BLS 340: Singing the American Dream

The Broadway musical is America’s unique contribution to world theatre. Combining romantic storytelling with song, dance, spectacle and stellar performances, musical theatre is a cultural mirror that both reflects and distorts the reality of a particular time and place. This course investigates how the musical has expressed and promoted the “American Dream” during the past century.

Historian James H. Adams was the first to use the phrase “American Dream” in his book The Epic of America (1931). Adams defined it as, “…that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” Adams’ definition will serve as the starting point for our examination of the musical.

Our study will include a consideration of the various forms and elements of musical theatre, the individuals responsible for its creation and presentation, and its relationship to U.S. social history. We will read John Bush Jones’ Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre as well as a representative sampling of classic musicals (Showboat–Hamilton).