Introduction: Anglo-American Perspectives

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


In the 1980s and 90s, a series of bold, commercially successful musicals arrived on Broadway from London’s West End, with Evita followed by Cats, Les Misérables, Me and My Girl, Phantom of the Opera., Starlight Express, Miss Saigon, Aspects of Love, and Sunset Boulevard. This created a dilemma for the New York theatre industry and critics as well as for traditional Broadway theatregoers. There is no question that the shows arrived at a time when the Broadway musical was ailing, bringing in desperately needed audiences and revenue. Equally, Cats and its successors are widely acknowledged as having reinvigorated the “road”—the receiving houses outside New York that constituted the post-Broadway national tour. But the fact that the most successful shows on Broadway had originated abroad challenged the idea of musicals as an intrinsically American art form and the New York theatre community looked on in bemusement as the West End started to assume the role that Broadway had enjoyed in the previous four decades. To make matters worse, these shows did not look or sound like Broadway musicals and yet they were pulling in the kind of audiences that local producers could only dream of. Questions abounded. Where did these shows come from? Who were these artists? How did these musicals fit into the narrative of musical theatre history? And what did they signify for the future of the art form? In short, what happened?


Theatre Tradition Musical Theatre Musical Drama Creative Team Musical Comedy 
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  1. 1.
    Anthony Tommasini, “They Do Write ‘Em Like They Used To’,” New York Times, May 20, 2001.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Frank Rich, “The Empire Strikes Back,” New York Times, March 29, 1987.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Notable exceptions include two books of interviews: Lawrence Thelen’s The Show Makers (2002)Google Scholar
  4. and Jackson R. Bryer and Richard A. Davidson (eds.) The Art of the American Musical: Conversations with the Creators (2005), which include interviews with James Lapine and with George C. Wolfe, respectively.Google Scholar
  5. Jessica Sternberg’s The Megamusical (2006) also includes some comments on directors although her primary focus is on the music and, secondarily, the producers.Google Scholar

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© Miranda Lundskaer-Nielsen 2008

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