Queen's University

Musical Theatre [MUTH 231]

Instructor: Professor Tim Fort

No audition is required.


An examination of the major trends in musical theatre production and theory since the 19th century, exploring the work of important composers and lyricists and the structure of musical theatre works.

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The course starts in America’s mid-19th century where it will focus on the questions which this era raises about what had come before (opera, opera bouffe, variety, operetta, melodrama) and what was to distinguish the newly emerging musical theatre forms from past models. We will study important composers, lyricists, and librettists such as William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, and Stephen Sondheim.
We will also examine both the structure of the modern “musical” and its production methodology – with a particular focus on what it means to “musicalize” a story or an idea. Larger issues of musical style, genre, theme and social relevance will inform later examinations of specific musical theatre pieces.

RECOMMENDED: McLamore, Alyson. Musical Theater, An Appreciation. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004
USEFUL WEBSITES: http://americantheatrewing.org/ http://www.musicals101.com/

WK1 Defining Musical Theatre / The Black Crook / Roots of the Modern Musical
WK2 Carmen / Opera / Libretti / H.M.S. Pinafore / Gilbert and Sullivan
WK3 Songwriting and Musical Structure / Brecht / Threepenny Opera / Variety
WK4 Integrated Musicals / Showboat / America's Golden Age
WK5 Rodgers and Hammerstein / Oklahoma! / Lerner & Loewe / My Fair Lady
WK6 Jerome Robbins / West Side Story / Bock & Harnick / Fiddler on the Roof essay due
WK7 Harold Prince / Cabaret / Stephen Sondheim / Sweeney Todd
WK8 Canadian Musicals / Choreography / A Chorus Line / Bob Fosse / Chicago
WK9 Rock Musicals / Hair / Alan Menken / Little Shop / Jonathan Larson / Rent
WK10 Mega-musicals / Les Mis / Andrew Lloyd Webber / Stephen Schwartz / Wicked
WK11 Recent Forms /Avenue Q /Juke Box Musicals /Alternative Stages / Hamilton
WK12 Presentations (added presentation time: 7:30-11:30 pm, Final Wednesday)

PROJECTS (in brief):

40% - Essay of aprox. 1200 words - minimum 3 sources – Topics can include:
Explore the process of transforming a film or work of literature into a musical theatre piece
Examine the career and techniques of a major musical theatre practitioner
Discuss the evolution of a major musical theatre work from inception to first production.
40% - Final Project presented in class during the final week
A) With no more than 2 other people, create a brief musical theatre piece in the form of a backer’s audition. or
B) Prepare a director's approach to a musical theatre work
20% - Participation (based on class attendance and response to “in class” question sheet)


Explore the practical elements of musical theatre, using ONE of the following approaches:

A) BACKER’S AUDITION With no more than two other class members, prepare a 12-15 minute backer’s audition of a new musical theatre work that you are creating either from an existing source or from an original idea. Your submission should contain:
A) At least three musical numbers -- for which at least the lyrics must be original (Music may be used from a previously existing source, but be careful to avoid creating new lyrics that too closely parallel or parody the existing source’s lyrics)

B) At least one representative scene of about 5 minutes length (incorporate musical numbers into scene when possible).

C) A structural summary, including a brief plot synopsis, a list of characters, and a scene breakdown with details of each scene’s content (including its setting, its primary plot activities, and suggested moments where the story might be advanced through musical numbers.) Name and summarise those numbers.

IN CLASS: You may use live or pre-recorded music in your presentation. You may also present your work Acappella (unaccompanied). You may enlist up to two additional performers/musicians to help you present your work in class.

FINAL SUBMISSION TO INSTRUCTOR: Should have a cover page clearly indicating your role in the collaboration (e.g. lyrics for opening number, music for ballad, and co-librettist). Please indicate all musical sources or supply a disk with original music.


Choose an existing musical theatre piece* and discuss your directorial approach to the work, incorporating the following elements:

A) Select a performance space and describe the audience configuration – locate the orchestra & discuss its size (approx. ½ page)

B) Describe your casting strategies (size of cast, doubling patterns,
non-traditional casting, etc.)
(approx. ½ page)

C) Discuss central themes in the text and how they will be integrated into your approach. Discuss your staging concept and how it relates to your resources. Discuss a scene shift strategy (2-3 pages).

D) Discuss and illustrate your proposed treatment of a key (2-5 page) scene in the script.
(Write a one page overview of your approach to the scene and then
annotate your script pages)

E) Submit
- Proportional floorplan of your central scenic configuration
- Thumbnail sketches of 2 scenes
- 2 Costume sketches
You will be expected to present a 6 minute overview of your work in class.


Learning Hours: 120 (36S;84P)
Prerequisite: Level 2 and registration in a DRAM; MUSC; or B.M.T.,Plan or permission of the School.
Equivalency: DRAM 216/3.0