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Stacy Wolf: The Role of Christine and Other Megamusical Women as Tools for the Exploration of Male Characters, but Necessarily as Characters Unto Themselves

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In the 1980s, the arrival of Cats signaled a new kind of musical – a British, not U.S

American, made spectacle, which would be come to be known as the megamusical. The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful version of this type of show on Broadway. Opening on January 26, 1988, The Phantom of the Opera has enjoyed an unprecedented thirty-plus year run in New York City.

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Stacy Wolf is the author of Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical (Oxford University Press, 2011), A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical (University of Michigan Press, 2002), and the co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of the American Musical (with Raymond Knapp and Mitchell Morris, 2011). She has published articles on theatre spectatorship, performance pedagogy, and musical theatre in many journals, including Theatre Journal, Modern Drama, and Camera Obscura

She was the editor of Theatre Topics: A Journal of Pedagogy and Praxis in 2001-2003. She also oversees the Lewis Center’s Music Theater Lab and has experience as a director and dramaturg.Recent publications include “Wicked’s Women and Other Queer Conventions in the 21st Century Broadway Musical” ( Theatre Journal, 2008); " Wicked Divas, Musical Theater, and Internet Girl Fans” ( Camera Obscura, 2007); and “In Defense of Pleasure: Musical Theatre History in the Liberal Arts (A Manifesto)” ( Theatre Topics, 2007). Her essay, "'We'll Always Be Bosom Buddies': Female Duets and the Queering of Broadway Musical Theatre" in GLQ ( Gay and Lesbian Quarterly) (2006), won the year’s award for Best Essay in Theatre Studies from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.Wolf's manuscript-in-progress, The American Musical After Broadway: Dinner Theatres, Road Shows, and Amateur Hours explores the persistence of musical theatre across the country in amateur and semi-professional venues like summer camps, high schools, Jewish Community Centers, African American churches, dinner theatres, and non-Equity touring companies. She is also working a biography of Mary Martin, star of South Pacific, Peter Pan, and The Sound of Music.Wolf teaches courses in American musical theatre history (including a seminar on the musicals of Stephen Sondheim), dramaturgy and dramatic literature, histories of U.S. performance, performance theory, and performance studies.

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Another substantial difference between “Golden Age” musicals and concept shows was each form’s use of the ensemble. Stacy Wolf, in Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical, compares the different ways ensembles were constructed and used during and after the “Golden Age,” noting that prior to the 1970s, the ensemble in traditional integrated musicals was typically a nebulous, anonymous performing force (Lassell, Michael, 2009). The chorus was used to populate the stage and serve as background filler, with ensemble members often playing multiple roles throughout the show – Wolf notes how the ensemble in My Fair Lady plays everything from street vendors and beggars to wealthy, pretentious socialites. As the structure of musicals shifted toward the conceptual, the role of the ensemble also shifted accordingly. Instead of the ensemble existing primarily as background support for the principals, the ensemble became the “musical’s principal.” (Kerr, Walter, 1970) This shift in the ensemble – from background to foreground – is paramount, because it affected the Broadway musical on both structural and dramatic levels.

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Finally, there are a number of characteristics of the mid-20th-century Broadway musical that invite lesbian investments. First, unlike much of the non-musical theatre of the 1940s to mid-1960s, the Broadway musical featured women as stars

Women performers like Mary Martin and Ethel Merman were a primary draw for audiences, and they could almost guarantee a certain degree of critical and commercial success. This form of performance places women, as stars, as supporting players, and in the chorus, center stage, creating a place of pleasure and identification for lesbian spectators.

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Joyce, Valerie M. “Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of Money.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Musical Theatre Producers, edited by Laura MacDonald and William A. Everett, 173-190. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Kerr, Walter. “Company: Original and Uncompromising.” The New York Times, May 3, 1970.

Lassell, Michael. Disney’s The Little Mermaid: A Broadway Musical – From the Deep Blue Sea to the Great White Way. New York: Disney Editions, 2009

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