Title page for ETD etd-0418102-173116

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Whittaker III, Donald Elgan
Author's Email Address dwhitt2@lsu.edu
URN etd-0418102-173116
Title Subversive Aspects of American Musical Theatre
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Theater
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jennifer Jones Committee Chair
Alison McFarland Committee Member
Femi Euba Committee Member
Leigh Clemons Committee Member
Leslie Wade Committee Member
Dydia DeLyser Dean's Representative
  • ethnicity
  • Jewish characters
  • non-traditional families
  • queer characters
  • feminist sexuality
  • class structure
Date of Defense 2002-04-10
Availability unrestricted
Critical discourse regarding musical theatre takes, for the most part, the form of a profound silence, due presumably to a dismissal of the genre as simplistic and insubstantial. Not only have the elements of musical theatre been present in the majority of theatrical history, but many of the greatest theories regarding theatre have included these elements, including Brecht and Wagner. Musicals have also often concerned themselves with the Other, centering and sympathizing him/her in a manner unavailable to non-musical works. The Others that have thus been positioned are often delineated from hegemonic groups which are concretely those in power, but which are difficult to define. While officially, America is a classless society, class distinctions make a difference, and musicals have long championed the underdogs, both financial and social. Many “non-white” ethnic groups have been subordinated in American society but centered within musical theatre. While the musical stage has often established the idea of Jewishness as pertaining to ethnicity, it has also elevated Jews to leading characters, often while simultaneously serving to place audiences in the position of having to confront their own antisemitism. While heteronormativity is certainly the hegemonic stance regarding sexuality in America, the musical has often subverted it, whether through setting up alternative family structures, weakening male primacy within sexual contact, or setting up queer characters as sympathetic and leading characters. This dissertation explores all the above subaltern groups, examining how many creators of musicals have placed characters from these congregations at or near the forefront of sympathy and primacy, with particular attention given to how music aids in this positioning.
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