Broadway helped Jews gain acceptance, researcher saysDecember 11, 2002
The Broadway musical served as a means to social acceptance for first- and second-generation immigrant Jews in the United States, says University of Toronto English professor Andrea Most who is just completing the book Making Americans on Broadway: Jews and the American Musical.
Jewish American playwrights and composers used the New York theatre scene as a way to figure out their place in American culture and society, she says. "Almost all the American musicals in the 20th century were written by Jews and I believe that the most compelling reason for this is that the musical offers a lot of strategies for exploring and performing new identities theatrically."
In her research, Most examined the works of Irving Berlin, Dorothy Fields, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, George and Ira Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein, among others. These composers were deeply affected by the rewards, anxieties and realities of assimilation and this concern is clearly illustrated in the plays and musicals they produced.
"For example, in the musical South Pacific there are all kinds of arguments in the play on what it means to be American, what it's like to be an ethnic outsider and how race and ethnicity define who can be an American," she says. "The musical theatre, particularly its 'Americanness' and Jewish origins, hasn't been studied in depth by academics before."
Most, whose book will be published by Harvard University Press in 2003, received grants from U of T, Brandeis University, the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as a Connaught Foundation start-up grant.
-end-CONTACT: Professor Andrea Most, English department, 416-946-8972, firstname.lastname@example.org or Michah Rynor, U of T public affairs, 416-978-2104, email@example.com
University of Toronto
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