2nd Edition

A History of the American Musical Theatre No Business Like It

By Nathan Hurwitz Copyright 2025
    266 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    266 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    From the diverse proto-musicals of the mid-1800s, through the revues of the 1920s, the ‘true musicals’ of the 1940s, the politicization of the 1960s, the ‘mega-musicals’ of the 1980s, and the explosive jukebox musicals of the 2010s and ‘20s, every era in American musical theatre reflected a unique set of socio-cultural factors. This new edition has been brought up to date to include musicals from the last ten years, reflecting on the impact of Covid-19 and the state of the contemporary musical theatre industry.


    Author Nathan Hurwitz uses these factors to explain the output of each decade in turn, showing how the most popular productions spoke directly to the audiences of the time. He explores the function of musical theatre as commerce, tying each big success to the social and economic realities in which it flourished. This textbook guides students from the earliest spectacles and minstrel shows to contemporary musicals such as Hadestown, Six, and Back to the Future. It traces the trends of this most commercial of art forms from the perspective of its audiences, explaining how staying in touch with writers and producers strove to stay in touch with these changing moods. Each chapter deals with a specific decade, introducing the main players, the key productions, and the major developments in musical theatre during that period. This new edition has been updated to include the 2010s and 2020s, including the impact of Covid-19 on the American Musical Theatre industry, and new features such as end-of-chapter questions for class discussions.


    Ideal for undergraduate students of Musical Theatre, this is the most comprehensive and accessible guide to the history of the American Musical from the mid-1800s to the present day.



    Setting the stage

    1          A Very Good Place to Start: The Beginning, up to the 18th Century

    2          Setting the Stage: Early Musical Theatre in America, 1735-1865



    3          First Stirrings 1866-1902

    4          The Turn of the Century: A New Era of Great American Songwriters begins, 1900-1907


    The first act

    5          The Princess and the Great Revues, 1907-1920

    6          The Jazz Age, 1920-1929 – A Period of Great Songwriters



    7          A Double Whammy – 1929-1939 – The Great Depression and Talking Movies Threaten the Broadway Musical       


    The second act

    8          A Bright Golden Haze – The American Musical Comes of Age – 1939-1945

    9          The Golden Age: An Era of Great Musical Dramatists – 1945-1964


    Second intermission         

    10        The Search for Relevancy -1964-1970


    The third act

    11        New Directions – 1970-1982

    12        Joint Ventures and Mega-Musicals – British Rule 1982-1993           

    13        The Corporate Musical 1993-2001   



    14        Recovery and the New Millennium 2001-2013

    15        Well Underway, But Headed Towards Where? 2013 – Today


    Dr. Nathan Hurwitz spent 25+ years as a Musical Theatre conductor on Broadway and around the world. Having received his BFA from NYU, his Master's from Northwestern University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, he has been on faculty of Syracuse University, NYU, the University of Pittsburgh, and NSULA, and is currently a tenured professor at Rider University, USA. He is the author of Songwriters of the American Musical Theatre: A Style Guide for Singers (2017).

    Praise for the first edition...

    "Although not the first such history, it is one of the best and most approachable I've read." - The Stage 

    "Hurwitz (Rider Univ.) presents a straightforward, well-organized account of the history of the Broadway musical stage.  After introducing the European roots of musical theater, he begins his formal New World narrative with stage activities in pre–Revolutionary America and continues through to the early months of 2014 (though his account of recent years seems primarily a listing show by show).  Hurwitz does a good job emphasizing business aspects, relating musicals to the changing social environment, and comparing shows from one period to another. Summing Up: Recommended." - R. D. Johnson, SUNY College at Oneonta, CHOICE