Lying in the Middle: Musical Theater and Belief at the Heart of America

Univ. of Illinois. (Music in American Life). Sept. 2021. 192p. ISBN 9780252043925. $110; pap. ISBN 9780252085994. $24.95. THEATER
Johnson (musicology, Oklahoma City Univ.; Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America) argues that musicals unabashedly lie to us and that we know it, if only intuitively. He adds that there is no willing suspension of disbelief required—only belief in the inherent power and alchemy within a Brigadoon, Chicago, or Oklahoma to place audiences squarely in an alternate, elevated, and preferred reality. The musical as signifier of this postmodern theatrical construct is Johnson’s stock-in-trade, and with this dense, academic treatise, he deconstructs the confluence of Broadway, regional, community, and religious musical theater. To explicate his fascination with musicals and deception, he explores a Colorado City, AZ, polygamous fundamentalist community’s take on The Sound of Music, and the staging of an original evangelical musical, Samson, in Branson, MO. Johnson also discusses his own experiences as musical director of the Oklahoma Senior Follies and concludes by asking, “What can our musicals do if we no longer recognize their work as being fiction? If we displace lying for truth, have we also displaced something essentially human in the process?”
VERDICT Another contribution to the recent surge in scholarly attention given to American musicals. For graduate theater and music collections.
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