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