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Great American Music: Broadway Musicals

Take a journey through Broadway’s past with this fun and interesting course that explores a critical part of our nation’s musical heritage.
Great American Music: Broadway Musicals is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 105.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Could have been Stellar BUT THE PIANO IS OUT OF TUNE!!! Every time he started to play, I cringed. And the further into the course, the worse the piano was. I can't recommend this to any of my musician friends, people I perform musicals with, or anyone else. I had to force myself to finish listening to all the lectures.
Date published: 2023-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from simply delightful one of the best; informative & entertaining. My only criticism is there's not enough - especially as to from the 1950s on, there should be. needs to be, a lot more.
Date published: 2023-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from best of all I have bought and watched/listened to quite a few Great Courses subjects. This is BY FAR the absolute best of them all. A true jewel. Create more with Bill Messenger would be my suggestion. Another suggestion would be to make a CD available of the music from this course including Bill's solo piano. There is nothing else like it on the market today!
Date published: 2023-02-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very professionally done but old technology After watching 5 of the 16 lectures on DVD: The prof is well informed . The content is fun and interesting His piano examples are fun as are photos. The program suffers from too much talking and not enough video. I’m constantly tempted to halt the talk and check out a YouTube video of an artist mentioned by the professor. The discs represent old technology. It should be remade
Date published: 2022-11-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Fun Romp This is fun romp through the history of musicals in America. It starts with the history of the minstrel shows and the course details how this entertainment form evolved to Vaudeville, the reviews (like Ziegfeld Follies), the golden era of musicals, and eventually rock and roll on Broadway. Mr. Messenger (he does not have a PhD) is a good lecturer. He is an exceptional piano player but he cannot sing a lick. Consequently, he speaks the lyrics to the songs that he plays. He does use very old recordings where he can and sometimes he has contemporary musicians play and sing using original scores. The course guide is in outline form rather than paragraph format. It has only one graphic, a few bars of the melody from On Top of Old Smokey. However, the appendices have a timeline, a short glossary, extensive biographical notes, and an extensive bibliography. The course is available only through audio streaming and DVD. That’s unfortunate because I think that *seeing* Mr. Messenger perform the music would have added value to the lectures. The course was published in 2006.
Date published: 2022-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Prof. Messenger's knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject are monumental, and his piano playing is fantastic! I was somewhat put off by the fact that he never once looked directly at the camera in his 12 hours of lecture. But that was the only flaw; I could listen to him all day long, and the presentation was extremely informative. You may not choose to buy a used car from him, but what he is selling is worth a fortune!
Date published: 2022-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific I shall play this video over and over. It is better than I hoped. The piano use to make a point is delightful. Not being young I remember so many of these songs tearfully. I was only a teenager when Bill Haley rocked around his clock. Well ad thoughtfully done.
Date published: 2022-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great American Music: Broadway Musicals Mr. Messenger is a masterful pianist. I watched several episodes of this course over the past weekend. I would recommend purchasing the dvd, if you are able, especially if you are a musician. I was truly surprised how many tunes that I was familiar with from the early 20th century. Now, when I go to the theater or even watch a movie at home, I'll have a greater appreciation of the music that's contained in it.
Date published: 2022-04-11
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In Broadway Musicals you get the stories and the music—in expertly played examples, rare recordings of groundbreaking artists, and recorded interviews that take you behind the scenes of some of Broadway's biggest hits and most memorable moments.


Bill Messenger

Personal research into the stories behind several hundred timeless songs has led me to conclude that the birth of every great theater song begins with some basic emotion.


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 Maryland.

Professor Messenger has taught composition, music history, and music theory at Goucher College in Baltimore and a number of community colleges. He regularly lectures on American music at The Peabody Institute and Towson State University Elderhostels.

Professor Messenger is the author of several books, including The Power of Music: A Complete Music Activities Program for Older Adults, which has been called "a landmark in music activities."

His musical career includes studio work on many early rock 'n' roll recordings. He has accompanied many nationally known performers during his years in the music business, including Lou Rawls and Cass Elliot, and he worked as an opener for Bill Haley and the Comets. He was also a pianist with the acrobatic rock'n'roll group, The Rockin’ Maniacs. As a jazz pianist, he has played in ragtime ensembles, swing bands, Dixieland bands, and modern jazz groups. In 1983 he was voted Baltimore’s best piano player by Baltimore magazine.

The Essence of the Musical

01: 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.

47 min
The Minstrel Era (1828–900)

02: The Minstrel Era (1828–900)

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.

46 min
Evolution of the Verse/Chorus Song

03: 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.

46 min
The Ragtime Years (1890–1917)

04: The Ragtime Years (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.

45 min
The Vaudeville Era (1881–1935)

05: The Vaudeville Era (1881–1935)

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.

45 min
Tin Pan Alley

06: 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.

44 min
Broadway in Its Infancy

07: 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.

44 min
The Revue versus the Book Musical

08: 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.

44 min
Superstars on the Horizon

09: 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.

44 min
Transition into the Jazz Age (1916–20)

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.

44 min
Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern—Contrasts

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.

45 min
George Gershwin’s Legacy (1919–1935)

12: George Gershwin’s Legacy (1919–1935)

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.

43 min
Rodgers and Hammerstein Era (1940s)

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.

46 min
Golden Age of Musical Theater (1950s)

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.

45 min
Rock n Roll Reaches Broadway (1960s)

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.

45 min
Big Bucks and Long Runs (1970s–Present)

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.

46 min