Musical Theater Directors

Barbara Wallace Grossman

in The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Musical Theater Directors


The role of directors in the American musicals has evolved significantly over the years. The vision of directors shapes an entire production, which ensures the success of the theater. The partnership of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II led to significant musical development. Rodgers and Hammerstein placed new emphasis on a well-crafted book as the basis for a unified, artistic whole. Dance had always been an essential part of musicals but emerged as a key element in dramatic storytelling with the work of Agnes de Mille, who brought ballet to Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! and Carousel (1945). Some experts viewed the ascendance of the director-choreographer negatively, claiming that this “hybrid type” exercised undue influence on both script and score and always privileged dance over text. Whether director-producer, director-playwright, director-dramaturg, director-designer, or simply director, he or she was now the artistic leader of a production, no matter how collaborative the art form was. Arthur Laurents suggests that the look of the musical now is the director's look. He chooses the designers, he conveys his vision, he guides, and he edits. When the duties are divided between a director and a choreographer, then the choreographer is in charge if there is a lot of music. The musical numbers tend to be the most memorable parts of a production so the contribution of a director, as opposed to a director-choreographer, may be difficult for the average theatergoer to appreciate unless the director is also associated with some other tangible element such as the book.

Keywords: musical theater; directors; dance forms; choreographer; musical numbers

Article.  6742 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Musicology and Music History

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