Great American Music: Broadway Musicals

Course No. 7318
Professor Bill Messenger, M.A.
The Peabody Institute
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Course No. 7318
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Course Overview

Give my regards to Broadway... . Is it possible to read those lyrics, let alone hear them, without mentally filling in: Remember me to Herald Square? Have you begun to hum or sing it to yourself, with the words and notes carrying you back in time to the Broadway of George M. Cohan and the heyday of Tin Pan Alley?

For most people who've grown up with and shared America's musical heritage, such a phrase opens the floodgates to a wealth of memories and feelings because, after all, that's what great songs do.

What a delight, then, to be able to promise you the same experience in an entire course. For in Professor Bill Messenger's Great American Music: Broadway Musicals, you get the story and the music, as well—and not only in the examples expertly played by Professor Messenger at the piano to illustrate insights, techniques, or subtleties of composition.

You'll also hear rare recordings of groundbreaking artists such as Nora Bayes, the singer selected by Cohan to record his unofficial World War I anthem, "Over There,"and Fanny Brice, the great star immortalized in Funny Girl. And you'll hear contemporary recreations that reconstruct the sound of early musical theater, as well. You'll listen in on recorded interviews that take you behind the scenes of some of Broadway's biggest hits and most memorable moments.

Beyond Nostalgia: A Complete Learning Experience

But Great American Music: Broadway Musicals is far more than just an immersion in musical nostalgia. Professor Messenger ranges across the entire culture of which music is a part, teaching you some of the intricacies of musical composition and song construction—and how they were used to create specific effects—as well as the social and historical backdrop against which musical theater needs to be considered.

You'll learn, for example, how Jerome Kern dealt with what was perhaps Broadway's first attempt to use music's technical subtleties as a way to suggest time and place when he was writing Show Boat, deliberately incorporating into his music for "Ol' Man River" a five-note pentatonic scale often used in Negro spirituals.

Professor Messenger tells how "You're a Grand Old Flag," today one of Cohan's most memorable songs, was greeted with dismay and anger when Cohan introduced it in his 1906 musical, George Washington, Jr., with its original and affectionate title and lyric, "You're a Grand Old Rag." Though Cohan quickly rewrote the song in the form we know today, sheet music for the original version—at a time when sheet music was immensely popular—had already reached stores all over New York City. Visiting one store after another, Cohan managed to retrieve almost every copy, burning them and replacing them with the new version. Today, there are only a half-dozen very valuable copies of the original in existence.

A Stage that Is Never Far from the Real World

But the harsh reception given the original version of Cohan's song is far from the only reminder this course offers that the Broadway stage, as wondrous an escape as it might be, is still an illusion, with only the flimsiest of curtains separating it from the real-world passions—and even life-and-death conflicts—from which it draws.

Consider just one moment in the life of Jerome Kern, a moment marked by the clanging of an alarm clock he did not hear.

After his heart had been broken by a flashy showgirl and vowing never again to be taken advantage of, Kern had met and married a timid 19-year-old English girl 10 years his junior and brought her back to America, an overwhelming experience for her. On the morning he was to sail to England with his producer, Charles Frohman, Kern overslept. By the time his still-timid wife had decided to awaken him, Kern had missed his voyage. The ship was the ill-fated Lusitania, and Frohman was one of 1,198 who perished on it. Kern survived to complete a fruitful career that would include, 11 years later, his remarkable score for Show Boat, with melodies, like its haunting "Ol' Man River," that are still enjoyed today.

In today's era of songs written and produced specifically for compact discs, it's easy to forget that an overwhelming number of standards that have both delighted and helped mend the broken hearts of Americans for decades—and will undoubtedly still be doing so a century from now—were, like "Ol' Man River," originally written for the stage.

"My Funny Valentine," for example, came from Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms; "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!; "Someone to Watch Over Me" from George and Ira Gershwin's Oh, Kay!; "Begin the Beguine" from Cole Porter's Jubilee; and "Almost Like Being in Love" from Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon.

We've heard these songs—and hundreds more like them—for as long as we can remember. In many ways, they're the soundtrack of America. For millions of us the music makes up the soundtrack of our own lives, as well; if you were somehow able to remove them from our collective memory, it's hard to imagine any of us as quite the same people.

But the total creative output of the extraordinary roster of artists who gave us these songs tells only part of the story, which would be incomplete even with the addition of the performers, writers, choreographers, directors, and others who also helped create the stage magic that launched these songs into immortality.

A Capsule View of Two Vibrant Centuries

That's because American musical theater, much as we often concentrate on the so-called "golden age" of the 1950s, spans the history of two vibrant centuries: the era of the minstrel show, whose contributions to American music were immense, in spite of the embarrassment we still feel at many of its images; vaudeville; ragtime; the revue; and the age of fully integrated book musicals launched by the 1927 production of Show Boat.

And that history, moreover, has an importance that goes beyond music. "Musicals, the great ones, speak to us in voices we both recognize and pay attention to," notes Professor Messenger.

"Half a century after the show Carousel premiered, Billy Bigelow still speaks to our sense of right and wrong. We don't want him to commit that robbery! We regret that he does.

"The paradox of the Broadway musical is that it's an escape from reality, while simultaneously being a confrontation with it. The betrayal that destroys Camelot is with us here and now."

It's difficult to imagine a finer teacher for this material than Professor Messenger; he is a scholar, teacher, and professional musician. His course, Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion, makes clear, even to those with no musical training, the techniques, principles, and innovations that make it possible for music to embody so much.

In bringing those skills to Great American Music: Broadway Musicals, Professor Messenger has created a complete learning experience—educational, insightful, and sublimely enjoyable—that can forever change the way you experience musical theater.

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16 lectures
 |  Average 44 minutes each
  • 1
    The Essence of the Musical
    This lecture previews the topics of the course, then introduces the essentials of musical theater: the songs, the libretto, song placement within the show, the opening, dance, and special effects. x
  • 2
    The Minstrel Era (1828 to c. 1900)
    Although its existence is embarrassing to us today, the minstrel show is also the ultimate source of all truly American music. This lecture looks at the structure of the minstrel show, its features, and some of its greatest performers, songwriters, and promoters, as well as the business side of minstrel shows and the legacy of minstrelry. x
  • 3
    Evolution of the Verse/Chorus Song
    This lecture examines types of songs, their construction, and the evolution of song structure in American musical theater, culminating in today's verse/chorus structure. x
  • 4
    The Ragtime Years (c. 1890–1917)
    Ragtime's popularity began around the turn of the 20th century as a youthful rebellion against the moribund music of an older generation. It also opened doors for black performers and gave America a rhythmic vocabulary that became a permanent part of the Broadway musical. x
  • 5
    The Vaudeville Era (1881 to c. 1935)
    Before moving pictures learned to talk, vaudeville was America's most important form of entertainment. Fifty-week circuits of entertainment constantly filled 2,000 theaters across the country and served as a never-to-be-seen-again training ground for musicians, dancers, singers, and comedians. x
  • 6
    Tin Pan Alley
    For more than a century, the music publishing industry and the New York theatrical industry worked in tandem to create the hit songs of the day. During the heyday of this collaboration, the music publishing business in New York City, referred to as Tin Pan Alley, produced song after song of sheet music to be marketed to the millions of middle- and upper-class households that owned pianos. x
  • 7
    Broadway in Its Infancy
    This lecture examines forms of musical theater in the decades before the advent of the "book musical," beginning with America's first blockbuster, The Black Crook, a show as far from the concept of a book musical as one could get, and concluding with our first look at an American original, George M. Cohan. x
  • 8
    The Revue versus the Book Musical
    We take an interlude to examine the idea of the revue, a form that makes no pretense at integrating a show's songs with its plot—though it might be built around a theme—and that continues to be a vital part of American musical theater. x
  • 9
    Superstars on the Horizon
    These years produced songwriters who would eventually become giants of the musical theater. We examine several remarkable shows, along with the early careers of some of its best-known performers and songwriters, including Al Jolson, Cole Porter, and Jerome Kern. x
  • 10
    Transition into the Jazz Age (1916–20)
    The end of World War I gave an excuse to kick up heels and rebel against the past. From 1916 to 1920, society went through a dramatic breakaway—not only in clothing styles, acceptable public behavior, language, and visual arts, but also in the kind of music Americans created and listened to. x
  • 11
    Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern—Contrasts
    In this lecture, we learn more about the lives and music of two towering icons. Although their lives and careers make an interesting contrast, they also have one thing in common: They made a lasting impression on American popular music. x
  • 12
    George Gershwin’s Legacy (1919 to c. 1935)
    George Gershwin, by incorporating the musical ideas of blues and jazz into his concert and stage works, became a living symbol of the Jazz Age. With the exception of Jerome Kern, no other theater composer of the 1920s equals Gershwin in importance. This lecture examines his singular contributions, including his most important stage work, Porgy and Bess, a show that was politically incorrect even in its own time, but remains, nonetheless, a masterpiece. x
  • 13
    Rodgers and Hammerstein Era (1940s)
    If 1927's Show Boat represented the beginnings of modern musical theater, the 1940s saw this art form, the book musical, firmly take root and declare its supremacy for the rest of the century. With Oklahoma!, Carousel, and South Pacific, it was a decade that belonged to Rodgers and Hammerstein. x
  • 14
    Golden Age of Musical Theater (1950s)
    Rodgers and Hammerstein shared the bountiful 1950s with Lerner and Loewe, Leonard Bernstein, and Frank Loesser. Many observers of the Broadway scene consider this decade—the era of My Fair Lady, The King and I, West Side Story, The Music Man, and Guys and Dolls—the golden age of the Broadway musical. x
  • 15
    Rock n Roll Reaches Broadway (1960s)
    The 1960s on Broadway began with Bye Bye Birdie and ended with Hair, the former a spoof of rock 'n' roll and the latter an homage to it. In between came a number of shows that offered greater variety and introduced trends that would dominate musical theater for the remainder of the 20th century. x
  • 16
    Big Bucks and Long Runs (1970s–Present)
    This final lecture examines several of the trends that closed the 20th century and ushered in the 21st, including the concept musical; the European influence on the American stage; a continuing interest in darker subject matter; the revival of old film musicals on Broadway; and the return of shows with a lighter touch. x

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Your professor

Bill Messenger

About Your Professor

Bill Messenger, M.A.
The Peabody Institute
Professor Bill Messenger studied musical composition, on scholarship, at The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University under Louis Cheslock. He attended a master’s class in 1963 with Nadia Boulanger, the teacher of Roy Harris, Virgil Thompson, and Aaron Copland. Professor Messenger has two master’s degrees, both from Johns Hopkins University. He has done additional graduate work in musicology at the University of...
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Great American Music: Broadway Musicals is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 88.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT!!!!! As someone who spends much of her money on musical theater tickets, this course was a gem! I had recently seen the PBS documentary Broadway: the American Musical, which was enjoyable but felt more like a series of amusing antidotes. This course provided the depth and detail that I craved. I loved how the professor used music clips in the lectures, and how he demonstrated that the musical evolved along with the story of America. I would highly recommend this course to any serious theater patron or to anyone who is curious about the American musical!
Date published: 2014-07-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Broadway Musical Historu Although this is a 16 chapter audio course - it should or could have been 32. I would have loved to have heard more of Broadway - while keeping the historic lead-up to Broadway. A few more songs wouldn't hurt either - that being said - it is a terrific anthology of the history of how Broadway became what it is today. Wonderful to listen to with lots of fascinating background. Certainly recommended.
Date published: 2014-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A long and rich history This course begins with the minstrel show and ends a little before the era of 'supermusicals'. You won't find Cats or Les Miserables here, but you'll find the lifeblood that flowed through Broadway from the minstrel show through the fifties and a bit beyond, with a bit extra on Gershwin. Messenger illustrates music--examples, form, and structure--at the piano, weaving the tale expertly. He never drags or slows, and has a real love for his subject matter. If you have any taste for the music that made Broadway more than just a street, this course should be a lot of fun and very enlightening.
Date published: 2014-03-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great for Historians not as much for Musicians I loved this speakers series on Jazz and bought this Broadway series based on that experience. I wasn't as thrilled with this one. What I was looking for was more on the music theory of the compositions, but I received mostly History. It was still a value for my money and I would still recommend it, but it's not one of my favorite Great Courses. Perhaps if it had more music theory, the non-musicians would object, so maybe this was the middle of the road approach.
Date published: 2014-01-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History of American Pop Music I have seen a couple of other reviews and I agree that it's title should be altered to reflect the broader musical context in which he places musicals. However, that may be because of our 21st century perspective on what musical theater should be. (I would advise someone listen to the How to Listen and Understand Opera to compare how American musical theater has evolved from much different musical forms.# Also, his approach is more thematic than chronological - there is a fair amount of jumping back and forth. While listening in the car it is a little hard to place some facts into the proper context. Some also may not like the fact that he plays a lot of music himself with other live musicians, but I enjoyed it because it's interesting to hear his intepretations of the music. He also will introduce younger generations #myself included) to musicians and vocalists with which I was not familiar. These facets of his courses are a plus in my opinion and it's refreshing to hear someone other than Professor Greenberg talk about music - as much as I love Professor Greenberg's courses. I am still listening but already I have learned much about American music that I did not know. I would recommend this course.
Date published: 2013-11-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not much on musicals There is nothing wrong with this course that a more accurate title wouldn't cure. "Reflections on American popular music, mostly early, with some focus on Broadway musicals" would be about right. The examination of the roots of the American musical takes more than half the 16 lectures. Professor Messenger doesn't get to SHOWBOAT, normally regarded as the first great work of the modern Broadway theater, until Lecture 11, giving him little time to deal with what I thought would be the subject of the course. He has time for little more than summarizing the blockbusters of the last decades, by his own admission not necessarily the best or most important works of their respective authors. He assumes that the listener is already very familiar with the music of these famous shows (he provides almost no musical examples for them). His real interest is clearly in the period from 1880-1930, and his presentation of that period is interesting. As long as you don't want to know anything about American operetta, or almost anything about RIchard Rodgers' work with Lorenz Hart or his more experimental works with Hammerstein, or most of Sondheim's works, or the best of Jerry Herman, etc., etc., you may well find the lectures pleasant.
Date published: 2013-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved It! I'm listening to this course again. When I originally bought it, I brought it with me as I commuted to and from work I feel like I missed too much during my commutes, because I found this course to be even better than I originally thought. Unlike other reviewers, I was glad to hear Mr. Messenger stay with the earlier stuff - which is fascinating, especially the vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley disks. I think most of the musicals from the past 40 years or so, up to the current time, to be mediocre to okay (except for the revivals!). After all, this is supposed to be a history of Broadway musicals, which includes going back to the very beginning (the minstrel shows, vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley). It's important to know what came before so we can appreciate the musical as some kind of art form. And, let's face it, the Golden Age of the Broadway musical is long gone, and we'll never see the likes of it again. So if you're looking for something on musicals within the last 20-40 years, skip this course. If you only have an inkling or know nothing about the birth of the Broadway musical, this is your ticket!
Date published: 2012-12-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Skewed to early American musical forms Bill Messenger is a delightful lecturer, knows his material extremely well, and maintains a high level of enthusiasm for his subject. I found his own piano playing and singing effective in illustrating the points he was making. As a result of watching this course, I have put his Jazz course high on my want list. I have several major criticisms of the course. One, he spends way too much time on early music forms, to the point of becoming repetitious when some of these early genres overlap. It seems that it takes almost two-thirds of the course to get beyond the 1920s. Another problem with the course is that the musical selections he uses from the very early days of popular American music have been so heavily modified to remove ticks, pops, and other distortions familiar to anyone who listens to acoustical 78s that any individual characteristics of the voices are lost. Musical selections are also a problem for the later lectures, where he compresses the discussion of significant works of the later twentieth century so much that he only talks about the musicals and does not have any samples from the works. I found that watching the Julie Andrews PBS DVDs on Broadway were very helpful in filling this gap. One thing that was astonishing to me was that in a 45 minute lecture on Gershwin, the only sample pieces played were from his very early works. Nothing was played from his masterpiece Porgy and Bess. The same thing happened with giants of the Broadway world like Annie get Your Gun. It was very frustrating to hear how extraordinary the music was, and then not have any to listen to. In spite of these shortcomings, the course was very interesting for what it did cover, and well worth the time. Messenger has given me a long list of musicals to find either in video format or original cast recordings, and made me eager to get them!
Date published: 2012-11-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from For history buffs With the title, I expected the course to spend more time on the more recent broadway musicals. Instead, the course is a comprehensive and detailed history of the predecessors of the broadway musical, going back to relatively obscure areas such as minstrels, Tin pan alley, and shows in the 1800s and 1900s. It is interesting from an historical standpoint, and hearing archival recordings of the most popular songs of the early 1900s is fascinating. The professor is good at piano, but shouldn't try to sing and does sing too much for me. I would have preferred more time spent on the recent broadway musicals, but only in the last lecture does he mention ones such as Sweeney Todd, the Producers, and Wicked. For fans of Wicked, the last lecture has a valuable and rare interview with the songwriter singing some pieces.
Date published: 2012-08-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too Short I (and my husband) LOVED this course. However, each of the latter lectures spanned a decade while the earlier lectures covered only a few years.I really wish there was another course by Professor Messenger which covered the later shows in depth. We did not mind his singing and were enthralled by his playing
Date published: 2012-08-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from good info but bad voice The content was thorough and well presented but unfortunately the Professor would "sing" some of the songs he was discussing and this was awful! Truly awful. This is a shame because the topic is thoroughly discussed and interesting.
Date published: 2012-07-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from EARLY musical theatre If the course were titled: Early Broadway Musicals, it would be perfect. This prof knows a great detail about the beginnings of musical theatre and teaches with great enthusiasm so that you, too, become excited about it. But his knowledge of modern musical theatre is nil. There is no reason for him to go past 1950. He doesn't live in a world past 1950 and it shows. Let him do what he loves. He does that very well.
Date published: 2012-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too short a course I have enjoyed musical theater for many years, so I was looking forward to this course. The professor was engaging and very well versed in his subject. I enjoyed his piano demonstrations and the guest artists who joined him in some of the lectures. However, the course spends a great deal of time on the very early years of this genre in the U.S. - in great detail. Then, when it gets to the 1940s, it zips through the decades at a very quick pace. I would have liked the same (or at least a similar) level of detail for this section of the material. Additionally, the course includes a number of actual recordings from the early years of the century. I found them very hard to understand - perhaps they could be subcaptioned? After all, they do it at the Met! The entire subset of operetta was only briefly touched upon. I would have liked at least one lecture dedicated to some of the operettas performed on Broadway over the years - Student Prince, Naughty Marietta, Song of Norway, Vagabond King, Desert Song....... I think Prof. Messenger's comments on the latter half of the past century merit several more lessons if this course is to be a complete history of musical theater.
Date published: 2012-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun, entertain, and to-the-point I have always been a big fan of musicals, but wanted to know the back story. This course was very interesting, walking through Broadway's more painful, but fun past, through the musical era to the blockbusters of today. I loved the snippets of songs included and the entertaining style.
Date published: 2012-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! I have just finished watching the DVD's and the 16 x 45 minute lectures. Professor Bill Messenger shows his hours of reseach and love for the Topic. I would think that the hardest job was deciding which Broadway Musicals to mention within the time limit {I hope the Great Courses will get Bill to do a follow up of some of the other Shows not covered, including his personal favourites}. The gems are the musical recordings; the re-productions (in the style and time of the original); the interviews; Bill's numerous examples -- played "live"; the Gershwin lecture; -- actually everything mentioned was such a pleasure and entertaining [I loved Bill's "little" additions of information which are not listed in the Course Guidebook -- which is very good] I knew from the very beginning, with the choice of the "Give My Regards to Broadway" Historical Recording, that this was a stand out set of lectures. As Bill says that his challenge was to "capture the evolution of Musical Theatre", and I personally believe that he achieved his goal. Thank you, Great Courses, for having this lecture series available, I feel that my knowledge of Great Americal Music and especially Broadway Musicals has been greatly increased thanks to Professor Bill Messenger and these lectures.
Date published: 2012-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved It This was the most enjoyable course to date. Although I see Broadway shows now this brought me back to my childhood when my mother took me to my very first Broadway show - "The Sound of Music." We immediately ran out and bought a beginner piano book of the songs from the show so I could play them on the piano. I also did not realize that many of the songs my Mom & Dad played together were written way before they were born in 1913 or written when they were very young children. Songs like After the Ball, Shine on Harvest Moon, KKK Katy were songs my Mom played on the piano and my Dad accompanied her on the guitar. This course really took me down memory lane, but I think anyone who loves Broadway will enjoy Broadway Musicals.
Date published: 2012-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful companion to Elements of Jazz Reviewing the evolution of Broadway music Professor Messenger has another hit. His own performance of these delightful tunes punctuate his entertaining history of this genre, making this presentation particularly special. For anyone with an interest in Broadway don't pass this one up. Please, more from Professor Messenger!
Date published: 2012-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best Great Courses! I'm a 12th grade homeschool student and I have done several Great Courses with my mom. We recently bought the Great American Music: Broadway Musicals course, and I have been very pleased with it. I have been interested in Broadway, and musical theatre in general, for a long time, so when I found out this course existed, I was very excited. Some high points of this course are: -Bill Messenger, the professor of this course, is an excellent speaker and engages his audience at once, and in every lecture. He is a fantastic piano player, and he presents the material with personality and humor. -Not only are theatre, individual shows and pieces of music mentioned, you get to listen to a lot of the music in the lectures. Messenger plays many pieces himself, and there are actually still in existence recordings of a lot of the songs (although some pieces have been recreated only recently). -The creators and stars behind early theatre are introduced with much detail; the viewer can learn a lot about musical theatre in general just by learning about these people. This course puts to good use both sight and sound with good quality video, lots of photographs, and some old video footage, and of course lots of music. Bill Messenger's lectures are easily understood and fun to listen to: this is one of the best Great Courses I have ever used.
Date published: 2011-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from IF YOU LOVE BROADWAY, YOU'LL LOVE THIS ONE This review refers to the CD's. As a lover of musicals and their songs my entire life I found this one an absolute gem. Professor Messenger is a masterful lecturer interjecting passages of music along with his commentary. As a board member for many years of our local organization that brought the road companies to our city , I gave my copy of the lectures to the organization so that young interns and staff members could learn more about the history of the product they were handling. Alas, it disappeared, but I hope the users got as much out of it as I did. Learning about the history of the medium has enriched my pleasure in listening to the music from my collection. I can't recommend this series highly enough.
Date published: 2011-06-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Except for camera work - SUPERB This is just a quick review. I got the course when it first came out. The graphics are great. And Messenger is interesting. The camera angle is the ONLY problem. He needs to LOOK at the camera. A few reviws commented on the lack of music recordings. There is a reason for this. It's called "Copyright" and "Royalty fees". You will note that more than 80% of the recordings are from pre-1930. These are public domain. For later shows Messenger uses singers from his university. If post 1940 recordings were used they would have to pay royalties. Unlike his Jazz course - where he sits at the piano - he is using recordings here. But I LOVE this DVD!
Date published: 2010-12-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I enjoyed it but... I would have preferred more music from musical theatre (I understand the need to illustrate a composer's style or technique, but use a song from a show!!). I also feel that there was WAY too much time spent in early pre-Broadway musicals. I may be too hard on the course because musical theatre is how I make my living but I want to be clear that I did enjoy the course. I want to see more of Messenger!!
Date published: 2010-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broadway Musicals Professor Messenge is a superior teacher. He educates and entertains at the same time. Because of this course I purchased the sheeet music to many of the musicals to play for myself. I also bought his elements of Jazz course. Here's hoping he authors more Teaching Company courses.
Date published: 2010-10-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Enough Music!! Great American Music: Broadway Musicals was a huge disappointment because there was so little actual music. Professor Messenger knows his subject thoroughly and presents it well. His piano playing is terrific. (However his singing is not and I found his technique of speaking the lyrics while he played the melody, extremely distracting.) The chief emphasis of this course is the history of the Broadway Musical but with surprisingly little analysis of the music itself. Most of the examples of songs were restricted to the first half of the course, that is, until about the end of World War II. After that the songs were very few with whole lectures going by with no singing or music at all. I am certain that Professor Messenger is capable of providing the analysis that I had expected. I would like to see this course expanded, including all that is there now, but with the addition of much more music.
Date published: 2010-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A rare jewel This is one of the best teaching vehicles I have ever used. Well planned, well presented and designed to keep your interest. As an aficianado of Broadway Musicals, this provided an excellent means of analyzing how the development of these shows has progressed over the years. As someone who has been involved in teaching at every level from simple instructor to international educational institute director, I was impressed by the thought and effort that has gone into developing this course. Watching it one time motivated me to purchase four additional courses. Great product! One criticism concerns the filming technique employed in it's production: have the speaker occasionally look directly at his audience (the camera.) This error is not Bill Messenger's fault . . he does a wonderful job, instead, shoot the director.
Date published: 2010-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and Interesting This course is a wonderful introduction to the Broadway Musical. I enjoyed the professor's presentation which is a mixture of his own renditions and recorded music. I was inspired to do research about the people discussed in this course and listen to a variety of musicals. The professor's teaching style is very engaging. I gained a new appreciation for Broadway musicals through this course.
Date published: 2010-04-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Glad it’s over This review is based on downloaded version. First, the good news. Professor Messinger is a good teacher and a great piano player. I have thoroughly enjoyed his Jazz course and highly recommend it. He knows a lot about the history of musicals and is obviously passionate about the subject matter. He provided some interesting biographical information about certain composers, producers, and performers. At times there is interesting historical background as well. The professor frequently illustrates songs by playing them on the piano and singing. His playing is superb, his singing is not, but then he never claims to be a singer. The bad news is that the course is difficult to follow. There are lots of names, dates, and themes, mostly unconnected with one another, sometimes jumping forward a few decades only to jump back again in the next lecture. The bulk of the lectures are devoted to early musicals, which are no longer produced. I listened to the entire course and was glad when it was over. I like the professor, I enjoyed his musical performances, but I did not enjoy the course. I expected a review similar to Bob Greenberg’s "How to listen and understand great music." I expected to learn general historic and musical background followed by the analysis of a few musicals relevant to that period. Bill Messenger sort of does that, but he often gives only a brief synopsis of the plot and mentions the name of a song or two without actually playing them. I would have preferred to have him select fewer musicals and discuss them in greater details. This is not to say that the course is worthless. I think it is worth listening to. You will have a better understanding of the history and the development of the American musical. But be prepared to be frustrated and unsatisfied with some of the lectures. I think the problem is that the professor was asked to review the history that spans 2 centuries in too few lectures and he tried to cram them with as much information as possible. Perhaps he will be given an opportunity to create a more detailed course in the future, which I think might be more enjoyable.
Date published: 2010-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broadway Musicals I'm surprised at some of the pettiness of the comments others have made. To me, born in London many years ago and brought up with British music hall and American films/movies, I was totally overwhelmed by Professor Messenger's series and presentation. His knowledge and detail, clearly the result of, firstly love of his subject and much, much research, was fascinating. So much so that when the last lecture finally ended I felt saddened and just flipped back to Lecture 1 and listened to it all again. I'm not a musician in the true sense of the word (how I'd love to play piano half as good as Bill Messenger) but I do play a lot of "oldies" and standards in a small guitar-based group in nursing homes and retirement communites and the lectures have provided me with a wealth of new/old songs to learn. I would recommend this series to anyone and everyone who loves music (the jazz lectures were superbly presented too) and although I bought the downloaded version, I plan to buy the CD set as well to share with friends. Professor Messenger...Thanks for the memories!
Date published: 2009-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a Smash Hit! I would buy this course if the professor simply played the songs! Very interesting and fun!
Date published: 2009-11-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good with a few problems My family loves the theatre, and especially musicals, so when I saw a lecture on Broadway Musicals, I said that this is a must gift for one of them (so i could borrow it). As a overall lecture about the history of musical theatre in America, this is a very good and insightful lecture, but if it's titled to be about Broadway Musicals, it misses its mark. The author's specialty seems to be 19th and early 20th century musical productions and this is where he spends the majority of the time. Now, I found it very insightful to to learn about this period and how it influenced today's modern musicals (and why we should all know the name of Cohen and why his statue is in Time Square) but having the majority of the lectures about the period pror to 1940 is a bit much. We get 8 lectures about the history of musicals starting with the cakewalk, many of which are basically duplicate lectures for those who have his Jazz set and then going back again to the early 20th century to start the next 8 lectures. If someone says "Broadway Musicals", you'd expect more lectures than 4 lectures to cover 1940 to the present, most are approx 1 decade per lecture. Those 4 lectures are good but they do miss a TON of musical theatre. Now, overall, I enjoyed it so i gave it 4 stars but if you're looking for something more than the early history of musical theatre and want to know more about 'modern' musicals (R&H and onward), this isn't the set for you. If you want to know where the genre came from, how it was developed, learn a lot about early American music and how influenced today's theatre, this is exactly the lecture for you.
Date published: 2009-08-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Some flaws, but still educational and fascinating As someone who loves musicals, this course was a joy. It did what it was supposed to do, and I was surprised at how much I learned: in particular, about the early evolution of the musical as we know it, and how much it owes to earlier forms such as the minstrel shows of the 19th century. The great Broadway composers who really developed the American musical into what it is today (and make no mistake, this is a course on the AMERICAN musical) are described in some detail: Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George M. Cohan, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and others. True, he could easily have spent more time on many of these "greats" of the musical theater, but given the limited number of lectures, he still manages quite well. By the time we approach to the modern day, the course can't keep up with the number of composers and musicals, but turns into more of a survey and thoughts about general trends in the world of the American musical theatre. Overall, Bill Messenger is an excellent lecturer and fine storyteller. However, his approach does have two problems which I find annoying: 1. He often assumes the listener is familiar with older songs, which is not necessarily the case for a younger audience 2. When playing these songs, he often plays them himself, on the piano -- often just speaking the lyrics, which really doesn't capture the piece. Occasionally he does use early recordings of the songs, which is much better, but he would have been much better off to stick with recordings throughout rather than trying to play the songs himself. Nevertheless, this is still an excellent course about a subject very dear to me, and I heartily recommend it despite a few flaws.
Date published: 2009-06-11
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