The American musical is an unapologetically popular art form, but many of the works that come from this tradition have had a major impact on the broader history of theatre and film – and on our larger popular culture. From dramatic works like Show Boat and Porgy and Bess that addressed issues of race and class, to the Depression-era wish fulfillment of Top Hat and The Wizard of Oz; from the bitingly topical music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter, to the sentimental optimism of Rodgers and Hammerstein, to the contemporary hip hop of Lin-Manuel Miranda – musicals and their creators have, quite literally, set a tone for America.
In this course, we will analyze theatre works as well as a few films – and specifically focus on music, lyrics, scripts and other documentary evidence in pursuit of understanding the musical in its many forms. Our survey will include the works of prominent artists in the musical theatre from the early ‘20s to the present, including Jerome Kern, Florenz Ziegfeld, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Harold Prince, and others. This course does not require the ability to read music.