This essay interrogates the popular ideology of integration in American musical theater, arguing that the “integration” of Oklahoma! was less the integration of music and narrative and more a related (and almost equally uneasy) attempt to minimize the eruptive force of female musical bodies. This integration seems to be invested with limiting the potential positions from which spectators can approach the musical performance—most crucially, in preventing identification with singers' bodies. In this way, the integration of Oklahoma! participates in the tradition of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk, a poetic concept that also “integrates” music through the taming of female musical bodies. Though Bertolt Brecht's sophisticated critique of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk adumbrates a useful direction for understanding the generic disintegration of the musical, Brecht, too, ultimately resists the feminine associations of the disintegrating power of music. However, despite the integrating impulses of journalistic criticism and aesthetic theory—which continue even today—the ideology of integration lost some of its allure during the 1970s, when a number of older stars began to star in revivals. These shows foreground the aesthetic features—musical bodies—central to every musical, and in doing so they demand that we resist the misleading and indeed stiflingly unmusical mantra of integration.
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Bradley Rogers; The Interpellations of Interpolation; or, The Disintegrating Female Musical Body. Camera Obscura 1 May 2008; 23 (1 (67)): 89–111. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2007-025
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