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 jazz, with the movies, with genres of rock and pop, and with contemporary media are also essential to this story.

Examples will be drawn from popular and influential shows ranging from Showboat, Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, West Side Story and A Chorus Line to Wicked, Hairspray, Next to Normal, The 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 "mega-musical," Disney musicals, the representation of musical theater in television series such as Glee and Smash? How do individual songs become canonized as jazz, cabaret, and concert standards? We will perform informally in class as well as attend and discuss campus productions (Ram's Head), local (TheaterWorks) and San Francisco (SHN series) productions.


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 I'd like to get to know the Broadway musical theater canon, recalling how much I had liked working as accompanist and music director for shows back in high school. I started collecting cast albums on my iPod around 2010 and 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 current Broadway shows as well as regional and school productions from incoming frosh classes."