The 1950s: “Marry the Man Today”
This chapter examines the female duet in the formally integrated musical that was typical in the 1950s: West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, and Wonderful Town. In the 1950s, most musicals used the format of a “book musical,” where the story, which typically followed a heterosexual romance (or two) to marriage, organized the musical. The songs essentially mapped the emotional journey of the musical, introduced characters, developed relationships, and conveyed the place, time, and tone of the show. This chapter argues that two women singing together, which occurs in most classic musicals, undermines the powerful heterosexual romance that propels traditional Broadway musicals. In a decade that was extremely conservative about gender roles, where marriage then motherhood was the unquestioned route for most white and middle-class women, the female duet offers a different form of intimacy and connection and alternative, proto-feminist roles for the singers.
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