There’s Nothing Like a Broadway Show: An examination of musical theater in American culture

Plan Author

  • Emily Cox, 2013

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Tutorial: American Musicals in Social Consciousness: creation of a musical revue and critical essay
  • Tutorial: Music and Drama: a practical application of musical theater theory
  • Tutorial: Musical Theater and its use in Secondary Education: a tutorial in plan writing; A History of American Musical Theater

Project Description

An exploration of musical theater as part of America culture with particular attention given to the musical theater in secondary education

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • Edward Isser, College of Holly Cross


Emerging from opera, Vaudeville, and dance traditions of the early 20th century, musicals are today recognized as their own art form and performed around the world. Unlike other theater works, which focus primarily on either dance, music, or text, musicals are defined by their unique integration of these disciplines in service of a narrative. This Plan traces the development of the integrated musical, and looks at how it has influenced other types of theatrical performance.

Before the rise of musical theater, dance and music numbers primarily served as entertaining interludes in theater performances and had no relation to the show’s plot. With Kern and Hammerstein’s Show Boat (1927), musical numbers in theater performance went beyond simple entertainment and became instrumental to the advancement of the performance’s narrative. This integrated storytelling style took off with Oklahoma! (1943), which defined the genre and cemented its place in American culture.

The integrated musical has had considerable influence on other entertainment mediums. In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Once More, With Feeling” (2001), aspects from the musical theater tradition are used to drive the plot of the episode and reveal important secrets about the characters. In addition to the Plan’s written components, key works of musical theater were also explored through a musical revue directed by the author and performed at Marlboro.


“Often hailed as the model for the modern Broadway musical itself, Oklahoma! exemplified Kern’s (and now Hammerstein’s) concepts of the substantive integrated musical, telling a culturally relevant story about romantic and patriotic love.”

“Because the events of the time in which a musical was written shapes its content, musicals can act as time capsules that reveal American cultural history to modern audiences.”

“When a demon causes the residents of Buffy’s hometown of Sunnydale to spontaneously break into song in the Buffy episode “Once More, With Feeling,” Whedon selectively uses the schema of musical theater to unravel various aspects of the show’s plot. As Whedon himself states in his notes in the episode’s script book, ‘I knew that this would be the episode where … all the … truths would come out’ – and that’s exactly what this episode does.”


“I was thrilled to be able to include a musical theater production in my Plan, because musical theater is not often done at Marlboro. It was daunting, but I was able to get the support and help I needed.”