Reflections of American Society on Stage (Fall 2019)

Class meeting times: Katzen 112, Tuesdays and Fridays, 2:30–3:45pm • Instructor: Nathan Beary Blustein (Katzen 211) | • Syllabus: pdf • Office Hours: Sign up

Assignment Descriptions:

  1. Introductory Essay
  2. Listening Quizzes
  3. Teaching Modules
  4. Production Responses
  5. Group Presentations
  6. Final Exam (TBA)

Week 1

August 27: Introductions. (If you would like printed copies of the syllabus [above] or syllabus contract/student survey, email me)

August 30: Early musical theatre
Assignment due: Introductory Essay—“American Dream” paper (submit on Blackboard)

Week 2

September 3: How to read a scene. Teaching Modules assigned.
Preparation: Read/listen to/view scenes—In the Heights (Cast Recording: YouTube | Libretto: pdf) and Dreamgirls (Clip: YouTube). Read Guidelines for Writing Papers about Musical Theatre (pdf).

We are analyzing two scenes for today’s class, from two different shows. For the first, we have the libretto and cast recording. For the second, we have a video of a live performance. You don’t need to hand in responses to these questions, but they will be helpful to answer for yourself in advance of class.

1. Provide a succinct summary of each scene. Who are the characters? How do they relate to each other? How would you describe what each character wants?

2. Compare the experiences of familiarizing yourself with each scene. We might presume that watching is easiest; reading is hardest. Is this the case? Why? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each medium—dramatically, aesthetically, and commercially?

September 6: Broadway’s artistic/commercial/geographic history
Listening Quiz 1 [Playlist: YouTube]

Week 3

September 10: Hamilton (2016)
Preparation: Read libretto []/listen to cast recording [YouTube playlist] Teaching modules begin: Alex Lacamoire; John Laurens; Great Comet

September 13: Hamilton continued. Group presentations assigned.
Preparation: Listen to Hamilton Mixtape [YouTube playlist]; watch Hamildrops [YouTube playlist] First one-page response due

Week 4

September 17: Hamilton continued
Listening Quiz 2

September 20: Next to Normal (2009)
Preparation: Read libretto (ebook)/listen to cast recording (available in the Katzen Library, CD 5166; also on YouTube)
Teaching modules: Brian Yorkey/Tom Kitt; Spring Awakening; Side Show

Week 5

September 24: Next to Normal continued
Preparation: Read articles (and view embedded clips) on Dear Evan Hansen (New York Times) and Crazy Ex Girlfriend (Vulture). Read “Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illness” (psychcentral). Watch one of the most famous clips of ECT in film: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (YouTube). Based on your knowledge of musical theatre, what was groundbreaking about Next to Normal? What has carried over into subsequent depictions of mental illness in popular culture—including on Broadway and on TV?
Listening Quiz 3

September 27: Rent (1996)
Preparation: Watch live musical film (Bender Library DVD)
Teaching modules: Jonathan Larson; ACT UP; Falsettos

Week 6

October 1: Rent continued
Preparation: Watch Paris is Burning (Bender Library DVDs | 76 minutes)
Listening Quiz 4

October 4: Sunday in the Park with George (1984)
Preparation: Watch live musical film (Bender & Katzen Library DVDs)
Group presentations begin: Fun Home (2015)

Week 7

October 8: Sunday… continued
Preparation: Watch excerpts from Six by Sondheim (YouTube): Beginning – 20:10 (on “Something’s Coming” and“Opening Doors”) and 1:17:50–end (on “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park…).
Teaching modules: James Lapine, La Cage aux Folles, Gideon Girl

October 11: Fall Break (No class)

Week 8

October 15: Sunday… continued
Listening Quiz 5

October 18: A Chorus Line (1975)
Preparation: Read libretto (“book” and lyrics [pdf]); listen to cast recording (Streaming audio); watch the opening number at the Tony Awards (YouTube). Do NOT watch the 1985 film, which departs in many ways from the original show.
Teaching modules: CompanyRaisinJesus Christ Superstar

A Chorus Line is a quintessential “concept” musical. In three words, what is this musical “about”? Relatedly: Is this a musical that relates to you? What specific moments or characters do you identify with (or not identify with), and why?

Week 9

October 22: A Chorus Line continued
Preparation: Watch Every Little Step (Bender Library DVD)

October 26: A Chorus Line continued
Listening Quiz 6

Week 10

October 29: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961)
Preparation: Attend AU DPA’s production at the Greenberg Theatre
Second one-page response due

November 1: How to Succeed… continued
Preparation: Watch Mad Men, Episodes 1 & 2 (Bender Library DVD).

Week 11

November 5: Group presentations

November 8: No class (Prof. Blustein in Columbus, OH)

Week 12

November 12: Fiorello! (and In the Heights group presentation)
Preparation: Read libretto (on Blackboard); listen to cast recording (on Spotify)

November 15: Fiorello! continued
Preparation: Read Life with Fiorello—choose chapters 4&5 OR chapters 11&12 (, downloadable as a PDF).
Listening Quiz 7

Week 13

November 19: South Pacific (1949)
Preparation: Read play/listen to cast recording (on Blackboard).

November 22: South Pacific continued
Preparation: Read Tales of the South Pacific chapters: “Our Heroine” and “Fo’ Dolla” (Blackboard Content | 80 pages)
Listening Quiz 8

Week 14

November 26: Little Shop of Horrors (1982)
Preparation: Watch production at Constellation Theatre Company.
Third one-page response due

November 29: No class (Thanksgiving break)

Week 15

December 3: Of Thee I Sing
Preparation: Read libretto (Blackboard Course Reserves)/listen to cast recording (YouTube playlist)

December 6: Of Thee I Sing continued

  • Read/listen to excerpts of Let ’Em Eat Cake (Lyrics and libretto excerpts on Blackboard Content; cast recording in playlist above). Why was this show less successful than its predecessor?
  • Read Of Thee I Sing Act II Scene I, focusing on one particular excerpt (choose from [1] the beginning to p. 44, before Jenkins and Miss Benson’s entrance; [2] their entrance on p. 44 to p. 49, before the Newspaper Men’s entrance; or [3] from WINTERGREEN: “What’s on your mind?” to the end of the scene. Be ready to discuss how you find this operetta relevant (or not) today—in terms of musical style, storyline, politics, and the roles of those with/without power. Be specific in your examples from this scene.

Listening Quiz 9

Finals week

Tuesday, December 10, 2:30–4pm: Final exam