The Broadway musical, balancing as it does artistic expression and commerce, is regularly said to reflect its sociocultural surroundings. Its historiography, however, tends for the most part to emphasize art over commerce, and exceptional productions over all else. Broadway histories tend to prioritize the most artistically valued musicals; occasional lip service, too, is paid to extraordinary commercial successes on the one hand, and lesser productions by creators who are collectively deemed great artists on the other. However, such a historiography provides less a reflection of reality than an idealized and thus somewhat warped portrait of the ways the commercial theater, its gatekeepers, and its chroniclers prioritize certain works and artists over others. Using as examples Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death
(1971), Merrily We Roll Along
(1988), and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
(2011), I will suggest that a money-minded approach to the study of musicals may help paint a clearer picture of what kinds of shows have been collectively deemed successful enough to remember, and what gets dismissed as worthy of forgetting.
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