The Singing Nazi: Representations of National Socialism in Broadway Musicals
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This dissertation examines representations of National Socialism in American musical theater. The Sound of Music (1959) and Cabaret (1966) use two fundamentally different approaches. Based on the German Heimatfilm, Die Trapp Familie (1956), the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is a lighthearted family musical. In contrast, Cabaret, which was inspired by Christoph Isherwood's Berlin Stories and John van Druten's drama I Am a Camera , presents the audience with a political parable, analogizing 1930s Berlin to 1960s U.S. society. Comparing different international productions of Cabaret and The Sound of Music, I argue that over time staging puts a stronger emphasis on the visual presence of Nazi symbols for different reasons, such as shocking audiences, providing more realistic depiction of the Third Reich and exposing younger audiences without first-hand recollections to the full extent of Nazism. The character, plot and musical analyses in this study also explore issues of ownership and agency, when protagonists appropriate familiar tunes to further their political causes. In The Sound of Music, the Trapp family uses the power of music to express their resistance against the Nazi regime (“ Edelweiss ”), whereas in Cabaret the Nazis draw on the same power to demonstrate their unity in a frightening show of force (“ Tomorrow Belongs To Me ”). The creators of both musicals purposely imitated folk music, which encouraged audiences to fabricate mythologies around these songs, i.e., “Edelweiss ” and “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.” The latter example was eventually re-appropriated by White Supremacists as an authentic Nazi song, taking on a life of its own outside its original context in Cabaret.