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Going postal: Collapsing time and space through sung letters in Broadway musicals

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The device of using sung letters as a means to collapse time and space in Broadway musicals has come into increasing prominence in recent years, long after its first important emergence on the 1960s Broadway stage and following intermittent use during the decades since. Choosing from many examples of the device, this article explores its appearances in She Loves Me (1963), 1776 (1969), Passion (1994), Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (2012, 2013 and 2016), Hamilton (2015) and Dear Evan Hansen (2015 and 2016). The article also considers sung letters and other manipulations of temporality in Sondheim’s Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures and Assassins, and relates the device to the recent symbiosis between Broadway and film, to the theatre’s need for dramatic intensifiers, and to the expression of individual agency. Its progress may also be sketched, in broad strokes, as occurring somewhere between ‘Telephone Hour’ in Bye Bye Birdie (1960) and the telephone’s latter-day equivalent, the Internet-based social media that govern the central drama of Dear Evan Hansen and define the receptive milieu of recent Broadway more generally.
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Keywords: 1776; Dear Evan Hansen; Hamilton; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; She Loves Me; Sondheim; musical letters

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Independent scholar 2: UCLA

Publication date: December 1, 2017

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