Summer students learn musical theater history

Jack Crovitz, Staff Writer

This year’s session of summer school offered a larger variety of classes, including the new summer course History of American Musical Theater (HAMT), taught by theater teacher Benjamin Posner.

The class, which is also taught during the regular academic year, covers “operetta, vaudeville, and burlesque… early American musicals…the Golden Age, Sondheim, and the 90s,” Posner said. However, the class never gets that far. “There’s just so much to talk about and listen to,” Posner said.

Students who elected to take the summer class share a love for musical theatre. “I chose to take this class because I love all things musical theatre,” Athena Spencer (9) said. “I thought it would be very interesting to learn about the origins and inspirations for musicals today.”

“I took it because I was interested in how musical theater has evolved throughout history,” Ross Petras (9) said.

Posner hoped to impart not just an understanding of musical theater’s history, but also an understanding of its significance to other fields of study and to American society, he said. Musical theater is “a uniquely American art-form. It is a patchwork of many artistic disciplines. It was built largely by immigrants or their children,” he said.

Petras said that his greatest takeaway from the course was “that musical theater will never stop changing or adapting to the different popular cultures of the time period.”

The weekly field trips to see musicals were an especially enjoyable and memorable component of the class, Spencer said. “My favorite part of this class was going to see a musical every week. Not only because going to see musicals is really fun…I learned about lots of other musicals that I normally wouldn’t know about,” she said. “My favorite was Come from Away.”

Posner decided to offer HAMT as a summer class because “it seemed like the demand was there, and I thought it would be fun to teach it as an intensive,” he said.

The class was relatively small, with only four students. “I liked it because it gave the teacher more time to help each person and answer everyone’s questions,” Petras said.

Taking the course during the summer “definitely feels a little bit rushed because we’re trying to fit a whole year’s worth of class into three weeks,” Spencer said. “I’ll definitely remember what I learned when I see shows on Broadway today and compare them to older shows.”

Nonetheless, students say they walked away with a deeper understanding of the history of musical theatre. “I think the biggest takeaway from this course is just how much content from modern musicals are influenced by shows from a while ago,” Spencer said. “I think my students walked away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of Musical Theatre…. Mission accomplished,” Posner said.