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Emancipation or exploitation? Gender liberation and adult musicals in 1970s New York

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Because the 1960s sexual revolution preceding the gay and women's liberation movements was largely defined by straight men, the increased sexual freedom that came with liberation often translated, especially for women, into the substitution of one kind of exploitation for another. The adult musicals (musicals featuring nudity and simulated sex) that were faddish off-Broadway in the 1970s grappled with the country's changing sexual mores, and many reflected contemporary struggles for gender equality. Yet because of the strong sexual content of adult musicals, messages of liberation were often lost on audiences who were simply interested in vicariously experiencing reverberations of the sexual revolution. This article examines the ways adult musicals translated messages championed by the women's and gay liberation movements, as well as the ways that actors in musicals like Let My People Come and Oh! Calcutta!, as well as their audiences, negotiated interconnected messages of sexual freedom and exploitation.

Keywords: Let My People Come; Mod Donna; Oh! Calcutta!; The Faggot; gay liberation; off-Broadway; women's liberation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Baruch College.

Publication date: 2008-06-05

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  • Studies in Musical Theatre is a refereed journal which considers areas of live performance that use vocal and instrumental music in conjunction with theatrical performance as a principal part of their expressive language.
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