confined to queer spaces that nullified heteronormative statutes and legitimized genderqueer performance. This essay examines these early musicals and gives special attention to the role that markedly queer space plays in their overall dramaturgy in an attempt to determine how gender outlaws have attained legibility over time in a performance mode that privileges and is often undergirded by heternormativity.
FRIDAY JUNE 1
Session 3a: Telling Disability Stories
13. Andrew L. Tubbs – Sumpin’ Wrong Inside Him: Ethnicity, Disability, and Eugenics in Rodgers’ and Hammersteins’ Oklahoma!
While critics have praised Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (1943) for its integration of book, music, and dance, the show’s presentation of a homogeneous community in the wake of the American eugenics movement cannot be overlooked when assessing the musical’s cultural impact. In a show that privileged a cohesive community identity, the character of Jud Fry sits as the foreign outsider, threatening the community’s social and musical order through the songs “Poor Jud is Daid” and “Lonely Room.” Scholars, such as Andrea Most and Bruce Kirle, have ascribed varying ethnic and racial identities to Jud, particularly a Jewish or Native-America identity, to contextualize his Otherness. However, in relation to America’s lasting eugenic thought, Jud’s psychotic villainy aligns with period notions of feeble-mindedness— often an ideological conflation of race, ethnicity, class, and impairment— to portray Jud as a degenerate Other. This study tracks the eugenic fear of feeble-mindedness in Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s 1955 film adaptation of Oklahoma! through a motivic study of the famous “Dream Ballet.” Jud’s Othering musical and textual characterizations, grounded in the lingering eugenic sensibilities of the mid-twentieth century, betray an inherent disabled, threat to the narrative’s newly unified community, and therefore ultimately justifies his euthanization.
14. Stephanie Lim – Inverting the Hearing Line: Imagining New Spaces Through Deaf Musical Theater
With Deaf West Theatre’s trademark fusion of American Sign Language and musical theatre, a cast made up of both deaf and hearing actors took the stage together in 2015 to revive Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s 2006 rock musical Spring Awakening. At its core, the musical explores what happens when teenagers grow up in a world where adults refuse to communicate with them, particularly regarding issues of sex, and the show’s coming of age theme translates effectively across both Deaf and hearing cultures. However, Deaf West’s intricate combination of rock music and ASL produces the most powerful moments in the show: the physicality inherent not only to sign language but also to rock music generates a unique form of embodied resistance that unifies the teenage characters in their rebellion against religion, authority, and audism. By looking at the intimate relationship between rock music, ASL and Deaf culture, and the coming-of-age narratives in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, this paper explores the sight/site of Deaf musical theatre as a space of embodied resistance. Furthermore, this paper discusses how the production’s national success signals American theatre’s shift towards a practice of greater access, inclusion, and diversity both on and off the stage.
15. Samuel R. Yates – “There Is No Future. There Is No Past:” Cripping Chronicity and the Death Drive in AIDS Musical
In the twenty-one years since Jonathan Larson’s Rent first posed the question, “How do you measure a year in the life?” the musical’s rejoinder to “measure in love” still belies the seriousness of the question its characters ask: How should you experience life when living with, or in proximity to, AIDS? The score’s breakout hit “Seasons of Love” catalogs benign measurements of time—minutes, cups of coffee, speeding tickets—but elsewhere each character’s relationship to time is aggressively marked by health and sexuality. I argue Rent uses the logic of crip time to historicize the global AIDS pandemic and simultaneously de-center gay and lesbian experiences in favor of a heterosexual coupling offering reproductive futurity. Much like Alison Kafer’s assertion in Feminist, Queer, Crip (2013) that “disability is seen as the sign of no future,” Larson writes AIDS as a chronicity of the immediate present: “There is no future, there is no past”—there is “[n]o day but today.” As a heuristic for “expectations of ‘how long things take’... based on very particular minds and bodies,” Kafer’s model of crip time helps us understand how Rent “bends the clock” to present mostly asymptomatic bodies onstage despite the script’s obsession with prognoses.
16. Jessica Sternfeld – Words Fail: The Music, the Trauma, and the Lies in Dear Evan Hansen
Popular culture has embraced the controversial narrative of trauma and redemption: the concept that those who have suffered traumatic experiences exhibit a set of shared symptoms and, when these are overcome, their lives are better than before. This talk explores the trauma/redemption theme in Dear Evan Hansen (Pasek and Paul, 2016) which, unlike most musicals, dares to complicate the narrative of overcoming by making its sympathetic lead character not just a sufferer of trauma and crippling anxiety, but a liar who hurts people. Evan invents his friendship with Connor, his classmate who commits suicide, for a mix of well-intentioned and entirely self-serving reasons, but despite the story’s efforts to remind us that Evan lies, manipulates, and benefits from his actions, the show leaves us little choice but to sympathize and root for him. The music tips the scales; the songs sing of inclusion and forgiveness, only the dialogue and stage action speak of lying and comeuppance. Drawing on recent scholarship in trauma studies (especially Alan Gibbs, 2014) and my field research with Evan-aged viewers, this project examines how, if a musical speaks of lying but sings of redemption, the spoken cautions are lost and – perhaps dangerously – the sung salvation resounds.
Session 3b: Issues of Race in the Early 20th Century
17. Mary Beth Sheehy – Ziegfeld’s “Folly”: The Music and Performance Styles of “Exotic” Comedy Songs in the Follies of 1907
The Follies of 1907 initiated Florenz Ziegfeld’s lasting Broadway legacy, a revue known for its opulent costumes and scenery, its provocative musical numbers, and, perhaps most of all, for its chorus girls. The Follies strove to portray an “All American” female sexuality, an image suggested through songs that emphasize the “exotic” as an opposition to Ziegfeld’s ideal “American” woman. Featuring an all-white cast, the Follies of 1907 highlighted comedic musical numbers performed in blackface, which exoticized—thereby sexualizing and demeaning—the protagonists they portrayed. This paper analyzes three unrecorded “exotic” songs from the Follies of 1907—“My Pocahontas,” “Miss Ginger from Jamaica,” and “Come Down Salomy Jane,” which respectively portray a Native American woman, a black Caribbean woman, and a black woman from the American south. I scrutinize the lewd lyrics, racialized performance practices, and stereotyped “exotic” musical styles of these songs—three elements that reveal the prejudicial portrayal of marginalized peoples in early Broadway history. Through a detailed examination of the text and musical elements of the songs, I uncover several implications of the comedic sexualization of non-white women on stage and the staggering popularity that such performances gained within the white American public at the time.
18. Virginia Christy Lamothe – Dislocation of Language and Location in the New Creation of Blackness in Williams’ and Walker’s Abyssinia
“Every dialect, every language, is a way of thinking. To speak means to assume a culture.” Frantz Fanon’s words from The Negro and Language (1967) could not have rang truer for Black entertainers Bert Williams, George Walker, and composer Will Marion Cook as they created their most grand production, Abyssinia, an “Extravaganza” for the Majestic Theater in 1906. In it, Williams and Cook created the first musical production to dislocate itself from a Minstrel legacy by pitting deliberate yet limited dialect against the King’s English, thus modeling a new construction of Black identity.
By examining archival resources, this paper demonstrates how the creators defied racially- focused humor. It will shed light on the thus-far neglected Majestic Theater and examine the importance of Abyssinia’s mixed audience. Dislocated from Broadway, white audiences trekked uptown to 7th avenue and Columbus Circle because they adored the theater’s previously successful shows, The Wizard of Oz and Victor Herbert’s Babes in Toyland, and elsewhere witnessed Williams’ and Walker’s In Dahomey (1902). Building on the work of Jane Mathieu, this paper argues that since the Majestic was adjacent to “African Broadway,” it brought in Black audiences who witnessed a turning point in the role of the Black entertainer.
19. Julianne Lindberg – A Dedicated Sideman: Reginald Beane on Stage and at the Piano Musical theater scholarship has traditionally privileged critically acclaimed shows and their principals. Other players—including chorus members, pit musicians, and rehearsal pianists—have been typically neglected, not least because their records are often difficult to trace. When these players belong to historically underprivileged groups, their absence in the literature can be attributed to more than a lack of historical evidence. The case of Reginald Beane is revealing in this respect. Beane— a black actor, composer, and pianist— worked on Broadway primarily during the 20s and 30s. He played bit parts in a few high-profile shows—including Mamba’s Daughters and Porgy and Bess—and was featured, along with a handful of his compositions, in the Pulitzer Prize winning play The Time of Your Life. Beane’s papers—processed in 2013 and currently held at Emory University—reveal the life of a dedicated sideman (to use jazz parlance). In this paper I will explore several of the items I uncovered, including a large body of unpublished compositions. Inspired by the work of Brenda Dixon Gottschild, I argue that Beane’s legacy helps us better understand the precarious position—in both the industry and musical theater history— of black actors and songwriters during this period.
20. Stephanie Ruozzo – Funny Faces: The Many Identities of George Gershwin and How “Othering” Can Elevate
In “Towards a New Reading of Gershwin,” Charles Hamm designates three distinct categories of jazz: African-American jazz/blues for African-American audiences, African-American jazz/blues for White audiences, and White “jazz” for White audiences. Hamm dismisses the latter as not worthy of the appellation, and derides stage compositions as an inferior form of cultural appropriation. In essence, Hamm argues that George Gershwin’s theatrical scores are too mainstream and White to qualify as legitimate jazz. At the same time, C. Andrè Barbera maintains that we can be certain the popular music of every nation is African-American at its core. To the extent, then, that Gershwin’s popular songs are the product of African-American conventions, they attain legitimacy as jazz standards. I propose to explore the legitimacy of Gershwin’s jazz by triangulating his identities as a Jewish concert composer, a borrower of African-American idioms, and an American popular music songwriter. I rely heavily on Gershwin’s personal assessments of his own works as preserved in public interviews and private correspondence. I conclude that while Gershwin’s theatrical scores are significantly divergent from the music of Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington, they nevertheless engage with conventions of African-American vernacular music to a degree meriting inclusion in the jazz genre.
Session 4a: Dance, Bodies, and Meaning
21. Todd Decker – Male Body Sounds: Astaire, Kelly, and Jackson and the Masculine Expressive Imagination in Screen Dancing
Screen dancers have choices stage dancers do not: they can selectively emphasize or eliminate the sounds their bodies make while dancing. Fred Astaire, a realist, virtually always supplemented his dancing image with foot sounds, even when he was not performing tap steps. Astaire’s body, however light and elegant, is given heft by his post-production application of consistent sonic ballast. Gene Kelly preferred a silent body, with taps turned abruptly on and off when he shifted dance styles and in no relation to his footwear. Such sonic magic worked within Kelly’s artistically-driven fantasy approach to screen dance, lending his striving, muscular body a lightness and ease. In his music videos, which occasionally reference Astaire and Kelly’s classical musicals, Michael Jackson dances entirely without body sounds. Within the sonic and narrative regimes of MTV, Jackson’s virtuoso boyish body moves to recorded music that plays on a different plane, simultaneous with but independent of the visual track. Building on Todd Decker’s theorization of the screen dancer as cyborg (Chabrol and Toulza, 2017), this talk considers Astaire, Kelly and Jackson as sharply contrasting audiovisual representations of men in motion, with varied results in the creation of an acceptably or insufficiently masculine singing and dancing man.
22. Sarah Courtis – Thousands of Stories to be Told: Physical Representations in Musical Theatre
Diverse, colour blind and other forms of ‘non-traditional’ casting is allowing more and more marginalised voices to be represented onstage in musical theatre. However, there are still many stories to be told, and audience expectations for diverse representation is rising. While there are some stories which are racially or physically explicit, the majority of characters in musical theatre have the ability to be diversely cast. So why aren’t they? This paper will explore this question and examine how diversification of casting has enhanced the capacity for storytelling in a selection of recent musicals. We will then discuss audience expectations and their ability to accept ‘non-traditional’ casting in the practice led research component of two PhD students original work in lyrics and choreography: 2084: a musical. This will include discussion of the casting of actors from different ethnic backgrounds as mother and child, working with dancers of diverse body types, and some of the special considerations that had to be made when working with a Muslim performer in terms of costuming, roles and partner work.
23. Natalia Perez – The Choreographic ‘Other’: Broadway Dream Ballets and the Representation of Political Agency
Representations of cultural “others” have appeared in musical theater since the early twentieth century. Productions like Show Boat (1927), Porgy and Bess (1935), South Pacific (1951), and Fiddler on the Roof (1964) contain obvious musical and textual markers that differentiate marginalized populations from their normative counterparts. Recently, scholars have started identifying these sonic signifiers of ethnic, gender, and sexual identity, but there is one question that has largely gone unasked: how is the cultural “other” represented through movement? My paper investigates the ability of choreography to intimately convey a character’s identity through an analysis of a complex musical-theater device: the Broadway dream ballet. I study the dream ballet as a vehicle of political agency, using the communicative power of dance to advance a progressive social message more effectively than the plot could alone. Using the subversive dream ballet of Billy Elliot (London, 2005), I detail how the sequence represents the centerpiece of the musical’s social agenda, deconstructing the stereotypes associated with a young boy’s involvement in ballet by rejecting the arbitrary cultural standards that dictate what is deemed masculine, feminine, and queer. By combining theoretical approaches from sociology, psychology, and gender studies, I offer new insights on the roles dance plays in promoting social justice.
Session 4b: Sondheim and Musical Others
24. Nir Cohen-Shalit – Reversed Markedness: Marking East and West in Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures
Two scenes, one from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and the other from Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, depict Japanese women in their first encounter with Western men. In both scenes, the financial situation of the women depends on what is essentially prostitution – before and during the wedding scene in the opera, and in “Welcome to Kanagawa” in the musical. Although both scenes combine oriental markers like pentatonic melodies and open fifth harmonies with traditional operatic and Broadway idioms, the moment in Butterfly was described by Ralph Locke as the opera’s most orientalist, reducing Asian womanhood to “a vision of loveliness for the delectation of the Western gazer,” while Raymond Knapp considers the parallel moment from the musical as the score’s most Western, mocking both the Americans and the Japanese. Following from Knapp’s perspective, this paper focuses on Sondheim’s creation of what I call “reversed markedness” – the depiction of one’s own culture through devices employed to mark the Other. Traditional Broadway idioms are ridiculed and misused, while an idiosyncratic language, foreign to the genre, serves as the background for the reversed marking. This process raises the question of whether all Western representations of the Orient are necessarily patronizing, or whether some can communicate more positive attitudes towards the Other.
25. Dan Blim – Someone Tell the Story: Historiography, Humor, and Controversy in Assassins and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Assassins and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (BBAJ) are two recent history musicals with striking similarities. Both use historical music and text, both humanize violent protagonists, and both repeatedly break theatrical conventions, most notably by killing their narrators during the show. In short, both musicals demonstrate ambivalence toward historical narratives, especially ones that assert American idealism and exceptionalism. Moreover, they do so by implicitly critiquing the idealism of the musical as a genre, implicating both the genre and its audiences in the critique. Assassins and BBAJ reflect recent critiques of American historiography and legacies of power and injustice. I demonstrate how both shows use music to satirizes the protagonists’ racism and violence, and elsewhere to empathize with their white protagonists as victims of classism, xenophobia, or political machinery. The controversial reception of both shows echoes current tensions about the intersections of class, race, privilege, and empathy in America, seen in the polarized reactions to J. D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy. In contrast to Hamilton, which both centers non-white figures and musics and celebrates idealism over irony, Assassins and BBAJ underscore the political challenges history musicals face in a changing twenty-first century political landscape.
26. Dana Gooley – The Witch’s Rap and Sondheim’s Racial Appropriations
Recent studies of race in the Broadway musical have explored the genre’s compromised gestures toward liberal inclusiveness (Bush Jones 2004, Decker 2013, Knapp 2014), production of American whiteness (Hoffman 2014), and expression of racial anxiety in light of post-WWII social and political change (Oja 2009). This paper considers the Witch’s rap, from the opening of Sondheim’s Into the Woods, in relation to these race-centered issues. The Witch, as a victim of sexual and economic exploitation who converts her injury into social menace, arguably resembles the black urban subject of rap narratives. Yet late in Act I the “black” Witch is suddenly unveiled as a beautiful white woman—raising the specter of blackface performance, disguised as fairy-tale transformation. Although Sondheim acknowledges the influence of ’80s black rap on the Witch’s number, he gives greater weight to theatrical precedents, namely the speech-songs in The Music Man—themselves rooted (he claims) in vaudeville, a key site of blackface performance. I evaluate the Witch’s rap alongside other appropriations of black music style in Sondheim (“Poor Baby,” “The Story of Lucy and Jessie”), and discuss the central importance of Gershwin-Heyward’s Porgy and Bess in shaping Sondheim’s philosophy of racial representation.
Session 5a: Race and Small Screen Media
27. Kelly Kessler – Civil Rights, Blackface, and Broadcasting: Race and the Musical in American Television. 1968-1981
American television has always embraced the musical in one form or another; however, much like the Great White Way, its musical programming—along with everything else—was often dominated by white faces. After all, by its very nature, broadcast television was targeting the broadest base of consumers possible, and until the late 80s and early 90s that was almost always conceived of as white viewers. This target market mixed with shifting politics led both to some poignantly politicized musical moments, as well as awkwardly insensitive ones. This presentation examines the intersection of Blackness and Broadway performance from the late sixties through the early eighties via changes in television programming, branding, and distribution platforms. From Petula Clark’s taboo touching of Harry Belafonte’s arm and Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing’s performance of the Civil Rights anthem “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” to cringe-worthy moments of Jack Lemmon singing selections from Porgy and Bess using Black dialect and Gregory Hines performing Al Jolson, all the way to Broadway on Showtime’s acclaimed televised productions of Eubie and Purlie, I explore the shifting face and televisual space of the intersection of race, the Broadway musical, and American television.
28. Lisa Duffy – ‘City of stars, are you shining just for me?’: Non-White Representation in the Modern Screen Musical
The towering genre of musical film during the classical Hollywood years was a space dedicated to telling white stories. While this is true of all genres of the era, the musical liberally utilized music and choreography from non-white communities, making the erasure of marginalized peoples from the screen all the more egregious. In the modern era, there has been a focus on increasing the representation of minorities with awareness campaigns such as #OscarsSoWhite. However, contemporary musical films outside of biopics have been resistant to embracing diverse stories, aligning themselves with the entrenched white history of the genre by spotlighting white stories through black music while using minority people as background dressing. While the musical film remains conservatively tied to a bygone era, the genre on television has been quietly championing diversity for decades. From the multiracial casts of the Disney produced made-for-TV musicals in the 1990s to minority actors performing central roles in musical series like Smash (2012-2013) and Crazy Ex- Girlfriend (2015- ), television has become a space for non-white stories to thrive. This paper will examine the musical genre across the two mediums, considering why there exists such a gap in minority representation between film and television.
29. Emily Caston – The D.I.Y Aesthetic in Black British Music Videos
This paper examines diversity through genres of dance in Black British music videos since the 1980s. It is based on the findings of a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council research project. It will make the case that music video is heir to the Hollywood Musical. But it will demonstrate, pace Mundy (2007), that music videos (like musicals) in the UK, are more realistic and less polished, and that only with the global emergence of Grime is this aesthetic being valued more than the high production values of the US R&B video. Original interviews with British choreographers and directors suggest that UK labels and artists prefer ‘ordinary people’ and ‘realistic’ dance. The paper will explore the emergence of Black dance genres in British video from the breakthrough of Malcolm Maclaren’s ‘Buffalo Gals’ to Max & Dania’s ’21 Seconds’ (So Solid Crew). It will document the struggles of Black British director Jake Nava to secure budgets for his artists in the UK and his later work in LA with Beyoncé. It will chart the challenges for Black British directors to find an authentic voice and genre in music video through which to express their rootedness in British street culture, until the emergence of Grime and of the Black female auteur musician/performer/director – notably M.I.A. and FKA Twigs. Now British Grime artists such as Skepta have rejected the whole music video industry apparatus, embracing a minimalist, anti-commercial, DIY aesthetic in their videos.
Session 5b: From Editing to Publishing
30. George Burrows – From Abstract to Article: Developing Your Paper for Publication
Conferences and academic journals have different aims and functions, so turning a conference presentation into a journal article is not always a straight-forward process. This workshop, led by a founding editor of Studies in Musical Theatre, aims to help delegates identify how to develop their conference presentations into material that is fit for peer review with regard to journal publication. The session will offer tips by illuminating the concerns and editing processes of Studies in Musical Theatre. It will also promote debate about the extant musical theatre literature with a view to identifying the hot topics for publication.
SATURDAY JUNE 2
Session 6a: Music and Oppositional Politics
31. Ricardo Quintana Vallejo – Zoot Suit: Chicano Liberation in Song and Celluloid
W.E.B. DuBois famously stated that all art is propaganda as he addressed the leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in October of 1926. DuBois argued that artistic expression could enable beauty as a means to make voices heard and propagate untold stories. Art was instrumental in the fight for liberation. A prime example of such propagandist art is Chicano activist and writer Luis Valdez’s 1981 film adaptation of his Broadway play Zoot Suit. In it, he used the languages of music and film to communicate the tenets of the Chicano movement, and to show the injustice of the courts against marginalized Chicanos in California. Using the framework DuBois outlines in his speech Criteria for Negro Art and Bertolt Brecht’s ethical and aesthetic parameters for epic theater—often cited in the critical reception of Zoot Suit—this paper analyzes the use of music and film as political tools for the Chicano movement. As well, it studies how Luis Valdez translated his political discourse and the reclamation of Aztlán into fiction, dialogue, and song. Luis Valdez used art to relay the driving ideas of the movement and, in doing so, he brought the stories from the streets of Los Angeles into Broadway and eventually to film.
32. Alejandro Postigo - Copla in the Spain of Franco: escapist songs for marginal collectives
In Francoist Spain (1939-75), variety shows made of Spanish folkloric copla songs were the norm of musical theatre. These shows responded to the National Catholic ideals of Franco’s fascist regime as a privileged tool for indoctrinating the masses in a strategy to depoliticize social consciousness. Franco planned to enhance copla as a popular folkloric form across both factions to unite the population under his dictatorial regime. However, copla sung about passions that provided a mechanism for escapism from the misery, poverty and hunger of those difficult years: copla singers were musical icons that the populace could look up to and reflected the lived experience of ordinary people as no other social discourse did. Evading censorship, many songs kept focusing on forbidden love stories and mirroring Spanish society of the time, in which people attempted to escape misery and attain social recognition. This allowed identification of repressed and marginal collectives beyond Franco’s imagination, helping people to work through feelings of terror and grief in ways that were politically safe and emotionally manageable. This paper will explore how those marginalized (homosexual, women, anti-fascist) groups identified with copla songs during the dictatorship and became active participants and appropriated the form once in democracy.
33. Schuyler Dunlap Whelden – “I Will Not Change My Opinion”: Musical Theater as Counterpublic in Authoritarian Brazil
Between December 11, 1964 and March 21, 1965, the musical theater show Opinião [Opinion] played to nearly 24,000 spectators in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The show starred three performers, each said to represent a different portion of the Brazilian populace: singer Nara Leão, from the rich neighborhood of Copacabana; Zé Kéti, a samba composer from the slums of Rio; and João do Vale, a migrant composer from the rural northeast. Despite their demographic differences, they all opposed the country’s military government, an opinion that remained subtext in the show’s songs and testimonies. In this paper, I argue that Opinião can be productively understood as a counterpublic: a social entity defined by the circulation of oppositional discourses. I investigate how this counterpublic coalesced by analyzing performers’ participation in political debates through the press and by drawing on the interviews I conducted with audience members who returned to the theater night after night. In addition to Nancy Fraser and Michael Warner’s theorization of counterpublics, I draw on sociologist Gabriel Tarde’s critique of public opinion as a self-reinforcing feedback loop to show both the efficacy and the limitations of a theatrical counterpublic defined by both affective performance and rational-critical debate.
Session 6b: Audiences and Media
34. James Deaville – “It’s Superfan!” The Extreme Fan of Musical Theater as Other
The phenomenon of the “superfan” has embedded itself in musical-theater lore, whether the New Jerseyite Jo-Ann Wordley who attended Jersey Boys over 675 times or the Californian Christine who has assembled the world’s largest collection of Cats memorabilia. (Dooley, 2017) These excessive behaviors and expertises fall outside norms for musical theater fandom (Balzli 2013), as manifestations of extreme fan culture, where obsession and privilege intersect in extravagant discourses of knowledge and material culture. (Duffett 2013; Barron 2014) As excessive Others, musical superfans have largely eluded scholarly attention (cf. Sullivan 2012): this paper initiates the study of their roles at the fringes of musical fanhood. While media representations tend to regard superfans as overzealous enthusiasts who rally a show’s fan base and circulate knowledge (see Hughes 2016), closer investigation of specific cases can lead to a darker assessment of their identity and activities. Ethnographic case studies of extreme fans Wordley and Mike Meko (Wicked) and of the “Hamilheads” reveal the financial and social tolls exacted by the over-accumulation of fan capital for one particular show (Fiske 1992). Whether or not such monomanias arise from underlying OCD (Geraghty 2014), superfans represent a highly dedicated audience that musical-theater research must take into consideration.
35. Adam Rush – #You Will Be Found: Marketing the ‘Other’ in Dear Evan Hansen
Whether enthused by a cast recording, film adaptation, television interview, YouTube clip, or simply a poster, most audiences tend to buy tickets for a musical because they have been inspired to do so by a separate, yet related, text (what Gérard Genette terms a ‘paratext’). Such framing texts, or experiences, are thus increasingly important to musical theater as a commercial enterprise, given that there are fans of musical theater across the globe who have never stepped inside a West End or Broadway theatre. This paper therefore explores the way in which social media guides, frames, and often stands in for, the actual live experience of seeing Dear Evan Hansen (2016), the recent Tony Award-winning hit musical. In analyzing how the musical’s development on social media, in addition to its fan response, reflects the show’s broader message of ‘You Will Be Found’, this paper investigates how the texts and experiences which frame the production stylistically parallel the onstage action. By reflecting the musical’s narrative about an ostracized teenager who only finds himself once an internet sensation, the production’s social media campaign provides potentially ostracized fans with a creative and communicative outlet in which they can join a community of fellow ‘Fansens’.
36. Mark O’Thomas – Making Musicals of Misery – Jazz, Dissensus and The Austerity Playbook
The history of the arts and humanities is one founded on the exploration of human existence in all of its multifaceted intricacies and glory. But the construction of art out of other people’s experience is inherently problematic in a world where the ownership of affective experience can be commodified, adapted and represented for the purposes of entertainment. The Austerity Playbook (2017) is one example of an attempt to negotiate the experience of a marginalised community (the working-class community of the city of Newcastle in the North East of England) within the construction of a new jazz musical where issues of poverty and cuts to public services are mapped onto a libretto and score imbued with elements of improvisation, rhetoric and satire. In this paper, we explore the ethical issues of our creating The Austerity Playbook in the context of Rancière’s notion of an emancipated spectatorship (Rancière, 2009), where attempts to bridge a perceived distance between the performer and the performed, between song and spectator become redefined within both contemporary critical theories of dissensus (Rancière, 2003) and jazz (Pillai, 2017).
Session 7a: Learning from 1970s Flops
37. Paul Laird – Stephen Schwartz, Nina Faso, and the Search for Diversity in Working
When Stephen Schwartz read Working (1974) by Studs Terkel, he became fascinated with its possibilities for musical theater adaptation. The way that he pursued the project with his friend Nina Faso, who served as associate director, made the musical Working a textured statement about diversity of race and class in America. As learned in interviews with both Schwartz and Faso, they mined Terkel’s book for memorable characters and included in their 1978 Broadway production monologs and songs by workers of varied classes and ethnicities. Schwartz intended to write the score, but found himself modeling numbers strongly after other songwriters and finally decided to solicit their contributions to the show. For example, he induced Micki Grant to write songs for African American characters like a parking-lot attendant and cleaning woman, and James Taylor to compose for a trucker and other figures. The result was a score of unusual musical diversity and realism. Workers describe their jobs by singing numbers based on musical tropes one might associate with such a person. Working failed on Broadway, but it has been an important part of the repertory for almost four decades and has been updated to stay current with new technology in the workplace.
38. Trudi Wright – Diversity in the Musical Theater History Classroom: Working Toward Improved Dialog
Not unlike the 2014 experiences of many colleges and universities around the United States, the students and faculty on my small liberal arts campus reacted to the disturbing events in Ferguson, Missouri through protest, rallies, and campus conversations. As a pedagogue, the desire for change prompted me to re-examine my course content, and challenged me to create spaces for difficult conversations around race and gender in all the classes I teach--especially in my American Musical Theater History course for non-music majors. Recent articles, such as Kira Thurman and Kristen Turner’s “Six Easy Ways to Immediately Address Racial and Gender Diversity in Your Music History Classroom,” published on the American Musicological Society’s peer-reviewed blog Musicology Now, offer ways for college teachers to diversify our predominantly Eurocentric music courses. Although the musical theater canon has been traditionally dominated by white, male composers, the discipline’s narrative, as a whole, affords instructors many opportunities to create much-needed and -desired dialog around issues of diversity. Through a consideration of Steven Schwartz’s 1978 musical Working as a case study example, my paper will focus on concrete activities to foster meaningful diversity dialog in the undergraduate musical theater history classroom.
39. Elizabeth Wollman – Cultural Memory and the Importance of Flops: The Case of ‘The Lieutenant
The historiography of the American stage musical overwhelmingly favors the canon formed from critical and commercial hits. But just as the most successful musicals often reflect their time, place, and the national mood, so too do productions that flop and vanish relatively quickly from cultural memory. Hit shows, after all, often tap into a nation’s ideals, aspirations, and desires. It follows, then, that flops can at least sometimes accomplish the obverse: reflect, in much harsher light, aspects of the country that fall far short of national wish-fulfillment, civic pride, or cause for celebration. A case in point is The Lieutenant, a critically acclaimed rock musical inspired by the My Lai massacre, which opened and closed in a single week on Broadway after a lauded run at the Queens Playhouse in spring 1975—less than a decade after the massacre itself, and mere weeks before the fall of Saigon. Based in part on interviews with members of the original company and creative team, this study considers The Lieutenant against the backdrop of its time, and makes a case for other flops to be considered in similar ways.
Session 7b: Performing Queerness
40. Ryan Donovan – “Too Gay for You, Too Hetero for Me:” The Homogenized Homosexuals of “La Cage aux Folles”
La Cage aux Folles, the first so-called “gay” musical to turn a profit on Broadway, has been accused of being both “too gay” and not gay enough since its 1983 out-of-town tryout. Boston Globe critic Kevin Kelly sent word to the creative team that one actor’s “legs are stunning and he comes off too gay,” capturing the ambivalence many critics felt about representing gays onstage. When the show reached Broadway, Frank Rich called Georges and Albin “homogenized homosexuals.” The show’s reception stunned its creators, who felt squarely attacked by critics, especially gay critics who argued that the musical was a step backward, coming on the heels of 1970s gay liberation. And yet, La Cage was simultaneously (and contradictorily) both liberationist and assimilationist—depending upon one’s perspective. The original production’s casting and recasting of its leading roles with heterosexual actors, along with the gender guessing-game posed by casting two women among the otherwise-male Cagelles, explicitly admits the degree to which anti-gay stigma informed the original production. This presentation will examine how La Cage’s apparent inclusivity also trafficked heavily in stereotype as it sought to change public attitudes toward gays in the 1980s and will address how Broadway musicals celebrate and stigmatize gay identity.
41. J. Daniel Jenkins – “I’ll Cover You”: Intersectionality and Queer Broadway Covers
Long before members of the queer community found their lives explicitly represented on stage, they performed covers of Broadway standards—a practice that continues. The three covers under consideration employ changes in rhythm, meter, harmony, and orchestration in the service of queering each song’s meaning and inviting listeners to consider intersectional interpretations of queerness itself. “Send in the Clones” by the Kinsey Sicks, a parody of “Send in the Clowns,” recasts Sondheim’s lyrical ballad as a techno-inspired, a capella dance version. The invocation of ironized dance music allows the Kinseys to lampoon what they perceive to be the excesses of a largely white, bourgeois, and urban gay culture. Leon Ko transforms “Everything’s Alright” from Jesus Christ Superstar into an expression of troubled love between two women. In a second, more disquieting reading, the chromaticism might evoke the horror and distress of the early years of the AIDS crisis and the caretaking role that lesbians often played during that time. Finally, Little Richard’s cover of “I Feel Pretty” reconceives Bernstein’s light waltz as hard driving rhythm and blues. With interesting alterations and additions in rhythm, harmony, and melody, the performance lies at the intersection of the artist’s queer and racial identities.
42. Robert Gordon – The personal is political: a queer reading of Thompson, Kander and Ebb’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman”
The paper will explore the representation of the feminine other in the figure of the effeminate homosexual or maricon in the musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman. In Puig’s novel, the transaction between the camp window-dresser Molina and the macho Valentin is played out through both rational confrontation and Freudian trans- action in a process whereby the opposed personalities are progressively transformed through their surprising friendship. John Kander, Fred Ebb and David Thompson translate Puig’s queer deconstruction of the categories of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ into a musical evocation of reflection, dream and fantasy by staging Molina’s retelling of escapist films as a camp challenge to the masculinist values of 1970s revolutionary Marxism. Molina’s fantasy projection, the screen idol Aurora, represents both gay icon and gender stereotype, but she also signifies the terrifying power of the mythical Spider Woman whose kiss – in the time of AIDS – kills the men who desire her. The socialist notion of utopia is thus dialectically counterpoised with an image of queer love as a utopian pleasure that is both dangerous and subverts the machismo of fascist repression.
Session 8a: Race and Reception
43. Millie Taylor – Ragtime to Rap: Music, representation and appropriation in musical theatre
Ragtime is set amid the chaos in New York State as three groups of people interact. The oldest immigrants are the settled white family, next are the African-American Sarah with her baby and his father, and most recent are the newly-arrived European immigrants represented by (Jewish) Tatar and his daughter. Although there are many issues of representation that could be addressed this paper will begin with the music of Coalhouse Walker; in the late nineteenth century this new exotic musical style went on to take Europe by storm– the ragtime of the title. The issue of migration is fundamental to understanding the continuing influence of African-American music on musical theatre in the US and UK. Beginning with ragtime then jazz, blues, rock, soul and hip hop a series of evolutionary developments occurred that are apparent in works such as Shuffle Along, The Scottsboro Boys, Dreamgirls and most recently Hamilton. This paper questions whether it is too harsh to describe the influence of African American music on the development of musical theatre as a story of appropriation and disempowerment, or whether we should celebrate the increasingly diverse music of musical theatre.
44. Sandra Marie Kilman – The Wiz: Black Musical Power on the Great White Way
When Tony awards were presented for the year 1975, The Wiz won seven of its eight nominations including the one for Best Musical. It also won Drama Desk Awards in five of the ten categories for which it was nominated. Notably, it won both types of award in the categories of costume design, choreography, featured actor, and best (outstanding) musical, honoring work done in the development and production of the musical as well as in performance. Three years after its Broadway triumph, the film adaptation starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, and Lena Horne was released. Although it garnered four Academy Awards nominations it was panned by reviewers and lost money at the box office. The Broadway production of this urban black adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a significant step forward for African Americans who finally had the opportunity to work in the roles of producer, director, composer, lyricist, choreographer and costume designer for a smash hit on the Great White Way. This paper will explore the reception of this successful musical by the black community and the larger American public and investigate its significance in terms of the political, cultural and historical context in which it appeared.
45. Kathryn Edney - Those Other Shows: Black Musical Revues of the 1990s and the Rhetoric of Musical Theatre
All-black musical revues, penned by either white or African Americans have existed on Broadway—or just off-Broadway—since the nineteenth century. The rhetoric that has grown up alongside these shows has remained consistent for nearly a century. For example, comparing and contrasting reviews of Shuffle Along (1921) and The High Rollers Social and Pleasure Club (1992) from the New York Times, yields remarkably similar language regarding the nature of black musical theatre, the nature of “mainstream” musical theatre, and the bodies of the African American performers on the stage. Why select the 1990s as the starting point when the history of rhetoric and representation around all black musicals is so much longer? First, examinations of Disney musicals and Rent excepted, musicals from this decade are understudied. Second, late twentieth-century revues—and all-black revues in particular—are similarly sidestepped by musical theater scholars. Finally, surveying all-black revues of the 1990s and the rhetoric surrounding them reveals the ways in which histories of musical theater marginalize types of musicals, all-black revues in particular, by deploying a specific meaning of the word “integration”.
46. Laura London Waringer – ‘The Villain in Your History’: The Complications of Color-Conscious Casting in Hamilton’s America
With its groundbreaking and subversive color-conscious casting strategy, Hamilton deliberately choses actors of color to portray “old white men” as a means of reappropriating a history that consistently omits diverse narratives. As Lin-Manuel Miranda states, Hamilton is “a story about America then, told by America now.” Embedded in the post-racial myth of the Obama era, progressive audiences have lauded Hamilton for its political alignment with our contemporary racial revolution. For all that Hamilton does to promote the position of minorities theatrically, its employment of racialized anachronism complicates its narrative exclusion of people of color. By failing to acknowledge this exclusion, the portrayal of our white, mostly slave-owning Founding Fathers by actors of color only obscures our complex history of racial inequality. Save a few references to slavery, the narrative of black people in Hamilton’s America is non-existent. This omission only reifies the injustices it fails to highlight. Brown bodies are present onstage, but their narrative is absent in a story that ultimately glorifies the creation of a system that has historically marginalized minorities. Hamilton endeavors to level the racial playing field, and while it holds out the promise of advancing black representation, it falls short of fulfilling this potential, thus complicating racial perception for its audience. Though Aaron Burr is a well-written and multifaceted villain, his penultimate moment onstage places him in an unfortunately all-too-familiar tableau: a black man aiming a gun at our hero. This loaded image raises questions about racial violence in a show that does little to address the inception of the problem. In the end, a show that has been exalted for reimagining “everyone’s story” only perpetuates racial disparity. Does Hamilton’s racialized anachronism further exacerbate the problem it aims to eradicate?
Session 8b: Other Voices
47. Liam Gibbs – Automatic and “Live” Music on Broadway in Duncan Sheik’s American Psycho (2016)
The score of the Broadway musical American Psycho (2016) was conceived by composer-orchestrator Duncan Sheik as cold, digital, and rhythmically quantized—representing the music on protagonist Patrick Bateman’s Walkman. Sheik’s orchestration called for two musicians who would primarily cue preprogrammed Ableton Live tracks on laptop computers while doubling on keyboard and guitar, respectively. The American Federation of Musicians Local 802, representing Broadway musicians, objected, demanding American Psycho meet the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre’s house minimum (agreed orchestra sizes set for each Broadway theater) of seven musicians. The production and the union eventually negotiated a four-person, laptop-driven band, forcing Sheik to redistribute the score’s content. In performance, the score’s dependence on preprogrammed tracks resulted in unanticipated technical errors that occasionally stopped the show. A traditionally-structured orchestra could have responded more flexibly. American Psycho’s digitally rendered score, automatic performances, and preprogrammed tracks challenged long-established Broadway norms of liveness, expanding the sonic register of Broadway musicals while simultaneously encountering resistance from the musicians’ union. Utilizing interviews with members of American Psycho’s creative team, including Sheik, and personal experience in the theater, this paper explores the new musical territory forged by American Psycho and the divisive responses from audiences, critics, and Local 802.
48. Michael Garber - Eephing on Broadway: Connecting Musicals to the Diversity of the American Musical Landscape
Broadway vocal music tends to be considered in isolation from other currents in American singing, especially folk music. This paper presents evidence of one strain of singing, and one trope, that links famous stars of the Broadway stage to an obscure Texas plantation farmhand as well as to other historically marginalized music-makers. Nonsense syllable singing traditions, starting in the 1890s, use the phrase “eepha saffa dill” and its variants. The work of these early singers connect to jazz scat singing and also to a particular kind of vocal patterning called both hoodling and eephing, consisting of odd vocalizations – rhythmic gaspings, splattings, etc. – similar to the beatboxing of today. Eephing was a music of the rural poor of the Mid-and- Southwest, which moved into the mainstream via Broadway. It is a thread that demonstrates
Broadway’s cutting edge, roots-music contributions to the diverse landscape of American music. With a performance in The Red Mill (1906), the Great White Way became among the earliest venues where Americans heard eephing, alongside its appearance in the circus and minstrelsy, and preceding its use in 1910s burlesque, 1930s Manhattan nightclubs, 1950s Las Vegas lounges, rock and roll’s historic Sun Records company, and television’s Hee Haw.
49. Masi Asare – Belters of Color in Broadway’s Golden Age: Lessons from the Vocal Techniques of Pat Suzuki and Leslie Uggams
This paper works to complicate the pervasive belief that the quintessential Broadway voice is that of the white woman belter whose sound came to prominence during the 1940s-1960s. Here, I consider the ways that two women of color—Japanese-American Pat Suzuki and African- American Leslie Uggams—were themselves belting on Broadway, to great acclaim, in the mid twentieth century. Through listening closely to performances by Suzuki and Uggams in recorded and televised performances of material from the shows Flower Drum Song (1958) and Hallelujah, Baby! (1967) in which they respectively starred, I explore embodied and racialized understandings of the vocal techniques they employed. In doing so, I work to excavate the ways that these two artists of color theorized the voice in performances for the musical theatre. If the voice is a metonym of self, then it matters tremendously what and how vocal sound is allowed to be. My aim is, more than the recuperative telos of restoring Suzuki and Uggams to their “rightful place” in the history books, to think the dynamism of these belters’ legacies for the Broadway stage in practical and ongoing terms. What do their voices have to teach today’s singer-actors about both vocal technique and the performance of racial identity?
50. Emilio Mendez-Rios – “Mexico, Sweet Hearts are Singing”: Mexican Performers and the Other’s Aural Identity
Theatre, Media and Performance Studies may criticise embodied representations of human difference. Musicals, on stage and screen, provide opportunities for delineating the construction of aural identities in terms of national or ethnical differences, particularly when the singing voice is disembodied from performers and reassigned to a given character as in animated films. Whether in The Three Caballeros or in Coco, the producers sought that audiences experienced the aural Mexican ethos through the singing of Joaquín Garay or Gael García Bernal. Characters in both films –either Panchito Pistolas or Miguel, the trickster from the Land of the Dead— sing words in Spanish, hit powerful mariachi falsettos or switch to the warmness of the bolero suave voice. This paper aims to explore how casting choices for the aforementioned films compose aural identities relying on the status of a given performer as well as on the features of their voices. To ponder the aesthetical and political implications of casting decisions the paper will contrast Garay’s and García Bernal’s participations on screen with the on stage performances of Manolo Fábregas and Bianca Marroquín, two Mexican performers who starred in New York productions of The King and I and Chicago, respectively.
SUNDAY JUNE 3
Session 9a: Dance and Identity
51. Joanna Dee Das – Reviving Shuffle Along: Embodiment and the Haunting of Race
In 2016, writer/director George C. Wolfe and choreographer Savion Glover premiered their revival of the landmark 1921 musical Shuffle Along, which they renamed Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. While all revivals face issues with relevance to twenty-first century audiences, some shows are, in Bryan Vandevender’s words, more “time-bound” than others. In no case is this truer than with black-cast shows produced during the Jim Crow period. This paper focuses on the strategies Wolfe and Glover used to challenge the racial logic that circumscribed the original production: namely, reinvention of the book (to the point where the Tony Awards committee determined that the show was not a revival) and entirely new choreography. Because dance has historically been difficult to document and even more difficult to copyright, choreographers have seemingly been free from messy questions about adaptation haunting other creative team members. Building upon the work of Rebecca Schneider, however, I argue that dance does remain, haunting the movement of the twenty-first century chorus. In analyzing Glover’s choreography, this paper evaluates how the revamped Shuffle Along contended with the embodied legacies of race.
52. Dustyn Martincich – The Spectacular Vernacular: Representation and Appropriation in the Folk and Jazz Dance of Classical Musical Theatre Performance
Musical theatre choreography has historically borrowed, featured, and/or appropriated folk and ethnic dance from marginalized groups in America. Jack Cole, for instance, blended South Indian, African American, and other ethnic dance forms to create his modern jazz dance aesthetic in his choreography for Broadway, film, and nightclub acts. Bob Fosse and Peter Gennaro created pieces featuring Cuban mambo in musicals like Damn Yankees and West Side Story. In these instances, white male choreographers, working on predominately white bodies, developed choreography based on social dance and cultural movement traditions of people of color. My essay will explore the issues and outcomes involving cultural appropriation, the raced body, and gender identities brought to the musical theatre stage by choreographers, including looking at works by choreographers of color like Katherine Dunham or, later, Savion Glover. How has the development of jazz dance on the Broadway stages offered exposure to a diverse range of cultural styles through movement while at the same time further complicating issues of cultural representation and appropriation? How has musical theatre dance been developed on the unacknowledged inspirations of social dances from non-white, marginalized communities?
53. Nitya Koch – ‘Whose Bodies for the Boys?’ – Dance, Race, and Sexual Differences in the WWII Film Musical
My paper investigates the representation and negotiation of racial and sexual difference in the Hollywood musical during World War II. A major objective in the WWII musical was to support the war effort: to cheer up and encourage, instill a sense of patriotic pride and community, and provide a respite from wartime austerity. Musicals did that with stories of success and community effort as well as the stirring, sensually affecting interplay of music, dance, rhythm and color in their production numbers. Bringing together cultural history, film, gender and dance studies, my paper investigates the roles and function of women and African American performers, the two largest marginalized populations in American society at the time, in these spectacles: To what effect and purpose musicals used the (sexualized) hyper-visibility of women, the near-complete exclusion of African-American performers and the often ‘mis-embodied’ presence of their music and performance styles. I will pay special attention to dance, a form that combines bodily discipline with an expression of liberty and fun: Does dance confine the performers in the limited space of the production number or include them in a common endeavor? Does it insert them in a gung-ho aesthetic of communal mobilization, or provide an opportunity for transgressing social limitation through expressive images of bodily mobility?
Session 9b: Race and Storytelling
54. Nicholas Richardson – Memphis Lives in…Whom? White Heroism in the Musical Memphis
Memphis, the 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, follows white radio DJ Huey Calhoun and black singer Felicia Farrell as they bring rhythm and blues music to mainstream white American audiences. Although the musical celebrates the Memphis sound and its African American creators, Act II of Memphis is replete with dramaturgical choices that position Huey as the ultimate protagonist with whom the audience should sympathize. Through analysis of the plot, dialogue, and song lyrics of Act II of Memphis, I present how the narrative of the musical diverts from Felicia and issues of racial acceptance to Huey overcoming personal struggles, namely his alliance with the oppressed black minority group. I apply Stacey Wolf’s understandings of musical structure and Michelle Dvoskin’s definition of diva roles to illustrate how the musical positions Huey as the white savior of race music while simultaneously relegating Felicia to the vehicle for Huey’s own success. Memphis becomes the white male’s story of heroism and redemption, not a story of improving race relations between whites and blacks, or even of the successful commercialization of rhythm and blues music.
55. Donatella Galella – Feeling Yellow: Responding to Contemporary Yellowface in Musical Performance
When encountering non-Asians masquerading as Asians in yellowface in twenty-first century stage musical performances, I feel righteously angry, profoundly sad, and racially alienated. Yet David Savran observes, “No theatre form is as single-mindedly devoted to producing pleasure” as the musical.1 How does racial identity shape reactions to musicals? This paper theorizes what I call “feeling yellow,” how Asian Americans are moved and made in response to representation. I focus on yellowface in musical theatre because the genre promises to produce pleasure and, through this, enables the disavowal of complicity with systemic racist violence, as patrons, performers, and producers use their enjoyment to rationalize racial hierarchy. But does feeling yellow have to be all doom and gloom for Asian Americans? My paper examines New York City Center Encores!, which revives classic musicals, and posits the potential for mobilizing feeling yellow to generate new critical pleasures by redistributing misery and forming communities of fellow feeling. I search for comic turns of resistance and suggest that feeling yellow can roguishly ruin the fun for those with racial privilege, ultimately turning negative affect positive—as Asian Americans get the last laugh.
56. Elizabeth Titrington Craft – Can We Leave Behind the World We Know? Exploring Race and Ethnicity in the Musicals of Lin-Manuel Miranda
In recent years, composer, lyricist, and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda has become an emblem of Broadway’s aspirations toward increasing diversity and one of its most significant voices. He has helped to 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, and Hamilton. Varying in settings and even authorship (Bring It On was written collaboratively, while Miranda is Hamilton’s sole composer and lyricist), each also approaches race and ethnicity differently. In the Heights depicts a panethnic Latinx community, Bring It On highlights interracial encounter, and Hamilton uses a predominantly non-white cast to depict white historical figures. This paper analyzes these shows’ approaches to issues of race and ethnicity in content and casting, attending to both their achievements and limitations. In so doing, it also argues that the often-overlooked Bring It On is a critical part of Miranda’s still-developing oeuvre. Taking a comparative approach sheds light on Miranda’s attempts to, in the words of Bring It On’s teenage characters, “leave behind the world we know” to envision a new world of Broadway and U.S. society, one that is not post-racial but that is racially inclusive and aware.
Session 10a: Politics Beyond the U.S. and U.K
57. Dominic Symonds – ’Sing songs heroic’: the rock opera Lāčplēsis and the Singing Revolution
Towards the end of the 20th century several outlying republics broke away from the USSR in the dramatic collapse of the former Soviet Union. Three of these—the Baltic States Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—seceded from the USSR in what became known as the “Singing Revolution”, gathering in city squares, at revolutionary meetings and in festival settings to sing nationalistic songs. in 1986 the anti-Soviet rock opera Lāčplēsis took Latvia by storm, playing to over 160,000 people in just 43 performances; from 1987-89, the Lithuanian Rock March Festival toured the country to perform forbidden (“Western”) songs by way of political protest; and in 1988, 100,000 Estonians met for five nights in Tallinn festival grounds to sing until daybreak against the oppression of the Soviet state. This paper will consider the symbolic and emotional power of these performative statements, looking at how musical theatre and music performance have symbolized togetherness and otherness in recent Eastern European identity. As part of my research project into migration and music, I will explore in particular the role of musical performance in establishing national identities of connection and separation, and how these dramatize wider narratives of migration as the Eastern European diaspora spreads further afield.
58. Junko Yamazaki – Jazz and Racialized Masculinity in The Warped Ones (Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1960)
The discourse on cultural authenticity in Japan is haunted by a powerful US Other throughout the postwar period. As E. Taylor Atkins argued, the question of authenticity was central to the Japanese reception of jazz after WWII. Crucially, the anxiety over Japan’s cultural (and political) dependency on the US is racialized and sexualized in Japanese discourse on jazz. “They [the blacks] are the best; they created jazz. Then the whites stole it. And now we are copying it. We are the worst,” says the protagonist of Koreyoshi Kurahara’s 1960 youth film The Warped Ones. The abject masculinity and misanthropy of the protagonist of The Warped Ones is constructed through the triangulation of Black/White/Japanese vis-à-vis jazz. In this paper, I look at how The Warped Ones mobilizes jazz as a discourse on race and incorporates it into its “exploitation” aesthetics of the violence of the racialized masculinity. Furthermore, I show the ways in which The Warped Ones’s “exploitation” aesthetics of jazz anticipates the use of jazz in more politically and aesthetically transgressive films such as A.K.A Serial Killer (1969) and Ecstasy of the Angels (1972).
59. Sanne Thierens – ‘Viragos, Shrews, Vixens, Witches..Scary Hags!’ Representing Feminists in Madam
Annie M.G. Schmidt (1911-1995) is generally regarded as the founder of the original Dutch musical, establishing the genre in 1965 and writing seven musicals between then and 1984. In many of her musicals, Schmidt spoke from a feminist point of view, touching on themes like male sexual dominance, unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Given all that, Schmidt surprised many by taking a stand against feminists in her fifth musical Madam (1981). The musical centres on a conflict between the inhabitants of a feminist house and the prostitutes of the neighbouring brothel. Schmidt depicted the feminist characters as stereotypical frustrated mysandrist lesbians, and the prostitutes as powerful, attractive women. The musical caused a backlash from Dutch feminist movements, who protested against the show and published commentaries in newspapers. This paper illustrates how Madam drew on the stereotypical portrayal of the lesbian feminist as the scary ‘Other’, while arguing that Madam can actually be regarded as a feminist work because a) though delivered by prostitutes rather than feminist characters, it voiced feminist criticism on the double standard between men and women b) female characters dominate the show. What results is a striking, seemingly paradoxical historical document that both ridicules feminist practices and platforms their concerns.
Session 10b: Narration and Form
60. Alex Badue – The Heroism of “Lot’s Wife”: Musical Characterization in Jeanine Tesori’s Score for Caroline, or Change
Playwright Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori’s musical Caroline, or Change (2003) tells the story of an African American maid, Caroline, who works for a white family in 1963. Caroline’s daughter, Emmie, and friend Dotty both embrace the social changes brought by the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Caroline struggles to accept them, since as a single mother to four children she cannot change her employment situation. This paper demonstrates that Tesori’s music features sonic signifiers that represent Caroline’s heroism, which emerges from her sacrifice to remain a maid to a white family so that her children can grow up and benefit from social changes. While Emmie and Dotty sing in musical styles that are modern for the 1960s, Caroline has an earthy sound rooted in field holler and the Blues, which does not change throughout this sung-through musical. Caroline’s sound climaxes together with the plot in the song “Lot’s Wife,” when she breaks down emotionally and concludes that she cannot look forward, just backward. Drawing on stylistic analysis of the songs for these three female characters and a personal interview with Tesori, I argue that Caroline’s maintaining the same musical style mirrors her conflict and struggle to embrace social change.
61. Sahoko Tsuji – Another Medium, Altered Functions of Singing: Analysing Comden and Green’s Dramaturgy of Fun with Revuers
This paper studies how radio’s technological features affected the dramatic function of singing in Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s radio program: “Fun with the Revuers.” Before debuting on Broadway with On the Town, Comden and Green joined a group called “The Revuers,” and wrote and played musical sketches satirizing social matters mainly at nightclubs, but also on radio, “Fun with the Revuers.” It was a 30-minute musical sketch on NBC from March 5 to November 3, 1940. Although The Revuers earned a cult affection both on stage and radio, previous studies, except for Carol J. Oja, have rarely examined them. Oja discussed the close connection between Comden and Green’s Broadway shows and The Revuers’ sketches in terms of left-wing intentions. Nevertheless, Oja investigated them without considering the essential difference between media. On radio, The Revuers often broadcasted sketches that they had already played on stage; however, it seems that they altered the strategy of establishing a musical between these two media. Thus, how did radio’s mechanical distinctiveness affect the dramatic meaning of singing in the sketches? Considering this question, this paper clarifies that Comden and Green built a productive relationship between their dramaturgy and media.
62. Peter C. Kunze – Reboot, Reuse, and Reborn: Broadway and the Disney Renaissance
Drawing on archival research in the Howard Ashman Papers at the Library of Congress, this paper focuses on Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale and Wise, 1991) to examine the influence of Broadway talent at Disney in the 1980s and 1990s. In particular, I want to discuss how Ashman incorporated the integrated musical approach to storytelling into Disney animation through a comparison of the key influence on Beauty’s narrative construction: not the fairy tale, but rather Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I (1951). The exoticism of the King is translated into the animality of the Beast, replicating the troubling alterity that nurtures the fierce opposition that both narratives work to rectify through a romance plot and musical numbers. As a result, Broadway not only saved Disney animation (and Disney itself), but unintentionally laid the groundwork for Disney’s entry to Broadway in 1994 with the stage adaptation of Beauty and the Beast and the renovation of the New Amsterdam. This cultural moment remains relevant today not only with the influence of media conglomerates on Broadway musicals, but also the resurgence of musicals within mainstream media culture. Ultimately, this presentation aims to revise and reorient the history of Disney, bringing the role of theater to the forefront of its efforts at revitalization.