Paper Session
Nov 11, 2021 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM(America/Chicago)
20211111T1000 20211111T1050 America/Chicago Musical Theater and Race AMS 2021
_A Strange Loop_: Rethinking Analytical Assumptions While Studying Black Musical Theater
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 16:50:00 UTC

The musical _A Strange Loop_ played off-Broadway in the summer of 2019 to mixed reviews, but a year later it became the first musical by a black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Writer and composer Michael R. Jackson describes the show as "self-referential," portraying the struggles of a black, queer musical theater writer attempting to write a musical about a black, queer musical theater writer (and so on). The show blatantly yet comedically displays the hate and discrimination faced by black, queer folks trying to live and work as theatrical artists, eschewing conventional storytelling in favor of a spiraling glimpse inside the protagonist's mind, stuck in "a strange loop."

Why are shows like Jackson's – shows about black lives, authentically written by black artists – such extreme minorities on and off-Broadway? How does the history of black musical theater provide context? The historic exclusion of Black Americans' contributions from conventional narratives of "The Great White Way" reinforces the barriers shows like _A Strange Loop_ must surmount, even as they see public recognition. But when these shows _do_ succeed and ultimately become subjects for music scholarship, do we as music analysts have the correct mindset and tools to respectfully think and write about them? I turn to my own experience of discovering and listening to _A Strange Loop_. What assumptions did I bring? Were they correct? (Spoiler: Initially they were not, and I gleaned evidence of my misconceptions from an interview with Jackson himself.) What do those misguided assumptions say about my perspective, and how can I work – as an individual, academic, musician, instructor – to reduce white(cis-het)-biases that emerge from a privileged, western-classical-trained perspective? And how do I avoid constructing narratives of artists without sufficient attention to their personal trajectory, creativity, and agency in crafting their own story? This paper describes the rethinking and re-listening process that has allowed me to better acknowledge the complexities of musical influences in the score of  _A Strange Loop_, and strives to honestly confront why such rethinking is so deeply necessary.

Makulumy Alexander-Hills
Columbia University
_Oklahoma!_ (1943) and the Politics of #MeToo and #BLM
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 16:50:00 UTC

The 2012 restaging of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical _Oklahoma!_ (1943) by Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre was met with controversy when African American actor Kyle Scatliffe was cast as Jud Fry, the misanthrope outsider character. Scholars have long suggested that Jud's character is coded as a racial other (Most 2004; Miller 2016); in this staging, Jud's exclusion from _Oklahoma!_'s community and subsequent death took on more pointed implications, as the celebratory formation of statehood onstage became explicitly based on racial exclusion. In 2019, HBO's series _Watchmen_ used _Oklahoma!to deliver its commentary on racial tensions in contemporary U.S. society. Police Chief Judd Crawford becomes closely affiliated with the show and its music before he is killed in the first episode; soon after his death, it is revealed that he had connections with a white supremacist terrorist group. These two reimaginings of this beloved show are examples of a spate of recent revivals and new works that have revisited _Oklahoma!_ through the lens of contemporary politics, bringing new perspectives to the musical's symbolic forging of national identity, with particularly pointed interpretations of Jud's character.

This paper examines recent reinterpretations of _Oklahoma!_ on stage and screen, including revivals by the 5th Avenue Theatre, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (2018), and on Broadway (2019), as well as references in _Watchmen_ and the 2020 film _I'm Thinking of Ending Things_ (dir. Kaufman). In each case, Jud's outsider status is explained either through contemporary notions of white supremacy, or of toxic masculinity (including as an incel and as a straight man pursuing a lesbian). I analyze how the source material has been reworked in each example, and I argue that, despite the wide range of contemporary issues addressed, they collectively bring the show's underlying messages surrounding nationhood and community into sharper relief. Further, these reinterpretations address the ever-pressing question in contemporary society about who is assimilable, whose voices are heard, and who should be purged from society for the sake of the broader community. Each restaging points to the multivalence of _Oklahoma!_ and its adaptability at different moments of political and cultural crisis in American history.

Hannah Lewis
University Of Texas At Austin
“Proud of Your Boy”: Performance, Voice, and Identity in Ashman’s _Aladdin_
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/11 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/11 16:50:00 UTC

Lyricist and playwright Howard Ashman first approached Walt Disney Feature Animation with his original treatment of _Aladdin_ in 1988, the story of "the youngest Shark in _West Side Story_ [set in a] zany and fanciful Baghdad of the imagination" (_Aladdin_ Treatment, 12 January 1988, Box 1, Howard Ashman Papers, Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC). Like his earlier collaborations with composer Alan Menken, _The Little Mermaid_ (1989) and _Beauty and the Beast_ (1991), Ashman's original draft of _Aladdin_ relied heavily on the dramaturgical and musical influences of the Broadway musical. As Sam Baltimore has documented, Ashman's original conception of _Aladdin_ also utilizes frequent references and signifiers of queer culture, working within a problematic tradition of queer Orientalism that attempts to express solidarity between the white author and the exoticized subject. Disney eventually accepted Ashman's story, though not without drastic changes. 

Through the development process, _Aladdin_ lost much of its queer sensibility and Broadway-inspired music. Crucially, Aladdin as Disney's first non-white, male (musical) protagonist does not get an "I want" song, the musical's fundamental statement of self. Although many of Ashman's Broadway-informed scenes and songs were cut from the 1992 film, the stage production two decades later resurrected much of the lyricist's original script.

Building from the work of Baltimore (2017), Colleen Montgomery (2017), and Oliver Lindman (2019), this paper examines _Aladdin's_ transformation through its Broadway-informed conception to eventual Broadway manifestation, centering sexuality, musical Orientalism, and theatrical influence. I first analyze Ashman's _Aladdin_ as a Broadway musical, focusing on the musical numbers excised throughout the development process. I then connect _Aladdin's_ music and depictions of race to American anxiety surrounding the Middle East in the 1990s, concluding with a consideration of _Aladdin's_ stage realization in 2014 and its depiction of race. _Aladdin's_ existence as a cultural artifact synthesizes theatrical conventions, musical styles, and late twentieth century American history, as well as reflects the already-changing style and sound of the Disney Renaissance musical.  

Kelli Minelli
Case Western Reserve University
University of Texas at Austin
Case Western Reserve University
Columbia University
Northern Arizona University
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