Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical

Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical

Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical

Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical

Synopsis

From Adelaide in "Guys and Dolls" to Nina in "In the Heights" and Elphaba in "Wicked," female characters in Broadway musicals have belted and crooned their way into the American psyche. In this lively book, Stacy Wolf illuminates the women of American musical theatre - performers, creators, and characters -- from the start of the cold war to the present day, creating a new, feminist history of the genre. Moving from decade to decade, Wolf first highlights the assumptions that circulated about gender and sexuality at the time. She then looks at the leading musicals to stress the key aspects of the plays as they relate to women, and often finds overlooked moments of empowerment for female audience members. The musicals discussed here are among the most beloved in the canon--"West Side Story," "Cabaret," "A Chorus Line," "Phantom of the Opera," and many others--with special emphasis on the blockbuster "Wicked." Along the way, Wolf demonstrates how the musical since the mid-1940s has actually been dominated by women--women onstage, women in the wings, and women offstage as spectators and fans.

Excerpt

At the end of act 1 of Wicked, Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman’s 2003 blockbuster hit, Elphaba, the misunderstood, green-skinned witch-heroine, separates from her dear friend and co-conspirator, Glinda, to pursue her passion as an activist and truth seeker. In the climactic number, which begins with the two girls planning to fly off together and then realizing that they have different dreams to follow, Elphaba hoists her broom, and as she shrieks, “It’s meeeee!” she flies up and up and up (161). As the actor rises toward the theatre’s catwalk, huge shafts of blue and green light appear, extending prismatically and seeming to emanate from her limbs, as if she herself is the source of light. Her arms wide open, broom in hand, and eyes lit with excitement, Elphaba sings the last verse of the song an octave higher than the song began, “So if you care to find me/Look to the western sky,” and sails onto the final chorus, “I’m flying high/Defying gravity!” (161). When she gets to the last section, she speaks, forcing breath into the words, “And nobody in all of Oz/ No Wizard that there is or was,” and then opens up to sing, “is ever gonna bring me down!” (161). She sings the word “me” on the highest belted note with a flourish, and concludes with “down” on a slightly lower note, as she looks up and out, above the balcony seats in the Gershwin Theatre and to a future that, in the second act of the musical, will lead to her unmasking the wizard, faking her own death, and self-imposing her exile from Oz. As the song comes to its explosive end, the citizens of Oz, the ensemble, and Glinda below her gaze up in amazement and awe. Elphaba holds the note loud and long in this expression of ecstatic determination. The stage goes black and the audience goes wild.

The spectacular and thrilling act 1 finale of the Broadway musical that inspired and that frames this book enacts the moment when the The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West becomes a star. Transformed from Margaret Hamilton in the MGM-produced cultural imaginary, the twenty-first-century witch, as played by Tony Award–winning Idina Menzel in the original Broadway . . .

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