- Women in American Musical Theatre: Essays on Composers, Lyricists, Librettists, Arrangers, Choreographers, Designers, Directors, Producers, and Performance Artists
In their introduction to Women in American Musical Theatre, Bud Coleman and Judith Sebesta emphasize two main points: first, that the genre of American musical theatre has historically received little attention within the larger context of theatre scholarship; and second, that the role of women in musical theatre has received even less attention in any context. In this collection of essays authored by eleven featured scholars, Coleman and Sebesta seek to correct these deficiencies; for the most part, the collection fulfills this goal effectively.
Each scholar addresses both a specific time period and a specific area of musical theatre practice; each then focuses on several pioneering women who have contributed significantly to one or more aspects of their field. Thus Korey Rothman opens the collection with women lyricists of the early to mid-1900s, delving into the careers of Rida Johnson Young, Anne Caldwell, and Dorothy Donnelly. Barbara Means Fraser follows with an exploration of women producers during the 1930s, particularly Hallie Flanagan and Cheryl Crawford. Anna Wheeler Gentry addresses the work of early twentieth-century choreographers Anna Held, Albertina Rasch, Katherine Dunham, and Hanya Holm. Jennifer Jones Cavanaugh then sheds light on the largely overlooked roles of arranger, musical director, and conductor, while elucidating the specific contributions of Trude Rittman, known for creating much of the underscoring and ballet music for the famous musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Cavanaugh’s chapter leads logically to Gary Konas’s essay on women composers of Broadway’s Golden Age, namely Dorothy Fields, Betty Comden (in collaboration with Adolph Green), Carolyn Leigh, Mary Rodgers, and several other less prolific but nevertheless pioneering women composers. Tish Dace then examines briefly the work and careers of women designers for musical theatre, focusing mostly on Jean Rosenthal, Peggy Clark, and Beverly Emmons (lighting); Jean Eckert and Heidi Ettinger (scenery); Janet Kalas (sound); and Irene Sharaff, Patricia Zipprodt, and Theoni Aldredge (costumes), tracing the difficulties they have faced in a nearly completely male-dominated arena. Bud Coleman addresses a later wave of women producers, specifically the contributions of Theresa Helburn, Jean Dalrymple, and Lucille Lortel. Anne Fliostos looks at the achievements of mid- to late-twentieth-century women directors in musical theatre with focus on Mary Hunter, Vinette Carroll, Sue Lawless, and Jullianne Boyd, as well as the more contemporary Susan Schulman and Julie Taymor. In her essay, which examines the socially conscious and experimentally formatted work of Gretchen Cryer, Nancy Ford, and Elizabeth Swados, Judith Sebesta considers the contributions of a later wave of composers. Mary Jo Lodge traces parallels and divergences among the career paths of director/choreographers Graciele Daniele, Patricia Birch, Lynne Tayler-Corbett, Ann Reinking, Susan Stroman, and Kathleen Marshall. Finally, Woodrow Hood explores the musical work of performance artists Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, and Diamanda Galas.
Clearly, Women in American Musical Theatre offers a wide-ranging examination of significant contributions made by twentieth-century women working within this genre. More importantly, the book’s contributors appear for the most part to have a common goal: all endeavor to provide objective accounts of the challenges faced by, and compromises forced upon, their subjects, many of whom found it necessary repeatedly to prove their talents in order to earn recognition for their impressive accomplishments in musical theatre. To this end, whenever possible, the authors quote their subjects or other artists who [End Page 153] collaborated with them. They often draw directly from interviews, which makes their research even more valuable as a source of primary information for the reference of future scholars.
There are, however, a few discrepancies in focus from one author to the next. Although all of the essays provide some biographical information on their subjects, some, such as Fraser’s, are largely biographical; others, such as Rothman’s heavily footnoted essay, offer theory-based insights into why women held more prominent positions in certain...