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A New Look at an Old Form
on August 15, 2011
This is essential reading for anyone interested in musical theatre, popular culture, and feminist and queer studies. Stacy Wolf combines a theatre critic's eye with a musicologist's ear to create a book that is at once insightful, provocative, and marvelously entertaining.
There is much to appreciate in this book, beginning with the fresh lens through which Wolf examines familiar and less familiar works of the American musical. The first five chapters explore notable musicals, applying a feminist reading while situating and scrutinizing the musicals within their historical context. There are fascinating connections accompanied by exceedingly smart (and accessible) analysis throughout, and one can almost hear Adelaide of Guys and Dolls, Anita of West Side Story, Charity Hope Valentine of Sweet Charity, and Cassie of A Chorus Line joining together to make a new and beautiful music. Most importantly, these chapters create a compelling case for the importance of the American musical as an essential component in theatre history and cultural studies.
The final two chapters focus almost entirely on Wicked. Even non-fans of the musical will leave with a deeper understanding of the show's impact in the first decade of the 21st Century. In particular, Wolf offers an ethnography of Wicked fansites and online chat boards, and she forcefully shows the effects of the Internet global media on musical marketing and consumption.
On a personal note, this book made me nostalgic for my own discovery of My Fair Lady, a cast recording my parents had long since stopped playing, and the blissful, yet solitary hours I spent listening to the record on our old HiFi. I can only imagine the pleasure of knowing that there were kids as passionate as I about Broadway shows (even if I didn't actually see one until I was well past puberty) and how this online community might share our musical theatre fantasies. I can only guess that I, too, would have been changed for good.
James F. Wilson