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The University of Southampton

MUSI2123 The American Musical

Module Overview

This module introduces you to the history of the American Musical and examines some of the issues connected with race, exoticism, gender and national identity as they were articulated in this multimedia entertainment between the late nineteenth century and today. The module will take a chronological but also issue-related approach. Beginning with an overview of the main features of the musical and its relation with opera, operetta and the revue, we will go on to explore the social, cultural and political contexts in which it emerged, developed, and flourished, as well as the ways in which the genre became a crucial cultural arena for the articulation of contemporary social and political concerns and the formation of national identity. We will also follow the trajectory that brought the musical from the stage to the movie set, and the synergy between Broadway and Hollywood, discussing the ways in which music and text engaged with dance, lights, and costumes on stage and on video. This module is offered at two levels that will be taught together. (N.B. Students who take the module in year 2 cannot take the year 3 version)

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The main musical, verbal, dramatic, and visual components of the Broadway and movie musical
  • The trajectory that brought the musical from the stage to the movie set and the reciprocal influences of these two media
  • The ways in which the musical articulated contemporary political, social, economic and cultural issues


A series of topics will be presented over the semester. Each topic examines a phase in the development of the genre of the American musical and addresses the broader social and cultural contexts in which specific works were created. Examples of questions/issues that may be explored include: - Questions of genre: how does the American musical relate to opera and operetta and how is this question articulated within the genre itself? - From literature to the stage: the relationship between the American musical and its literary sources. - Questions of race and ethnicity: how does the American musical engage with questions of race and ethnicity, and how does the engagement with race and ethnicity make the American musical a unique genre?

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Lectures - Discussion - Sharing of ideas and materials via Blackboard and other electronic resources Learning activities include: - A wide range of reading - Study of selected audio and video recordings - Individual research - Use of online resources

Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Completion of assessment task60
Wider reading or practice42
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Carter, Tim (2007). “Oklahoma!” The Making of an American Musical. 

Knapp, Raymond (2005). The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity. 

Block, Geoffrey (1997). Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from “Show Boat” to Sondheim. 

Knapp, Raymond (2006). The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity. 

Smith, Helen (2011). There’s a Place for Us: The Musical Theatre Works of Leonard Bernstein. 

Lovensheimer, Jim (2010). South Pacific: Paradise Rewritten. 

Noonan, Ellen (2012). The strange career of Porgy and Bess: Race, Culture, and America's Most Famous Opera. 

Wolf, Stacy (2011). Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. 

Bordman, Gerald (1981). American Operetta: from H.M.S. Pinafore to Sweeney Todd. 

Stempel, Larry. Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater. 

Most, Andrea (2004). Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical. 

Porter, Susan L (1991). With an air debonair: Musical Theatre in America 1785-1815. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Exam  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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