Jesus Christ Superstar. Godspell. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. No, this isn’t the line up of topics in a Church sermon; these are the names of Broadway musicals. It may be jarring for some to see such explicitly religious, even Christian themes in a medium recognized for its inclusiveness, but in fact religion has long been a theme in the Broadway musical. From Maria’s journey from nun to governess in The Sound of Music, to the story of religious Jew Tevye and his family in Fiddler on the Roof, and even the central quest for spiritual redemption in Les Miserables, producers have been successfully exploring religion through the live musical for decades. The question, though, is why. What motivated the creators of such prominent shows to incorporate specific religious themes into a medium that appeals to the masses? And what motivated audiences to receive such shows with open arms? The answers to these questions are diverse and varied, but this blog will attempt to illuminate the theme of religious musicals through media that depict this phenomenom. From religious broadway created as a response to the counterculture, to the satiric use of such musicals to provide an escape from heavy-handed religion, to the simple idea of finding religion in such a powerful venue, I will trace religion in the Broadway musical to highlight its appearance and appeal.
Bradley, Ian C. You’ve Got to Have a Dream: The Message of the Musical. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. Print.
Bradley, who teaches Theology of the Musical at St. Andrew’s University, argues that musicals provide people not just with entertainment but also with spiritual and theological values, a philosophy of life, and an encounter with God. Through his thorough discussion of the theological significance of the musical—which includes an emphasis on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph, as well as an examination of Les Miserables—Bradley argues that the musical is not just a cultural icon of our time; it is “iconic in a deeper sense, with an almost sacramental, hymnodic, transforming power to point beyond themselves to the realm of the spiritual and the divine.” In addition, he offers his thoughts on what the popularity of the musical might mean for the future of the church.
Einstein, Mara. Brands of Faith. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.
Dr. Einstein traces a long history of religious branding, following the trend of mixing commerce and faith through cases and concepts as diverse as megachurches, Kabbalah, and Oprah Winfrey. She expands this study to incorporate the politics of religious marketing, as well as other specifics of how religion became a business, and what this business entails.
FitzGerald, Frances. Cities on a Hill: A Journey through Contemporary American Cultures. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986. Print.
Through four distinct communities, Fitzgerald traces the of American impulse to “shake the past and build anew”. She specifically discusses the phenomena of America in the 60’s and 70’s of people embarking on a sincere quest for higher meaning. As many of the religious-themed musicals I reference were introduced in the early 70’s, I may use this text to suggest that producers and composers used Broadway as a medium to address this quest for spirituality.
McKinley, Jesse. “Finding God on Broadway.” The New York Times 23 Dec. 2005: The New York Times. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/23/theater/23reli.html?pagewanted=all
An observational article about Christian actors on Broadway and the ways in which their religion plays a part in their work. McKinley includes a brief discussion of religious themes in musicals and how such themes are marketed.
Rooney, David, and Zachary Pincus-Roth. “The Gospel According to B’way: In Shows such as ‘Doubt’ and ‘Altar Boyz,’ Religion Makes an Unorthodox Comeback.” Variety 398.5 (2005): 36. Pop Culture Collection. Web. 06 Apr. 2011. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117919779?categoryid=15&cs=1
This article from 2005 calls attention to the large amount of religious-themed Broadway shows—both plays and musicals—that were showing at the time. The authors discuss politics as a possible reason as to why people might be interested in religious shows, specifically the heavy religious concerns that played a part in the 2004 election, not long before this article was written.
Schwartz, Stephen. Interview by Various Contributors. Web Forum interview. 2010.
Stephen Schwartz, the creator of such religious-themed shows as Godspell and The Children of Eden, answers questions posed on a fan-based forum regarding his tendency to choose religious themes for his work.
Stempel, Larry. Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater. New York: W.W. Norton & CO., 2010. Print.
In this comprehensive history of the Broadway musical, Stempel discusses the shows, producers, actors, and themes that have been pivotal in the development of the medium. From the 19th century to today, and even including off-Broadway, Stempel touches on many aspects of the theater, including shows I discuss in my paper.
Stowe, David. “Jesus Christ Rock Star.” The New York Times, 23 Apr. 2011. The New York Times. Web. 28 Apr. 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/24/opinion/24Stowe.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Jesus+Christ+Rock+Star&st=nyt
This article analyzes one of the themes I discuss in my paper, namely he correlation between the counterculture movement’s interest in religion and popular music. Though Stowe’s main point is in discussing how that link faded over time, his discussion provided some helpful information in my exploration of 60’s culture.
Ware, Allen Reeves, and Perry L Glanzer. “God on Stage? Religious Themes in Public Educational Theatre.” Journal of Church and State 47.3 (2005): 19. ProQuest. Web. 6 Apr. 2011.
Ware and Glanzer examine the constitutionality of theater productions in public schools with religious or anti-religious themes, and suggest certain tests used by the Supreme Court that would identify inappropriate uses of dramas with religious themes by educators. In doing so, they discuss the religious themes in several musicals, and the significance of such ideas.