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Our Musicals, Ourselves
A Social History of the American Musical Theatre
John Bush Jones

2003 • 426 pp. 6 x 9 1/4"
Theater & Performing Arts / Popular Culture / Musicals

$35.00 Paperback, 978-0-87451-904-4
$24.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-223-6

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“The strength of this sweeping thesis is its scope. It seeks to demonstrate and analyze how Broadway and Off-Broadway have held up a mirror to political and social currents... [continued in Reviews below]”—Playbill

The first comprehensive social history of the American musical theater

Our Musicals, Ourselves is the first full-scale social history of the American musical theater from the imported Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas of the late nineteenth century to such recent musicals as The Producers and Urinetown. While many aficionados of the Broadway musical associate it with wonderful, diversionary shows like The Music Man or My Fair Lady, John Bush Jones instead selects musicals for their social relevance and the extent to which they engage, directly or metaphorically, contemporary politics and culture.

Organized chronologically, with some liberties taken to keep together similarly themed musicals, Jones examines dozens of Broadway shows from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present that demonstrate numerous links between what played on Broadway and what played on newspapers’ front pages across our nation. He reviews the productions, lyrics, staging, and casts from the lesser-known early musicals (the “gunboat” musicals of the Teddy Roosevelt era and the “Cinderella shows” and “leisure time musicals” of the 1920s) and continues his analysis with better-known shows including Showboat, Porgy and Bess, Oklahoma, South Pacific, West Side Story, Cabaret, Hair, Company, A Chorus Line, and many others.

While most examinations of the American musical focus on specific shows or emphasize the development of the musical as an art form, Jones’s book uses musicals as a way of illuminating broader social and cultural themes of the times. With six appendixes detailing the long-running diversionary musicals and a foreword by Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist of Fiddler on the Roof, Jones’s comprehensive social history will appeal to both students and fans of Broadway.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“The strength of this sweeping thesis is its scope. It seeks to demonstrate and analyze how Broadway and Off-Broadway have held up a mirror to political and social currents in American society at large. But the fun comes from showing how events and trends in widely separated decades all sprang from similar currents of thought. By looking at the entire continuum of musicals as a single ongoing dialog between Broadway and America, the book serves up fresh insights and eyebrow-raising parallels on each page. It starts in the 19th century and runs right up 2001’s Urinetown, from which it concludes that the political musical remains alive and well.”—Playbill

Our Musical, Ourselves . . . may foreshadow a new era in the study of the musical . . . [an] accessible read . . . [a] must read for the musical theatre scholar... a text that finally fills the void of a needed comprehensive history of the musical that, more importantly, places each musical squarely in the context of the time in which it was created.”—Theatre History Studies

“[A]n overview of the American musical for the entire twentieth century . . . a strength of the book, in addition to the author’s obvious enthusiasm for his subject matter, is that it has something to say about dozens of shows not even mentioned by [other] authors.”—Kurt Weill Newsletter

“The very fact that [Our Musicals, Ourselves] looks at potential interfaces between social and political developments and the Broadway musical is laudable . . . The study’s expansive scope, its attempts at connecting historical narrative with a narrative of genre evolution, as well as Jones’s near encyclopedic knowledge of social and political themes in Broadway productions provide an excellent starting point for further analysis of specific periods, sub-genres, and issues in American musical theater.”—American Studies

“[An] excellent survey... Recommended.”—
Opera Journal

Chicago's haul at the Oscars and the box office makes this an auspicious time for three new surveys of American musical theater. Our Musicals, Ourselves is the most interesting of the bunch. Author John Bush Jones pairs the history of musicals with that of America itself”—Variety

“An excellent overview of the American musical, its history, its significance and its influence, told in a most entertaining way. A truly admirable work.”Joseph Stein, playwright, Fiddler on the Roof

From the Book:

Our Musicals, Ourselves excavates cultural information from dozens of shows, first-run and revivals, serious and frivolous, over the course of the twentieth century. Jones, interpreting these shows through a historical lens, enables us to see them with new eyes. More importantly he teaches us to see them not simply as vehicles of transient pleasure but as social documents that help to tell us who we were and who we are—as individuals, as members of a community, as citizens of a nation.”—From the Foreword

Author Photo

JOHN BUSH JONES is a retired Professor of Theater Arts at Brandeis University. He has written theater criticism for numerous journals and newspapers, including the Boston Phoenix, the Kansas City Star, the Boston Herald, and the New England Theater Journal. He has directed dozens of musicals in professional, community, and university theaters.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:08:09 -0500