Ryan DonovanMar 7, 2023
A Critical History of Conformity
Oxford University Press 2023
Broadway has body issues.
What is a Broadway Body? Broadway has long preserved the ideology of the "Broadway Body": the hyper-fit, exceptionally able, triple-threat performer who represents how Broadway musicals favor certain kinds of bodies. Casting is always a political act, situated within a power structure that gives preference to the Broadway Body.
In Broadway Bodies: A Critical History of Conformity (Oxford UP, 2023), author Ryan Donovan explores how ability, sexuality, and size intersect with gender, race, and ethnicity in casting and performance. To understand these intersectional relationships, he poses a series of questions: Why did A Chorus Line, a show that sought to individuate dancers, inevitably make dancers indistinguishable? How does the use of fat suits in musicals like Dreamgirls and Hairspray stigmatize fatness? What were the political implications of casting two straight actors as the gay couple in La Cage aux Folles in 1983? How did deaf actors change the sound of musicals in Deaf West’s Broadway revivals? Whose bodies does Broadway cast and whose does it cast aside?
In answering these questions, Broadway Bodies tells a history of Broadway’s inclusion of various forms of embodied difference while revealing its simultaneous ambivalence toward non-conforming bodies.