theatre theory, musical theatre, total theatre, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Wagner
Stephen Sondheim, famous for writing such musicals as Company, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, and Assassins, is often referred to as the originator of the modern concept musical. Despite varying definitions of the concept musical, it is generally agreed that the form embodies a specific identity or mood, which it communicates to an audience both emotionally and intellectually. As such it offers audience members a complete experience resembling in theory the idea of "total theatre" proposed in the nineteenth century by composer Richard Wagner. My thesis will argue that the similarity between Sondheim's concept musical and Wagner's total theatre is more than purely theoretical; it is practical as well, involving structural parallels such as leitmotif, minor chord development, and intricate lyricism. Congruently, many of Sondheim's choices describing communication with audiences on the emotional and intellectual levels also recall those utilized by Wagner over a century earlier. These similarities not withstanding, Sondheim, as a contemporary artist, creates work that has often been described in terms of theoretical movements that post-date Wagner, including "desconstructionism" and Brechtian theatre. While these terms certainly describe some differences between the work of Sondheim and Wagner, I will argue that their existence with regard to Sondheim does not preclude a Wagnerian approach to the contemporary composer's work. Elements of deconstruction and Brechtian alienation may, in fact, be linked back to Wagner in specific manners. My thesis will explore these connections, concluding that an approach to the work of Sondheim in the vein of Richard Wagner may suggest a successful method of interpreting the contemporary concept musical.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Calderazzo, Diana Louise, "Stephen Sondheim's Gesamtkunstwerk: The Concept Musical As Wagnerian Total Theatre" (2005). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 437.