Learn about the history of the American musical

MIDDLEBURY — The Broadway musical is arguably America’s greatest contribution to the arts. It’s a glorious, jazzy, star-studded and surprisingly turbulent history, one that remains largely unknown to many people who love musicals.
Learn more about this glorious history in the upcoming four-session course led by Town Hall Theater’s artistic director Doug Anderson. Sessions will be held March 4, 11, 25 and April 1 at the Middlebury theater.
Anderson first taught the course at the University of Illinois in the early 1980s, and has since taught it at Amherst and Middlebury Colleges.
“When I first taught the course I had no technology at all, except for cassette tapes. So we’d listen to some Ethel Merman and then I’d try to use words to explain what she was like. It wasn’t a very good system.”
At Town Hall Theater Anderson will have access to BluRay players, DVDs, the internet and the THT big screen. “It changes everything,” Anderson said. “Now we’ll be able to see actual footage of Ethel Merman performing, or the opening to ‘The Lion King,’ or specific acts from the age of vaudeville.”
Anderson will also teach some of the course at the piano, with guest performers singing key songs from important musicals. Yes, this is sure to be entertaining as well as educational.
Amid all of the song and dance, there is much to learn about the development of American culture.
“It shouldn’t be surprising that the American musical has chronicled much of what is wonderful and not so wonderful about life in this country,” said Anderson, adding that the birthplace of the musical is generally considered to be the minstrel show, in which white performers wore blackface, a practice that continued on the American stage for well over a century. During times of war and depression, however, the musical has been a bastion of patriotism and hope.
The course will be offered on four Monday evenings in March and April, beginning at 7 p.m. The cost is $25 per session, or a four-session pass for $85. Each session will last approximately 90 minutes. A bar and refreshments will be available.
March 4: From Minstrelsy to Showboat
March 11: 1920 to 1950: from Rodgers & Hart to Rodgers & Hammerstein
March 25: 1960-1990: Hair, Sondheim, Webber and the English Invasion
April 1: 2000 to What’s on Now, with a special look at the (very strange) economics of Broadway
To register, visit townhalltheater.org, call (802) 382-9222, or visit the THT box office (Monday-Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m.)

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