What Works

Michael Friedman

  • The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity by Raymond Knapp
    Princeton, 361 pp, £22.95, December 2004, ISBN 0 691 11864 7

What is wrong with American musical theatre? It seems to make people nervous, in ways that none of the other native forms do. Jazz, rock, movies and television have all been easily absorbed into American culture, but the musical languishes as a kind of embarrassing cousin. The reason could be political. Musicals could be seen as a blue-state phenomenon – urbane, sinful, excessive and sophisticated, probably homosexual and Jewish – that has somehow ‘insinuated’ itself into American popular culture. Or perhaps they are a red-state art form: patriotic, sentimental, hopelessly unhip and white, full of small-town values, at home in suburban high schools. Unlike jazz and film, which gained respectability as pop and TV supplanted their popularity, the musical holds its own lonely place in culture; it doesn’t quite belong to anyone.

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