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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The musical representation of Asian characters in the musicals of Richard Rodgers
by Ponti, Carla M., Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, 2010, 256; 3408871
Abstract (Summary)

The study of the American musical is emerging in two different research streams. The first treats the musical as an aesthetic object and applies traditional methods of structure and historical analysis. The second treats the musical as a cultural product representing the goals and interests of a particular power structure, and applies new methods of sociopolitical and cultural analysis. A small number of scholars, like Raymond Knapp, are connecting the musical structures in the scores of Broadway musicals with their sociopolitical considerations. Even fewer scholars, like Graham Wood, are connecting specific musical structures with dramatic functions across a corpus of scores.

In this study, I will demonstrate how “orientalist” musical features in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Michener 1949), The King and I (Rodgers, Hammerstein, Sirmay, and Landon 1951/2005), and Flower Drum Song (Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Fields 1959) are used to portray Asian characters—Tonkinese, Thai, and Chinese Americans—and dramatize their actions and struggles. Orientalist musical features are those Western appropriations, inventions, and musical clichés which Western composers use to represent characters from Asian locales without having to interact with actual indigenous musics. These features, like other orientalist usages, are a way of “dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient” (Said 2003, 3). Some typical orientalist features include unusual modes, scales, instrumentation, and so forth. Rodgers’ use of these features in characterization has consistent patterns across his corpus of works with Hammerstein and in his one Asian-themed musical with Lorenz Hart.

These features are dramatically linked to issues of cultural assimilation, especially in The King and I and Flower Drum Song. The Western hegemonic project represented in The King and I is connected to the same types of musical features and patterns of usage as the American melting pot project represented in Flower Drum Song. These types of assimilation to Western ways and values are further connected to the theory of Andrea Most (2004) who regards the Broadway musical as representing the complexities of Jewish assimilation in America. I demonstrate that the use of orientalist musical features dramatizes a particular perspective on assimilation, and that Flower Drum Song actually rejects the notion of total assimilation in favor of community.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Davis, Anthony, Balzano, Gerald
Commitee: Borgo, David, Bryson, Norman, Deutsch, Diana
School: University of California, San Diego
Department: Music
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 71/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Music, Theater
Keywords: Assimilation, Flower drum song, Orientalism, Rodgers, Richard, South Pacific, The King and I
Publication Number: 3408871
ISBN: 978-1-124-05463-6
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