An historical view of twentieth-century American society as witnessed through musical theatre: 1927-Present

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1994-05

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Abstract

The recent centennial celebration of the production of musical theatre on Broadway draws attention to the existence of a vast collection of historical and societal data provided by the genre of musical theatre. Not only do these musicals teach about their own selected subject matter, usually by retelling or predicting events in a given time, but musicals also provide a telling comment on American society during the time in which they were first presented. The purpose of this study was to draw parallels between historical and social conditions in American society with selected Broadway musicals from 1927 to the present. The criteria used to formulate conclusions in this study involved selecting the most influential musical written and produced in a given decade during the twentieth century. This study investigated the following questions: First, do musicals reflect their contemporary society, and second, does musical theatre contain conditions of ongoing concern to society, such as women's rights, racism, and war? The plot content of each musical was analyzed and compared with actual historical events, social conditions, and artistic trends occurring in American society during the year of each musical's premiere on Broadway. Conclusions were drawn and observations made as to the impact of the musical on society or society on the musical production. In response to the research questions posed in this study, it was concluded that musicals do reflect historical events, social conditions, and musical style in the year of each selected musical's premiere on Broadway. It was also confirmed that a great deal of past historical fact and ongoing issues of social concern in twentieth-century American society are preserved in and can be studied through the genre of musical theatre.

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Keywords

Musicals -- History and criticism, Musicals -- Stories, plots, etc., United States -- Social conditions -- 1918-1932, United States -- Social conditions -- 1933-1945, United States -- Social conditions -- 1945-, United States -- Social life and customs -- 20th century

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