Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical

By Baker, Hilary | Notes, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical


Baker, Hilary, Notes


STAGE AND SCREEN Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. By Stacy Wolf. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. [306 p. ISBN 9780195378238 (hardcover), $99; ISBN 9780195378245 (paperback), $24.95.] Photographs, bibliography, index.

As academics, we occasionally have those precious moments when we encounter scholarly works that inspire us toward new thoughts and research directions. We experience an "Aha!" moment as we read a book or article that brings to light observations we ourselves have sensed, yet never fully formulated, ideas that resonate with the impulses and motivations rooted in our minds. As a young graduate student drawn to intersections between queer histories and musical theater studies, one of those rare instances occurred when I first picked up Stacy Wolf's A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002). A Problem Like Maria presents multi-layered interpretations of iconic female performers and characters from American musicals, interpretations that demonstrate how these performances subvert conventional gender roles and thus reach queer audiences. With her newest publication, Changed for Good, Wolf continues this project begun in A Problem Like Maria, in which she traces female characters' and performers' importance in musical theater.

Wolf's history is impressively broad in scope; it chronicles roughly sixty years of American musical theater history (from the 1950s to today), and discusses about twenty shows in depth. Each chapter focuses on theatrical or musical conventions (e.g., female duets, the "eleven o'clock number"), "that bubbled to the surface at [a specific moment in] time" (p. 19). Detailed readings of shows elucidate the convention and its significance to American musical theater history. Additionally, Wolf grounds chapters in historical moments by considering cultural issues relevant to each period (such as the backlash to feminism in the 1980s). Through this combination of feminist American and musical theater histories, Wolf demonstrates how "changes in the genre of the musical are intertwined with changes in women's roles and activities in U.S. culture" (p. 19). In other words, we can read the Broadway musical as a cultural product directly influenced by the historical trajectory of American women.

Wolf's chronicle begins with the 1950s, thus opening this feminist history in an era distinctly lacking in organized feminist movements. Within 1950s musicals such as Wonderful Town and Guys and Dolls, she categorizes the female duet as either "collaborative" or "pedagogical." She elaborates how these duets effectively disrupt the musicals' "heterosexual project," which prizes heterosexual relationships/unions in their narrative and structure (p. 27). Her reading of West Side Story and Anita and Maria's duet "A Boy Like That / I Have a Love" illustrates the transformative, homosocial power of the female duet.

Following this reinterpretation of 1950s musicals, Wolf launches into the 1960s, focusing on mid-decade musicals like Mame and Cabaret. Wolf explains that these musicals' protagonists can be seen as variations on the 1960s "single girl," an employed, independent, sexually active woman who- despite her current single-hood-looks towards an ultimate marriage (p. 59). This section of Changed for Good stands out in musical theater scholarship for its blend of evidence. Wolf merges musical and dramatic readings with accounts of characters' physicality to demonstrate how these musicals, which, though they may narratively punish women, still present female characters whom audiences may view as powerful through the performances of the character/ actor (a duality that she parses well). For example, while the title character of Sweet Charity is quite literally thrown into a lake (twice!) by men, her character nonetheless emerges as powerful through the actor's impressive singing and dancing throughout the show. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.