Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Performing America: The Broadway Musical


The Broadway musical has remained in constant dialogue with American culture at large for the last 100 years. Since the beginning, the popular musical theater centered around Broadway and Times Square merged influences from European operetta, African-American ragtime and jazz, patriotic marches, "Tin Pan Alley," vaudeville, and many immigrant traditions. This seminar looks at how the themes, characters, stories, and above all the songs of the Broadway musical continue to reflect ideas of American identity and negotiate themes of race, class, gender roles, and sexual identity in playful but meaningful ways. Intersections with blues and jazz, the movies, genres of rock and pop, and contemporary media are also essential to this story.

We will look at representative songs and “song types” (Opening Numbers, “I want” songs, Ballads, Anthems, Torch Songs, List Songs, etc.) from popular and influential shows ranging from Showboat, Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, West Side Story, Company and A Chorus Line to Wicked, Hairspray, Book of Mormon, Hamilton, and Dear Evan Hansen. How has the role of songwriters changed since the days of Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, or Rodgers and Hammerstein now that the roles of director, choreographer, producer, marketing and media have assumed new prominence? What has been the impact of the European "mega-musical," Disney musicals, representations of musical theater on television (High School Musical, Glee, Smash)? How do new media (YouTube and TikTok) affect the way musicals are made and seen today? How has Broadway and musical theater at large emerged from the extended shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how will it change?

Activities include individual and small-group presentations on songs, shows, themes; informal in-class performance; online discussion of musical theater repertoire; attendance at on-campus performances and touring Broadway productions (BroadwaySF).

Meet the Instructor(s)

Thomas Grey

"As a graduate student and then as professor of music I worked primarily in the areas of opera and European instrumental music from the Classical and Romantic periods. For a long time I secretly thought about getting to know the Broadway musical theater canon, recalling how much I’d liked working as accompanist and music director for some shows back in high school. Soon after I started collecting cast albums on my iPod in 2010, I finally saw my first Broadway show in March 2011, The Book of Mormon (during its second week of previews). I've been hooked ever since. I continue to enjoy learning more about new Broadway shows as well as regional and school productions from incoming frosh classes and other Stanford students.”