Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical

Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical - Stacy Wolf I admit that I might have been kinder to this book in my rating if it were not for the fact that I sometimes harbour bitterness to the point of it being a character flaw. As with all surveys of a subject, the selection of the examples is just as telling as the analysis of the examples themselves. Wolf carefully selects two or three musicals for each decade between the 1950s and the 2000s and shows the hidden feminism in the plots. Except for one decade. The two musicals that Wolf selected for the 80s are two of my favourites, both then and now: The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Wolf proceeds to lambast them as anti-feminist travesties of the art of musical theatre. Wolf handwaves some of the blame at the conservative backlash of that decade, which is fine, but I would think it more interesting to look for feminism especially in a period of conservatism, as she does for the 1950s. (Luckily, I've calmed down a bit, in part thanks to a talk with a couple friends in which we picked apart Wolf's arguments and used the same details to argue in the opposite direction.) Wolf's hatred of the British Invasion notwithstanding, the book was very enjoyable. Several of the musicals discussed were completely unfamiliar to me, and Wolf was able to describe the plot, songs and staging in an approachable manner, and I do have a feeling I will seek out cast albums of several of them. The book culminated in an analysis of Wicked which was very enjoyable. (Coincidently, the musical was playing in my home town until last weekend, so I took the opportunity to attend a performance.) One wonderful thing that Wolf points out is that Wicked takes the conventions of hetero-romance that have long been established in the genre and uses them to illustrate the friendship between Galinda and Elphaba. (While I loved having this pointed out, it does make me uncomfortable that Wolf then labels Wicked as a queer musical. Despite the manipulation of the romantic conventions of the genre, the relationship between the girls is in no way romantic or sexual -- calling the musical queer carries with it a dismissal of women's platonic friendships.) A very enjoyable read, though I must end with a note on the editing: the number of errors in actors' names, song titles, and sometimes even the descriptions of plot and staging that form the arguments made Wolf's otherwise interesting analyses seem more than a little shaky.