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Publisher's Summary

Rodgers and Hart. George and Ira Gershwin. Cole Porter. Lerner and Loewe. For most people who've grown up with and shared America's musical heritage, great songs open the floodgates to memories and feelings. Perhaps nowhere is this more profound than in the world of Broadway musicals, with their iconic melodies and memorable lyrics.

Revisit the standards, originally written for the stage, that have both delighted and helped mend the broken hearts of Americans for decades. These 16 delightful lectures immerse you in the world of Broadway, exploring the intricacies of musical composition and song construction-and how they were used to create specific effects - as well as the social and historical backdrop against which musical theater must be considered.

Much as we often concentrate on the so-called "golden age" of the 1950s, American musical theater spans the history of two vibrant centuries: the era of the minstrel show-whose contributions to American music were immense, in spite of the embarrassment we still feel at many of its images-vaudeville, ragtime, the revue; and the age of fully integrated book musicals launched by the 1927 production of Show Boat.

With examples at the piano, Professor Messenger shows you the soundtrack of America - and for millions of us, the soundtrack of our lives. This insightful and sublimely enjoyable learning experience can forever change the way you experience musical theater.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2006 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2006 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Joshua
  • ASBURY, NJ, United States
  • 10-13-13

More than just a lesson on Musical Theatre!!!

This fabulous course gives an excellent history of the American musical with the focus placed firmly where it should be... on the music. Professor Messenger's voice is relaxing and knowledge is impressive. He paints the picture of history with both facts and narrative but also gives the audience a taste of the music he is describing through his on piano renditions, recordings from the period, and reconstructed recordings where no original recording exists. As a theatre artist and musical theatre professional, I found this course to be both edifying and enjoyable, which are the two things that any great piece of theatre should be. For this course is more then just a lesson on musical theatre it is a piece of theatre itself.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Jb
  • FAIRBORN, OH, United States
  • 07-08-16

mostly pre 1950 Broadway

About 14 lessons are spent covering the Broadways that are pre 1950, about 60 years worth, and then in the last 2 lessons he covered the most recent 60 years. If you're interested in learning about Broadway productions that you grew up with in the last 60 years, this is not for you.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Sing Along Worthwhile

I learned more about music theory than I ever expected. I learned more about Black-Face and minstrel shows than I would have thought possible. Without the rights, the lecturer was unable to present "all the classics" but he found remarkable ways through interviews and related content to present an astonishing amount of material. An exceptionally informative overview for both novice and fan.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

An eye opening listen.

For one who is not versed or trained in music, I found Professor Messengers' lectures not only informative and enlightening, but also quite entertaining. I have listened to them twice and will venture into them many more times.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Kelly
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 01-16-14

Great lecture. Lousy singing.

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Professor Messenger is an entertaining lecturer, but for this audio recording he should've hired a friend or asked one of his students to do the singing. He sings about half of the songs himself. He doesn't even sing them, in fact. He speaks them. After the historical build-up, the listener aches to hear a rousing rendition, but we must suffer through Messenger's interpretations. It stops the show cold every time.

How could the performance have been better?

The author should've gotten a singer to interpret the songs for him.

Could you see Great American Music: Broadway Musicals being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

Ken Burns should definitely do a documentary on the subject.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great music, trivia and history

I loved this series. Professor Messenger has a wealth of knowledge, a pleasant voice, a trove of old recordings and a cast of musicians and singers on call.

We learned of the origins of musical theater in revues, minstrel shows and musicals.

Many different performers, composers and lyricists are discussed, including Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and many more. Andrew Lloyd Weber even rates a bit of discussion in the last lecture.

I learned a lot, and I loved listening to the music.

As a person who has never taken any sort of music class, there were parts of two lectures that I didn't fully understand. Professor Messenger discussed phrasing (AABC, AABB, and/or some other patterns that I couldn't hear) and he discussed blue notes, which I think I did understand.

Those were the only even moderately technical discussions. The rest of the series involved history, themes, current events, race relations in the theater and the world, as well as other topics easily understood by anyone.

I am sure that I will listen to this very enjoyable series again.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Kristi R.
  • Milwaukie, OR, United States
  • 11-09-13

Great overview of American Musicals

Would you listen to Great American Music: Broadway Musicals again? Why?

I think I will. The Professor is engaging and plays music, sings and uses old recordings to keep you listening. I liked his inside stories on the different eras and his insights on some of the historical aspects of theater in America.

What did you like best about this story?

I learned things about the theater I didn't know. It made me realize that judging people in the past by the way we think nowadays is wrong. We have come along way, but without those in blackface making a living in the theater, it may have died before I got to enjoy it.

What about Professor Bill Messenger’s performance did you like?

His playing and singing of some great songs.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Too long for that but just perfect for about 45 minutes a day.

Any additional comments?

My husband's grandmother was in the Gaiety Girls in England and came to America in 1915.
She never went back and was in some early shows on Broadway. I am a fan of Musicals and wanted to gain more insight on what the life was like in the early days. Excellent course!

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • McCoffee
  • Pretoria, South Africa
  • 02-11-16

Thought it might be boring, but no way

I really thought it might be a bore, but it paints such a great picture of the history of 20th century music, not only the broadway musical. Professor Messenger is super articulate, but natural too. Plays the piano to give us snippets of songs, adds a little musical theory. No probably for the first time in my life, I want to go explore these musicals.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

More conservative than I expected

Tons of fascinating information, elegantly delivered, about (mostly) the history of the American musical from the 19th century to 1920-1940ish. I can't give it a full five stars, though, because after lots of buildup, he completely ignores Showboat (!), is oddly dismissive of Steven Sondheim (!!), and really hates Cabaret. I fully expected a lecture about how Showboat changed musical history, but instead he jumps from a discussion of songwriters (Kern, Gershwin) straight to "musicals of the 40s"--emphasis on Oklahoma!--and never circles back. He discusses the motif of the schlemiel and the schlimazel without actually explaining the terms! So I'd recommend it for people with some knowledge already of musical history and the Great American Songbook--the 19th century info is GREAT, and takes up most of the lectures--but there are a few too many head-spinning leaps for me to recommend it unreservedly to a newcomer. BONUS WARNING: The lecturer is apparently in his sixties, and clearly means well, but he has a habit of referring to "the blacks" in a way that I found consistently jarring. Younger listeners, and nonwhite listeners, might want to mentally adjust for the age of the lecturer's idioms.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Simba
  • Serengeti
  • 04-14-17

Stuck in ancient history

Most attention is payed to the works from the beginning of 20th century. Just as many other books on Broadway, this sounds largely as if musical theatre stopped after 1960s. British and Disney shows are snubbed, as usual, out of modern ones only Wicked is payed any attention (and it's not all that modern anyway).

1 of 1 people found this review helpful