Great American Music: Broadway Musicals (The Great Courses) by Prof. Bill Messenger

When it comes to the Broadway Musical, I am less than well-versed, and as a music geek I feel that’s a bit of a crime.  I grew up with many of the songs from The American Songbook, those hits from the 1940s to the 1960s that became standards thanks to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.  Names like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin are a part of my repertoire.  But I know very little about the shows these songs come from, and the closer you get to the modern era, the less I know.  Solution?  The Great Courses.  They haven’t let me down yet, and this one’s no exception.

This set of lectures starts with the earliest inspirations of jazz and stage musicals, working into and beyond the Vaudevillian era and ultimately into recent decades with a primary focus from post World War I to the 1960s.  To aid the learning, examples of songs are provided through source recordings and occasionally through Prof. Messenger’s superb piano skills (and his talk-sing performances).  The end result is a foundational starting point that provides some historical and cultural context for the entertainment that became the backbone of the early 20th century between the stage and the film and record companies that mined it.

On the whole, I feel like I’ve got a far better understanding and appreciation for the early decades of this art form, so mission accomplished on that front.  I’ve also reinforced a couple of things I was never fond of to begin with (for example, West Side Story), but at least now I get their places in history.  Newly armed with this information, I should be able to better appreciate the shows themselves as I come across them.  Time will tell.

4 stars

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