This course offers a chronological survey of American musical theater history, through a thematic focus on the Broadway musical’s circulations of the “American Dream.” The course examines not only changing notions of the American Dream from the late nineteenth through the early twenty-first centuries, but considers contrasting definitions of the myth, as articulated through Broadway musicals. Do musicals interpret the American Dream as the fulfillment of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” As the attainment of material prosperity, or fame and fortune? And how have Broadway musicals portrayed the contradictions of the Dream—its inequities, as well as its promises?
Starting with the form’s hybrid and immigrant roots in the variety stage and European operetta, the course traces the development of the Broadway musical as a distinctive mirror of American national and cultural identity, as well as individualist aspiration. Studying a wide range of musical theater genres, we will read, listen to, and/or view works, including Shuffle Along, Show Boat, Oklahoma!, Annie Get Your Gun, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Follies, The Wiz, Assassins, and Hamilton. Alongside these texts, we will look at critical readings that juxtapose the history and development of the Broadway musical with the larger context of the American Dream.