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Stephen Sondheim and the Reinvention of the American Musical$
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Robert L. McLaughlin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781496808554

Published to University Press of Mississippi: September 2018

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781496808554.001.0001

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date: 22 May 2019

Instructions to the Audience

Instructions to the Audience

(p.3) One Instructions to the Audience
Stephen Sondheim and the Reinvention of the American Musical

Robert L. McLaughlin

University Press of Mississippi

This chapter establishes the overlapping contexts of the exhaustion of the Rodgers and Hammerstein-style musical and postmodernism and places Sondheim’s work within them. It begins by offering a definition of postmodernism, focusing on self-referentiality, intertextuality, and performativity. It then provides an aesthetic overview of the American musical with special attention to the musical-comedy era and the Rodgers and Hammerstein era. In the musical comedy, narrative is simultaneously central and irrelevant, a contradictory aesthetic communicated by proto-postmodern characteristics. In Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! the songs are justified by the narrative and the characters. The musical comedy’s proto-postmodern characteristics are repressed in favor of realism. This chapter then offers a brief biographical sketch of Sondheim, showing his mentoring by Oscar Hammerstein and examines two of his works from this period: Do I Hear a Waltz? and Evening Primrose.

Keywords:   Sondheim, Musical theater, Postmodernism, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Evening Primrose

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