Gower Champion: Dance and American Musical Theatre

Gower Champion: Dance and American Musical Theatre

Gower Champion: Dance and American Musical Theatre

Gower Champion: Dance and American Musical Theatre

Synopsis

Gower Champion's career spanned the years during which American musical theatre was transformed from a crude popular entertainment into a sophisticated art form. As the director and choreographer of Hello, Dolly!, 42nd Street, and other Broadway musicals, he was central to that transformation. This book is the first extensive treatment of his life and contribution to dance and American musical theatre. The volume draws on the holdings of various special collections, is informed by careful analyses of Champion's scripts, and depends on information gathered through interviews with those who knew and worked with Champion throughout his legendary career.

Excerpt

"I'm in the musical comedy business," Gower Champion matter-of- factly told an interviewer in 1980 during rehearsals for his last Broadway show, 42nd Street. "It's really all I know." The statement seems a bit disingenuous--the "all" he knew could well fill several careers, not to mention lives. But in the years since Champion's death not even musical comedy remains a straightforward enterprise. Like much in our culture, musicals have been strained through so many critical and stylistic sieves that little of their naive joy and energy remains. In the quarter-century that Stephen Sondheim has held sway on Broadway, even the most innocuous shows are expected to be conceptually elaborate and to reflect contemporary notions of topicality and political correctness.

In 1980, when Gower Champion passed suddenly from the scene, the term entertainment was beginning to sound trivial to many people. But for Champion and others of his and earlier generations, it was label enough, imbued with his singular charm and enthusiasm. He tended, in his words, to "the musical comedy business" with great verve and style, managing to entertain quite a few people along the way.

Gower Champion came of age during the zenith of American musical theatre production, and made his mark on both sides of the curtain: as an individual dancer with his partners Jeanne Tyler and Marjorie Belcher, and as a choreographer and director with a penchant for spectacular numbers that blended dance, staging and scenographic elaborateness. More than any Broadway practitioner of his generation, he knew how to build from the simplicity of a single dancer to a full-tilt, stage-filling showstopper. It was his vision of staging as a seamless blend of dance, movement and design that paved the way for later auteurs of Broadway . . .

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