By Ben West
Published by Routledge
Released on April 1, 2024

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The American Musical is a comprehensive history of an American art form. It delivers a detailed and definitive portrait of the American musical’s artistic evolution over the course of seven distinct, newly defined eras, with a unique perspective gleaned from research at more than twenty different archives across the United States.

Individual in both its approach and coverage, The American Musical traces the form’s creative journey from its 19th century beginnings, through its 20th century maturation, and to the turn of the 21st century, shedding new light on a myriad of authors, directors, and craftspeople who worked on Broadway and beyond. This book actively addresses the form’s often overlooked female and African-American artists, provides an in-depth accounting of such outside influences as minstrelsy, vaudeville, nightclubs, and burlesque, and explores the dynamic relationship between the form and the consciousness of its country.

The American Musical is a fascinating and insightful read for students, artists, and afficionados of the American musical, and anyone with an interest in this singular form of entertainment.

“Ben West’s The American Musical is a colossal contribution to the 150-year history of what we now call musical theatre. It is undeniably comprehensive, but West constantly surprises with the shows he chooses to write about in depth, which are often are not one of the titles we think of as the canon. West is a tireless researcher and engaging writer, and he has the courage to acknowledge that geniuses have limitations while mere mortals who write sometimes achieve greatness. West understands the fundamentally collaborative nature of making the magic that is a well-crafted musical, and in The American Musical he singlehandedly celebrates the thousands of artists whose talents have created a beloved, malleable and important art form that is worthy of the words, Made in the U.S.A.” –Dick Scanlan, librettist of Everyday Rapture and Thoroughly Modern Millie

“A fascinating look at the American musical. Ben West has assembled a thorough and delightfully readable history that’s as entertaining as the art form itself.” –Susan Stroman, director and choreographer of The Producers and The Scottsboro Boys

“Unlike many theatrical history books, Ben West’s writing reads more like a great novel than just historical fact. For anyone interested in the American musical, this book is a must!” –Hal Luftig, producer of Kinky Boots and Legally Blonde

“West’s The American Musical is not simply a history, a ranked list of the canon at large, or a dispassionate overview of the genre – this work is much more than that. What West has done involves a deep dive into a cultural proclivity to marry spoken narrative form with song and music, tracking that phenomenon meticulously throughout the ages taking into account elasticity in popular tastes, demographic changes, shifting expectations in what productions needed to deliver, the advantages as well as the ravages of technological innovation, and even an inkling where this form may go next. He has done this objectively, fairly and with exacting verisimilitude – but importantly not without completely submerging his own passions, hopes and dreams for the form – an essential element as any discussion of musical theatre without these key attributes provokes no discussion or willingness for the reader to challenge and dig even deeper. In every sense of these words, what West has achieved is simply remarkable.” –Joshua Schmidt, composer of Adding Machine and A Minister’s Wife

“Ben West’s The American Musical is an engaging, enjoyable read for anyone who loves musical theatre. West has thoroughly explored the fascinating evolution of the art form and writes about it with great care. His passion for the subject is palpable.” –Matthew Sklar, composer of Elf and The Prom

“If you are a fan of the American musical theatre (and if not make yourself one now!), you must add Ben West’s book to your personal library. With fresh insight and deep knowledge, he guides us through this ramshackle art form in a way no one has before.” –Douglas Carter Beane, librettist of Cinderella and Xanadu

“Ben West has undertaken a mammoth task – to chronicle and analyze the history of the American musical – and has done so in a highly intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful way. I highly recommend this book for professionals, students, and lovers of musical theatre alike.” –Carmel Dean, music supervisor and arranger of The Notebook

“I know of no other historical text that includes so much material, such massive stores of detail, so many deep dives into the ancillary research, the twists and turns of musical theatre from its inception until quite recent times. The whole effort is a tonic against the longstanding condescension toward musicals in American culture.” –Craig Lucas, librettist of An American in Paris and The Light in the Piazza

Author’s Note I Part 1: Inventions, Influences, and Imports (1800s) 1. Minstrelsy 2. The Variety Show 3. The Legitimate Musical Stage 4. Ragtime and Coon Songs Part 2: Birth of an Art Form (1900-1924) 5. Vaudeville, Part One: Time and Talent 6. Vaudeville, Part Two: Tin Pan Alley 7. Vaudeville, Part Three: Sketches and Tabs 8. Burlesque 9. Bob Cole and the Black Musical Stage 10. The Early Musical Comedy 11. Revue 12. The Great Winter Garden Factory 13. The Hippodrome Shows 14. The Spectacular Musical Play 15. American Operetta 16. The Princess Musicals 17. Nightclubs, Part One: Folies Bergère, etc. 18. The Great War, Prohibition, and Women’s Suffrage 19. Jazz, Part One: The Musicians 20. Jazz, Part Two: The Musicals 21. The New Musical Comedy 22. Shuffle Along and the Black Renaissance Part 3: Intensification (1925-1930) 23. Nightclubs, Part Two: The Plantation, etc. 24. Pleasure Bound 25. Howard Dietz and the New Revue 26. Jazz Age Musical Comedy, Part One: The Tunersmiths 27. Jazz Age Musical Comedy, Part Two: The Adventurers 28. Oscar Hammerstein II and the Musical Play Part 4: Convention, or Maturity, Part One: Craft and Construction (1931-1950) 29. Sophisticated Revue 30. The Sophisticated Musical Stage 31. Nightclubs, Part Three: Casino de Paree, etc. 32. The African-American Exit 33. Hollywood and the Popular Song 34. The Second World War 35. Integrated Folktales 36. The Musical Comedy Stage 37. The Abbott Touch 38. Guys and Dolls Part 5: Convention, or Maturity, Part Two: Style and Structure (1951-1970) 39. Character and Quirks and Comedy and Farce 40. The New Musical Play 41. Staging and Story 42. Nontraditional Storytelling 43. Hair vs. Your Own Thing 44. Off-Broadway Part 6: Diminution (1971-1980) 45. Nostalgia, Revivals, and Reinventions 46. The All-Purpose Revue 47. The African-American Resurgence 48. Contemporary Sounds, Part One: Andrew Lloyd Webber, etc. 49. A Chorus Line 50. Sophisticated Storytelling Part 7: Growing Pains, or Identity Crisis (1981-1999) 51. Dialogue, Song, and Dance 52. George C. Wolfe and the Black Musical Stage 53. Contemporary Sounds, Part Two: Jonathan Larson, etc. 54. Revivals 55. Miscellany Author’s Note II (2000 and Beyond) Evolutionary Timeline of the American Musical Quick Facts Archival Sources Photo Credits Acknowledgments Show Index General Index

Pg. 37: “…Myer, a Black pianist and composer.”
Pg. 48: “…offering’s success than did…”
Pg. 53: “…began writing for the legitimate stage.”
Pg. 95: “…trip to Italy as a series…”
Pg. 123: “…at the Jardin de Danse or overlooking…”
Pg. 129: “…entertainment with a book and lyrics…”
Pg. 134: “…Philip and Geraldine…”
Pg. 135: “…Murray, as Geraldine…part of Geraldine…”
Pg. 135: “…musical show in America be thought…”
Pg. 172: “…was committed at 8:41.”
Pg. 194: “…Tess Gardella…”
Pg. 224: “…a native of [the] Trinidad…”
Pg. 279: “…Moore confessed…”
Pg. 282: “…broadcast on CBS-TV.”
Pg. 291: “…it has been a short…”
Pg. 325: “…plot points instead of living inside…”
Pg. 330: “…within [the] Finn’s…”
Pg. 339: “…The Scarlet Pimpernel (1997)…”