Dec 11, 2021 Uncategorized

Research on Problematic Musicals – My Fair Lady


  • Millions of people attend musical theatre or watch movie musicals or live broadcasts of musicals and are thoroughly entertained.  As has been discussed in class, issues of representation of identity (or lack there of) can  problematize this relationship.  This is not to say that one shouldn’t attend musical theatre or watch a movie musical, because one should do both things, but being an informed spectator can make the experience more complex but also more rewarding. So this is a long way of saying all musicals are not bad but many of them (especially classic musicals or movie musicals) can be problematic to a contemporary viewer.  Some of these issues, such as the representation of Sitting Bull in Annie Get Your Gun are only starting to be critiqued or challenged but in other cases, questions around George Gershwin and his appropriation of music and story surrounding Porgy and Bess were problematic when the musical was written! 

Appropriation, misogyny, homophobia, white-washing, cultural stereotyping within musical/movie musicals (story, characterization, marketing) are just some of the areas that scholars have begun to investigate and write about.  The revival of Showboat (1994) that opened in Toronto before going to Broadway was protested by African Canadians who felt the portrayal of African Americans in the musical is stereotypical and dated.  Much of the book for the 2009 revival of Finian’s Rainbow had to be re-written because a central conceit of the original production was the use of blackface but it also presented a problematic view of Irish culture.  In 1990,  Actor’s Equity (US)  launched legal action against Cameron Mackintosh and the production of Miss Saigon because of his decision (as producer) to import Johnathon Pryce (who is Caucasian) to Broadway, to play the central role of The Engineer (who is not Caucausian) as Pryce had in London.  La Cage Aux Folles was a major success for Jerry Herman, Harvey Fierstein and others but even as it ran for most of the 1980s the first Broadway show to feature a same sex leading couple was critiqued for it’s homophobic/stereotypical characters that many saw as tired cliches and deeply offensive.  Steven Speilberg and Tony Kushner are under some pressure to ensure the portrayal of Puerto Rican characters in the re-make of West Side Story are authentic (or as authentic as a movie musical will allow).

Authors like Stacey Wolf, Warren Hoffman, and John Clum, have challenged historic readings and understandings of what, how and why, musical theatre says what it says and operates as it has (and it is not really enough to say, “oh it was 1947 and people were different then”). As the summer of 2020 simmered in the grips of the covid pandemic BIPOC artists demanded the end to systemic racism within the current production models of theatre making and  BIPOC dramaturges, actors, and designers demonstrated just what was wrong with so many contemporary theatre practices (not to mention what is being produced).

For this project you are to select  a specific musical or movie musical that you have found to be problematic in terms of representation- this could be a use of stereotype based on race or gender or religion or sexual orientation (again who is onstage but also who is not onstage), you might write about the limited roles for women or problematic representations of women (remember the discussion of classic tropes) in any number of movie musicals from the 1950s, your paper could concern itself with issues around appropriation (Porgy and Bess) or possibly a story that is constructed not by lived experience but by what is read in the papers (a classic example is  West Side Story that wants to tell a gritty story of the problems faced by “American” and Puerto Rican youth  BUT was written by 4 white, wealthy, gay Jewish men), or you might look at Flower Drum Song through the lens of orientalism or a certain sense of homophobia in Chess.  

This is not an exercise on “dumping” on the musical or movie but rather on writing critically about a particular issue in ONE musical or movie musical.  What is the issue?  What have critics and scholars said about the musical in the past and what are they saying about the issue now?  If there has been a recent revival or remake of it what did they do to address the problem of representation or other issue?- the difference in “Getting to Know You” from the 1956 movie and the recent Broadway revival (as shown in class) is a great example of recognizing there is a problem!  Was this new adaptation successful and if so, why and if not, why not? There is a lot being written right now about the current Broadway revival of West Side Story  and Speilberg’s remake that is being released in December – the critical discourse is dealing with the portrayal of the Puerto Rican characters in the original book.  Even if this remake or revival was successful what would you have done?  If there hasn’t been an attempt to rectify this issue what would you suggest?

This is a research project, and not an opinion piece, it is important to support your argument with additional sources (beyond Wikipedia) and to ensure they are cited and referenced properly [aim for a minimum of 5].

Make sure to support your argument/discussion with specific examples that make your thesis and argument clearer.

Please cite sources as much as it is used, do not assume that it is common knowledge. Please do not use points repetetively, if you mention a point, do not mention it again, do not separate into headings. Go straight to the paper, there is no need for an introduction to the paper
Template: state thesis or argument, body (first is summary of the musical the themes and lessons from the musical, then  answer the questions posed above), Conclusion (do not conclude).

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