Program Details

The Broadway Musical: Reflections on America

Sheryl Flatow
Arts & Letters / Drama

Course Description

Throughout the history of the Broadway musical, there have been any number of shows that illuminate the history, the culture, and the customs of some aspect of the American experience. The best of these musicals both reflect a moment in time and transcend time, which is why they continue to resonate today. Four of these shows from four different decades will be discussed and the authors’ vision, what these works say about life in this country at the time they were written, and what they have to say to us today will be examined.


  1. Show Boat (1927), by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, was transformative in addressing social and political issues, including one that we still have trouble talking about today: race.
  2. Porgy and Bess (1935), by George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward, and Ira Gershwin, is considered by many to be the great American opera. George Gershwin called it a folk opera, but it premiered on Broadway and fuses two genres. The show gives us a window into the lives of a poor, Southern black community. 
  3. Oklahoma! (1943), by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, was recently referred to by a theater historian as the Hamilton of its day because it was so innovative. Ostensibly the simple story of who will take Laurey to the box social, its can-do spirit resonated for audiences in the throes of World War II.
  4. The Music Man (1957), inspired by Meredith Willson’s Iowa childhood in the early twentieth century, reflects the optimism of 1950s America.

About the Instructor

  • Sheryl Flatow has written about theater and dance for more than 30 years. She curated major exhibitions in San Francisco on Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, George Balanchine, and several others. She has also conducted public interviews with leading figures in the arts, including Patti LuPone, Sheldon Harnick, Natalia Makarova, and Estelle Parsons. In addition, Flatow wrote the CD liner notes for Into the Woods and Jerome Robbins' Broadway.

Upcoming programs presented by Sheryl Flatow.

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