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The Great White Way

Race and the Broadway Musical

by Warren Hoffman

Publication Year: 2014

Broadway musicals are one of America’s most beloved art forms and play to millions of people each year. But what do these shows, which are often thought to be just frothy entertainment, really have to say about our country and who we are as a nation?The Great White Way is the first book to reveal the racial politics, content, and subtexts that have haunted musicals for almost one hundred years from Show Boat (1927) to The Scottsboro Boys (2011). Musicals mirror their time periods and reflect the political and social issues of their day. Warren Hoffman investigates the thematic content of the Broadway musical and considers how musicals work on a structural level, allowing them to simultaneously present and hide their racial agendas in plain view of their audiences. While the musical is informed by the cultural contributions of African Americans and Jewish immigrants, Hoffman argues that ultimately the history of the American musical is the history of white identity in the United States.Presented chronologically, The Great White Way shows how perceptions of race altered over time and how musicals dealt with those changes. Hoffman focuses first on shows leading up to and comprising the Golden Age of Broadway (1927–1960s), then turns his attention to the revivals and nostalgic vehicles that defined the final quarter of the twentieth century. He offers entirely new and surprising takes on shows from the American musical canon—Show Boat (1927), Oklahoma! (1943), Annie Get Your Gun (1946), The Music Man (1957), West Side Story (1957), A Chorus Line (1975), and 42nd Street (1980), among others.New archival research on the creators who produced and wrote these shows, including Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, and Edward Kleban, will have theater fans and scholars rethinking forever how they view this popular American entertainment.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication,

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

It dawns on me that I never actually asked Angela Davis if she likes Broadway musicals, but without her wisdom and amazing generosity, this book might not have come to be. As a student of Dr. Davis at the University of California– Santa Cruz, first in her seminar on racial theory, and then in...

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Overture: All Singin’! All Dancin’! All White People?

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pp. 1-28

When I was nine, my parents took me to see my first musical: the national tour of 42nd Street, the hit 1980 show that had taken Broadway by storm and five years later was still doing boffo business in New York and on the road. We took our seats at the Playhouse Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, and what I saw for the next two and a half hours changed my life...

Act One: 1927– 1957

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1. Only Make Believe: Performing Race in Show Boat

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pp. 31-55

Option 1: Show Boat, the 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, is a theatrical classic that revolutionized the form, structure, and content of the American musical as we know it. Hammerstein’s libretto, based on Edna Ferber’s best- selling 1926 novel, charted new territory by...

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2. Playing Cowboys and Indians: Forging Whitenessin Oklahoma! and Annie Get Your Gun

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pp. 56-81

In the history of America, the western frontier was the site par excellence of heroism and bravery in the national imagination. Valiant cowboys galloped across the prairie, conquered the harsh land, vanquished the bloodthirsty Indians, and built new homes in the great western expanse. Of...

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3. Trouble in New York City: The Racial Politicsof West Side Story and The Music Man

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pp. 82-110

Think quick. Which of the following shows won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1958? Jamaica; The Music Man; New Girl in Town; Oh, Captain!; or West Side Story? If you guessed the groundbreaking dance musical West Side Story, you’d be wrong. More than fifty years after it opened in 1957, most people are still surprised to learn that...

Act Two : 1967– 2012

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4. Carbon Copies: Black and InterracialProductions of White Musicals

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pp. 113-142

The 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s were the Golden Age of the Broadway musical. It was a period of intense creative production that gave birth to hit shows like Guys and Dolls, Gypsy, Funny Girl, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, and Mame. Influenced by the theatrical innovations first established...

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5. A Chorus Line: The Benetton of Broadway Musicals

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pp. 143-166

When A Chorus Line closed on April 28, 1990, it had racked up an astounding 6,137 performances, making it, at the time, the longest- running musical in Broadway history. Grossing almost $150 million on Broadway alone, the show was a financial juggernaut and went on to earn over $280 million...

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6. Everything Old Is New Again: Nostalgia and theBroadway Musical at the End of the Twentieth Century

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pp. 167-202

Maybe it was the 1970s energy crisis. Maybe it was Reaganomics. Or maybe, just maybe, it was Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 megaspectacular musical, that can best explain the downfall of the Broadway musical in the 1980s.1 Yes, the reviews are in, and the 1980s, with their singing...

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Exit Music

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pp. 203-212

In the summer of 2011, a new production of the famed 1935 opera Porgy and Bess was gearing up for an out- of- town tryout at Boston’s American Repertory Theatre. But this was no paint- by- numbers revival of the show; rather, the director Diane Paulus, having garnered critical acclaim for a...


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pp. 213-234


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pp. 235-240


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pp. 241-242


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pp. 243-251

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813563367
E-ISBN-10: 0813563364
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813563350
Print-ISBN-10: 0813563356

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 17 photographs
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 870994539
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Great White Way

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Race in musical theater.
  • Music and race.
  • Musical theater -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Musical theater -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 21st century.
  • Musical theater -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Musical theater -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 21st century.
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