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The Queer Pleasures of Mary Martin and Broadway: The Sound ofMusic as a Lesbian Musical STACY WOLF She didn'1 act like a nun, or the way we poor ignorant souls thought nuns acted. She was bouncy, enthusiastic, with an ambling walk like a good baseball player. She also had beautiful, clear skin and sparkling, snapping brown eyes. We all fell in love with her. Mary Martin on Sister Gregory' By the late 1950s, Mary Martin was a famous, powerful Broadway star. After stealing the show singing and doing a "striptease" to "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" in Leave It to Me in 1938,' she solidified her stardom as the goddess come-to-life in One Touch of Venus (1943), charmed audiences all over the country in the national tour of Annie Get Your Gun (1947), and brought the house down for a record-setting 1,925 performances iri South Pacific (1949). She played a brief but memorable run in Peter Pan (1954), and later filmed the performance for television, permanently laminating her star identity onto the role of the boy who wouldn't grow up. Martin also turned down some notable parts, including the leads in Funny Girl, My Fair Lady, Kiss Me Kate, and Oklahoma.3 But Martin actively pursued, financially backed, and created another role which to this day is associated with her - Maria in The Sound of Music. I: WHY MUSICALS? WHY LESBIANS? AND HOW?: A THEORETICAL MODEL Until recently, musical theatre occupied a space where few ideologically invested scholars (including feminists) would admit they like to traffic. Musicals were ignored or trashed as popular culture, and the few scholarly texts that were published tended to be positivist histories, formalist analyses, or thinly veiled tracts of adoration. In the past few years, though, work in cultural Modern Drama, 39 (1996) 51 52 STACY WOLF studies on Hollywood musicals has generated a considerable body of useful theory and criticism, reminding theatre scholars that "entertainment" does much ideological work.' In theatre studies, Bruce McConachie's recent reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals during the Cold War and Robin Breon's analysis of the revival ofShowboar usefully redress academic inattention to musical theatreS Both McConachie and Breon critique the reactionary politics of the shows they study. This new and significant scholarly attention to musical theatre reinforces its reputation of being unbearably conservative, frequently misogynist, and ragingly heterosexual; that is, a seemingly unlikely site of pleasure for lesbian, feminist spectators. White gay men's affinity for musicals, however, has been well documented, in print and in the theatre. From Michael Bronski's Culrure Clash: The Making ofa Gay Sensibility, to Richard Dyer's work on gay men and Judy Garland , to representations of white gay men in Broadway's Love! Valour! Compassion! (1994) and in Party! (1995) on Theatre Row, white gay men's love for, knowledge of, and attachment to the musical verges on the (obsessively ?) possessive." The visibility of white gay men's alliance with musicals stems in part from capital (cultural and real) and the general visibility of a relatively identifiable affluent, urban, white, gay male culture. As Michael Warner asserts, queer culture gets practiced primarily through material culture .7 The playful and political uses of musical theatre by gay men offer models for lesbian intervention (by fantasy and criticism if not through material practices ). My purpose here, then, is not to bemoan the lack of a coherent lesbian culture but rather to trace in Martin's performance as Maria what Chris Straayer calls "the hypothetical lesbian heroine.'" Generated by lesbian spectatorial activity, the hypothetical lesbian heroine is constructed from textual and extra-textual contradictions by a viewer "who insists on assertive, even transgressive identifications and seeing.'"' To speak anecdotally, I have been surprised and delighted by how many late-baby-boom, middle-class lesbians willingly and breathlessly confess their love of musicals, their acting out of musicals and their crushes on performers. The Sound ofMusic functions as a key site of such desire. These stories confirm that "Lesbians have always found ways to 'read between the lines' projecting our fantasies of desire and identification onto heterosexual ... mainstream female icons."[O That these "deviant readings" are generated...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 51-63
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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