"Listen to the stories, hear it in the songs" : musical theatre as queer historiography
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This dissertation takes musical theatre seriously as a historiographic practice, and considers six musicals that take the past as their subject matter in order to interrogate how these works craft their historical narratives. While there have been studies of historical drama and performance, musicals have generally been left out of that conversation, despite (or perhaps because of) their immense popularity. This project argues that not only can musicals “do” history, they offer an excellent genre for theorizing what I call “queer historiography.” While sexuality remains one category of analysis, I use “queer” to signify opposition, not simply to heterosexuality, but to heteronormativity, and normativity more broadly. Musicals’ queer historiography, then, is a way of engaging past events that challenges normativity in form as well as content; a way of productively challenging not only what we think we know about the past, but how we come to know it. Each chapter uses a different theoretical lens to guide close readings of a pair of thematically linked musicals. The first chapter considers 1776 (1969) and Assassins (1991, 2004) as challenges to official narratives of United States history. My primary lens in this chapter is form, as I analyze how musicals’ structures influence their queer historiographic potential. Chapter 2 examines two musicals that offer histories of U.S. popular culture, Gypsy (1959) and Hairspray (2002), considering how the placement of divas at the center of each show enables a historiography that is feminist as well as queer, challenging ideas about gender and sexuality while making women central to the histories they represent. In the third chapter I look to two musicals, Falsettos (1992) and Elegies: A Song Cycle (2003), which present histories of trauma while featuring overtly gay, lesbian, and queer characters. I use these two texts to theorize how musicals might not simply present history as it “really” was, but also as it might have been, thereby offering what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick terms a “reparative reading” of history. In examining each of my six case studies, I analyze specific performances as well as written texts whenever possible.