MU5010 - Musicals: Politics, Performance and Popular Culture

What will I learn on this module?

This module will introduce you to the history and historiography of the musical, both in and beyond the West, from the late nineteenth century to the present day. While focusing primarily on the USA and the UK, we will also develop case studies centred on other countries, such as China or South Korea. Throughout the module, our aim will be to understand the social, cultural and political forces that have shaped musicals as multicultural forms of theatre (albeit ones often denied the status of ‘art’) and, increasingly, as a global industry. In the weekly lectures, we will retrace the emergence and transformations of the genre from operetta and vaudeville to the latest livestreamed blockbusters, by researching and analysing a wide range of literary, musical and visual materials. In the weekly seminars, we will take selected readings and shows as springboards for discussing how issues of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, social justice and equality, among others, are treated or reflected in specific scholarly texts, specific productions and/or in broader critical and public discourses. Further themes that we will cover include staging technologies, dance and choreography, and musicals’ encounters with twentieth-century media such as film and television.

How will I learn on this module?

Your learning will be divided between one-and-a-half lectures and one-and-a-half seminars each week. The lectures will address the history of musical theatre, providing you with a solid understanding of the genre’s development from the late nineteenth century to today; its shifting position within culture and society; its political uses; and its interactions with other performing or visual arts (e.g., dance, television and cinema). The lectures may also include workshop elements and off-campus visits. The seminars will focus on analysing and discussing selected scholarly texts and musical-theatre productions, which you’ll be asked to read or watch before the class. They may also include presentations (solo or group) and debates around performance reviews or blogposts. Throughout, the seminars will encourage you to engage in dialogue with your peers and with a diverse range of voices from beyond the classroom. Your assignments, one of which will involve further group work, will be supported by tutorials throughout the semester.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Your academic development will be supported through the module tutor, through engagement with your peers and through your programme leader. Your module tutor will offer tutorials for the preparation of your assignments and will offer you written and/or oral feedback on both summative and formative tasks. In addition, you will be able to see the module tutor during consultation hours and ask them questions via email. Your peers will provide you with a collaborative learning environment, and your programme leader will guide you through the requirements and expectations of your course. You will also be supported through individual engagement with the academic literature, lectures, and resources available on the eLearning Portal. Feedback will be ongoing throughout seminar activities and through assessment tasks.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at:
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team –

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1) You will demonstrate an understanding of the history of musicals and the socio-cultural contexts that shaped them, in and beyond the West, from the late nineteenth century to the present day
2) You will demonstrate an ability to analyse musical-theatre libretti, scores and productions in an independent way

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3) You will demonstrate a familiarity with key concepts and theoretical debates in theatre, performance and popular music studies
4) You will be able to express your ideas with confidence in a variety of academic and non-academic formats, both orally and in writing

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
5) You will demonstrate an understanding of how issues of gender and sexuality, ethnicity and race, social class and equality have played out in the history of musicals in a variety of global contexts

How will I be assessed?

. Podcast (Individual or group), 10 minutes (40%). MLOs: 1, 3, 4, 5
2. Essay, 2,500 words (60%). MLOs: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Feedback on essays comprises annotations to the script and a short report. Feedback on podcasts comprises a short report. In both cases, you will be able to receive further feedback in a short tutorial with the module tutor


Students may take EITHER the level 5 (MU5XXX) OR the level 6 (MU600X) version of this module in their degree, but not both.



Module abstract

This module will introduce you to the history and historiography of the musical, both in and beyond the West. Tracing its emergence in and development from late nineteenth-century popular theatre, through its Golden Age in Broadway, to 1980s mega-musicals and beyond, it will examine a genre long neglected by both music and theatre scholars due to its middlebrow status and overt commercialism. Through the module, you will familiarise yourself with key concepts and theoretical debates in theatre, performance and popular music studies; you will hone your research skills by identifying and analysing a wide range of literary, musical and visual sources; you will develop an analytical toolkit that will allow you to critically evaluate musical-theatre productions in an independent way; and you will improve your skills in the oral and written presentation of ideas, by engaging with and producing academic as well as non-academic forms of speaking and writing, such as essays, podcasts, blogposts and performance reviews.

Course info

UCAS Code W320

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years full-time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing.

Full time Courses starting in 2023 are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but may include elements of online learning. We continue to monitor government and local authority guidance in relation to Covid-19 and we are ready and able to flex accordingly to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff.

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with additional restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors, potentially to a full online offer, should further restrictions be deemed necessary in future. Our online activity will be delivered through Blackboard Ultra, enabling collaboration, connection and engagement with materials and people.


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