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The Megamusical

Jessica Sternfeld

Publication Year: 2006

A megamusical is an epic, dramatic show featuring recurring melodies in a sung-through score; huge, impressive sets; and grand ideas. These qualities are accompanied by intensive marketing campaigns, unprecedented international financial success, and a marked disjunction between critical reaction and audience reception. Audiences adore megamusicals; they flock to see them when they open, and return again and again, helping long-lived shows to become semi-permanent tourist attractions. Yet generally speaking, critics either dismiss megamusicals as superficial entertainment, or rail against them as offensively simple-minded money-making scams. This audience/critic division lies at the heart of The Megamusical.

Jessica Sternfeld's long-awaited study of some of the most popular megamusicals is an important contribution to knowledge of American musical culture. Sternfeld discusses the history of the megamusical, examining both its internal, performative qualities and its external, market reception to reveal why it is so popular. She concentrates on Lloyd Webber's Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, the two longest-running musicals on Broadway, and Schoenberg and Boublil's Les Misérables, the most popular and internationally successful piece of music theater of all time. Each of these musicals receives in-depth treatment, including an examination of how they were created and received, as well as an analysis of their scores and staging. She also interprets several other megamusicals of the 1980s and 1990s, with an eye toward their competition and influence on other musical theater genres.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Profiles in Popular Music


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

Musical examples in this work are based on scores which have kindly been made available to me by those who hold the rights to the materials. I created my examples using Finale 2000 software, based closely on the scores to which I had access. I made occasional reductions or editorial changes for ease of reading, but otherwise the musical material is unaltered. Any inaccuracies in the music or lyrics...

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pp. 1-7

What is a megamusical? Like many neologisms, the word may sound funny, but it is probably the most accurate term for the repertoire discussed in this book.“Megamusical” describes a kind of musical theater that rose to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s and that remains a dominant force on Broadway today. I am not the first to use the term; it began to appear in the New York Times...

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1 “Why’d You Choose Such a Backward Time and Such a Strange Land?”: Jesus Christ Superstar

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pp. 8-66

The new era announces itself in the opening notes of Jesus Christ Superstar: over a low tritone pedal point, an electric guitar begins to wail. It is a dissonant, serious line, free in tempo, and immediately unsettling. It rises, pulling the pedal point with it. The electric guitar then grows insistent, launching into a driving tempo. A full orchestra and a full rock band join. The overture proper has begun...

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2 “Humming the Scenery”: The Megamusical Ascending

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pp. 67-111

He may be beloved as a composer, but Americans’ views of Andrew Lloyd Webber the man are a different matter. The same is true in his home country, where the media have given his personal life massive, mostly negative, attention. He has never dealt particularly well with the press or the public, especially in the early...

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3 “Well, the Theatre Is Certainly Not What It Was”: Cats

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pp. 112-174

This is a favorite joke about Cats. When the show broke the record for the longest-running musical in Broadway history, advertisements gained a new tag line: “now and forever.” Until just a few months before it finally closed in September 2000, television commercials continued to advertise “ Cats. Now and...

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4 “To Love Another Person Is to See the Face of God”: Les Misérables

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pp. 175-224

Les Misérables was one of the first megamusicals created by a team that did not include Andrew Lloyd Webber. In fact, Les Mis, 1 as it came to be known, would go on to become not only the most successful megamusical of the decade, but the most successful musical of all time. Although the team behind Les Mis included Cameron Mackintosh, it is nevertheless remarkable that a relatively...

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5 “The Angel of Music Sings Songs in My Head”: The Phantom of the Opera

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pp. 225-272

As much as critics enjoy describing the Phantom’s deformed face in colorful terms, people do not flock to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s megamusical The Phantom of the Opera for this sight. It could be argued that they go to see the chandelier, falling as it does almost on top of the front rows before veering toward the...

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6 “A Model of Decorum and Tranquility”: Other Megamusicals in the 1980s

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pp. 273-291

In May 1986, New York Times critic Frank Rich reported from London on several new musicals. He used the opportunity to summarize the current state of musical theater, both in London and New York. In short, he lamented the megamusical’s take over of the theater scene in both cities. Though he did not use the word...

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7 “New Music”: The Megamusical in the 1990s

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pp. 292-333

The 1990s saw the premieres of megamusicals by those who had helped to create the form in the 1970s and 1980s, and also by a new generation of composers, lyricists, directors, and producers who had been influenced by the earlier megamusicals. By the end of the decade, many of the original creators of the genre...

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8 “Everything Is Show Biz”: The Megamusical and Broadway in the Twenty-first Century

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pp. 334-352

Today, there are virtually no new musicals that, at first glance, fit the 1980s definition of the megamusical. But there are also no new musicals that do not, in at least some ways, reflect the influence of the 1980s megamusical. Without The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked would not be the same show, nor would...


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pp. 353-441

A. Jesus Christ Superstar Plot Summary and List of Recurring Musical Material

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pp. 353-355

B. Evita Plot Summary

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pp. 357-359

C. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Plot Summary

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pp. 361-362

D. Cats Plot Summary and Table of Recurring Musical Material

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pp. 363-365

E. Sources of Lyrics in Cats

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pp. 367

F. Les Mis

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pp. 369-372

G. List of Recurring Musical Material in Les Mis

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pp. 373-375

H. The Phantom of the Opera Plot Summary and List of Numbers

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pp. 377-379

I. List of Recurring Musical Material in The Phantom of the Opera

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pp. 381-385


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pp. 387-428


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pp. 429-434


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pp. 435-441

E-ISBN-13: 9780253112316
E-ISBN-10: 0253112311
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253347930

Page Count: 456
Illustrations: 1 bibliog.
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Profiles in Popular Music