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Race and Gender in the Broadway Chorus

by Van Aken, Kellee Rene

Abstract (Summary)
Throughout the history of the American musical, the chorus, has remained a key component in the foundation of the form. The anonymous men and women who sing and dance help create the spectacle that is an intrinsic part of the musical. While the chorus line of fifty that characterized the revues in the early part of the twentieth century has dwindled, for economic and aesthetic reasons, it has not disappeared. The role of the chorus has changed from a titillating backdrop for headlining stars to an accomplished ensemble of dancer/singers who may be the featured performers in their own right. This dissertation creates a cultural history of the chorus as it has evolved from the The Black Crook in 1866 to the beginning of the twenty first-century. Specifically, how have the issues of sexuality, gender, race and class affected the development of the chorus? Chapter one is an overview of the history of the Broadway chorus, beginning with a brief look at the origins of the chorus in Greek drama, through various dance trends, the popularity of the revue, and the emergence of director/choreographers and their influence on the form. Chapter two investigates how gender informed the construction of the image of chorus girls and boys, and how that image was manipulated through the years to reflect social concerns and anxieties around the issue of changing gender roles. Along with the schism created by the performance of gender in the chorus, the performance of race also marks a serious divide in the American musical theatre world. Chapter three examines the history of African-American performers in the chorus. The chorus is one small, but significant, component of a musical. Yet, this usually anonymous group of performers has often figured as the subject of the story in a medium that admittedly, enjoys talking, singing and dancing about itself. The final chapter of this study looks at how the chorus as a subject functions in the musical by focusing on four examples that span fifty-two years: Allegro (1947), A Chorus Line (1975), and 42nd Street (1981), and Contact (1999).
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Dr. Attilio Favorini; Dr. Kiki Gounaridou; Dr. Jane Feuer; Dr. Kathy George; Dr. Lynne Conner

School:University of Pittsburgh

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:theater arts

ISBN:

Date of Publication:01/30/2007

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