The American musicals theaters have always reflected the time in which these musicals were performed. They represented the American spirit, as well as its mores and morals.
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The American sprite is a philosophy of being American. It ensures that there is Life, Liberty and a Pursuit of Happiness for every citizen without any discrimination. This essay analyzes the American musicals between 1920s and 1990s. In this essay it is argued that even in inconsistent, uncertain, and troublesome times, the American spirit was able to keep the nation alive and the country was able to prosper.
The musicals were very famous in America till 1960s. They represented American spirit from time to time. “Show Boat” (1927) is one of the most popular musical, its popularity was so immense that it is the only musical that is still performed today (Kenrick). The plot is a story of three generations, which represents a time span of 40 years in late the nineteenth and earlier twentieth century. The plot symbolizes the times of great depression and is associated with the image of the Mississippi river.
During these turbulent times, the Americans were shifting ideological identities and were ready to accept African Americans after the American civil war.
For the first time, African Americans, Whites, Native Americans, and mixed race performers performed together in “Show Boat”, and there was a combination of black chorus and white chorus.
A Native American was found to be in love with a white American. Such combination showed that Americans were ready to accept people from all races, without any kind of discrimination, and they were ready to give them equal rights.
The nation realized that the rights of the people must not be subjugated. Joe and Queenie are represented as African American workers. Show Boat is a voice against the racial prejudice of the fellow countrymen, and the consequences of the injustices of the society. Joe, who toils as a worker at Mississippi river, is shown in the lyrics of “Ol’ Man River”.
These lyrics were specifically made to show the sufferings and the hardships of the African Americans. Another song, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”, is also based on the same theme. The dark history of subjection was over, and the nation was now forward looking and progressive (Kreuger).
In 1960, another huge success was Camelot. It was based on King Arthur’s legend. This musical is associated with President John F. Kennedy and his wife because after the assassination of Kennedy, the former first lady called her husband as “The American Camelot”. This reference was made because Camelot was associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
According to the medieval historians and romances, King Arthur was a Britain’s leader and a legendary figure during fifth and the sixth century, who was successful in defending the nation from the forces of the Saxon invaders. Even today the story exists in several folklores, and the concept of round table is still considered as symbol of equality and unity (Loewe and Lerner).
In the end of the musical, half of the knights died. However, their sacrifices resulted in the defeat of the antagonists. The lyrics of “Guenevere” questions why Arthur has chosen the time of dawn to behead Guenevere. The chorus suggested that Arthur will soon return and the dawn will fill the sky and the evil forces of the world will fail. Arthur in the end of the story meets Tom, who wants to join the Round Table.
Arthur was inspired with Tom and he sends him back to England so that he stands for the ideals of Camelot. The lyrics of Reprise showed that there is a dawn after every night, and each day begins with a new hope of pride and joy. The musical showed that the nation was behind its leaders, and if the knights were losing their lives, they were helping the nation to succeed. This is the main reason that Kennedy is associated with this theme.
Another musical, “Barnum”, depicts a life of an American performer who has been fulfilling his duties of entertaining others in a circus. The musical presents the entire story of P. T. Barnum in a manner that it depicts American moral in terms of family and surviving in a fast-paced economy of the world.
The musical projects the real life stories of P. T. Barnum and people with whom he has been living. Among different characters that have helped the musical to project the spirit of Americans and their morals include Jenny Lind and P. T. Barnum’s wife Charity.
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The musical was presented in 1880s that is considered to be an era of change in the social aspects of Americans. The musical projects those mighty changes that were to happen during early 1990s in America. P. T. Barnum’s life was full of haphazard as he did not have a job that helped him earn his bread and butter. The lyrics “The Colors of My Life” also show that his life is full of colors, and there will be a bright future waiting for him. “So little time” is another lyric that represent the happiness of life.
As performed in the musical, Barnum was pushed by his wife to take up a job which was suitable for his family’s standard in the society. However, Barnum has lived a life of a performer as it was his natural talent. In order to live his life in a way that he could fulfill his desires which is a characteristic of American spirit, he started performing at the circus.
As soon as he came in contact with the people at the circus, he left his family behind for the sake of Linda because he started to fancy her. The play has helped the American spirit to evolve in 1990s as it showed a saddened account of family system and no financial stability during 1880s (Crawford). This musical also showed that even in the troublesome times, the people are able to progress.
It is found that these musicals represented the American spirit and morals. The nation was able to come out from the troubles of the time as a forward looking and progressive nation. Now the Americans provide equal opportunities to all the citizens. Everyone has equal chance to pursue and prosper.
Each individual respect the rights of others. Now the people of the nation are proud to be Americans. The musicals of the twentieth century depict the American spirit in true sense. Finally, these musicals have shown that the nation is moving towards a path of happiness. The nation stands against injustice and has come out of the turbulent times because of this American spirit.
Crawford, Richard. The American musical landscape: the business of muscianship from Billings to Gershwin. London: University of California Press, 2000.
Kenrick, John. The Musical Theatre: A History. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2008.
Kreuger, Miles. Show boat: the story of a classic American musical. New York: Da Capo Press, 1990.
Loewe, Frederick and Alan Jay Lerner. Camelot: a new musical. Random House, 1961.