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Doctoral Candidate Researches Development of Musical Theatre

A doctoral candidate in musicology at CCM is using his interest in musical theatre to fill what he sees as a “research gap” in the genre. Alex Bádue is one of eight University of Cincinnati students to receive a $20,000 Graduate School Dean’s Fellowship and full-tuition scholarship as he works to complete his dissertation on American sung-through musicals.

Contrary to the traditional musical that alternates between spoken dialogue and songs, the sung-through musical has songs from beginning to end and very little spoken passages. By focusing his research on 12 American sung-through musicals that premiered on Broadway between 1980 and 2003, Bádue hopes to discover how and why this musical style was created.

“Musicals fascinate me whatever the form or style,” Bádue said. “I’ve always loved when regular, everyday things are turned into song. I hope that my research sheds light on the compositional process of musicals and how much the genre has changed and found different ways to remain alive and relevant in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.”
Alex Bádue went to New York in 2015 to continue his research on American sung-through musicals.

Alex Bádue went to New York in 2015 to continue his research on American sung-through musicals.

The musicals he is focusing on are: In Trousers by William Finn; March of the Falsettos, Falsettoland, Falsettos and A New Brain by William Finn and James Lapine; The Human Comedy by Galt MacDermot and William Dumaresq; Wings by Jeffrey Lunden and Arthur Pearlman; Hello Again by Michael John LaChiusa; Rent by Jonathan Larson; The Wild Party by Andrew Lippa; The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown; and Caroline, or Change by Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner.

Bádue asserts that these American sung-through musicals are challenging the tradition set by conventional book musicals. In a sung-through musical, nearly all of the story development is communicated in song. The music adds more layers to scenes that could easily be spoken, Bádue said.

In 2015, Bádue travelled to New York City and interviewed some of the sung-through musical composers: Finn, MacDermot, Tesori, LaChiusa, Lippa and Lunden. The composers spoke to him about the writing process of their respective musicals, explaining their compositional approaches, techniques and style choices. He also went to the Library of Congress to study the papers of Jonathan Larson, creator of Rent.

“It’s been very interesting to see how much he changed and matured as a composer and songwriter over the seven years it took him to create Rent,” Bádue said.

“He was a songwriter more than a playwright, so his best response to enact a scene or depict a dramatic situation was always composing a new song. He never aimed at creating a sung-through score. It was simply what resulted after years of songwriting.”

Rent has received some scholarly attention since its 1996 debut, unlike the other musicals and composers in Bádue’s dissertation. Musicology has only recently started to accept musical theatre as a scholarly topic, he said. Bádue hopes his dissertation will help expand both fields.

“Once upon a time, some authors and scholars argued that American musical theatre started dying after 1980,” he said. “But at this time and age, when something like Hamilton becomes a cultural phenomenon, it's clear that musical theatre has never died. Musical theatre scholarship has to do its part to demonstrate that.”