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The Great White Way

The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical

Warren Hoffman
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Great White Way
    Book Description:

    Broadway musicals are one of America's most beloved art forms and play to millions of people each year. But what do these shows, which are often thought to be just frothy entertainment, really have to say about our country and who we are as a nation?

    The Great White Wayis the first book to reveal the racial politics, content, and subtexts that have haunted musicals for almost one hundred years fromShow Boat(1927) toThe Scottsboro Boys(2011). Musicals mirror their time periods and reflect the political and social issues of their day. Warren Hoffman investigates the thematic content of the Broadway musical and considers how musicals work on a structural level, allowing them to simultaneously present and hide their racial agendas in plain view of their audiences. While the musical is informed by the cultural contributions of African Americans and Jewish immigrants, Hoffman argues that ultimately the history of the American musical is the history of white identity in the United States.

    Presented chronologically,The Great White Wayshows how perceptions of race altered over time and how musicals dealt with those changes. Hoffman focuses first on shows leading up to and comprising the Golden Age of Broadway (1927-1960s), then turns his attention to the revivals and nostalgic vehicles that defined the final quarter of the twentieth century. He offers entirely new and surprising takes on shows from the American musical canon-Show Boat(1927),Oklahoma!(1943),Annie Get YourGun(1946),The Music Man(1957),West Side Story(1957),A Chorus Line(1975), and42nd Street(1980), among others.New archival research on the creators who produced and wrote these shows, including Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, and Edward Kleban, will have theater fans and scholars rethinking forever how they view this popular American entertainment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6336-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Overture: All Singin’! All Dancin’! All White People?
    (pp. 1-28)

    When I was nine, my parents took me to see my first musical: the national tour of42nd Street, the hit 1980 show that had taken Broadway by storm and five years later was still doing boffo business in New York and on the road. We took our seats at the Playhouse Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, and what I saw for the next two and a half hours changed my life forever. As I followed the story of young chorus hopeful Peggy Sawyer and the backstage drama ofPretty Lady, the 1933 Broadway musical that producer Julian Marsh is trying...

  5. ACT ONE: 1927–1957

    • 1 Only Make Believe: Performing Race in Show Boat
      (pp. 31-55)

      Option 1:Show Boat, the 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, is a theatrical classic that revolutionized the form, structure, and content of the American musical as we know it. Hammerstein’s libretto, based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling 1926 novel, charted new territory by addressing the serious themes of alcoholism, miscegenation, race relations, and spousal abandonment, while Kern’s music was character-specific and carefully woven into the show’s storyline. Many of the songs, including “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” “Ol’ Man River,” and “Bill,” quickly became American standards and Broadway classics. Furthermore,Show Boatadvanced race relations by featuring...

    • 2 Playing Cowboys and Indians: Forging Whiteness in Oklahoma! and Annie Get Your Gun
      (pp. 56-81)

      In the history of America, the western frontier was the site par excellence of heroism and bravery in the national imagination. Valiant cowboys galloped across the prairie, conquered the harsh land, vanquished the blood-thirsty Indians, and built new homes in the great western expanse. Of course, this narrative is only considered “noble” if you’re on the winning side of the battle. For Native Americans, the story looks quite different: the frontier in the nineteenth century meant displacement, loss of home, and brutal mass murder. But history is often the story told by the victors, and the experience of the western...

    • 3 Trouble in New York City: The Racial Politics of West Side Story and The Music Man
      (pp. 82-110)

      Think quick. Which of the following shows won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1958?Jamaica;The Music Man;New Girl in Town;Oh, Captain!; orWest Side Story?If you guessed the groundbreaking dance musicalWest Side Story, you’d be wrong. More than fifty years after it opened in 1957, most people are still surprised to learn that the Jerome Robbins–Leonard Bernstein–Stephen Sondheim–Arthur Laurents show lost the Best Musical distinction to rivalThe Music Man.Not thatThe Music Manwas poor fare by any means. Meredith Willson pulled off the impressive hat trick of...

  6. ACT TWO: 1967–2012

    • 4 Carbon Copies: Black and Interracial Productions of White Musicals
      (pp. 113-142)

      The 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s were the Golden Age of the Broadway musical. It was a period of intense creative production that gave birth to hit shows likeGuys and Dolls,Gypsy,Funny Girl,My Fair Lady,Fiddler on the Roof, andMame.Influenced by the theatrical innovations first established by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1943 withOklahoma!, Golden Age shows exhibited a maturity of musical form and subject matter that some argue has not been seen since this defining era. The productions of this period were populated with stars like Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Alfred Drake, and Julie Andrews...

    • 5 A Chorus Line: The Benetton of Broadway Musicals
      (pp. 143-166)

      WhenA Chorus Lineclosed on April 28, 1990, it had racked up an astounding 6,137 performances, making it, at the time, the longest-running musical in Broadway history. Grossing almost $150 million on Broadway alone, the show was a financial juggernaut and went on to earn over $280 million on tour and internationally and was seen by over 6.6 million people in its fifteen-year run.¹ The show won the hearts of its audiences from the moment it premiered downtown at the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1975 before transferring to the Shubert Theatre on Broadway, where it walked away with...

    • 6 Everything Old Is New Again: Nostalgia and the Broadway Musical at the End of the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 167-202)

      Maybe it was the 1970s energy crisis. Maybe it was Reaganomics. Or maybe, just maybe, it wasCats, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 megaspectacular musical, that can best explain the downfall of the Broadway musical in the 1980s.¹ Yes, the reviews are in, and the 1980s, with their singing and dancing felines, have been officially deemed a new low in musical theater history. While the 1970s had brought to prominence the musical theater genius Stephen Sondheim, who was then in his writing prime withCompany,Follies,A Little Night Music, andSweeney Todd, the Golden Age of Broadway was definitely over....

  7. Exit Music
    (pp. 203-212)

    In the summer of 2011, a new production of the famed 1935 operaPorgy and Besswas gearing up for an out-of-town tryout at Boston’s American Repertory Theatre. But this was no paint-by-numbers revival of the show; rather, the director Diane Paulus, having garnered critical acclaim for a new Broadway production ofHairthat won the Tony for Best Revival in 2009, was working with the Gershwin Estate to turn the classic three-hour opera into a two-and-a-half-hour commercial Broadway production. Some cutting of the score would of course be necessary, but this was hardly new toPorgy and Bess; other...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 213-234)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-240)
  10. Permissions
    (pp. 241-242)
  11. Index
    (pp. 243-251)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-252)