Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre / Edition 1

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Our Musicals, Ourselves is the first full-scale social history of the American musical theater from the imported Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas of the late nineteenth century to such recent musicals as The Producers and Urinetown. While many aficionados of the Broadway musical associate it with wonderful, diversionary shows like The Music Man or My Fair Lady, John Bush Jones instead selects musicals for their social relevance and the extent to which they engage, directly or metaphorically, contemporary politics and culture.

Organized chronologically, with some liberties taken to keep together similarly themed musicals, Jones examines dozens of Broadway shows from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present that demonstrate numerous links between what played on Broadway and what played on newspapers’ front pages across our nation. He reviews the productions, lyrics, staging, and casts from the lesser-known early musicals (the “gunboat” musicals of the Teddy Roosevelt era and the “Cinderella shows” and “leisure time musicals” of the 1920s) and continues his analysis with better-known shows including Showboat, Porgy and Bess, Oklahoma, South Pacific, West Side Story, Cabaret, Hair, Company, A Chorus Line, and many others.

While most examinations of the American musical focus on specific shows or emphasize the development of the musical as an art form, Jones’s book uses musicals as a way of illuminating broader social and cultural themes of the times. With six appendixes detailing the long-running diversionary musicals and a foreword by Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist of Fiddler on the Roof, Jones’s comprehensive social history will appeal to both students and fans of Broadway.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this close examination of the 20-century American musical, Jones (theater arts, retired, Brandeis Univ.) looks beyond the entertainment factor to present musicals "as theatrical vehicles that intended to transform, not just report, the tenor of the times." To that end, he has restricted his selection "to musicals that seem to have been consciously intended to have contemporary social relevance"-thus including West Side Story but not My Fair Lady. The result is a work that while not comprehensive-for that, look to Gerald Bordman's American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle-is rich in social history not found anywhere else. From the patriotism and xenophobia of the late 1890s, to the influences of Rogers and Hammerstein, to the "technomusicals" and "theme-park mentality" spectacles of the 1980s and 1990s and today's new voices, Jones presents American society as mirrored by the musical stage. Whether discovering a new show or exploring one you thought you knew well, you are sure to find Jones's insight both informative and thought-provoking. Highly recommended for all theater arts collections.-Laura Anne Ewald, Murray State Univ. Lib., KY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“The strength of this sweeping thesis is its scope. It seeks to demonstrate and analyze how Broadway and Off-Broadway have held up a mirror to political and social currents in American society at large. But the fun comes from showing how events and trends in widely separated decades all sprang from similar currents of thought. By looking at the entire continuum of musicals as a single ongoing dialog between Broadway and America, the book serves up fresh insights and eyebrow-raising parallels on each page. It starts in the 19th century and runs right up 2001’s Urinetown, from which it concludes that the political musical remains alive and well.”—Playbill

“Our Musical, Ourselves . . . may foreshadow a new era in the study of the musical . . . [an] accessible read . . . [a] must read for the musical theatre scholar... a text that finally fills the void of a needed comprehensive history of the musical that, more importantly, places each musical squarely in the context of the time in which it was created.”—Theatre History Studies

“[A]n overview of the American musical for the entire twentieth century . . . a strength of the book, in addition to the author’s obvious enthusiasm for his subject matter, is that it has something to say about dozens of shows not even mentioned by [other] authors.”—Kurt Weill Newsletter

“The very fact that [Our Musicals, Ourselves] looks at potential interfaces between social and political developments and the Broadway musical is laudable . . . The study’s expansive scope, its attempts at connecting historical narrative with a narrative of genre evolution, as well as Jones’s near encyclopedic knowledge of social and political themes in Broadway productions provide an excellent starting point for further analysis of specific periods, sub-genres, and issues in American musical theater.”—American Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780874519044
  • Publisher: Brandeis University Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 426
  • Sales rank: 528,483
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

JOHN BUSH JONES is a retired Professor of Theater Arts at Brandeis University. He has written theater criticism for numerous journals and newspapers, including the Boston Phoenix, the Kansas City Star, the Boston Herald, and the New England Theater Journal. He has directed dozens of musicals in professional, community, and university theaters.

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Read an Excerpt

Our Musicals, Ourselves excavates cultural information from dozens of shows, first-run and revivals, serious and frivolous, over the course of the twentieth century. Jones, interpreting these shows through a historical lens, enables us to see them with new eyes. More importantly he teaches us to see them not simply as vehicles of transient pleasure but as social documents that help to tell us who we were and who we are-as individuals, as members of a community, as citizens of a nation."-From the Foreword
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Table of Contents

Foreword ix
Acknowledgements xi
Introduction 1
1. Patriotism, Xenophobia, and World War I 12
2. The Musicals of the Roaring Twenties 52
3. Coping with Depression 79
4. World War II and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Years 123
5. From Isolationism to Idealism in the Cold War years 161
6. Black and Jewish Musicals since the 1960s 202
7. Issue-Driven Musicals of the Turbulent Years 235
8. Fragmented Society, Fragmented Musicals 269
9. "A Recycled Culture," Nostalgia and Spectacle 305 •10. New Voices, New Perspectives 331
Appendices — Appendix A: Broadway Musical Production, 1919-1929 360 — Appendix B: Long-Running Diversionary Musicals. 1929-1938 362 — Appendix C: Long-Running Diversionary Musicals, 1939-1945 364 — Appendix D: Long-Running Diversionary Musicals, 1946-1960 366 — Appendix E: Long-Running Diversionary Musicals, 1960-1969 369 — Appendix F: Long-Running Diversionary Musicals, 1969-1979 371 — Appendix G: Long-Running Diversionary Musicals, 1979-2000 372
Sources Cited 375
Index 391

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