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UPS hosts summit to discuss the American musical

Dave Malloy, two-time OBIE Award winner will share his thoughts along with two of their experts Thursday at UPS. Photo credit: www.pugetsound.edu

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If you're a Broadway fan, it's easy to look back on shows you experienced as sea changes in the art form, thereby concluding American-style musical comedy evolves in fits and starts. We study Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, for example, the acclaimed musical that featured an all-black cast, but not Clorindy: The Origin of the Cakewalk, which put African-American performers on a Broadway stage in 1898. In Dahomey (1903) was performed by African-Americans on Broadway, but also written by a black composer, Paul Laurence Dunbar. We call Hair (1968) the first rock musical, but it was preceded by rock music in the final (1957) production of Ziegfeld Follies, not to mention the still-popular Bye Bye Birdie (1960). Rent was lauded for taking on uncomfortable subjects, but Show Boat (1927) included a mixed-race cast, an interracial marriage, and the oblivious racism of white characters.

It's interesting to watch Broadway composers attempt to keep pace with the radio. In late 2003, director Jack Viertel told The New York Times, "To some degree no one is sure what a Broadway musical is supposed to sound like anymore ... If the Broadway sound were the pop music of the day, which it used to be, it would sound like hip-hop, but I don't think anyone feels there's much of a Broadway audience for that at the moment." Flash forward to the present, when Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton has taken Broadway by storm - as it should. It's a game-changer. Yet even Miranda featured freestyle rap in his In the Heights, the Tony-winning "Best Musical" of 2008.

The University of Puget Sound examines "The Changing Sound of American Musical Theatre" in a summit with three respected Broadway composers. Amanda Green was the lyricist and co-composer (with Trey Anastasio) of Hands on a Hardbody, in which Texans enter a contest to see who can hold onto a truck long enough to win it. She wrote with Miranda on Bring It On: The Musical, plus new lyrics for NBC's Peter Pan LIVE! Her work on Hardbody earned her a Tony for Original Score. Dave Malloy boasts two OBIE Awards, for Three Pianos and Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. His most recent work is Preludes, a riff on Rachmaninoff. Marisa Michelson is the composer of The Other Room and Tamar of the River, and is currently workshopping an adaptation of 1001 Nights.

The summit, which is free with no ticket required, includes short lectures, live performances, a video presentation, and a roundtable discussion moderated by Jess K. Smith. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at UPS, and the Founder and Co-Artistic Director of ARTBARN in Woodstock, NY. Her own works include deCOMPOSITION and The Pandora's Box Project. "Changing Sound" is a rich opportunity to track the evolving Broadway landscape, as witnessed by four of its busiest pioneers.

"THE CHANGING SOUND OF AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATRE," 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 4, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner, Tacoma, free, 253.879.3555

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