Tamsen Wolff

in The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780195385946
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks


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The article emphasizes the unique and distinct features of musical theaters. Live theater involves performers, spectators, and performance material that it is an immediate, transient, embodied, and unpredictable medium. The relationship between an audience and musical theater is different from straight theater in at least two ways such as in the communication, circulation, and shelf life of musical numbers and in a pronounced focus in musicals on communal action, thematically, musically, and choreographically. The significant musical theater conventions are to ensemble singing and matching choreography. The characters express themselves simultaneously, and the build-up of a number to a simultaneous performance is often a dramatic event itself. A crowded, synchronized musical number on stage is also different from the same big number performed on screen. Performers' singing and dancing skills are also exposed in the present tense, embodied theater. The frequent movement among the basic dramatic elements of speech, song, and dance in musical theater underscores many abilities of the performers on stage and repeatedly reminds the audience that they are watching a performance. A character becomes most articulate and emotionally truthful in song and dance. Songs that are characters' truthful asides or confessionals to the audience can allow audiences to feel closer to the characters and their dilemmas during musical numbers.

Keywords: musical theaters; dramatic elements; musical number; choreography; communal action; ensemble singing

Article.  4499 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Musicology and Music History

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