Douglas L. Reside, "Fixing the Musical: How Technologies Shaped the Broadway Repertory" (Oxford UP, 2023)


Thousands of shows have opened on Broadway. Why do we remember some and not others?

The musical theatre repertory is not composed of titles popular in the theatre but by those with successful cast recordings, movie versions, or even illegal bootlegs on YouTube. The shows audiences know, and the texts and music they expect to hear when they attend a production, are defined by media consumed at home more than by memories of performances witnessed in the theatre. For example, author Doug Reside shows that it is no accident that the serious book musical with a fixed score developed in the 1940s - when commercially pressed and marketed record albums made it possible to record most of the score of a new musical in a fixed medium. And Hamilton, a musical with dense lyrics and revolutionary musical style, would not have been as easily accessible to world audiences if most hadn't already had the opportunity to learn the score by listening to free digital streams of the original cast recording.

The technologies that made these media possible developed concurrently with and shaped the American musical as an art form. Reside uncovers how the affordances and limitations of these technologies established a repertory of titles that are most frequently performed and defined by the texts used in these performances. Fixing the Musical: How Technologies Shaped the Broadway Repertory (Oxford UP, 2023) argues that the musicals we most remember are those which most effectively used their era's best recording and distribution technologies to document and share the work with those who would never see the original production on Broadway.

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Pete Kunze

Peter C. Kunze is a visiting assistant professor of communication at Tulane University.

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