Transposing Broadway: Jews, Assimilation, and the American by Stuart J. Hecht (auth.)

By Stuart J. Hecht (auth.)

Hecht examines the connection among Jewish assimilation and the altering face of the yankee musical notwithstanding the 20 th century and into the twenty-first century.

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Sample text

One thinks of integration—integration of book, music, and dance. Establishing the book musical prototype, Rodgers and Hammerstein in Oklahoma! included a mish-mash of high and low culture, and notoriously wove in a ballet to forward the plot. But in the same breath Rodgers and Hammerstein were exploring societal 34 Transposing Broadway integration. Hammerstein’s libretti established a blueprint for assimilation, a model they religiously followed, as did their imitators throughout the book musical’s heyday.

The primary couple, Curly and Laurie, are again romantic, serious, and WASP; the music they sing together are ballads, and Laurie even flirts with operetta, as suggested earlier. Will and Ado Annie, the secondary couple, enjoy a relationship built on sex, are comedic, and also are WASP. Halfway through the show Oklahoma! ’s couples reshuffle against type. Ado Annie is tempted by Ali Hakim, a thinly veiled Jewish character: sexual, comedic, and decidedly ethnic. Jud wins a date with Laurie. Jud is lecherous, serious, and, though not ethnic, decidedly an outsider.

6 Assimilation and Dramatic Configurations 33 PART TWO: MOVIN’ ON UP Second Generation Jews in Particular The musical’s ascension corresponded to the emergence of New York City’s Jewish audience. In America since colonial days, Jews did not publicly assert their ethnicity until the late nineteenth century. They mostly descended from German Jews, highly Westernized, who sought acceptance through a degree of invisibility. The late nineteenth century’s mass migration of Eastern European Jews, however, forced change in this public persona.

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