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Title:Musicalizing murder: defining the 'true crime musical'
Author(s):Hoskins, Vicki
Advisor(s):Hohman, Valleri J.
Department / Program:Theatre
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Musical theatre
True crime
Thrill Me
Bonnie and Clyde
Abstract:Contemporary musicals have experimented with the conventions previously established by Rodgers and Hammerstein and the so-called “Golden Age” era of musical theatre, often subverting and commenting upon these conventions. In order to better understand these new musicals and prepare audiences for the work they are about to see, these non-traditional musicals have been labeled under various new subcategories, such as the “gay musical,” the “rock musical,” and the “jukebox musical.” New subcategories assist in the comprehension of these contemporary musicals, and as Larry Stempel states, “familiarity with the genre provides a helpful tool not only to understand how different musicals work but also to enjoy such shows for what they are. A genre establishes a configuration of constraints and opportunities—the rules of the game, so to speak—by which creators create, performers perform, and audiences come to know what to expect” (4). While the modern American drama is rife with images of dramatized violence, the musical genre has only recently begun to incorporate both realistic and symbolic representations of onstage violence. These musicals form a broad category of “violent musicals,” but shows that also integrate a historical murder narrative form a subcategory that I call the “true crime musical.” Taking inspiration from the literary genre of the same name, these true crime musicals present one or more murder narratives and construct a violent world of the play. The true crime musical fictionalizes motive, subverts musical theatre tropes, and comments on problems that persistently plague American society, such as poverty, the myth of the American Dream, and other inequities. This study features two distinctive contemporary musicals that possess the traits of a true crime musical—Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story (music and lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff) and Bonnie & Clyde (music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black, and book by Ivan Menchell). Both musicals explore the motives of the murderer-protagonists, follow closely the formula of true crime literature, all while utilizing or subverting traditional musical theatre tropes. Through a careful dramaturgical analysis of the various violent elements and character motivations, this study seeks to define the true crime musical as a distinctive subgenre of musical theatre, discover how musical writers engage with violence, and explore what these musicals say about criminal motive. In this study, I will utilize published librettos and performance reviews, as well as cast recordings, filmed archival production footage, and personal interviews, in order to locate and define the true crime musical and its distinctive interrogation and representation of violence and motive. In defining a true crime musical subgenre, I hope to create an understanding of this unique form, as well as its distinctive representation of motive and how it challenges musical theatre conventions.
Issue Date:2013-05-28
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Vicki Hoskins
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-05-28
Date Deposited:2013-05

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