Raymond Knapp

Raymond Knapp is Professor of Musicology at UCLA. His books include Symphonic Metamorphoses: Subjectivity and Alienation in Mahler’s Re-Cycled Songs, The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity (winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism), The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity, and The Oxford Handbook of the American Musical.



"The Sound of Broadway's Mean Streets"

While more readily accommodating tourists in recent decades, Broadway has always played first to its home crowd of New Yorkers and suburbanites, providing musical stylizations that would gratify or (sometimes) challenge that audience. Regardless of the specific time and place being presented—whether Oklahoma, the Scottish Highlands, the shtetl, Salzburg, London, Berlin, River City, or Siam—the sounds chosen to evoke these settings catered more to the expectations of the Broadway crowd than to a concern for historical accuracy. But Broadway has also provided local audiences with a different kind of mirror, reflecting their native city more directly and often aiming more to disquiet than to gratify.

My study considers some of these more troubling musical cityscapes across the end of the “golden age” and beyond, including the comic underworld of Guys and Dolls (1950); the upbeat cynicism of Wonderful Town (1953); the incipient violence of West Side Story (1957); the sleazy underside of Gypsy (1959), and the alienated sophistications of Company (1970) and Follies (1971). After sketching the trajectory of these diverse representations, involving four composers and an array of perspectives and moods, I focus particularly on the scores of West Side Story and Company to show how their edgy critiques inspired their composers, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, to explore similarly edgy musical idioms that blend familiar Broadway musical practices with an assortment of musical modernisms.