The Song Is You: Musical Theatre and the Politics of Bursting into Song and Dance

Bradley Rogers

2020

University Of Iowa Press

Musicals, it is often said, burst into song and dance when mere words can no longer convey the emotion. This book argues that musicals burst into song and dance when one body can no longer convey the emotion. Rogers shows how the musical’s episodes of burlesque and minstrelsy model the kinds of radical relationships that the genre works to create across the different bodies of its performers, spectators, and creators every time the musical bursts into song. These radical relationships—borne of the musical’s obsessions with “bad” performances of gender and race—are the root of the genre’s progressive play with identity, and thus the source of its subcultural power. However, this leads to an ethical dilemma: Are the musical’s progressive politics thus rooted in its embrace of regressive entertainments like burlesque and minstrelsy?

The Song Is You shows how musicals return again and again to this question, and grapple with a guilt that its joyous pleasures are based on exploiting the laboring bodies of its performers. Rogers argues that the discourse of “integration”—which claims that songs should advance the plot—has functioned to deny the radical work that the musical undertakes every time it transitions into song and dance. Looking at musicals from The Black Crook to Hamilton, Rogers confronts the gendered and racial dynamics that have always under-girded the genre, and asks how we move forward.