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The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical

The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical
Mark N. Grant
Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press, 2004
ML1711.8 .N3 G727 2004

Many of today's Broadway shows, from Rent to The Lion King to Movin' Out, have become commercial hits, but do they have the cultural importance or the dramatic and musical artistry of such enduring productions as Oklahoma!, Show Boat, or Kiss me, Kate? This is just one of the compelling questions considered by Mark N. Grant in his highly original, incisive, and spirited examination of the rise, heyday, and decline of American musical theater.

Grant thoroughly investigates all aspects of the Broadway musical as he traces the transformation of singing and melody, libretto and lyric writing, dance rhythms, sound design, and choreography and stage direction through three distinct eras: the formative period (1866-1927), the golden age (1927-1966), and the fall (1967 to the present). He explores how and why the unsophisticated genre of pre-1920s musical comedy evolved into the creative, innovative, and immensely popular theater produced by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and then steadliy faded as a significant entertainment genre in American culture. The forthright narrative examines such important factors as the destruction of classical musical theater acoustics by overamplified sound design; how the microphone ruined the art of vocal projection; the shift from the traditional four-beat foxtrot to the four-beat rock groove; how the ascension of the choreographer-director changed Broadway from a writer's to a stager's theater; and the abandonment of the commercial musical stage by serious dramatists.

Grant argues convincingly that the best musicals of the golden age still survive in the public imagination because they uniquely integrated complementary artistic achievements in playwriting, music, design, dance, movement, and truthful acting. They were dramatically expressive, as well as entertaining, and the catchy, clever show tunes became standards in popular music. The inferior modern "McMusical," the author asserts, is similar to the pre-1927 musical, though it is now driven by rock and country music; the pop singer has replaced the actor-singer, and the mediocre librettos reflect and cannibalize other areas of pop culture - television, movies, special effects, and music videos.

This provocative and sometimes irreverent work offers a refreshing perspective on the history of American musical theater and provides strong views on how to restore the Broadway musical to its former greatness.

Quoted from dust jacket.