The Megamusical

The Megamusical

Jessica Sternfeld
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/16/2006
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-253-34793-0
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2007 George Freedley Memorial Award finalist

A megamusical is an epic, dramatic show featuring recurring melodies in a sung-through score; huge, impressive sets; and grand ideas. These qualities are accompanied by intensive marketing campaigns, unprecedented international financial success, and a marked disjunction between critical reaction and audience reception. Audiences adore megamusicals; they flock to see them when they open, and return again and again, helping long-lived shows to become semi-permanent tourist attractions. Yet generally speaking, critics either dismiss megamusicals as superficial entertainment, or rail against them as offensively simple-minded money-making scams. This audience/critic division lies at the heart of The Megamusical.

Jessica Sternfeld’s long-awaited study of some of the most popular megamusicals is an important contribution to knowledge of American musical culture. Sternfeld discusses the history of the megamusical, examining both its internal, performative qualities and its external, market reception to reveal why it is so popular. She concentrates on Lloyd Webber's Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, the two longest-running musicals on Broadway, and Schoenberg and Boublil’s Les Misérables, the most popular and internationally successful piece of music theater of all time. Each of these musicals receives in-depth treatment, including an examination of how they were created and received, as well as an analysis of their scores and staging. She also interprets several other megamusicals of the 1980s and 1990s, with an eye toward their competition and influence on other musical theater genres.

Author Bio

Jessica Sternfeld is a lifelong musical theater fan and performer. She holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Princeton University, and teaches the history and cultural contexts of musical theater, opera, pop genres, and Western Classical and Romantic music. She is Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she lives.


“Jessica Sternfeld's long-awaited study of some of the most popular megamusicals is an important contribution to knowledge of American musical culture.”

“"Stern's scholarship is at its strongest as she renders a rigorous definition to the term 'megamusical' itself . . . The Megamusical offers broad discussions of production history, commecial success, social environment and, especially, the compexity of the scores of these plays."Aug. 2008”
 — Studies in Musical Theatre

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Table of Contents


1. "Why'd You Choose Such a Backward Time and Such a Strange Land?": Jesus Christ Superstar
2. "Humming the Scenery": The Megamusical Ascending
3. "Well, the Theatre Is Certainly Not What It Was": Cats
4. "To Love Another Person Is to See the Face of God": Les Misérables
5. "The Angel of Music Sings Songs in My Head": The Phantom of the Opera
6. "A Model of Decorum and Tranquility": Other Megamusicals in the 1980s
7. "New Music": The Megamusical in the 1990s
8. "Everything Is Show Biz": The Megamusical and Broadway in the Twenty-first Century

A. Jesus Christ Superstar Plot Summary and List of Recurring Musical Material
B. Evita Plot Summary
C. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Plot Summary
D. Cats Plot Summary and Table of Recurring Musical Material
E. Sources of Lyrics in Cats
F. Les Misérables Plot Summary and List of Numbers
G. List of Recurring Musical Material in Les Misérables
H. The Phantom of the Opera Plot Summary and List of Numbers
I. List of Recurring Musical Material in The Phantom of the Opera