For years, American musicals have contributed to the mythologization of the Second World War and upheld ‘Greatest Generation’ nostalgia in mainstream war memory. For example, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific is effectively silent on the brutality and dehumanization of the Pacific Theater and exoticizes the experience of service members. In the past five years, the New York theatre scene has seen three shows that portray the Second World War more accurately and less romantically: Allegiance, Bandstand, and Alice by Heart. While none of these shows ran for longer than a few months in New York, in that short time they have all become important parts in renegotiating World War II’s history, myth, and memory in the musical theatre medium. Contemporary musical theatre provides more nuanced examinations of World War II through shows like Allegiance, which depicts the Japanese American incarceration experience; Bandstand, which depicts the reintegration of veterans post-World War II; and Alice by Heart, which depicts an adolescent’s experience in the London Blitz. These musicals renegotiate myths of the ‘Good War,’ ‘Greatest Generation,’ and ‘Blitz Spirit’ onstage to reveal the deep seeded impacts of war trauma and displacement on military and civilian populations alike. With over seventy-five years since World War II’s end, ample time to reflect has driven composers, lyricists, and librettists to dismantle the myths surrounding the war to both depict its truths and serve as cautionary tales in today’s age of perpetual war. Today’s creators provide counter-narratives and alternatives to traditional historical memory, especially through telling marginalized communities' stories and encouraging audiences to reexamine the dominant historical narrative. This study analyzes the aforementioned hallmark musicals, their content, historical context, and the importance of their cultural contribution to American society, in an examination of the interplay between war, myth, and memory.
Sottile, Leana, "The Good War?: Reinterpreting the Second World War in Contemporary Musical Theatre" (2020). SURF Posters and Papers. 1.
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