Critical Essays on the Politics of Oscar Hammerstein II
Some sixty years since his passing, Oscar Hammerstein II remains one of the towering figures of the American musical theatre. Lyricist, librettist, producer, and heir to a family theatrical tradition, Hammerstein is remembered primarily for his body of work: musicals that remain among the most popular and significant in the history of the American theatre. In fact, given the scale of audiences reached by his shows in their original Broadway and West End runs and revivals, national tours, movies, television broadcasts, and other professional and amateur productions in the ninety-one years since the debut of Show Boat, a claim may be made that his written work has had the broadest and deepest reach of any 20th century American writer in any genre.
As such, Hammerstein’s personal vision—a progressive politics of the democratic ideal—may be said to have had a significant role in shaping the American conscience. While few of his audiences may be aware of his position on the board of the NAACP, or his work for the Writers’ War Board, or any of his other activist efforts, his libretti unfailingly attempt to illustrate a democratic model reminiscent of those of Mark Twain, Eugene O’Neill, and friend and collaborator John Steinbeck.
And The Land We Belong To Is Grand: The Democratic Ideal of Oscar Hammerstein II is a collection of scholarly essays that interrogates the body of Hammerstein’s work as a cultural touchstone throughout the 20th century that served to affect, in real ways, public perception and to craft an American self-concept. The essays challenge readers to explore how Hammerstein may be understood as heir to other Americanist writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Henry Adams, and others in crafting a functional, popular philosophy of the American democratic vision, exploring how the vast popularity of his work reached deep into the American psyche and resonated in public political opinion.
I am seeking critical essays for this collection, to be published by McFarland & Company next year, in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the proto-“anti-fa” musical, The Sound of Music. The essays in the collection should engage a variety of subjects, applying post-colonial, Marxist, feminist, queer, and new historical theories to Hammerstein’s work, both in and out of the theatre, beginning with his collaborations with Jerome Kern, though his role in the establishment of Broadway’s “Golden Age” with Richard Rodgers, and his continuing influence on the theatre through his mentorship of Stephen Sondheim and the lasting effects of his political activism.
Some possible topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:
* Reading his canon as a developing political arc
* Cultural approaches to his musicals, particularly in respect to the dynamics between “insiders” and “outsiders”
* The use of fictional characters to interrogate contemporary historical events analogically
* How his political activism is reflected in his body of work
* The consistent trope of “earth mother” in articulating a democratic ideal
* Libretto v. screenplay: how Hollywood adapted, embraced, or rejected his progressivism
* Contemporary adaptations and how Hammerstein’s originating vision supports them
* Disjunctions between the ideal and the real; inconsistencies and how they critique the work
* The “Cockeyed Optimist” and its shaping of the American musical theatre
* Heirs to the legacy: musicals and writers that share Hammerstein’s ethics or politics
This collection has received the support and participation of Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization.
Please send 250-500 word abstracts to Dr. Donald P. Gagnon at GagnonD@wcsu.edu by 1 June, 2019. Essays will be due by 1 November 2019. Essays should be between 6000 and 8000 words.