For my essay, I am going to look at the attitudes towards women, both from men and other women, and the significant role that that women had in telling the stories in American musical theatre.
Showboat was the first musical of its kind. Up to this point, musicals consisted of songs and dances, with often feeble storylines based around the big stars. Showboat had a real story, adapted from a novel, and both the singing and dancing told the story.At the beginning of Showboat, after we have been introduced to the main characters, we hear the main female characters attitude towards men and love.'Fish got to swim, birds got to fly,I got to love one man till I die.Can't help lovin' dat man of mine.
'Julie seems like a surrogate mother to Magnolia, giving her advice, as we see Magnolia's relationship with her own mother is very strained. Parthy doesn't want her daughter to have anything to do with the stage or Ravenal, the two things her daughter is most passionate about. Julie, on the other hand, just offers Magnolia advice and listens to her. We see Magnolia and Parthy's differences highlighted by the composer's use of the perfect fourth to show Magnolias closeness with the river, and the augmented fourth or tritone to show Parthy's distance from the river and its ideals.Parthy's tritone.Magnolia's piano theme.
We see a mother-daughter relationship, where the mother wants one thing for her daughter and her daughter wants the opposite.The action in the musical then jumps forward and we see a now married Magnolia, destitute in a boarding house. She has been abandoned by Ravenal, just as her mother predicted. We then see Julie, now an alcoholic, who has also been abandoned by her husband.
Magnolia comes to audition for a job where Julie is working. She sings 'can't help lovin' dat man' and Julie leaves her job so Magnolia can have it. Magnolia doesn't see Julie, but Julie supports her in this way. The musical ends happily, with Magnolia, Ravenal and their daughter Kim being reunited.Showboat was totally revolutionary, and tackled issues that had never been looked at through this medium before.
It paved the way for all kinds of other issues to do with women to be looked at.Porgy and Bess was a totally new concept. Not only did it have a black cast, but it showed the life that these people were living, a totally new idea to the wealthy, white audiences of Broadway. It showed a new section of society's attitude towards women. The musical starts with a woman singing 'Summertime,' to lull her baby to sleep. When this fails, her husband has a try.
He sings 'A woman is a sometime thing', this song shows the attitude of the men towards their women in the community, that they are less respected than men.Bess is clearly outside the close-knit Catfish Row community. She is a bar girl and drug addict, who is in total contrast to the stereotypical, hard-working, religious women of Catfish Row. Crown (Bess' partner) kills a gambling partner and leaves Bess in Catfish Row while he runs away from the police. Porgy and Bess become a couple, and we see Bess changing. She starts to dress like the women of Catfish Row and gives money to help bury Clara's husband (who Crown killed).
The women's attitude towards her changes and they stop seeing her as a tart and start looking at her as a friend.Bess doesn't have a theme of her own, instead adopting part of the theme of whoever she's with.Porgy's loneliness theme.The loneliness theme that she 'absorbs' is used by Gershwin to show that Bess' love can take away Porgy's loneliness.
Later this theme 'adoption' is used to link Bess with Sportin' life. We are also shown Bess' dependence on other people as she doesn't sing a song on her own. By using Porgy's range of a perfect fifth (used throughout the musical to show community and togetherness) she shows that she is starting to fit in.Then her past catches up with her in the form of Crown who wants her back. Porgy fights Crown and kills him; both men are fighting for Bess' love.
Porgy gets taken away and Sportin' life force-feeds Bess drugs. She gets hooked again and follows Sportin' life to New York. This shows a lack of confidence in herself; she feels she has to be with someone. She is in total contrast to other female characters in musicals, such as Magnolia.At a time when women were treated as second class, this musical broke the mould by showing the integral role that women play in certain communities.
This became a continuing trend.At the start of Carousel, and in total contrast to some of the other female leads, Julie seems very naï¿½ve. She is a working girl who falls head over heels in love with Billy, a carousel worker and 'bad boy.' At this point we are also introduced to Carrie, Julie's friend and direct opposite.
Carrie guesses about Julies feelings for Billy and reveals her intention to marry Mr Snow.'But now that I love him,My heart's in my noseAnd fish is my fav-'rit perfume.'It seems from this that, for her, marriage is a way of bettering herself, whereas Julie is marrying for love, although she doesn't tell Billy till it's too late.In Carousel, there are several 'taboo' subjects, the first being 'the older woman,' the second being domestic violence. The carousel owner becomes jealous of the relationship between Billy and Julie, we guess this is because she wants him for herself.
When it becomes apparent she can't have him, she fires him. After Billy and Julie get married, Julie reveals to Carrie that Billy has been hitting her, as he is out of work and angry.Carrie and Mr Snow are now engaged and we see evidence of how their marriage is going to be, when Mr Snow interrupts Carries singing. Billy mistreats Julie in many ways but he never does that.
Many musicals have an older woman authoritative character who, even in a male dominated area seems to be respected and taken seriously. In Carousel this is Nettie, and I have highlighted other examples throughout my essay.Julie tells Billy that she is pregnant, and then the story kills Billy off. Everyone's attitude towards her changes when she becomes a widow and she has to raise their daughter on her own.Their daughter becomes a rebel and is looked down on by the other children and their parents because of her father's criminal background. She meets her father, when he returns to earth.
She is naturally suspicious of him and this leads to a confrontation between them, where Billy slaps her. Although it feels like a kiss, he alienates another woman in his life because of his violence. The musical ends happily with everyone reconciled and Billy and Julie finally telling each other how they feel.This kind of violence onstage was new. It was then and still is now, pushed under the carpet and Carousel helped to bring it to everyone's attention.Kiss me Kate was based on the Shakespeare play, 'The Taming of the Shrew.
' Whilst at the time of the first performance the attitudes towards women were acceptable, they aren't anymore, and questions are now asked about whether the musical should still be performed.Kiss me Kate has a strong older woman character, Hattie, who starts all the action off.In the musical, Lilli is practically held hostage and forced to keep on acting. Within the play, she is beaten by Petruchio and says a speech that puts women down.'I'm ashamed that women are so simple,To offer war where they should ask for peace,Or seek to rule, supremacy and sway,When they are bound to serve, love, honour and obey.The total attitude towards women in the musical is summed up in a song that was originally written for the musical but wasn't used in the final version.
'A woman's career, ev'rybody agrees,Can equal the best with the greatest of ease.''But her life is a failure, at least in her heart,If she can't hold her man.'Summed up, the attitude towards women in this musical is that women aren't anything without men. Many people, nowadays, object to this attitude, especially when it seems to be advocated by the lead female character, and many people feel that the play, along with its musical counterpart, should no longer be performed.Eliza Doolittle is the lead female character in 'My Fair Lady.' She's a flower seller, who in typical fashion, wants to be a lady.
She meets Professor Higgins who says he can teach her to speak and act like a lady. He is a confirmed bachelor, as we see in his song 'I'm an Ordinary man' which also shows his attitude towards women:'But, let a woman in your life,And patience hasn't got a chance,She will beg you for advice; your reply will be concise,And she will listen very nicely, and then go outAnd do exactly what she wants!!!He enlists the help of another man, to help with Eliza, and we see them forming an attitude towards her based on ageism, classism and sexism. She is put down by the two men, who refuse to let her eat until she speaks 'properly.' They treat her like a child.
Despite all this, we see, through her music that Eliza is a strong and independent woman. Her rhythms are totally different to anyone else's, although the story does bring a change. Eliza and Higgins' rhythms change to be more like each other's.a. Just you waitb. Without youc.
I'm an Ordinary Mand. I've Grown Accustomed to Her FaceThese developments hint that two very independent characters are becoming dependant on one another.The housekeeper plays an integral role. She is an older female character who has the most control over all the musicals characters. At a time when women were supposed to defer to a mans opinion, she is the most controlling force over Higgins. She nags him about Eliza and makes all the household decisions.
'A Little Nightmusic' is the most recent of the musicals I have chosen to study, but although it was written in 1973, by Stephen Sondheim, it is set historically before most of the other musicals. It centres on several main characters and their complicated relationships. We see three (all female) generations, the daughter knows nothing, the mother knows too little, and the grandmother knows too much.The complex relationships lead to intense jealousy and hurt. The men take on a typically, chivalrous role in trying to protect their woman's honour, whilst at the same time trying to steal someone else's woman. The women all view each other with jealousy and suspicion.
The men's attitude towards women is summed up in the song 'In praise of women.''Women, women....
...Understanding and reliable,Knowing their place,Insufferable, yes, but gentle,Their weaknesses are incidental,A functional yet ornamental race.'This was a typical attitude for the time period it was set in, but out of place in the liberal seventies.
In conclusion, the attitude towards women has changed and developed with that in the developed world. Musicals have both reflected this, whilst at the same time maintaining a continuity of strong female characters. Musicals, whilst being looked at as 'light entertainment,' constantly looked at new issues, often to do with women, to challenge their audiences and society at large.The role women played was obviously integral to the musical's stories as well as also in raising these issues. The roles women played varied widely from mother, daughter, strong, weak, and authoratitive. The issues varied from domestic violence to single parents, and forced society to pay attention to the way these were affecting women's lives.
This focus helped play a part in getting equal rights for women and reflects on the society we have today.