1st Edition

The American Musical Evolution of an Art Form

By Ben West Copyright 2024
    428 Pages 64 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    428 Pages 64 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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.

    PART 1: Inventions, Influences, and Imports (1800s)  1. Minstrelsy  2. The Variety Show  3. The Legitimate Musical Stage  4. Ragtime and Coon Songs PART 2: Birth of an Art Form (1900-1924)  5. Vaudeville, Part One: Time and Talent  6. Vaudeville, Part Two: Tin Pan Alley  7. Vaudeville, Part Three: Sketches and Tabs  8. Burlesque  9. Bob Cole and the Black Musical Stage  10. The Early Musical Comedy  11. Revue  12. The Great Winter Garden Factory  13. The Hippodrome Shows  14. The Spectacular Musical Play  15. American Operetta  16. The Princess Musicals  17. Nightclubs, Part One: Folies Bergère, etc.  18. The Great War, Prohibition, and Women’s Suffrage  19. Jazz, Part One: The Musicians  20. Jazz, Part Two: The Musicals  21. The New Musical Comedy  22. Shuffle Along and the Black Renaissance  PART 3: Intensification (1925-1930)  23. Nightclubs, Part Two: The Plantation, etc.  24. Pleasure Bound  25. Howard Dietz and the New Revue  26. Jazz Age Musical Comedy, Part One: The Tunersmiths  27. Jazz Age Musical Comedy, Part Two: The Adventurers  28. Oscar Hammerstein II and the Musical Play  PART 4: Convention, or Maturity, Part One: Craft and Construction (1931-1950)  29. Sophisticated Revue  30. The Sophisticated Musical Stage  31. Nightclubs, Part Three: Casino de Paree, etc.  32. The African-American Exit  33. Hollywood and the Popular Song  34. The Second World War  35. Integrated Folktales  36. The Musical Comedy Stage  37. The Abbott Touch  38. Guys and Dolls  PART 5: Convention, or Maturity, Part Two: Style and Structure (1951-1970)  39. Character and Quirks and Comedy and Farce  40. The New Musical Play  41. Staging and Story  42. Nontraditional Storytelling  43. Hair vs. Your Own Thing  44. Off-Broadway  PART 6: Diminution (1971-1980)  45. Nostalgia, Revivals, and Reinventions  46. The All-Purpose Revue  47. The African-American Resurgence  48. Contemporary Sounds, Part One: Andrew Lloyd Webber, etc.  49. A Chorus Line  50. Sophisticated Storytelling  PART 7: Growing Pains, or Identity Crisis (1981-1999)  51. Dialogue, Song, and Dance  52. George C. Wolfe and the Black Musical Stage  53. Contemporary Sounds, Part Two: Jonathan Larson, etc.  54. Revivals  55. Miscellany


    Ben West is a musical theatre artist and historian. He has worked in various capacities on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regionally, and created and directed Unsung Carolyn Leigh for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series.

    “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

    “Ben West’s The American Musical is an engaging, enjoyable read for anyone who loves musical theatre. West has thoroughly explored the fascinating evolution of the art form and writes about it with great care. His passion for the subject is palpable.” –Matthew Sklar, composer of Elf and The Prom

    “If you are a fan of the American musical theatre (and if not make yourself one now!), you must add Ben West’s book to your personal library. With fresh insight and deep knowledge, he guides us through this ramshackle art form in a way no one has before.” –Douglas Carter Beane, librettist of Cinderella and Xanadu